Kampung Siam is a 170-year-old village smack in the heart of Georgetown's Pulau Tikus district, reportedly Penang Island's most expensive tract of real estate. Originally gifted by the British Empire to the Thai and Burmese communities in 1845 for religious purposes, it is now facing the very real possibility of demolition to make way for a hotel.
Today, Kampung Siam is a smaller delineation of the original land that was bequeathed, and its residents are Thai, Chinese and Indian. The village is hemmed in by the heavy traffic of Burma Road, several high-rises and two Buddhist temples . There are just about ten homes, half of which are overhung by ramshackle tin roofs, and a handful of small businesses: a florist, two tyre shops, a coffee stall, a couple of sundry shops, a photocopy shop, an Indian barber.
The village's residents are divided on the prospect of development. Some are happy to take the compensation money—RM72,000 per family—and leave; some are still protesting. It’s not surprising that the Thai families, being some of the original inhabitants, are more attached to this place. The Aroonratanas have called this place home for generations, and their nonagenarian patriarch, Wan Dee Aroonratana, is a former menora dancer and shaman, who was awarded the state’s Living Heritage Award back in 2007.
Along with other residents, the Aroonratanas are attempting a last-ditch legal effort to save their ancestral land. If they fail, they will lose not just their home, but their way of life.