‘Where are Spaoh and Debak?’
By Patricia Hului
At the mention of a place, we usually say, “I have been there!” or “I have a friend from that area!”
The third day of Borneo Post Adventure Team (BAT6) saw us travelling to Spaoh and Debak, two rural towns which had me asking instead: “Where on earth are those places?”
Portrait of a small town
Located about 10km from the Betong-Saratok road, Spaoh is a town with a population of about 1,000 people.
Most of the residents are Chinese and Malay but there are some Iban longhouses nearby too.
One peculiar thing about this town (for a cityslicker like me) is that it is the only town I have ever been to where there is no kopitiam in sight… and no petrol station either, the nearest being at Betong and Layar Rest Stop.
Most of the shops were either not occupied or empty and there appeared to be only sundry shops and one hardware shop.
According to one of the locals, Spaoh was founded by the Hakka way back in 1946.
The four blocks of shoplots built back then were still standing during our visit as if the township had been frozen in time since 1946.
The only difference may be was that the town was more vibrant in the 60s as Spaoh was at its peak due to high rubber prices.
Although there was no road back then, Spaoh had good connectivity to other towns via Sungai Paku which flows next to it.
As I looked at the empty and run-down Spaoh wharf, I imagined it to be bustling with people back then.
After we left Spaoh, we headed to Debak, another 15km away.
Unlike Spaoh, Debak looked more flourishing with about 70 shophouses largely populated by Chinese traders.
When we had lunch at one of the coffeeshops, I could not help but notice there was a row of shark fins and dried seahorses in boxes lined up for sale and asked the owner Lau Hong Chang whether they were still sought-after by consumers.
Although these items are still very much considered medicinal or luxury items by some, he said people only came to buy them once in a while.
So why did he still have them on his shelves?
“It is like an investment; I bought them a few years ago and kept them there. Over the years the prices would increase and I sold them at higher prices than I initially bought them,” he said.
“It is better than keeping money in the bank.”
Looking back at these two towns, I realised they both had one thing in common; both had empty wharves.
The BAT6 then left these two rural towns before heading up to Saratok and bunking down in Sarikei.
Scenes of Debak town