Fading tales of a fishing village


Some of the fishes are sold to be made into processed food, such as fish balls.

Don’t let the “bird observation house” signboard confuse you as you make your way pass the arch into Kampung Bagan Sungai Burung in Sabak Bernam.

Although the name of the village translates to “bird river jetty” from the Malay language, bird viewing activities are scarce now, according to village chief Chia Kai Yia.

“There’s a house located in the middle of the sea that used to be a popular place for migrating birds, but of late there are a very few birds there,” he said.

“We are known for our fishing activities,” said Chia.

He noted that stingrays and catfish were two of the main catch, while oysters were also popular along with other crustaceans.

Chia manages most of the fishing boats there, as his family did for over 50 years now.

The arch marks the main entrance and exit to the village. The village is in the northwest of Selangor, some two hours away from Kuala Lumpur.
The arch marks the main entrance and exit to the village. The village is in the northwest of Selangor, some two hours away from Kuala Lumpur.

“Like my father and grandfather, we run a middlemen business.

“When the daily catch is collected, we purchase them and have them transported and distributed to markets in nearby Pekan Sungai Besar as well as Selayang, Malacca and Johor,” he said.

The village is one of eight villages along the coast of Sabak Bernam, Selangor – all of which depend on the fishing industry for their main source of income.

Teochew Chinese make up 90% of Kampung Bagan Sungai Burung’s population. There are about 800 residents living in 150 homes by the sea.

“More than 50 years ago, you would need a boat to come to this place. There were no roads leading here.

“It was only in the late 1970s or early 1980s that the roads were built,” said Chia, adding that back then, the village was not even listed on the official map,” he added.

Resident Heng Ang Phaw, 76, said when he was younger, he was told that it was a fisherman by the name of Haji Salleh, who spurred the fishing activity in this area more than 100 years ago.

He also said most of the village’s populace today were the descendants of those who moved over from a nearby region some 15 minutes away.

The fishermen sells their daily catches to Chias business to be distributed and sold in markets at bigger cities.
The fishermen sells their daily catches to Chias business to be distributed and sold in markets at bigger cities.

“That place is now completely vacated, it does not exist anymore,” he said.

Heng, who was born and bred in the village, developed an interest for the village’s history, and started to document his knowledge as a hobby.

During a visit to his home, Heng showed some of his handwritten manuscripts that he wishes to publish one day.

He noted that the village was also known for Ho Soon Huat, a famous coconut business, ran by his wife’s late grandfather.

“It was quite a big business then, but has ceased to exist since the later generations did not know how to manage it,” he said.

Besides catching fishes, Heng was also one of the founding committee members at the village’s Hai Ping primary school.

The bridge was previously made of wood until it was remodeled using concrete in 1994. Supported by metal bars and pillars now, Chia said theyre looking to install steel ones instead due to rusting issues.
The bridge was previously made of wood until it was remodeled using concrete in 1994. Supported by metal bars and pillars now, Chia said theyre looking to install steel ones instead due to rusting issues.

It was a position he actively served from 1962 up to last year, and was behind projects such as charity nights and reconstruction works.

The school was established in 1947, but intake has been gradually decreasing with families moving to the urban areas, leaving the school with only about 100 students now.

“I call this an ‘old people village’,” said 64-year-old resident Tan Soon Huat.

Tan, a fisherman with eight siblings, was the only one in his family who stayed behind in the village.

“We used to fish a lot and make an adequate living, but as the number of fishing boats increased, competition became stiff,” he said, adding that many of the younger generation left for greener pastures.

Perched comfortably on a chair in the “Hui Long Gong” multi-purpose hall, Tan said this is where he comes for weddings and big events, and also where he spends time chitchatting with his friends.

The Hui Long Gong multi-purpose hall is attached to the Hui Long Gong temple. It is used mainly for weddings and other big community events.
The Hui Long Gong multi-purpose hall is attached to the Hui Long Gong temple. It is used mainly for weddings and other big community events.

Chia said there were only two main roads in the village – Jalan Bagan and Jalan Sekolah.

A bridge also connects the two roads, which many opt to walk across.

“I have applied with authorities to have the metal bridge replaced with steel instead. The current material rusts pretty fast due to the saltwater environment,” he said.

The village does not draw many tourists, but seafood is what lures most customers to its restaurants on weekends.

“We are one of the most famous spots for seafood in the entire Sabak Bernam region,” Chia said, noting that Yao Kee is the restaurant with the longest history in the village.

“Although sometimes, people do come for the beach or just to fish.”

There are three seafood restaurants in the village, and one coffee shop by the river where villagers leisurely gather.

“All of us get along very well here – it’s not hard when everyone knows each other,” stated Chia.

He said he looks to upgrade the village, rather than to develop it.

“We like it the way it is, but it wouldn’t hurt if we could improve our living standards,” said Chia.

As such, he does not deny future plans to make the place a tourist destination.

“If we could put this in motion, we might even be able to introduce processed products on top of fresh seafood, like prawn and fish crackers,” he said.

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