“Kuching” Take One – Local Scenes

On arrival at KIA – Kuching International Airport, we were greeted by a fairly new and modern airport. “Kuching” is the capital city of Sarawak, one of the thirteen states of Malaysia on the Borneo island. To get there, we had to fly from Penang to Kuching – a one hour and fifty-five minutes direct flight. I have very little information or knowledge of our cousin states – Sarawak and Sabah – in East Malaysia, in terms of her culture and food. And, not sure what I can expect when I reached there for the first time in my life. East Malaysia is seldom visited by Malaysian who lives in West Malaysia, and vice versa. The immigration regulation is different in both sides of the country. For West Malaysian to visit East Malaysia, a passport is required like any other foreign tourists visiting the states. However, East Malaysian can enter and leave West Malaysia without going through the immigration. I never understood the reason behind this differences.

“Kuching” is a Malay word for “cat”. If translated in English – it means, a “cat city”. But, there is hardly any cats around the city, except a few human built sculptures / monuments. The name to me is a mystery.

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I asked the travel agent, where we booked a couple of our tours while staying in Kuching, where the name “Kuching” came from. He gave me three different folklore versions. One version is that it sounds like an “old well (water)” in Chinese. “Ku” means “old”, and “Ching” means “well”. During the WWII, the Japanese dropped bombs into the city. The well was unscatched and remained standing withholding the war time. Since then, a temple was built around it.

The second version is that the word comes from a local fruit, called “Mata Kucing” or “Cat’s eye fruit”. It is a type of native fruit trees that can be found along the river banks of Kuching river. Most of this tree has been removed as the city grew and developments took over the city. Mata Kuching is a variety of the “Longan” fruit. It has similar round shape except for the texture of the skin which is rough compare to the smooth skin of longan. The flesh is translucent white similar to longan with a round black dark seed that resembles the eyes of a cat. Hence, the cat eye’s fruit.

The third version, I can’t remember what he had told me. Or, maybe there is no third version of where the name came from. Anyhow, there is hardly any cats around to see. I was told if I take the river boat across the other side of the river where it is mostly populated by the Malay, I should be able to see cats in almost every households, as the Malay loves cat.

Walking along the river promenade was an interesting experience with some wonderful views of the city hall and state palace across the other side of the river, and trees and plants along the river. Kuching is a green and colourful city with lush green garden, colourful plants and flowers, and trees in the middle strip of most roads. It was quiet when we first arrived as it was still a public holiday. It felt relaxing away from the chaotic streets and noise of Penang. It reminded me of old Penang two decades ago with less people, cars and motorbikes.

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We checked in at the Pullman Kuching Hotel, the newest hotel in Kuching. We had a huge room – Deluxe overlooking part of the old city and the mountain range at a far distant. The location is excellent and central to almost everything we wanted to do, including the river promenade.

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After we checked in to the hotel, we went for a stroll around the old city of Kuching. Most of the shops were shut. Those that were opened sold mostly local produces and snacks – from local produced peppercorns – white and black, to seaweeds, brown rice tea, rice crackers, biscuits and candies. The building architecture and shop houses are common throughout the smaller cities in Malaysia, and nothing strikes me as significant in heritage value compare to the old part of George Town in Penang. However, I came to Kuching to experience the nature and wildlife of the Borneo island, which is unique and native to the island – Orang Utan, Bearded Pig and the Proboscis Monkey. Anything else and experience in Kuching were added bonus to my visit, which I have to say it was a pleasant and wonderful 4 days trip of this leg of my journey.

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I have learnt a few things on this trip. I believe this part of Malaysia is more diverse and multicultural than Penang. Kuching is predominantly Chinese with Hokkien, Hakka and Teochew speaking background, followed by the Malay and indigenous people of Sarawak, and a very small group of Indians. It was hard for me to differentiate the different ethnic groups from the Malay, which was quite embarrassing. I have mistaken some of the people whom I have met as Malay. I was wrong. They have almost similar features but they were the original descendent of the Borneo island, the Iban and Bidayuh, and they are mostly Christian. The other ethnic groups are Melanau and Kedayan. Visiting this part of Malaysia is like visiting a different country; sharing some similarity but yet with its own unique food and culture. I didn’t feel that I have learnt much about the diversity of the different cultures in this city, except meeting the people, and they are very warm and friendly. I don’t believe much is done to showcase the ethnic, indigenous people in the city for visitors to see and experience, such as the native food, arts and crafts. There is a mock-up cultural village, which I understand is the only place to see and learn about the different indigenous groups. However, that is not the true, living culture of the people. There are organised tours to visit their villages, but it requires a longer stay to experience the diversity of the people. This, maybe, can be my next trip to Sarawak as there are more to see and experience in this part of the country. It is truly a One Malaysia.

During our last evening in Kuching, we had our dinner at a local restaurant called “Bla Bla Bla”, which is a strange name for a restaurant. But, the food was the best we had in our entire stay in Kuching. The place is hip and trendy with a touch of zen. Halfway through our meal, we heard noises outside the restaurant. We left our table and went outside to check it out.

It was a street procession to celebrate the birthday of a Chinese deity to “yeu kay” to bless the streets. The long procession included different Chinese lion and dragon dance associations showing their skills, and people dressed in traditional Chinese costumes, and the dieties being carried in a human chariots by devotees running and chasing up the streets. We were lucky to see this as a true, living culture of the local Chinese community. A nice way to wrap up our last night in Kuching with good food and cultural experience.

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One response to ““Kuching” Take One – Local Scenes

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