Kuching, Sarawak

I stumbled across this youtube video and thought it was hilarious yet delicious. I went to Kuching when I was 16 (on a church's mission trip) and my fondest memories were around food and its friendly people.

I remember eating yummy Sarawak laksa, soy-sauced and minced meat Kolo mee noodles, stir fried wild ferns with sambal, freshly caught and cooked water creatures from nearby rivers and wild purple rice.

It was my first time being in Borneo Island. Although it is part of Malaysia, being in Sarawak was like being in a different country altogether. Kuching is the capital of Sarawak state and the largest city on the island. Kuching is an old Malay word for "cat" and it was named after a tidal stream called the Kuching River. Kuching's history is pretty interesting- it was part of the Sultanate of Brunei before it was ruled by the British adventurer James Brooke. The Japanese occupied the land at the start of WWII until the end of the war. The Brooke family then ceded Sarawak to the British Crown. In 1963, Sarawak along with Northern Borneo, Singapore and the Federation of Malaya formed the Federation of Malaysia- and continues to be a part of Malaysia to this day. The Sarawak people is one of the most diverse population in the nation: there're the ethnic Chinese, Malays and local indigenous tribes such as the Ibans, Bidayuhs, Melanaus and Orang Ulus.

My church members and I befriended with the Iban communities and stayed in their long houses, buried deep in dense rainforests. A longhouse is a terraced building of separate dwellings covered by one roof, and typically built on high stilts. There could easily be up to 15 families living in a longhouse. The longhouse has a leader called tuai rumah. Each family has their separate room, but connected to other families via the verandah. To reach to these villages, we either rode in rugged 4-wheel Jeeps or motored sampans and were dropped off at trail heads, where we would hike in with our baggage and supplies.

Everything was simple- no fancy, expensive, distracting technologies like TV, PC or IPhone. Electricity was supplied by old and well used generators. Water came from the river, not pumped but carried in.

People smiled and welcomed us warmly. The families that lived in these long houses lovingly prepared meals for us while livestock (pigs, chickens, ducks, etc) wandered below us. Elders and hosts sat with us and chatted about their lives, concerns, health, education, etc (we had a nurse and a headmaster in our team). When night time came around, we exchanged cultural activities- they would sing and dance their traditional dances, and we would sing, dance and share the Gospel.

My first trip to Kuching was the start of my few trips to Borneo Island. It was indeed memorable. A trip to Malaysia is never complete until you pay a visit to the lovely Borneo Island!

Date: 8/16/2010