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One Man's Meat

Published: Saturday January 31, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday January 31, 2015 MYT 8:04:28 AM

Getting down to business

Maybe it’s time to monetise the interesting ideas swirling in my head.

THE other day I received a tempting offer.

“Why don’t you apply for a Teraju (Peneraju Bumiputera) grant?” Richard Munang told me when I stumbled into him at Mama Mary’s Kitchen, a famous home-cooked bubur kinolou (porridge) shop in Penampang, Sabah, on a Sunday.

“What’s that?” I said.

“If you have a RM2.5mil and above business project, you can apply for a Dana Mudahcara grant where you can get a 15% financial grant of the project,” said Munang, who works for Sedia (Sabah Economic Development and Investment Authority).

“That means if your project is worth RM2.5mil, you can get a RM375,000 grant. If your project is worth RM10mil then (if approved) you get RM1.5mil.”

“You have to pay back the grant?” I asked.

“No, it is a grant.” he said.

Tempted, I asked, “What kind of business?”

“You can build a housing project or a tourism project, or a warehouse,” he said.

With a grant dangled in front of me, my mind went into entrepreneurship mode. Perhaps I could apply for the grant to do a tourism project in my jungle hill land in Penampang, I thought.

Coincidentally, on the day I met Munang, I had just returned from a camping trip with my nephews on my jungle land the size of 10 football fields.

I’ve been thinking of turning it into an uber campsite. Instead of the typical tents, I would use hanging tents where campers sleep suspended in the air.

But surely that project would not cost up to RM2.5mil, I thought.

Then I remembered my other dream business project – to turn my one-acre land in Inobong, Penampang, into a mixed development – shoplots, apartments and hotel.

The project on a land about 16km from Kota Kinabalu might be a success as I’ve noticed that residential projects have started to encroach into villages in Penampang, the heartland of the Kadazandusuns (some Sabahans would argue Sino-Kadazans).

The trend now is to build residential projects in villages because many can’t afford to buy a house in KK (as Sabahans call Kota Kinabalu) as the prices have gone up. I’m told you are lucky if you could buy a landed property in KK for half a million.

I’ve also noticed more Kadazandusuns are thinking of business. Previously, my community was more contented with a career in civil service or politics (every other Kadazandusun I know wants to be a YB or village head).

My community has land bank as they put emphasis in land ownership. This is because we come from a padi farming community where you need a padi field in order to survive.

It has been drilled in our heads that land is important.

“You can never sell the land you inherit. If not you will not have any land to give to your children,” my mother drummed into my head since childhood.

“It is pusaka turun temurun (inheritance).”

(The rule is you can’t sell a land that you inherited. You could only sell a land that you bought on your own.)

Now, many of the padi fields and rubber plantations in Penampang are abandoned. Take my one acre of padi field. Until the 1990s, my family planted padi on it. (The taste and smell of freshly harvested padi are to die for.)

We stopped as my late dad (who has a degree in padi farming) decided that it was cheaper to buy rice than plant it. Plus it was a backbreaking endeavour.

We left the padi field abandoned. Later, we filled it with earth with the intention of building a house on the land.

I almost fell for the old way of thinking that was to build a home on your ancestral land. In 2006, I hired an architect to design a RM100,000 home. My brief to him was to design a Glenn Murcutt house – highly economical and multi-functional that fit into the Penampang landscape.

A few months later, I abandoned my dream house project as I was sent to Bangkok to be The Star’s correspondent in Thailand.

If I had not abandoned the project, today I would have a house with an award-winning design. It would have generated something intrinsic like happiness but not money.

On hindsight, I’m happy that I didn’t build a house on that land as I would have lost the potential to generate money.

More Kadazandusuns have the same philosophy as me. Instead of building a house, they are using their land for business. For example, one rather clever cousin of mine (everyone in Penampang are related by blood or marriage) turned his sloping land into a commercial graveyard. Others have built bird nest farms or warehouses.

For me, I’m thinking of building shoplots, apartments and hotel made of shipping containers on my one acre piece of land. I’ve been Googling cool design using containers.

Last weekend, I did a lawatan sambil belajar (study tour) in Kuala Selangor to get a feel of The Kabin, a resort made of container. Staying one night at the two-month-old resort gave me an idea how a guest would feel sleeping in a 20-foot container.

I also asked the co-owner of The Kabin some basic questions such as how much it cost to build a container hotel room and a 50-foot swimming pool, how many workers they employed and what was the occupancy rate.

My next study tour will be in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to check out Sleepbox, a shipping container hotel. One thing about Thais that I learnt when I lived in Thailand is they have cool in their DNA.

“Are you a businessman?” my wife asked me the other day.

Her question took me aback. “Why do you ask?” I said.

“Because you are planning to build that project of yours,” she said.

“Well, if I do build it is because I’m an entrepreneur. I don’t know anything about business. All I know is journalism,” said a rather defensive me. “But I think I can learn and I have friends who can advise me,” I said.

Coincidentally, on Thursday when I moderated Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong’s #AskSME Twitter session, I met several people who might be able to help me in my project. For example, someone from SME Bank (it seems I can apply for loan from the bank for my project).

I hope I got entrepreneurship in my Kadazandusun DNA.


  • The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.




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