Apr 7, 2011

Visiting Kuching, Malaysia

The image I had of Borneo was one of an undeveloped place with dense jungles and people living a primitive lifestyle so I was surprised when we arrived in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, one of the Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. The city is clean, modern, and very tourist friendly. Malaysia shares the island with the Sultanate of Brunei and Indonesia. From our room in the Hilton we could see across the Sarawak River to the beautiful new administrative building and parts of the city where there were both Christmas and Chinese New Year decorations.

Malaysia is an Islamic state but there is a harmonious blend of religions and cultures. A short distance from the city is the Semmenggoh Orang Utan Rehabilitation Center. At the center rescued orangutans are treated and trained to survive in the wild. They are free-roaming but many show up at feeding time for a free and easy meal. They have very human emotions. Our guide explained that one badly mistreated orangutan came to trust one of the volunteers but became depressed then angry when she left. After feeding time was over we took a trail that goes through the jungle where it was easy to spot many of the orangutans. On the way back into the city we stopped at a Bidayuh traditional longhouse village where we were welcomed with drink of local rice wine. The houses are built on stilts and connected with a long porch in a traditional manner but they have TVs and other modern conveniences. One young boy was playing with this Game Boy.

The name Kuching means “cat” so it seemed right to visit the world’s first Cat Museum filled with a variety of cat-related displays. About an hour from Kuching is the Sarawak Cultural Village, a living museum that depicts the heritage of the major racial groups in Sarawak. Entering the village we were given a passport which was stamped in each of the seven ethnic homes built around a man-made lake. Each house is unique and most are entered by steps made from a notched log that could easily be pulled up making it difficult for unwelcome visitors to enter. Our arrival at the Bidayuh house was announced by the sound of several gongs. The Bidayuh have a head house where the young warriors, always on alert for any danger, stay and where the skulls of their enemies killed in battle are kept. In the Iban house women were making a rice treat and in the Orang Ulu house we enjoyed fresh deep fried chips from the tapioca root. Especially impressive was the 45-minute colorful dance show highlighting the various ethnic groups. The Iban dance shows the strength of the warrior as he lifts a mortar with his teeth, a Penan demonstrated his skill with a blowpipe, and very impressive was the man of the Melanau tribe who balanced atop a bamboo pole while it is twirled around.

Adjacent to the Sarawak Culture Center is the Damai Beach Resort where we relaxed for several days enjoying the pools. Each morning the staff met at the flag pools and sang the national anthems of Malaysia and Sarawak then recited a pledge to do their best to serve their guests. One of the hotel’s activities was a cooking demonstration of local food including raw fish salad from the Melanau. Sarawak is on our gotta’-visit-again list.