Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Boat Hawker

Boat hawkers are a rare breed now in Sarawak. They are actually businessmen who operate from their motor boats. Very often some members of their families are also helping and living onboard. Decades ago when the major means of transportation was by river,the boat hawkers were found in great numbers throughout Sarawak. Now there are only a handful full time boat hawkers operating along the major rivers of Sarawak. And probably among them, none still operate like the traditional boat hawkers whose triple responsibilities were to sell goods to the villagers, collect agricultural produces from the villagers and to finance their regular and loyal clients whenever they were in urgent need of cash. Those were the days when barter trade was the only business activity in the rural settlements of Sarawak.Improved infrastructure especially in terms of road network has threatened the existence and survival of the boat hawkers.In the olden days slow wooden motor boats were used but now they are replaced by the more powerful steel boats, which are the older version of the express passenger boats.Boat hawkers usually are very hard working and thrifty people. They move among the villages doing their business from dawn till dusk, very often late into the night. Apart from working hard, some other very important criteria to become a successful boat hawker is fluency in all the local languages and to know the local culture and traditions thoroughly.The most famous boat hawker of all time is Datuk Sri Wong Ming Kiong,(Wong Swan An) the boss of Jarkata based Djayanti Group. Stories had it that Datuk Sri Wong, a Foochow originally from Bintangor,Sarawak, was a boat hawker operating mainly between Bintangor and Sarikei areas from his motor boat called "Merudu No. 2" In the early 60s he left Sarawak for Indonesia,entering Pontianak on foot to seek his fortune in timber. He became very successful and subsequently changed his name to Burhan Uray, married a famous and pretty Taiwanese film star called Bai Jia Li. The legendary boat hawker is one of the richest men in South East Asia with interests in timber,fisheries,property,trading,cement,shipping and lots more, spreading all over Asia.

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