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Expatriate Community Extinguished: Replaced with Nature Reserve

Rhinoceros Hornbill Piasau Camp Miri Nature Park, Borneo Sarawak Malaysia
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When I remember Piasau Camp I remember vibrant Friday nights. The Boat Club was filled with all of my schoolmates running barefoot on the beach and playing cops and robbers in the playground. All of the parents sat around eating laksa and drinking pitchers of Tiger Beer, laughing and sharing stories. I remember many parties and events celebrating everything we could think of for the sheer entertainment of it.

 

I remember my Amah, Shirley, who I would confide in and laugh with when I was upset with my parents. I remember watching her lay out the shrimp to dry on the bamboo mats in our yard. I remember watching the monitor lizards warm up on our driveway and retreat to the drain to cool down. I remember glimpsing the regal hornbills in a hollow old tree outside our house.

 

In 2003 a man appeared on the street before our house, my father went out to ask him what he was doing. The stranger replied that our house, number 21 Piasau Camp was his childhood home in the 1960s. When my father told me what he was doing, I decided then and there that I wanted to come back when I grew up, just like him, and visit Piasau once more. Unfortunately I’m no longer sure if I will be able to do this.

 

In November 2011, it was announced on the Borneo Post that the expatriate community would be leaving Piasau Camp and moving into private, gated areas in the city of Miri. Piasau Camp has been in Miri since Shell sunk the first oil well – the Grand Old Lady – in 1910 atop Canada Hill. Piasau has a rich history with expatriates, having hosted the Shell community for approximately 100 years.

 

As of June 2014 Shell Oil worked together with Petronas and state government to convert the camp into Piasau Nature Reserve in Miri, which was officially opened in May of 2014. This nature reserve has become a designated hornbill haven for the local Rhinoceros Hornbill pair that has lived there for over forty years.

 

Recently there were threats that Piasau Camp would be renovated into a resort area on the reserve, the still-standing houses would be an easy remodel and would create a lot of revenue for Miri. However, this is strongly contested because the construction would disturb the natural area.

 

As a previous resident of this area I am saddened that I may not ever get to visit my childhood home, and if I did, the earth would have taken it back. I would tear up at the site of my school covered in vines and drooping down into the wet earth. I would be sad to see that after 100 years of young families traipsing all over the hard wood floors of the 200 some odd houses and children playing in the large green gardens, it would all be eaten away by the jungle.

 

In spite of all these things that would sadden me, I would still see the shoreline that I memorized so well as a child. I would still scamper away in a panic from the ghost crabs dancing on the dark sand. I would still enjoy the Borneo sunset and the smell of the ocean. If the houses are left to rot, and facilities left to ruin I would be perfectly happy to experience my home through one of the nature tours offered at the reserve. Because for a TCK like me, a house is not a home.

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5 comments

  1. I love this article! Your ability to speak from experience, with such a vulnerability in your story and concerns for you childhood home, were really eye opening. 100 years of ex-pats living will just be gone forever, and that honestly just breaks my heart. I appreciate your ability to share your perspective about such a beautiful place with this community, share your little bit about Piasau.

  2. Great article! I hope you get to go back to your childhood home, and i hope they don’t turn it in to a resort area!! 

  3. Your description at the very beginning of this article is so powerful! I feel like your memories are mine too, and that tone fits really well the rest of the article since the area is being threatened. I like your photos too, and I think it’s good that their at the end so the picture in my mind from the first paragraph can come to life at the end!

  4. How you describe your childhood home is written in such a powerful way. The pictures at the end of the article really add to the depth of your story and gives a good idea at how life was when you lived there. Very interesting article!

  5. Lovely article – very evocative. We were the last residents on Piasau Camp and we left reluctantly on Jan 1st 2014.
    I was amongst those who campaigned to have it turned into. Nature Reserve – it could easily have become a concrete jingle.

    Small correction – the hornbills are Oriental Pied Hornbills and you can follow their exploits on FB.
    Search “save the oriental pied hornbill”

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