Kuching for me is a bowl of Lui Char; it is made up of an assortment of characters from the buildings that maketh the landscape to the people that walk the streets, all heavily influenced by cultures, traditions and history. No one aspect can stand individually and claim that it is what Kuching is all about. Like a bowl of different ingredients that make a good bowl of Lui Char, Kuching is a kaleidoscope of colours waiting to be traversed and explored.
To me, a soul born and bred in Kuching, Kuching is home. No matter how far I have gone, Kuching is where the heart is. Cliché this may sound, but this is where my roots are. It is where I returned to every holiday when I was away. Here lies a bond so strong that it is difficult to sever. My parents, my siblings and my doggies… these are beings closest to me, and they are here in Kuching. My colleagues, my friends, my students and my books… they are also a huge part of me, and they are here in Kuching.
For a plain Jane like me who yearns for simplicity, Kuching is rich beyond description with life’s simple pleasures strewn at every nook and cranny. You can take a stroll along the scenic Kuching Waterfront while letting the gentle breeze caresses your face, drink Kopi-O and have loti kiap (roti kahwin to most) in a simple little kopitiam, take a touristy walk along the Main Bazaar, sipping kantong… the list goes on.
Kuching, to me, is a treasure trove with many little treasures hidden everywhere –- you just have to have the keen eyes for these little beauties; they can be found in the most unlikely of places, just like that quaint little hide-out tucked away in the hustle-bustle of a street, those wall murals and street art… all these bring to mind Carpenter Street.
Kuching is also where the old and the new come together to offer everyone moments of indulgence and nostalgia amidst modernisation and globalisation. When drinking from a saucer cup set which was commonly used in kopitiams in the olden days, I am often transported momentarily to the time when Grandpa used to take me for breakfast; Grandpa used to pour the hot tea into the saucer for it to cool before I sipped it. When I step into a Starbucks outlet which is very rarely, I never fail to think about what Grandpa’s reaction would be if he knew I could buy many, many cups of Kopi-O kaw with the amount of money I spend on a Starbucks coffee.
Next on my list is something that everyone will have notice without fail. Kuching is where many statues of kucing can be seen, each unique to the eyes of the beholder. There is even a Cat Museum here, isn’t that cool? Meow!
Kuching is also where polyglots are made! It is not uncommon to find Kuchingites who are conversant in languages/dialects other than their own. I often listen in wonderment when my Indian neighbours speak in Hokkien; they are so fluent that I am ashamed of myself. Even my mother who is pure Chinese, speaks Iban rather effortlessly so much so that she can be mistaken for an Iban lady.
Now, people often say familiarity breeds contempt, but to me, it gives me a sense of belonging and acceptance where food is concerned, that is. Imagine walking into your favourite kopitiam only to have your orders been recited to you even before you warm your seat! This is Kuching to me. I remember the Auntie selling laksa, asking me in Hokkien in her cheery voice, “Don’t want smelly leaves, right?” She was referring to what we know as Coriander. Don’t you agree that Auntie’s little gesture exudes such warmth that is so heart-warming?
Kuching is not named City of Unity for nothing, I must say. Here is where you can find Aminah, John and Mei Ling sitting in a kopitiam, sometimes sharing a table, enjoying a meal together, laughing and chattering away. You will find Ahmad and Fatimah in a shop selling cucur udang, etc. managed by a Chinese, and Ah Meng and Li Li savouring nasi lemak in a shop managed by a Muslim… you get the gist, don’t you?
Here, the pace is slower although development can be witnessed here and there. To me, this slow pace enables me to take time to take note of what otherwise would escape me, such as the clouds in the sky, the little blossoms, those little insects and a lot more.
Kuching, to me, is where good Samaritans are found in abundance. The old adage ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’ is worthy of mention here. When I needed used pots and pans for a recycling project or second-hand books for my reading programme, these good Samaritans were just a message away and they had no qualms about delivering them to me. Again, this also goes to show how close we are geographically; I remember how one friend remarked that it seemed that anywhere and everywhere in Kuching was less than 20 minutes away.
Remember earlier when I said Kuching is where my roots are? Well, for now, it is where my rice bowl is too. I am a teacher. I am proud without being arrogant, to be one. A Kuchingite, through and through, I believe I am what I am today partly because of the environment that I was born into and grew up in. Kuching has indeed been good to me. No doubt like a good bowl of Lui Char where bitterness and sweetness go hand in hand, Kuching has given me endless memories, good and bad. However, there is not another place that I want to trade Kuching with… at least not for now. Kuching and I will continue to embroider many more memories for many more years to come.