Sekinchan is a small town in the state of Selangor, Malaysia. This town is known as “鱼米之乡” in Mandarin, which simply means “the village of fish and rice”. This name came about from the two main activities that happened in this small town, namely the fishing and paddy plantation.
I took the chance to pay this town a visit during one of the weekend, together with a photography group. First stop we arrived at the shipyard to check out the ship building and repair work, followed by visiting the fishing village. Fishing usually done in the early morning, by the time we arrived is already late afternoon, the fishing was already done and boats were back to the dock. The fishermen were busy repairing the fishing net, while the ladies and children were busy processing the seafood before selling them to the fish monger or the dried food and canned food industries.
A quick chat with them and I came to realize that most of them are not locals. They came from neighboring country such as Indonesia and Philippines in search for a living here. “The youngsters are not interested in this industry. They just can’t bear with the sun, the tiredness and the smell of the fishes. They rather work in the comfort of air-conditioned environment, far away from their hometown.” That was what the owner commented when I asked about his age and his children’s whereabouts. In his late 60’s, he can only rely on hiring others to help him out in his business.
“The business was passed down to me from my dad. During the old days we simply got no options, unlike today.” I asked the owner how much the workers get paid for helping out in processing the seafood. I was told that it’s based on the weight of the seafood one managed to process in a day. “Some housewives will just drop by for part time job. Well, they are free at home most of the time anyway, so it’s a good source of income for them as well. If they are hardworking enough, they can earn about 30 Ringgit per day, which is quite significant to feed a household in a small town like this.”
Later on, we took a ride to the paddy field nearby to take a quick look on the golden paddy field. Harvest season has been ongoing for awhile now, and some of the paddy has already been harvested. There wasn’t any harvesting activity going on in the evening, but from conversation with the locals, we get to know that nowadays all harvesting work will be done via machines instead of labour work. Harvested paddy will be sent to the factory nearby for further processing into packaged rice.
We also get to witness the field burning activities on the harvested field. “This has been the tradition that we followed since the old days. Upon completion of paddy harvesting, we burn the field to prepare it for the next plantation. The burning process will provide nutrients for the soil and to ensure good harvest for the coming season.” Said the 82 years old farmer who has been working for years in the paddy field. “As more and more of the harvesting work is taken over by machines, it helps to relief our workload as we are all getting older.”
Just like the fishing village, the paddy plantation is also facing the problem of aging workers. Fewer youngsters choose to work in the paddy field, which leaves a lot of the aging worker with no choice but continue to work. They love their job, and it’s hard for them to see it collapses. “Well, the good thing is that we started to see more youngsters working in the factory instead. As the industry gets modernized, they started to come back and work in their hometown.”
With more and more people moving to the big cities in search for a job with higher pay, better quality of living and more opportunities, it’s hard to imagine what will happen to these industries in the near future as the current generation of workers aged. Perhaps with modernization, machines will fully replace manpower from carrying out the job. However, the loss of succession in skills and professionalism for both fishing and paddy field plantation makes me feel a little… pity and unfortunate. I do hope in years to come, we are still able to show our kids on how things are done in the old and traditional ways, allowing them to appreciate and cherish the hard work from the older generation.