Thursday, 28 November 2013

Sun 17th - Kuching, Sarawak

Kuching, capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak is a city that feels smaller than it actually is. One only gets a feel for its size when one drives out. Otherwise it feels like a small riverine town. (Riverine - what a lovely word.) Flying in over native jungles (hooray) and new palm oil plantations (boo, hiss) one sees muddy rivers heavy with sediment snaking in tight loops on the way to the sea.
The city was established and named by Charles Brooke, the 2nd of the three 'White Rajas' who was gifted the area by the Sultan of Brunei as thanks for helping deal with a little local insurrection, that was causing a bit of bother. His bust now adorns a monument in front of The Old Courthouse.
The Old Courthouse is now part of a bar called Magenta and is a lovely place to have an afternoon drink and a snack on their veranda, although the end of British colonialism is very much evinced by the dearth of Indian tonic for one's gin. The barman was convincingly apologetic though.
Kuching is the Malay word for cat. There are various stories about how the city came to get this name, the simplest being that Charles Brookes liked cats, other stories include conflations of various corrupted words from local dialects. Whatever, there are kitsch statues of cats at several places in the city and a museum dedicated to our feline friends.
There's a small fishing fleet on the river which is also be home to estuary crocodiles. No swimming here.
Further along the embankment I met this busker who was performing 'Bitter Sweet Symphony' very badly. I gave him some money, and he told me that Richard Ashcroft was his biggest influence, so I requested 'Lucky Man' and we muddled through a verse and chorus of that together. I hope he spends the cash on singing lessons.
This chap on the other hand was playing his homemade Sape beautifully. It's a traditional instrument of Borneo that used to have only two strings, but now more usually has four. It's sound is very delicate, plucked or gently hammered polyphonically, a little like a gamelan. Note also his tribal tattoos, inked with the help of long thorns from a native tree.
This beautiful building on the north side of the river is the state parliament building of Sarawak. 
I'd read about an interesting restaurant called Cargo, true to its name was laden with strange objects, it's walls and ceilings adorned with Chinese lanterns, agricultural tools, wooden tennis rackets, even an old salon hair dryer of the kind that might set your perm. For such an eclectic place I was a little underwhelmed by the choice of expensive pizza or pricey pasta. I plumped for the former and enjoyed it with a bottle of local beer, before heading back to the hostel.

Ben and his brother Greg, and Greg's wife Amy run the Borneo Seahare Guesthouse that I was staying in as a sideline to their construction work. They've all moved out here over the last few years preferring the climate and lifestyle to the grey drudge of Blighty. It was on their reception desk that I found the pamphlet for Semadang Kayaks that I booked for the following day... 

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