FOR the villagers of Kampung Baru Manchis, Pahang, life revolves very much around their remote village.
It takes them about an hour to get to Karak town, some 40km away. And it is at least one-and-a-half-hours’ drive to get to Bentong town.
The narrow and winding 38km road, that connects Karak to the village, is what insulates them from the hustle and bustle of the ouside world.
“We are at the tip and the furthest away from Bentong town,” said Kampung Baru Manchis chief Wong Choo Yak, in reference to the 15 new villages within the Bentong constituency.
Lee Ah Kow, a 72-year-old villager, said travel time on the winding stretch took even longer when there were many big vehicles plying it.
“You must be extra careful when you see lorries loaded with big logs,” he warned.
Choo Yak said there were about 1,000 villagers and most were either the elderly or young children.
The village is made up of 200 houses, with another 90 in a housing estate next to it.
According to the village chief, many residents at the housing estate were previously from the village.
Today, they remain very much a part of Kampung Baru Manchis, underscoring the close ties that dates back at least three generations, he pointed out.
The coffee shops are the villagers’ favourite spots.
“Our kampung is very small but we have five kopitiam,” Choo Yak noted.
He said the “greying” population was their main concern right now. And certainly, this is reflected in the dwindling enrolment at the Chinese primary school.
Retired headmaster Wong Yoon Sang said the enrolment at SJK(C) Manchis stood at just 50.
The 68-year-old said the enrolment was once about 270, but this was a long time ago. He said it was 109 in 1992 when he assumed the headmaster’s post.
From the 1980s onwards, many young people started to leave this predominantly agriculture village for studies and jobs in cities.
Many of the villagers were smallholders, and the land just could not sustain their growing family, added the village chief. And there were hardly any jobs for those with tertiary education, he added.
Another villager, Ng Choong Soong, 67, said the village could only rejuvenate if and when the young could find a livelihood back home.
Yoon Sang, the retired headmaster, agreed, saying that the young should be encouraged to go into agro-based industries.
Ng said he was sure many young people would stay on, and those who were outstation would return if they had the opportunity to earn a better living back home.
“Life outside the village and in the city can be very stressful and the cost of living is high,” he said.
Choo Yak chipped in by pointing out the demand for many kinds of fruits in the market these days. He said there was economic potential in this.
Between three and five acres of land is enough for the young to start such a business, he added.
The village head said he hoped to launch a pioneer project for 20 young people to venture into agro-based businesses.
There is a possibility that this dream of rejuvenation may come true in the near future. The upcoming toll-free, 350km Central Spine Road that runs through the village and linking it to Bentong, Raub and all the way to Kelantan, is set to change the economic landscape of the area.
Travel time between Kampung Baru Manchis and Bentong would be cut down to just 30 minutes, a third of the current travel time. Getting to Karak town will be a breeze.
Wong said they had learned that there would be an exit about 1km from their village.
The better connectivity would also be a plus for tourism, he added. He listed Kong Wah Temple, which is more than 100 years old, as one of the attractions in the village.
“The temple originated from an estate nearby with just a burner for paper prayer items. The current location is its third one,” he said.
Even the name of the village has a story behind it.'
“Manchis is ‘matchstick’ in Bahasa Malaysia. A long time ago, there were many trees here, and the wood from them was suitable to turn into matchsticks,” Wong said.
That was how the village got its name.
Even as they dream of rejuvenation, the village folk are enjoying the rustic lifestyle. Many of the elderly who are rubber smallholders are benefiting from the good commodity price.
Meanwhile, housewife Choon Mei Pin, 57, whose three children are either working or studying outstation, keeps herself busy with charity work. She has been with the charity organisation Tzu Chi for more than 10 years.
“We collect and sell donated items that are still good for reuse and also recyclable items like old newspapers,” she said, adding that the funds collected were used to help the poor who were sick and to aid schoolchildren.
The newspaper cuttings put up at the entrance to the Tzu Chi organisation store in the village speak of the pride the people have in their settlement.