After the sharp and drastic decline of the tin-mining industry as well as the economic recession in the mid-1980s, Malaysians living in, or originating from, Perak's Kinta Valley once worried that their towns and villages would become 'ghostly' and be forgotten.

The anxiety was compounded by the opening - in the early 1990s - of the North-South Highway which bypasses the entire Kinta Valley.

Indeed, from the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, the Ipoh-centred Kinta Valley witnessed a massive exodus of its working-class youths. The population of many surrounding Chinese-predominated townships and new villages were reduced significantly, leaving behind a disproportionately high number of senior citizens and their young grandchildren.

The youths sought jobs in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Canada, Japan and Taiwan. Before most of them returned to Malaysia from overseas in the mid-and late 1990s, they had already remitted millions of ringgit back home and rejuvenated their hometowns and villages with renovated houses, markets and schools as well as new cars and motorcycles.

Many of them also brought back new business ideas from foreign countries as they invested their hard-earned money in fashionable boutiques, furniture retail shops, hair-dressing salons, discotheques, coffee houses, restaurants and video cassette rental shops, etc with Western, Japanese or Taiwanese interior decorations. Some have now become middle-aged and successful entrepreneurs in their hometowns and villages in the Kinta Valley or Kuala Lumpur.

The North-South Highway has, paradoxically, proven to be a blessing in disguise: for those who now work or do businesses in Kuala Lumpur, they can now go back to their hometowns or villages in the Kinta Valley once a week or every month to spend a weekend or two with their parents or grandparents. For the time of travelling has since been cut down to three hours at the maximum. And the highway is always smooth, except on the eve of Chinese New Year.

In short, life has revived in the Kinta Valley. Relative prosperity has returned.

However, for a while, it was felt by many elderly generations of Kinta Valley that their wealthier or more educated children and grandchildren should also know something about the unique history of their birthplace which distinguishes itself from other parts of Malaysia by relative cleanliness, orderliness and equanimity, conspicuously popular passion for horse-racing, widespread use of the English language and apparently more harmonious inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations.

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