Kota Kinabalu’s Filipino Markets

The air is hazy with the smoke from burning chicken skewers and the scent of durian. Hawkers shout and wave their menus, drawing you into their seafood stall. Stallholders delicately pile their produce into pyramids, and lay out rows of packaged spices and chilies. The tourists pouring from the tour buses outside barely make inroads into the markets, hanging in clusters and cautiously buying durian from the stalls on the edges.

This labyrinth of stalls is the ‘Filipino markets’ on the waterfront of Kota Kinabalu (KK).

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Old men work as a tailors on antique machines on the street outside the handicraft markets. Young men prowl the streets, tapping coins on the lenses of fake Ray Bans for sale. Women sit behind little stalls selling dubious medicine and pills.

Borneo-Filipino Markets-web-1While their parents work, children of all ages play football in the dirt and make a game from piling pebbles into plastic bags.

As the name suggests, the Filipino markets are mostly run by Filipinos, who began migrating to KK in larger numbers in the 1970s due to instability in the southern Philippines. These markets have been a staple of KK’s waterfront for decades.

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However, the pressures of development and gentrification of KK’s waterfront are apparent. Luxury condominiums and malls are mushrooming along KK’s waterfront. Cranes litter the skyline. Directly across the road from the handicrafts section of the markets is the skeleton of a tall building, advertised as ‘The Shore’. This luxury mixed-use hub that will soon be KK’s tallest residential building upon completion in 2022. Leaning against the walled advertisement was a boy with a plastic cup in front of him, with a few meager coins inside.

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This leads me to wonder whether institutions such as the Filipino markets will survive the pressures of development on KK’s waterfront.

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