One Man's Meat

Published: Saturday November 22, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday November 22, 2014 MYT 8:14:31 AM

Uphill battle in Sabah's interior

IT was an invite that I couldn’t refuse. The controversial Datuk Bung Moktar Radin invited me on a road trip to his Kinabatangan constituency in Sabah.

I searched Inarad on Google and found the road to the village in the middle of nowhere in Sabah was notorious for being impassable.

Photographs of four-wheel drives (4WDs) stuck in tanah merah (mud) convinced me that I should visit a remote village that I’d never visited in my home state.

I marked Inarad on my calendar and bought my AirAsia ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Sandakan.

On Friday morning, I was in the Kinabatangan Member of Parliament’s convoy (4WDs and off-road vehicles) travelling from Sandakan town to Kampung Inarad.

After two hours and 130km, the convoy stopped in Telupid town that the controversial politician made famous because he used to pepper his tweets with “ayam Telupid”.

In a mamak shop, the ever-smiling 54-year-old Sabah politician warned that if it rained, we could be sleeping in the middle of virgin jungle as the dirt road might be impassable.

“If it rains heavily, even a 4WD can’t move,” he said.

“You will need an off-road vehicle to pull you out of the mud.”

Since I was in Telupid, I should have asked Bung Moktar what ayam Telupid meant. But he had already explained to me.

“What is ayam Telupid?” I asked him two years ago.

Bung Moktar laughed, and his amused eyes became slits.

“It is only used in Sabah, mostly in Sandakan.

“If you do something wrong, they will call you ayam Telupid. It is the worst kind of chicken, lah – an ayam mati (Sabah slang for ‘useless person’),” he said.

“How did the phrase come about?” I asked.

“Previously, the Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan road was jahat (with potholes) and when motorists stopped at Telupid town, the chicken there were not tasty bah,” he explained.

If I needed a metaphor to describe the 102km Tongod to Kampung Inarad road, I would curse it as ayam Telupid.

The journey was treacherous.

The 170km trunk road from Sandakan to Tongod was sealed. The “fun” only began from Tongod to Kampung Inarad as the road was a combination of gravel, tanah merah and potholes, passing through virgin jungle and oil palm plantations.

The highlight of the journey was spotting a pygmy elephant crossing the dirt road. We arrived in Kampung Inarad at about 8pm.

That night I slept with Bung Moktar ... in a wooden balai raya (community hall), together with about 20 of his Kinabatangan Umno leaders and members.

I wondered how many of his critics in Kuala Lumpur knew that the grassroots politician slept on a wooden floor when visiting remote areas in his Kinabatangan constituency. The next day, I met a rather disagreeable woman who was part of a non-governmental organisation from Kota Kinabalu.

She assumed that Bung Moktar landed in Kampung Inarad in a helicopter.

“I heard he’s coming in by helicopter. YBs should try the road so that they can feel how the rakyat felt,” I overheard her telling my friend.

Annoyed, as she did not bother to check her assumption, I said, “Bung came by road.”

“Build the road then,” she said.

“It would cost about RM150mil,” I said.

“Get the money then,” she said.

Realising that she was the type of person who wouldn’t feel remorse even though she has fitnah (defamed) someone, I decided not to reply.

Earlier, I had asked Bung Moktar how much it would cost to build a sealed road from Tongod to Kampung Inarad.

He estimated about RM150mil to connect about 5,000 people from seven villages to Tongod.

“But if the Government does not have the budget, then RM80mil is enough for a gravel road. So that even when there is heavy rain, vehicles can pass through,” he said.

“Some Sabahans have complained that despite voting for Barisan Nasional, many areas in Sabah do not have proper roads.

What have you got to say?” I asked the outspoken MP.

“They are right. But it is very expensive to build roads, so you have to do it in stages.

“You also have to fight in the Dewan Rakyat for the roads, as the budget (for road development) is not enough,” he said.

“I’m fighting for development funds for a constituency the size of Pahang.”

Bung Moktar then went on to list the roads that the Government built after he “fought” for them in the Dewan Rakyat since becoming Kinabatangan MP in 1999.

The Kinabatangan MP was in Inarad to support the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Malanjum’s mobile court programme. Thousands of “original Sabahans” are without original birth certificates.

The nearly impassable Inarad to Tongod road is the main reason why many of the villagers in Inarad are without original birth certificates.

The cost of going to Sandakan is almost double a villager’s RM400 monthly income, because of the road condition.

Instead of waiting for the unfortunate Sabahans to come to court in Sandakan town to apply for late birth registration, Justice Malanjum decided that the court must go to the people.

On Saturday, we left Inarad at around 2pm. It was a hot day and the dirt road was dusty. 

It felt as if we were driving through a cloud of thick dust. 

It was impossible to see the truck laden with logs about 5m in front of our Toyota Hilux 4WD pick-up truck. 

Then it started to drizzle. And the dirt road revealed how treacherous it was. Our pick-up truck slid several times when we drove down a muddy slope without gravel.

Some of the 4WDs in our convoy had to be assisted by the off-road vehicles to safely negotiate the slippery slopes. There were times I felt that we would slide down and end up in a ravine.

We were considered lucky as we left Inarad earlier. 

On the way out of Inarad, the Chief Justice of Sabah and Sarawak’s convoy took 13.5 hours to Tongod. It left Inarad at 2pm and arrived in Sandakan town at 4am. 

The road was so slippery that the 4WDs were stuck in “big holes” several times.

Malanjum had to abandon his 4WD and hop into another 4WD so that he would not miss a flight back to Kuala Lumpur. 

The Inarad to Tongod journey, as promised by Bung Moktar, was indeed a memorable trip. It also made me appreciate the highways I take for granted in the Klang Valley.

Tags / Keywords: Philip Golingai

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