The two faces of Serikin By Yu Ji & Vijaya Menon
QUIET and tranquil most of the time, the town springs to life during the weekends as more than 1,500 Indonesians flood the market places, selling everything … from trinkets, curtains to expensive perfumes and wine glasses.
Local teenagers routinely travelling to Bau for their secondary education — contrasted with the weekend upbeat business mood — serves to heighten the diametrically opposite lifestyles of this border town — peaceful and noisy.
With Indonesian music blaring from loud speakers, the market seems caught in a helter-skelter kind of existence.
During that time, the population soars to more than double. All the usually empty houses are suddenly over-crowded. The shopkeepers don’t mind the invasion.
“Good for business,” they happily admit.
Locals, about 95 per cent Bidayuh, rent out accommodation and stall equipment.
This is the kind of town western travel writers tend to romanticise about so often, yet is considered backwards by Sarawak’s urbanites.
Founded in the 1950’s, Serikin is just five km away from the Sarawak-Kalimantan border.
Today, it still has only about 150 houses, a primary school, a police station, a custom office and an immigration office. Business premises even have sign boards written in Indonesian — Tokoh usually supplants Kedai, for instance.
The locals are mainly padi, corn and pepper farmers. Their produce is sold at much smaller roadside stalls before the farmers enter the town. Others work in nearby oil palm estates.
The market — stretching about 600 metres on both sides of a narrow road — is operated 100 per cent by Indonesians and they do brisk business. A curtain salesman told us he made at least RM2,000 every weekend.
Another selling watches, caps and belts said he earned RM400 “on a bad day!”
“It’s good business here — what I can say,” Mahyarahman, 55, beamed.
“Even though I only sell curtains, I make at least RM2,000 over the weekend.
“I sell cheap and expensive ones. The cheapest is only RM20 and most expensive “sikit lebih seratus (just over RM100). There’s something for everyone,” he added.
As if to confirm the town’s popularity as a weekend market, many luxurious cars (including BMWs and 4WDs) drive by … sometimes on muddy roads … and drop their passengers for a shopping spree.
“Many decoratives can be found here for the coming Hari Raya,” Mahyarahman said.
Another trader, Ijudin, 45, added: “In fact, I think the crowd today is smaller than usual. Not many people are here today because it‘s raining, and also too early in the fasting month.
“Wait until a week or two before Hari Raya, I can tell you by then we will be very busy.”
Among the big spenders here are business people from nearby areas like Sri Aman, Kuching and even Sibu, who buy in bulk. At the poorer end of the Serikin market, there are Indonesian women selling meat and vegetables. They cross the border by a chartered bus on Fridays.
Vegetables are cheap — for example, a kg of ginger costs RM3. But the cheaper prices and wider variety of products are not the only reason for the 80km drive — it’s also interesting to meet our neighbours from across the border. Many are just as friendly as the locals … which is not surprising given that a border doesn’t separate Borneo’s native cultures.
In fact, there are hardly any double personalities at all.