Kampung Lure

11Dec06

as published in the starweekend & star online travel & lifestyle, 9 december 2006

copy of article also found online at clove two, 9 december 2006

Last year, five Negri Sembilan homestay hosts received some 7,150 guests, generating over RM460,000 for their villages. This year, the figure is expected to double, writes MAJIDAH HASHIM.

DRIVING to Kampung Pelegong is like taking a journey back in time. As I make my way from Seremban town, through Labu, and eventually to the village, the roads just get narrower and narrower.

I encounter a herd of goats, and a little further up, a flock of chickens. As I slow down to make way for the animals, another car comes in the opposite direction, and I swerve to the sandy shoulder of the road to give way. The driver drives by in a battered Toyota, holds up one hand in gratitude, and smiles.

At the community centre, I am met by one of the village elders, Reduan Sahid, 52. Hopping into my car, he proudly shows me the fruit and vegetable farms, the village’s landmark 160-year-old rubber tree, and the people – he knows EVERYONE!

We stop by the house of Che Om Ahmad, 42, who grew up in the village and has been here all her life. Her three children were in school and her immaculately kept house was quiet.

Eagerly, she pulls out a box of pictures and a large album and shows me a collection of photos mailed to her from all over the world by her homestay guests. They are from England, Sudan, Taiwan, Singapore, Holland and Japan.

She proudly tells me that in the 10 years that she has opened up her home to guests, she has received over 100 visitors.

Reduan tells me the village as a whole has accommodated several thousand guests. Although the bulk of their visitors are school groups, a substantial number is made up of families and backpackers.

The villagers introduce their guests to authentic Malay and Minangkabau cuisine, including their lemak cili api. Che Om reflects on how she once taught a Japanese school group how to make lepat pisang, and how they had so much fun even though their lepat was misshapen.

The village also organises games like takraw bulatan, coconut bowling, batu seremban and congkak.

While I am rounding up my trip to Kampong Pelegong, I have the good fortune of meeting Ahmad Tajuddin Hj Jamaludin, 49, of the Seremban Welfare Department, who represents the Malaysian Institute of Social Development. According to Tajuddin, the primary objective of homestay is to introduce locals and foreigners alike to the kampung life and to preserve the kampung culture.

The homestay villages are a good example of how rural settlements are able to manage themselves economically and socially without depending solely on government subsidies. Also, these villages have youth groups working hand in hand with the village elders, and this is a good way to ensure continuity.

Badrul Hisham, 49, the vice president of the Malaysian Homestay Association, says there is a strict set of criteria for the selection of homestay villages in Negri Sembilan. Apart from the Tourism Ministry, other agencies involved include the Agriculture Ministry, Rural Development Ministry, Youth and Sports Ministry, Information Ministry and Health Ministry.

The five villages currently running homestay programmes in Negri Sembilan were handpicked from dozens of other applicants for having special cultural and historic qualities. They are Kampong Pelegong, Kampong Lonek, Laman Bangkinang, Kampong Serting Hilir and Kampong Gemas.

Delving into the story of Kampong Gemas, the state’s newest homestay village, Badrul says Hang Tuah used the Gemas route when he embarked on the legendary journey to bring Tun Teja from Pahang to Malacca. And it was at Danau Kubang – the location of the present Gemas village, that Hang Tuah first gave sireh to Tun Teja.

There is also the memorial and ruins of the Sungai Kelamah Bridge, where 30 soldiers from the Australian army died defending the village from Japanese invaders during WWII.

Today, the village is known for its paddy fields, rubber and oil palm estates, coconut-based handicraft products, and production of beef.

An overnight kampung experience inclusive of meals and activities goes for anywhere between RM60 and RM150 per person. This is because the homestays here customise their programmes according to the groups that visit them and, of course, the season (fruit, fishing etc).

Every package comes with cultural elements, leading up to a night of traditional song and dance, where everyone is expected to join in.

A self-declared urban yuppie once told me that where kampungs are concerned, if you’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all. So why would one go to a kampung for a break when they could retreat to a nice beach somewhere?

Well, for the people, I should think. And the simple pleasures of life stripped of the usual modern-day expectations. W

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