Kuching for me is a city that prides itself on unity; we are a city that builds on harmony and thrives as a community. And within this community, there are bonds that we make for a lifetime coated with layers of support, trust and acceptance. Four years ago, I left Kuching to study abroad and I was no doubt excited to leave. But I also knew what I would be leaving…I was saying goodbye to the home I grew up in, the food, friends I grew up with, the familiar ambience of our coffee shops, the markets where I have spent my childhood Saturday and Sunday mornings, I could go on. Born and raised in a small city, it is easy to take what we have for granted, and up until I left, I had not had the pleasure to enjoy all the precious treasures that bestow our city.
Fortunately for me, I had summer holidays and many occasions where I could come home and appreciate them. What sets Kuching apart is that we not only offer a myriad of natural and historical gems like Fort Margherita, Mt. Santubong, National Park, beaches, waterfall, caves, etc, we also have a mix of the ‘new’ and the ‘old’, the skate scenes growing, local artists rising and malls developing. But beyond all that, the essence of what makes Kuching a home to many is the depth of warmth and affection you receive from the people. Kuching is where I look to for strength, moral support, motivation and love. Living in Kuching, there is the benefit of this sense of closeness that ties us to each other. I take comfort in knowing that I could be halfway around the world and yet still have friends and family back home whom I can depend on. These are the same people who would make sure I arrive home safely late at night, people who would care if I was too drunk or sick to get behind the wheel, people who would drive to pick me up, the same people who I could call if I get into an accident. To take this love to the nth degree and carry it with me wherever I go is a privilege.
We are also blessed with a truly unique culture that acknowledges the beauty and strength in diversity. What many people don’t realise is that the core foundation of what makes Kuching the city it is today, is the people. As Kuchingites, we have a variation of historical and cultural heritage that is still rooted deep within us and to be able to celebrate this openly and together reinforces the concept of what is and has always been upheld by our past and present Chief Minister and political leaders, that is the principle of unity. Having spent a fair amount of my childhood at my mother’s shop, I was constantly surrounded by employees that were of different races and ethnicities ranging from Malays, Ibans, to Dayaks, but never have we once felt superior or inferior towards one another. Instead, we would engage in heartwarming conversations and greetings whenever an opportunity was present and you could see that there is this profound respect for one another. So, when it comes to celebrating festivities, we were never shy in exchanging invites. Even having friends that celebrate Gawai, I would always receive invitations to their longhouse and it is this natural sentiment of being able to include everyone in any celebration is what makes Kuching such a homely place for me, because then you could feel the connection of a truly integrated culture. Celebrating these festivities with one another, there is a sense of intimacy, liveliness and tender lovingness of what truly forms our community.
As Kuchingites, we wear our pride on our sleeves mainly because we have a lot to be proud of, one of them being our food. In Kuching, there is this luxury of being able to enjoy the variety of food the city offers. Back home, I would unleash all my cravings for food I could not get elsewhere. The assortment of food we have would leave you spoilt for choice. Trust me, the struggle of choosing your next meal is very real, and of course it isn’t a bad thing, especially when we have mind-blowing food like kolo mee, laksa, kueh chap, tomato kueh tiaw, kompias, mee sapi, and etc. I would also frequently visit Sugar Bun and if I was having a sweet tooth moment, Sunny Hill and Swee Kang was only a 15-minute drive away. I also love how I could enjoy my meal in any coffee shop and have my all-time favourite Teh C Peng special to quench down the thirst accompanied by the overbearing heat. And for others, who could resist a can of Sundrop? To top it all off, we also have our prominent layered cake, or as we call “kek lapis”. Needless to say, Kuching is the definition of food heaven.
With that being said, Kuching has taught me that no one person should be enslaved to a mindset that limits their ability to love and care for another, on the basis of ethnicity, race or religion. It is, for me, a constant reminder of where my roots lie and to forget where I come from would not only be a betrayal to myself, but also to a city that has given me so much. And because of this, I know that no matter how far away I am from home, I know my heart will always return to where it truly belongs. Despite the beauty that it holds, we have yet to unlock the real potential that lies within our great city. One can only hope that, as much as Kuching has inspired me, it would have also inspired many others to come together to fully realise the potential we have to be one of the greatest city in Malaysia. It would be my dream to come home and one day give back to my city.