After a month in KL it was time we went on a little trip away. So, with Ian conveniently having three days in Miri next week we decided we should go to Sarawak’s capital, once also called Sarawak but now known as Kuching, which means ‘cat’.
The first thing that struck me when we walked towards the old centre of Kuching along the Waterfront was the colour. Red hibiscus, flaming acacia, orange birds of paradise and the rows of shophouses and other buildings were salmon pink, dark turquoise, ochre or lime green. The trees were in bloom and even the motorboats that plied the river offering short cruises up and down stream were painted brown, decorated like Sarawak shields or had their sides in pastel colours. In the markets the spices shocked my eyes. Did you know there were several types of turmeric? After the general brown, grey and greenness of KL it was a breath of fresh air. Here, the people smiled more, helped I’m sure but the slow pace of life. It’s known for its cats, of course. There were cat things all over the place, as sculpture, on tourist teeshirts, postcards and every conceivable souvenir. However, after two full days we felt we’d done Kuching.
Our first stop was the Sarawak museum as we’d been told the ethnology building was particularly good. It was. Its display cases in dark wood and glass reminded us of the Teylers Museum in Utrecht but the displays of birds, animals and fish found in the rainforest, in the rivers, on land and offshore, were impressive. I never had a clue there was so much to see. But it was the exhibition on the tradition of longhouses that pleased me most. I was fascinated to see how they cooked inside those long wooden multi-family longhouses on stilts in tiny wood fireplaces. They were crammed in a corner and no more than four vertical strips of wood marking the four corners, with a shelf half way up, at about my chin height, where they stored firewood. I was surprised to see how neat it was, with all the important stuff around the walls, their crockery in wall-mounted plate racks and their rice and other dry staples in tall pots with lids. Everything was kept in its place by narrow wooden strips, as if this were at sea and not on land. Rattan was used under the rafters, on the floor and to cover their bedding. What was shocking was that their ceilings were fringed with what looked like raffia wrapped neckless Chianti bottles, but on closer inspection were what remains of tens, if not hundreds, of blackened skulls.
In today’s paper I was not surprised to learn that one kampong (village) had just suffered its second fire in less than a year bringing the total number of homeless families there now to seven.
Later we took one of those river cruises, ambling east and west for about an hour and frankly seeing exactly the same stuff we’d just walked past. Still, it only cost about a fiver for both of us and it had to be done.
After dinner we decided to be really cheesy and go to the cultural show they had advertised happened at 8pm every day, in the outside theatre on The Waterfront. The fact that it was free of charge had tempted us further. By 8.15 the place had filled up and by about half past we were rewarded with a dance act involving four women wearing circular flat woven hats and four men carrying a roll of rattan mat. Then it all went quiet and boy of eight took to the stage. He wore a smart checked shirt, tightly belted cream trousers and a red bow tie and clutched the huge microphone to his chest. He then belted out two very impressive numbers that had everyone reaching to video him on their mobile phones.
Next up, a large woman in tight jeans and high black leather boots sang I Will Survive and it was around that moment that I wondered whether I would too. It seems our cultural show was a talent show in disguise. We decided to stick it out because there were a few people in the audience wearing traditional dress and bearing instruments, but by 9.30 we’d seen a young dance troupe called Funky Crew, two rapping dads with their pre-school sons and a man playing a saw. When Funky Crew were lined up for a second go we decided it was most definitely beer time!
Today it rained. And rained and rained and rained. Big fat drops that bounced and danced in the puddles and made ‘running for it’ an impossibility. So we sat in a café and watched it pour while we ate nasi goreng (another has-to-be-done) and then decided that, as the waterfront shophouses all had a covered walkway in front of them, they simply had to be explored. Rows and rows of them kept us amused with carved teak and ironwood furniture, artwork and lifesize figurines along with enough instruments to keep Ian amused. He was suddenly determined to buy a blowpipe. I thought a bow and arrow set with real quills would be perfect for our youngest nephew, but he stopped me form buying it as it really could have killed someone! As rain had stopped play there was nothing for it but to fill our boots in Christmas Present City managing to line the pockets of about ten different shops and a café selling beautiful products made by local young textile designers.
It seems this is monsoon season and rains every afternoon, so I suppose that serves us right. I only hope everyone likes their presents!