Poverty in Asia

September 07, 2012

poverty in Asia - construction shanty town

The poverty in Asia can be shocking despite this being the Asian century and the fact that we are staying in one of the most prosperous countries in South East Asia. It's partly the contrast in Malaysia that stuns.  As you might recall, we are renting a luxury condo in Penang and this is one of the buildings across the street from us. All the construction near us has these shanty towns filled with the workers and their families.

There seems to be plenty of work here and the contruction business is booming, in stark contrast to  what we have witnessed in Europe and California lately. But it is shocking that this is how the workers, who are out all day, 7 days a week in this hot sun, live. I am not sure if they are locals or foreigners, but there is no running water and the most primitive conditions.

Not everyone lives like this of course, many local families live in our luxury building and there are plenty of brand new Mercedes-Benz and high-end cars that go by as we wait for the bus with poorer locals or doing businesses on bikes. There are many luxury buildings in this area, but also modest row houses and some other primitive row houses that are poor, but a big step up from this.

Asia is definitely a land of contrasts. When you feel unhappy with your life and problems, just look at these families and know how truly blessed you are.

"As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good check up at Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent." Martin Luther King Jr.

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These days, most of the construction workers in Malaysia are from elsewhere. The thing that really makes you think is to realize that they voluntarily are working and living in those conditions -- in other words, those conditions are still better than what they left behind in their home countries. Boggles the mind and really makes it sad, doesn't it?

Jeanne @Soultravelers3

Thanks YTSL, for the input from a Penang native as I hadn't gotten the answer yet on whether these were locals or immigrants.

Quite shocking and very sad. We saw similar when we were in Bhutan, with very poor Indians working on the roads.

Do you know where these people are from?


Sounds like our life in Cape Town ... (although the shacks are usually not right opposite luxury buildings).


The same thing is what you will see in the Philippines. It's like 25% are in good condition while the rest is not. Those that you seen in Malaysia are very similar.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Interesting Melanie, thanks for the input as we have not been to Cape Town yet, but it is on our list.

Yes, it is truly strange how close these are mixed in with a mostly luxury area. There is a lot of new construction here, so that is part of it, I guess.

We're in a kind of busy, bustling suburb beach area, very close to Georgetown, so it's odd to see the contrasts here.

We walk to a modern new mall 2 block away and watch them play football sometimes on an empty field next to it or see them taking a "shower" pouring a small bucket of water over themselves.

We watch people picking something in the open fields and even see cows and goats here, so quite the mix.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks Mike for adding to the conversation. We haven't been to the Philippines yet, but have seen it else where in Asia.


Stunning post that reminds us to enjoy what we do have. I guess travelling to this kind of place is a real life-lesson, thanks for sharing this!

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