Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Kuching for me is STORIES

Kuching for me is a melting pot of diverse cultures, races, religions and ethnicities

by Amanda, Choo
Kuching for me is a melting pot of diverse cultures, races, religions and ethnicities with big chunks of love and respect chopped in, blended together with equal servings of trust, kindness and faith, topped off with a generous sprinkling of friendliness and benevolence for good measure and served piping hot with a hearty side of cheer and warm humour. This place dubbed as the “Cat City” is where I have spent the past 19 years of my life. It’s where I was born, where I took my first steps, where I grew up, where I went to school and the place of so many other uncountable life experiences. Kuching is so much more than just my hometown; it is a place I associate with my fondest childhood memories and the place where more wonderful memories will be made in time to come.
To someone, who does not hail from Kuching, it may seem like just an average, humdrum, maybe even slightly boring, run-of-the-mill town located in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo. But I know better. If you look a little bit closer, you’ll find that Kuching is in fact far more than ordinary; it is a vibrant city teeming with life and joy. Where else can you find a city with people who come from many races and religions not just tolerating but actually understanding, respecting and cherishing each other’s cultures and traditions?
Chinese. Malay. Iban. Melanau. Indian. Bidayuh. Orang Ulu. These are just some of a few ethnicities of the citizens of Kuching. One would think that there would be a fair share of conflicts and disagreements due to so many ethnic groups but this is far from the case in Kuching where the citizens whole-heartedly embrace the customs and beliefs of others to the point where the process of assimilation occurs.
The tradition of visiting each other’s abodes to foster and strengthen ties between family and friends while spreading goodwill and joy is a common act that is done by Kuchingnites during major festivals be it Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Deepavali or Gawai. During Chinese New Year, I invite all my friends regardless of their race and religion to my open house where they can feast on traditional Chinese delights such as chicken rice, dim sum and laksa. Children and teenagers will customarily be given red packets for auspiciousness. When Hari Raya rolls around, my Muslim friends will return the favour by inviting me to their open houses. Muslim Kuchingnites will also give out green packets; a tradition emulated from the Chinese. Indians, Ibans and other ethnicities also carry out the practise of holding open houses during their festivals.
Besides that, I have no qualms about donning the garbs of other ethnicities and am as comfortable in a baju kebaya as I am in a cheongsam or sari. Some of my favourite foods are dishes which are not Chinese such as nasi lemak and roti canai. I do not eat in front of my Muslim friends when they are fasting out of respect to them. To me, it doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is, what religion you uphold or who you are descended from because Kuchingnites don’t let such petty matters as ethnicity or cultures deter them from being polite and gracious to each other.
Kuching is a place of architectural structures combined with buildings dating back to the 19th century giving the whole city a very unique feel of traditional meets modern. Browse for designer gear in high-end boutiques located in various shopping complexes around town. Wander down more rustic areas such as India and Gambier Street where handmade trinkets and textiles can be purchases. Visit the famous Siniawan Night Market to get a feel for Chinese culture. Or take a stroll in Kuching’s famous Friendship Park and admire the lush green scenery. Whatever your fancy, there is sure an attraction in Kuching that will get you excited and raring to come back and visit it again.
A wide variety of food is available anytime, anywhere in Kuching. Be it time for breakfast or supper or even in the wee hours of the morning, there is always someplace in Kuching where I can grab a bite to eat. And I’m not talking about a 24 hours-open fast food outlet. I’m talking about authentic mamak stalls and coffee shops where the owner upon seeing you his premise, will give you a big, toothy grin and the standard greeting of “Boss! What do you want to eat?”He will then reel off by heart a list of dishes his proprietorship has to offer, all of them guaranteed to make your taste buds sing with delights. Still not quite sure which dish tickles your fancy? “No problem boss!! Let me recommend our famous…..! You’ll surely like it-lah!” But what makes eating out at Kuching so special is not only the abundance of sumptuous food but the added benefit of good service. It is safe to say that a vast majority of Kuching’s eateries are manned by proprietors and servers who are genial and welcoming, making eating out a joyous delight in this town.
So, to answer the question of what Kuching is for me, I say…it is everything. It is a beautiful city which strikes the balance between modern structures and lush landscapes. It is where you can find people of so many different ethnicities and cultures co-existing in harmony. To me, Kuching and its residents truly embody the human spirit of warmth, kindness and love. It has been said that ‘there is no place like home’ and no matter how many other places I visit, no matter how far I travel, this beautiful, lively city will always be home sweet home to me.


