In Terengganu, where PAS is seen as ‘hopeless’

“Marang used to be popular with tourists – foreign tourists, you know, from Europe, Australia and the like. Now ‘habuk pun tadak’,”

(FMT) – The east coast state of Terengganu makes for a great beach holiday, if one does not mind a lower standard of facilities and cleanliness, and dirty squatting toilets.

There are no five-star hotels here, and no shopping malls to match those found in Kuala Lumpur. There are also no cinemas.

Do not even ask for a steakhouse or a “Bin 42” or anything of that sort. These were ruled out even before anyone here dreamt of setting them up.

Most people I know retain their friendly nature, though, and if you speak their lingo – a rather difficult dialect to pick up – even strangers will claim you as a long lost relative or friend.

The boatman of Marang

Recently, I reunited with an old friend, boatman Zaidi, who I’ve known since the late 1980s.

People in Marang know him as Pok Di, a leading boatman who for umpteen years ferried tourists from the Marang jetty to Pulau Kapas, and occasionally to Pulau Bidong or Pulau Tenggol for deep sea fishing.

Zaidi, now in his mid-50s, was a staunch Umno supporter for many years but switched to PAS just prior to 2013, when the Islamic party joined the then-Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

I last met him again three years ago. This time, he spoke vividly about local politics in Terengganu, which he said had become rather disappointing.

He told me he was disillusioned with the state leadership and was not able to hide his uneasiness with PAS.

“They are not competent, cannot govern the state and have no clue about what to do here,” he said then. I remember that conversation well.

This time around, those feelings have morphed into a high degree of rejection.

He did not just speak for himself but for members of his extended family and many friends who share similar sentiments.

Fans of PMX

Like many others who I met on this trip, Zaidi has become a loud supporter of “PMX”, the moniker now commonly used to describe Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Sitting next to me in his semi-luxurious speed boat which can accommodate up to 10 passengers, he issued stern instructions to his crew of two in the local dialect.

We had just left the jetty and were making our way out of the Marang river.

His two young able-bodied crewmen were Adnan, or Nang, who stood behind the wheel, and Husin, known as Aseng, who was at the bow navigating Nang out of the shallows towards the river mouth. Aseng also looked after the fishing gear used for deep sea fishing.

Tonight, however, we were heading for an area behind Kapas to do some squid fishing, a popular pastime for accidental tourists like me, but a regular job for many fishermen in Marang.

“You look at this breakwater,” said Pok Di, pointing to solid rocks stacked up several metres high, over several hundred metres long, to protect the river mouth from the onslaught of the monsoon.

“We are lucky the previous government decided to build this. Now, the fishermen here can go out and come back in at any time of the day. We do not have to wait for high tide any more. It has made a lot of difference to our livelihoods,” said Pok Di, who spoke very good English.

Years of handling foreign tourists had made him a good speaker of the language. It is an attribute few boatmen here have. I also know that Pok Di likes to read.

“Kuala Besut and Merang are not so fortunate,” he said. “They do not have this kind of breakwater.”

Tourism in decline

“What’s wrong with this state government,” I asked.

“Plenty,” was his immediate response. “You must know how to govern, which they don’t. A government must be for all, not just party members, and you cannot have a racist government.

“Marang used to be popular with tourists – foreign tourists, you know, from Europe, Australia and the like. Now ‘habuk pun tadak’,” he said, laughing cynically.

I nodded quietly. Pok Di was obviously bitter.

“All we have now are local tourists with limited money to spend. There has been no new investment here since PAS took over.

“Some of the resorts have closed down. All are for sale, with no buyers. Who would want to invest here,” he asked sarcastically, and rhetorically. He clearly was not expecting any answer from me.

“Don’t forget we have to close our services four or five months in a year during the monsoon. Those morons in KT (Kuala Terengganu) do not understand these things,” he lamented.

To be continued tomorrow.