If Miri had become what it was, then I needed to see how Kuching has stood up to the test of time. I thought I would make a trip to see how the town might have changed since my early years living there.
A river town
Kuching is a small town sitting on the banks of the Sarawak River. It is a tourist town albeit a little sleepier than most other Malaysian towns. I guess it’s the river that lends it a rather laid back atmosphere. I was there for a week and every day I would walk from my hotel that is outside the main thoroughfare right to the other end of the market to sketch, to take in the museums, temples, and antique shops. To me, the antique shops represented the rape of a culture. That of the Dayaks and Ibans.
Rape of a culture and land?
Things that I remember seeing in the long houses of the indigenous people were now sold as overpriced antiques! Like this wooden log, I remember clambering up a similar one when we visited our neighbours in the forest. At the time we were living in a house at the edge of a pristine forest because my father was involved in a community project there. The house came with the job. It was my childhood home and I lived there till I was six years old before returning to Singapore to start school.
More memorable were the lunches eaten in the long houses, on handwoven mats that covered the floor, and big enamelled trays. Yet, now what I can remember of woven skirts, beaded necklaces, baskets with a sling for your forehead, all these and more are now found in the museum and these shops. No, something very wrong has happened here.
In Miri, I met a man who is a Dayak and he was the guide whom I had engaged to take me to the Niah Caves. He told me he was fighting a losing battle to get back his long house home in the forest. He says it is still there but it would be gone soon if he didn’t win the battle. The land belongs to the Malaysian government but it could be sold anytime to a plantation owner.
I feel sorry for him as it is a hope without basis because it is highly unlikely the house will be there long. It will have to make way for more palm trees sooner than later.
~ ॐ ~