Kuching for me is home, family and friends

by Audrey, Tan
Kuching for me is home, family and friends.
Are you someone famous in your hometown because everyone seems to know you!” quipped my guest from New Zealand as we were waiting for our flight to Singapore at the KIA Departure Lounge. I must have stopped by and said hello to half a dozen people at least that morning.
No way!! I’m just a regular middle class housewife.” I answered.
In my hometown Kuching being the very small and communal city that it is, everyone knows just about almost someone or anyone the reason being we are a small, unique and close knit community. Not only that Kuchingites are well known for their warmth, generosity and hospitality. A true charm of this place. And I must say I like it this way. Very much. It makes me very proud to introduce myself as a Kuchingite indeed!
You stop by to say and catch up at the departing lounge, the kopitiams, at the park, your children s school, at the wet market etc. Ha, even when queuing up for the toilets at the mall.
You connect with your cousins, relatives, friends, friends of friends and your family’s friends and so and so’s next of kin.
Back at my “kampung” or residential area where I’ve been staying close to two decades, acquaintances, and friends at the neighborhood park where I exercise would notice if I were to go missing for a few days sometimes due to travels or sheer procrastination.
Wherever I may be traveling, I kind of miss this city after a while. And when the plane touches down, I’m already planning to hit my favorite kopitiam to indulge in the Kuchingites’ staple, the “kolok mee”.
Last of all, Kuching to me is where I can look up in the sky above after a thunderstorm and gawk in awe at the beauty of the marshmallow clouds at dusk. Truly God s work of art. And the tambang that leisurely takes you across the Sarawak river bring with it a romantic and nostalgic feeling of another place in time.
Kuching maybe just a small city without the hustle and bust of other cities like KL or Singpore but to me its communal character with its small quaint old towns where you can escape to for an indulgence of local delicacies is so very perfect for me. The old and new interwoven in this city. So rich in colonial history and traditions.
Its mostly awesome people, Its sunset and my favorite food kachangma and tomato noodles – ah! Well, that sums up what Kuching is for me.

Kuching for me is home

by Azra, Tilai
Kuching for me is home. Being born and raised in Cat city has certainly moulded me into who I am today. There are a lot of fond memories as well as bitter ones that always reminds me how exciting it is to be in this city. Kuching is the state capital of Sarawak and one of the major cities in Malaysia. Among all the cities in Malaysia, of course I find Kuching the most special of them all. What’s so special about Kuching you may ask? Every city has their own attractiveness and so do Kuching.
Nestled in between two iconic mountains, the legendary Santubong Mountain and the towering Serapi Mountain it creates a scenic background for the city. Kuchingnites like myself truly appreciate these two mountains because it creates a place to escape from the hustling and bustling of the city. Since it is not that far away from the city which is almost an hour’s drive for both mountains, it is really convenient to go there. For me, I would say it is a must for every Kuchingnites to climb this two mountain and reach the summit. I would also recommend to spend a night on top of the summit and enjoy the scenery whereby you could see the bright lights emitting from the city. The fresh cold streams and waterfall, the fresh air and sounds and smell of the jungles really makes you feel relaxed in peace and serenity. Apart from that, the city is cut across by the mighty Sarawak River which gives a romantic setting where couples would have a short walk along its banks. Used by our ancestors as an important route for transportation and business, it is now becoming a place for uniting people. Every now and then, at the waterfront located at the city centre, there would normally be held gatherings, functions, exhibitions, concerts, water sports and various activities. Back when I was in secondary school, I remembered I used to take one of the small boat or ‘sampan’ to cross the river and people still do it till this day. It is also the best playground a Kuchingnite could have. As for me, I join the Sarawak Regatta where categories from long boats, dragon bots and kayak competitors race each other out to be the best in that year.
Besides being blessed by its beautiful and magnificent landscape, Kuching inherited many infrastructures, houses and buildings from the colonial era. Thanks to the local efforts in preserving those architectures, younger generations like me are able to appreciate these historic and iconic monuments. It was a privilege for me to have the opportunity to study in the oldest school in Sarawak which was built during the Brooke era. To beautify as well as taking care of the school was certainly part of the contribution in preserving one of the iconic monuments in the city. It is really wonderful to see that many Kuchingnites are appreciating these buildings by taking care of it. Some of the bigger buildings are used as government offices and museum. Most of the smaller ones especially in the business districts are turning into restaurants, cafes, bistros and other F&B outlets which brings both contemporary and vintage ambiance for their customers. Some of the coffee shops still remain as authentic as it was and you could somehow fill that you are taken back in time while enjoying some of the most delicious favourite Kuchingnites delicacies.
That brings me to the place where I live to eat. Tuck away in the corners or alleys in the street, you could always find good comfort food to replenish your hard day’s work. There are the mouth-watering and spicy Sarawak Laksa which could tantalise your taste buds for more. For a quick but yet fulfilling meal, I would normally go for the Kolo Mee or Char Siew Pau and for a hearty meal I would go for the Bak Kut Teh. These are just a few local Chinese delicacies that are abundant especially in Padungan, Petanak or Carpenter Street. There are also the Indian and Malay delicacies such as the Nasi Briyani, Nasi Ayam Penyet, Roti Canai and countless of dishes equipped with spices that really makes you want for more. What’s special in Kuching is that Kuchingnites also get to enjoy Dayak cuisine. It is now becoming popular among food lovers especially those who longed for home cooked dishes or ‘kampung cooking’. Besides local dishes that are widely available across town, it is also convenient enough to find some international cuisines such as from the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Japan and not to forget western dishes that are produced in restaurants by both local and international talents.
What’s interesting about Kuching is that although it is a city, somehow you would bumped into someone you know. Besides that, being a multiracial city what’s special is that almost everyone could speaks or understand a few local words from different races. Some of the most well-known local language that is widely spoken is the Sarawakian Malay. I think almost everyone in the city could converse in this dialect followed by Iban language and Hokkien. As for myself, I fell very lucky to be able to immerse myself in the multicultural society which is packed with diverse traditions and beliefs. Many of my friends and families in Kuching are from various ethnicity which is why make it so special especially during celebrations and festivities.
As time flies by, Kuching is progressively becoming a modern city where skyscrapers are slowly increasing in numbers and high rise shopping malls are becoming a trend. In the wake of modernization, Kuching still manages to keeps its authenticity by preserving its heritages as well as introducing and merging the old with the new. For that I believe Kuching will always be the city I know from my childhood because some old memories could still be relived today. For that I will always find comfort in the city I call home, Kuching.

