IT IS a regular day in Kampung Baru Tanah Hitam in Chemor, Perak on a sunny Wednesday morning.
Several elderly men are seated outside a coffeeshop chatting away.
Another prefers to be alone, poring over a Chinese newspaper.
The scene is nothing unusual in the slow-paced village life, but there is more than meets the eye.
Village chief Chan Ooi, 68, said many of these men were forced into early retirement that led to a sedentary lifestyle.
“They used to be healthy, strong farmers with a purpose in life.
Kampung Baru Tanah Hitam is a fast ageing community.
“They lost their source of livelihood over the last 10 years after the state took away the land they had toiled on for decades,” he said, adding that there were about 2,000 residents in this predominantly agricultural village.
The surrounding areas are suitable for planting of vegetables such as pak choy, choy sum and radish as well as lotus root.
Kampung Baru Tanah Hitam was set up during the Emergency (from 1948 to 1960) and was among five new villages in the Ulu Kinta district that have seen most of their farm land taken away by the state over the last decade.
The other four villages are Changkat Kinding, Kanthan Baru, Kuala Kuang and Chemor.
With an ageing community where some 70% of residents are aged 60 and above, Chan said the village’s current demographics was reflected in its school’s enrolment.
The Chinese primary school in Kampung Baru Tanah Hitam is facing a fast dwindling enrollment. pix by Foong Pek Yee.
SJK (C) Tanah Hitam, which was established in 1950, today has only 150 pupils.
The school, according to him, used to run on full capacity in the old days.
The village’s 40-year-old kindergarten, which was set up in 1978, was closed in 2013 because of low enrolment.
Following the closure, Chan said the primary school doubled as a kindergarten.
There are three coffeeshops in the village that open as early as 5am.
“The farmers are early risers and they would have their breakfast at the coffeeshops before starting work.
Chan says the villagers have lost almost all the farm land they toiled on for decades in recent years.
“They still eat at the coffeeshops although they have stopped work.”
A coffeeshop operator said his customers during the day were mostly the elderly while the younger ones would patronise the place between 9pm and midnight.
A customer who only wanted to known as Lau, in his 60s, said he usually spent time with friends at the coffeeshops during lunch before buying a takeaway meal for his wife.
Lau said after his family lost their farm land a few years ago, his son began doing odd jobs while his daughter-in-law, who used to be a housewife, found an office job nearby.
His other children are married and live in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
There is hope yet for the villagers under the new Pakatan Harapan government.
The village temple is where festive celebrations and dinners are usually held.
Chan said prior to GE14, leaders who are now in the Federal Government had promised to allocate farming land to the villagers.
“We will ask them to fulfil their promises after their first 100 days,” said Chan, who was a village development officer from 1980 until his retirement in 2009.
His father, Chan Heng, was from China and had eight children.
“Life was hard but we are grateful to have a roof over our heads. The air in our village is also good,” he said said.
Fast-foward to the present day, Chan said agriculture remained the sector that could help rejuvenate the village.
The younger people, he said, should adopt modern farming practices that would reduce dependency on labour to make farming feasible.
“Young farmers should seek a market for their produce,” he said, adding that his 28-year-old son, Soon Lek, ran a fruit farm in a hilly area about 40km from the village.
“Experience in farming is important and the elderly farmers can help out, too,” Chan said.
Elderly villagers in Kampung Baru Tanah Hitam spend much time in the company of one another.