Kuching for me is a melting pot of diverse cultures, races, religions and ethnicities with big chunks of love and respect chopped in, blended together with equal servings of trust, kindness and faith, topped off with a generous sprinkling of friendliness and benevolence for good measure and served piping hot with a hearty side of cheer and warm humour. This place dubbed as the “Cat City” is where I have spent the past 19 years of my life. It’s where I was born, where I took my first steps, where I grew up, where I went to school and the place of so many other uncountable life experiences. Kuching is so much more than just my hometown; it is a place I associate with my fondest childhood memories and the place where more wonderful memories will be made in time to come.
To someone, who does not hail from Kuching, it may seem like just an average, humdrum, maybe even slightly boring, run-of-the-mill town located in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo. But I know better. If you look a little bit closer, you’ll find that Kuching is in fact far more than ordinary; it is a vibrant city teeming with life and joy. Where else can you find a city with people who come from many races and religions not just tolerating but actually understanding, respecting and cherishing each other’s cultures and traditions?
Chinese. Malay. Iban. Melanau. Indian. Bidayuh. Orang Ulu. These are just some of a few ethnicities of the citizens of Kuching. One would think that there would be a fair share of conflicts and disagreements due to so many ethnic groups but this is far from the case in Kuching where the citizens whole-heartedly embrace the customs and beliefs of others to the point where the process of assimilation occurs.
The tradition of visiting each other’s abodes to foster and strengthen ties between family and friends while spreading goodwill and joy is a common act that is done by Kuchingnites during major festivals be it Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Deepavali or Gawai. During Chinese New Year, I invite all my friends regardless of their race and religion to my open house where they can feast on traditional Chinese delights such as chicken rice, dim sum and laksa. Children and teenagers will customarily be given red packets for auspiciousness. When Hari Raya rolls around, my Muslim friends will return the favour by inviting me to their open houses. Muslim Kuchingnites will also give out green packets; a tradition emulated from the Chinese. Indians, Ibans and other ethnicities also carry out the practise of holding open houses during their festivals.
Besides that, I have no qualms about donning the garbs of other ethnicities and am as comfortable in a baju kebaya as I am in a cheongsam or sari. Some of my favourite foods are dishes which are not Chinese such as nasi lemak and roti canai. I do not eat in front of my Muslim friends when they are fasting out of respect to them. To me, it doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is, what religion you uphold or who you are descended from because Kuchingnites don’t let such petty matters as ethnicity or cultures deter them from being polite and gracious to each other.
Kuching is a place of architectural structures combined with buildings dating back to the 19th century giving the whole city a very unique feel of traditional meets modern. Browse for designer gear in high-end boutiques located in various shopping complexes around town. Wander down more rustic areas such as India and Gambier Street where handmade trinkets and textiles can be purchases. Visit the famous Siniawan Night Market to get a feel for Chinese culture. Or take a stroll in Kuching’s famous Friendship Park and admire the lush green scenery. Whatever your fancy, there is sure an attraction in Kuching that will get you excited and raring to come back and visit it again.
A wide variety of food is available anytime, anywhere in Kuching. Be it time for breakfast or supper or even in the wee hours of the morning, there is always someplace in Kuching where I can grab a bite to eat. And I’m not talking about a 24 hours-open fast food outlet. I’m talking about authentic mamak stalls and coffee shops where the owner upon seeing you his premise, will give you a big, toothy grin and the standard greeting of “Boss! What do you want to eat?”He will then reel off by heart a list of dishes his proprietorship has to offer, all of them guaranteed to make your taste buds sing with delights. Still not quite sure which dish tickles your fancy? “No problem boss!! Let me recommend our famous…..! You’ll surely like it-lah!” But what makes eating out at Kuching so special is not only the abundance of sumptuous food but the added benefit of good service. It is safe to say that a vast majority of Kuching’s eateries are manned by proprietors and servers who are genial and welcoming, making eating out a joyous delight in this town.
So, to answer the question of what Kuching is for me, I say…it is everything. It is a beautiful city which strikes the balance between modern structures and lush landscapes. It is where you can find people of so many different ethnicities and cultures co-existing in harmony. To me, Kuching and its residents truly embody the human spirit of warmth, kindness and love. It has been said that ‘there is no place like home’ and no matter how many other places I visit, no matter how far I travel, this beautiful, lively city will always be home sweet home to me.