“Kuching for me is….” I began before trailing off, trying to find the words

by Andrea, Chan
“Kuching for me is….” I began before trailing off, trying to find the words. What exactly is it to me? It’s definitely my hometown, but what else is it? “I’ll think of how I can describe Kuching. You guys go ahead.”
The four Swinburne students I was with chattered on about their respective hometowns. They were part of a youth exchange trip to South Korea while I was supervising the trip as one of the lecturer advisors. We were in Dankook University on a campus visit and were chatting with Lee Jiseon, a senior editor with the university’s newspaper. She was interested to find out about Malaysia for a possible feature on the trip and its participants. It was a coincidence that we came from different hometowns all over Malaysia.
As the others excitedly described what the hometowns’ specialties, I was deep in thought. I could start by explaining that Kuching was actually named because of the mata kucing trees and cats. Or, I could talk about our delicacies such as laksa and kolo mee, but those could be in Miri too. Having lived in Petaling Jaya for work before, I’d been eager to move back to Kuching when I could. Although not as happening as PJ, there was just something about Kuching that appealed to me more than just being my hometown.
It’s easy to see that there is some undefinable quality about Kuching that seduced visitors into becoming citizens. While Malaysia is home to many nationalities and religions, somehow Kuchingites seem more tolerant and accepting of one another. There has always been mutual understanding and respect for the different cultures, where it’s common to see people of different races sharing a table at eateries and co-existing peacefully. It’s also small enough that everyone seems to know one another but it’s easy enough to strike up a friendly conversation with a new face. While the local mindset is more relaxed compared to West Malaysia, there is no doubt that Kuchingites are capable of producing high-quality work, as evident from our various successes in the different fields. The rest of the world is beginning to realize this as we see more multi-national companies coming in to invest locally.
Although Kuching may still considered small, it is blessed to be in Sarawak, where it is surrounded with abundant and fertile land. It was known as a small town with nothing but the local infrastructure is developing progressively. However, when people talk of visiting East Malaysia, people automatically think of Kota Kinabalu with its pristine beaches, blue waters, exciting islands, mountains and more. Yet, Kuching has most of those things too. Problem is, not many people have realized that, myself included until that moment. Admittedly, more could be done by everyone to further promote our natural heirlooms to tourists, while supporting transportation systems need to be better planned and developed. One example is the supply of parking spaces, especially since Kuchingites love to park as close as possible to their destination.
There is definitely room for improvement in Kuching. Despite being a friendly place, there seems to be a decreasing sense of community nowadays, especially among the younger generation. Everyone is glued to their technological devices that many do not even know their own neighbours or what is going on outside their own homes.
What Kuching lacks is a way for everyone to be a part of a real community. The simplest, most effective solution would be to create a gathering place which welcomes all to for events, festivities, community projects and more. While some may claim that existing shopping malls do so, most still lack that spark to bring Kuchingites together. This place should make people excited to look forward to keep going back. It should be lively and bustling, with a steady flow of activities and events, in an easily accessible location with features and facilities to encourage all Kuchingites to participate as a whole, instead of individuals.
This place should celebrate the spirit of Kuching by getting the citizens involved by asking them to help decide on upcoming activities together. Besides being a communal area, it could also be a convenient one-stop destination, well-equipped to meet the appetites and retail needs of the people. In the present, there’s currently no other Malaysian city with such a location for and by the people, without any political or religious ties. To make this place even more like home, and a representation of Kuching, it should also have a green lung area planted with plants and trees indigenous to the city or Sarawak. This would help educate the younger generation and tourists alike in a convenient setting.
My mind started filling with ideas and possibilities for humble Kuching. That’s the best thing about it, there’s just so much to discover and to work on to bring out the best of what it has to offer. It just takes the right people with the appropriate mindset and opportunity to get it started. As I thought of what else Kuching could do to improve, my musings were interrupted with “Andrea, are you still with us? You seem to be thinking a lot,” Jiseon waved her hand in front of me.
“Oh, yes. I’ve finally thought of what to tell you about my hometown.” I said as she nodded in anticipation. “Kuching for me is a well of untapped and never-ending potential,” I began, this time excitedly and confidently. I went on to explain all that is beloved of Kuching, how the little city is and will be even more special. What I said must have struck a chord with them, as every Korean whom I told about Kuching has decided to visit in December. I really can’t wait to show them our little gem of a hometown.

