Saturday, April 9, 2011

KLIA & Sepang F1 circuit brought no change to Sepang town. Transfomati?

April 08, 2011
Kampung Salak still has a laid-back village feel despite being 15 minutes away from the SIC. — Picture by Sheridan Mahavera
SEPANG, APRIL 8 — Madam Kwan has been running her corner sundry shop in Sepang town ever since her father bequeathed it to her more than 30 years ago.
When her father started the store after World War II, the town was a hub for the rubber trade. It had all the major government offices and a district police contingent.
The Lotus F1 team holds a street demonstration ahead of the Sepang F1 Grand Prix, in Putrajaya April 2, 2011. — Reuters pic
Now, as Kwan (as she wants to be known) turns 57, the shops in front of her have shuttered, their owners moved elsewhere and she has seen the town’s populace dwindle from 5,000 to about 2,000.
This despite the tremendous development spending  here in the last two decades, when Malaysia’s new international airport and one of the region’s only Formula One (F1) race tracks sprung up next door.
Sepang’s fast emptying shop houses and its weed-choked vacant office buildings is yet another example of the hollowness of development rhetoric — when a mega project takes off next door, the local family stores and villagers will be the first to benefit.
That was exactly the line “sung to villagers” by ministers and assemblymen who courted their support, said another businessman from Kampung Salak Tinggi.
But after more than a decade, the little towns and villages around it are feeling very little of the glow and hype that the Sepang International Circuit generates in the glitzy world of motorsports sub-culture.
Dreaming of our very own Monaco
Journalists who covered the hype around the racing circuit announcement in the mid 90s recall it was more than just about planting the seed for a new sports industry.
It was not just about tapping into the growing fan base of motorsports or akin to building a stadium or swimming complex.
Jaafar says not everyone living near the SIC or KLIA has benefitted from them. — Picture by Sheridan Mahavera
The idea was for the seed that was the racing circuit together with KLIA (built a year before) would sprout new townships, new malls, new hotels, bars and cafes that stretch all the way to Pantai Bagan Lalang — glamorously re-dubbed the Sepang Gold Coast.     
Jaafar Khamis, 66, remembers how it was talked about glowingly by every politician who tried to sell the idea to the folk in Sepang district. Everyone was going to benefit, they said, Jaafar recalled.
The easiest promise to make was that the rubber tappers, farmers and traders would be able to get good paying jobs and business opportunities.
“Initially when I tried to get a contract supplying chicken to the airport’s canteen, the management would not let me in,” said Jaafar, who used to sell fresh chicken at the Salak morning market.
“But I persisted. I met the management and told them this is what we were promised. Eventually, they let me in,” he said. 
Not everyone was as lucky as he was, however, and the many openings KLIA offered were just too big for the small town trader. Most of the opportunities went to big players from out of town.  
“Rentals at the airport were just too high. None of the businesses here could afford them,” Jaafar explained. 
The restaurants and roads in Kampung Salak Tinggi become clogged with customers during major races at the circuit. — Picture by Sheridan Mahavera
Uneven rain 
But the high rollers who would come for the Formula 1 are a tremendous boost to the upmarket hotels, restaurants and shops in other parts of the Klang valley.
Datin Jasmine Heng of the Malaysian Association of Hotel’s Selangor branch said almost all of the hotels in the Klang valley are fully booked during F1 season.
“We get a lot of high yield customers with high spending power. It really stimulates the tourism sector,” she said.
Many of the upmarket hotels in Kuala Lumpur have special F1 packages which include daily shuttle services to the track.
This year’s F1 Grand Prix featured two street demos — one each by the Petronas Team Lotus Team in Putrajaya and Red Bull Racing in Kuala Lumpur — to drum up excitement for the actual race on April 8 weekend. 
F1 parties will also be held at the Petronas Tower as well as numerous drinking holes through-out KL. This year also features an after-race concert by South Korean pop star Rain at the circuit. 
Part of the gravy train of consumers that clogs up the highway to the track does make its stop in towns like Kampung Salak, whose windy roads lead to its backdoor.
“Our restaurants are usually packed with people going up to the track,” said resident Ng Hock Leong, 60.
And yet there are those living at the edge of the track and the airports, said another resident, who have not even been inside either.
“There are people here who have not even flown on an airplane in their entire lives,” said a pensioner who wanted to only be known as Mohd Nasir. 
Jaafar, the former fresh chicken trader, has a philosophical way of seeing it.
“Even when something comes from God, it does not benefit everyone the same way. If rains for instance, the padi planter likes it but not the rubber tapper.”
What more if it is development from humans.

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