Go big or go home
How Sarawakian city-slickers cope with life in the rural areasBy Patricia Hului @pattbpseeds
WE HAVE heard our Peninsular Malaysian friends tell of their hard times adapting to life and culture here in Sarawak when they were first posted here as civil servants. What we don’t hear as often is how our own homebred youths also experience a culture shock of their own as well.
Dunstan* was thrilled when he first received the offer letter to become an officer in the government sector earlier last year. Careers in the Malaysian civil service are desirable for their financial stability and it is a widely-held perception – especially among the older generation – that working in the government sector is a huge thing.
He was willing to be posted anywhere in Malaysia, but little did he expect what was waiting for him deep in the rural areas of his own home state.
For a Bidayuh lad who grew up in Kuching, having to live and work in the resettlement area of Sungai Asap, Belaga is a far cry from home. The area is home to mostly Kayan communities with basic facilities such as schools, police station and few shops. Language is a barrier for him because Iban and Kayan are widely spoken at work and among the residents and he has little to no knowledge of either language.
When he first arrived, the government quarters provided were fully occupied so he had to rent a room in a longhouse nearby as there are no commercial living properties available.
Living in a longhouse came as a shock for Dunstan as he had never lived in this kind of environment before. Neighbours in the longhouse are divided by wooden walls and the residents mostly comprise of the elderly, young children and dozens of working adults.
Facilities that we take for granted everyday like the bank and petrol station are also not readily available in rural areas of Sarawak like Sungai Asap, making life a little bit inconvenient to what he is used to. To access these facilities, he takes a three-hour drive to the nearest town, which is Bintulu.
Dunstan is like hundreds of other young government servants working as teachers, nurses or other government posts serving in the rural areas of Sarawak like Simunjan, Song, Kapit, all the way up to Ba’ Kelalan. Those who are posted to the rural areas are typically young working adults with no family obligations, making their transfer to these areas easier.
Meeting up with friends for a cup of coffee, watching midnight movies or a karaoke session on Friday nights, going shopping on payday, are among some of the things city folk have to live without in the rural areas.
For entertainment, these working young adults usually spend time barbequing with colleagues at their rented place just hanging out over food and drinks. Internet is accessible in some places which is a delight for them as they are not totally cut off from the outside world. Another source of entertainment for some is satellite tv broadcast.
When asked what he missed most about the city, Dunstan spoke three letters, “K-F-C!”
It goes without saying that grabbing a quick bite at a fast food restaurants during lunch break is non-existent for them. Since their choices for eating out are limited, cooking is a necessary skill to survive. Groceries in the rural areas don’t come cheap, as a can of sardines can cost up to RM6. Thankfully, fresh vegetables are available, and can be bought from the villagers themselves.
That being said, a laidback life in the rural area where air is fresher, with no hustle and bustle of traffic has its perks. “I like it here. It is close to nature and I feel peaceful.”
As much as he appreciates nature and the peace that comes with it, it still can’t beat his love for life back in the city. “I’m used to living in a city, I grew up there. I don’t think I want to spend the rest of my life in a rural area,” Dunstan said.
It is a different case for Nani*, who said she had not experienced any culture shock working in Mukah. Nani shared that the best thing that came from working in the rural areas was that she could save on expenses compared to working in the city.
That being said, she does miss the city environment. “There are a lot of things happening and there’s always something to see. Here in the rural areas, what can you see? Nothing interesting,” Nani commented.
If her family was living with her in the rural areas, Nani said she wouldn’t mind working there.
For Joanna*, a teacher working in the small town of Marudi, she said: “Yes, you’ll get homesick once in a while. You’ll miss spending times with your friends. You’ll crave certain food, but the long holidays at the end of the year are worth waiting for.”
Joanna spends a few weeks of her school holidays to travel. She was looking forward to her vacation to Seoul during Christmas after months of saving up for the trip at the time of the interview.
“In any line of work, no matter where you are, to reward yourself is a must for you to enjoy your youthful life,” Joanna added.
Joanna also learnt that living in a remote area compared to her hometown Sibu has taught her to be grateful for the smallest things in life – especially her family and even a good hairdresser – things that she took for granted while living in an urban area.
Hardship allowance of between RM500 and RM1,500 are allocated to those attached in rural areas depending on the location and degree of hardship living in these posted areas.
Besides that, housing allowance and an allowance to return home are also provided. These attractive benefits and allowances are provided in the hopes of overcome the shortage of civil servants such as teachers and doctors in rural areas.
After a few years of working in the rural areas, government servants usually request to be transferred back to their hometowns or urban areas. It is a case of “Go big or go home” for these young adults. When things get unbearable in some rare cases, they go home for good literally.