Kuching for me is where old meets new, traditional meets modern, and diverse cultural boundaries intertwine with one another

by Gary, Chan
Kuching for me is where old meets new, traditional meets modern, and diverse cultural boundaries intertwine with one another. As the sleepy town acquired city status, many of the old historical monuments stands side-by-side with the many modern developments mushrooming around with the aim of becoming a developed nation through Vision 2020. This can be seen extending from the city centre to many parts of Kuching’s suburban areas. Seeing people from all walks of life, young and old, buying groceries and wares, merchants peddling their wares and citizens having their meals together with friends of different race at a local coffee shop. It is also my motherland, my home and my pride. A place where diverse race and culture eat together, have fun together, live together and celebrates the festive seasons together disregard of which religion you practice. And not forgetting amidst all these things, we also have a crazy love for all things cats. From the one of a kind cat museum, shops lined with cat souvenirs and even our streets covered in cat motifs from wall painted graffiti to statues of cats. It is a place where street photography is at its best.
I love how the city has new developments yet retains the old feel of the sleepy town. Areas around Gambier Street, Carpenter Street and Main Bazaar are where the town grew from, and nearby, a modern shopping mall incorporates colonial look to blend with the surroundings making it look like it is part of the area. Even with the new Sarawak State Legislative assembly building which stands out yet blending in harmony with the natural surroundings, making it a beautiful scenic icon where it becomes a photographic attraction for tourist and locals alike. At Carpenter Street, where the many backpackers lodging and new watering holes (drinking places for the uninitiated) are mushrooming, they still retain the original look of the buildings they reside in. All these historic buildings should be preserved as they are unique and are one and only ones in the world. Even as far as Siniawan, the old wooden shop houses which were built decades ago still stands while owners still go about on their daily business, giving the place a very cowboy-esque feel, and unaffected by the rapid development of modernization.
There is something about Kuching that makes it unique. To others, it might be the food, the people, or just the place. But to me, one unique thing I find about Kuching is the quirky weather we have. It can be all sunny and sweltering hot in the morning, and the afternoon, it is pouring cats and dogs. Even growing up here for nearly three decades, I still find it amazing as well as frequently being caught off guard when it pours without warning. But hey, the cooling rain is always welcoming as it plays its lullaby on the zinc roof of many shops and houses but deafening when one is in the car. Aside from the the rain, there is also the beautiful sunset if one catches it during a perfect weather there are lots of clear sky and a little scattered clouds to capture the sun’s ray.
And that is how Kuching for to me. There may be more but these are what I feel makes Kuching, well, Kuching!

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