Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kuching

A land of excesses - vast land, abundant food, welcoming hospitality, bountiful sunlight and sweltering heat. A city with expansive land sparsely populated - 3 times the land size of Singapore but less than 5 times the population size of Singapore - imagine, some 1,863 square kilometres inhabited by just under 600,000 people! Kuching, capital city of Sarawak, the biggest state in Malaysia. 

The weather averaged an unbearable 38 degrees for the five full days I was there. What made it bearable however was; besides my husband, the 14 middle-aged men and women that make up the entire tour group I travelled with. It had been a great joy, being a part of this bigger family of generous and fun-loving aunties and uncles. There was never an awkward moment watching them. Away from the usual humdrum of family life and children, they were like kids on vacation. I saw them goofing around, laughing out loud without a care in the world, jesting and teasing each other as kids on a school excursion do. In fact, I so enjoyed my time with them I dreaded the last day as we departed from Kuching for Singapore. Onboard the plane, watching them steadily falling asleep one after another, I felt a pang of sadness, akin to those moments leading up to a farewell fanfare between tearful family members at airports. 

In every place that I visit, my happiest moments are brought about by cultural exchanges with its natives. I observed that women open wider doors to cultural experiences than men. Natives of a place are friendlier and more willing to share of their lives and experiences to a woman visitor. Kuching is a land of warm people and wide smiles. I spoke to many local men on various occasions, engaging them in their native tongue (Malay) and was warmly received because I spoke and sounded like them. I even look like them, given my tan complexion. I found out about their families, struggles, grips with their vocations, the city, the country.
 

A man I engaged in a conversation with at Sarawak Cultural Village left a deep impression in me. A good-looking middle-aged Orang Ulu (a native tribe of Sarawak), he carried a sorry tale behind his friendly demeanour. He allowed me to photograph only the top of his head, without revealing his face, and in between our conversation, I found that his wife died at child birth. He never remarried, but raised a daughter now 26 years old. I admire his strength, for I cannot imagine raising a child all by myself without a soul mate. 

In many places, rivers are an important source of life to its residents and a source of fascination to tourists. The Kuching River is no different. For just RM30, Jason and I relished a slow cruise along the river onboard a small, dingy, wooden boat half-rowed and half-run on motor by an elderly Malay man well into his 60s. The trip up and down the murky river, observing many a local and simple life of its Malay natives evokes a sense of tranquility unlike that found in a bustling city life. We chanced upon a welcoming sight of 4 boys playing at the shallow end of the river, stark naked.


We captured many a splendid scenes of and around the river and breathed in the simplicity of a people so humble it beckons a reflection on my part as to what I value as important. To me, constant progress is essential - thus my love for a city life. To these river folks, a day's wage and a close-knit family are sufficient. As a visitor to this beautiful land, I'm glad they retained this laid-back pace because every once in a while, we need a secluded place of refuge. For me, I found it this time round in the sleepy town of Kuching, though many a times I think I make a lousy tourist because I bring my city experiences to a quiet town and wonder what its natives do to occupy and humour themselves; and, silently, pity them. Maybe, similarly, unbeknown to me, they pity me, for my surrealism. 

One of the best ways to explore a city is to run through it - navigating its nooks n corners, eating places, retail stores, mechanical repair shops, dogs guarding many an industrial area. Running in Kuching must be a rare affair. I ran and attracted many a surprised and often second look by the locals, especially men, who nudge their fellow counterparts to look upon a stranger striding down the not-so-well paved streets, under a scorching sun and trapped humid heat, perspiring profusely, hair a wild mess and eyes scanning the vicinity and observing the everyday life of its inhabitants. 

The beauty of a place lies not just in its landscape, but in its people. Kuching may not offer the glitz and glamour of a modern city life, but it has certainly charmed me (and I believe many others) with its simplicity, hospitality and alluring Sarawak laksa. 


10 comments:

Linda said...

Lovely post. I would love to go back to East Malaysia. I was in Sabah and Mulu two years ago. Like you said, it's such a refuge for city people and wish they can stay like that. But is it selfish for us to want them stay the way they are, while we city people continue to enjoy the luxury and convenience of the evolving technology? Either way, I'm glad that I have the luxury to enjoy both the sleepy and city worlds. :)

Angeline Tan said...

Oh I'd love to visit Sabah, particularly to scale Mt Kinabalu. Yea, East Malaysia's so very different from West Malaysia - unbelievably laid back! But definitely more scenic. ;)

Linda said...

You should definitely go to Mt. Kinabalu. Very scenic and you'll get beautiful sunrise pictures. What I enjoyed most was actually the company of my guide, and experiencing the guides' life and their interaction with each other. Oh, and you should do the Via Ferrata. I'm sure you'll have lots of fun, and plenty to write about!

Angeline Tan said...

My friends climbed Mt Kinabalu earlier this year and listening to how grueling it was, I was even more determined to go. Hey, they didn't tell me about Via Ferrata. Thanks for the info! I googled it up - looks awesome! Maybe next year! Do you stay & work in S'pore too?

Linda said...

No, I'm nowhere near S'pore. I live on the other side of the globe from S'pore. But you do know me. ;)
The trek up Mt. Kinabalu is not a walk in park, though some sections are more scenic than a park, but it's not that grueling. I think most challenging will be getting used to the altitude on the last part after Laban Rata to the summit. Once you acclimate, there's no problem. You have the physical fitness, so no worries. Let me know when you go, I'll give you some tips that may help you with acclimatizing with the altitude. Make this your goal for next year. You won't regret, I guarantee you! ;)

Angeline Tan said...

Ok I won't refuse your tips and pointers when I plan my trip to Mt Kinabalu next year!

Pray tell, your last name? I don't suppose it's Lua. C'mon, I'll tell you mine? Muahahaha...

Linda said...

Smart Angie! And what a lame offer for info exchange. HAHAHA. :P
We gotta meet up when I'm back in JB. Time is always soooo limited when I'm back there!!!

Angeline Tan said...

Linda Lua!!! I had a sneaky suspicion at your first comment - knowing you like to trek. Hmm, you naughty, withholding your identity and all. But it's nice isn't it, communicating like we don't know each other, but kinda know, and voila - we do know each other indeed!

When are you coming back next? Let's trek/travel/take photos/do somethin! ;)

Linda said...

MUAHAHAHAHA...I had a kick wondering, "Does Angie know it's me?" tsk. tsk. But it is interesting to read your posts, tweets. So keep writing and tweetering. It's my reprieve from work. :)
Not sure when I'll be back next, either Dec or CNY. Yes, we need to do something together! But I'll leave the photo-taking to you. I have zero talent in that. haha. Good day my dear friend!

Angeline Tan said...

You have no idea what a joy it is to still be in touch after more than a decade, and to think that we still have so much in common, so much to share. Awesome, just awesome. I'm lookin forward to catchin up with you either during Christmas or CNY when u're back. Call on me anytime! Cheerios! ;)