Kuching for me is a work of art. It demands careful observation and understanding before one can truly appreciate the beauty that lies within the city. To understand fine art, one must look beyond the splashes of colours, observe each delicate stroke of the paintbrush, and feel the texture of the art before being able to grasp the true meaning behind the artwork. Likewise, if you were to look past the busy streets of Kuching and her people, past the rapid modernisation of the Cat City, the vibrant uniqueness my city inherits will touch your hearts indefinitely.
I remember sitting on a bench at Kuching Waterfront one evening. The sky was a brilliant mixture of orange and amber. There were many cars rushing to get home after a long, toiling day of work. I silently observed my surroundings and quickly noticed a few couples strolling down the pathway. What caught my eye the most was how the couples were of different races. Chinese, Malays, Indians, the Natives; they did not make any distinction based on their diverse races. I glanced around and noticed many other groups of friends who were of different races as well, laughing and teasing each other without judging one another’s skin colour. I smiled to myself, realising that my father, too is a representation of how unique Sarawak is to the rest of the states within Malaysia. Being ethnically Chinese, he was raised in an Iban ‘kampung’, making him well versed in Iban and Bahasa Sarawak, and less so in his mother-tongue. That was when I realised how perfectly harmonious my city was. Citizens of different races living together in love and peace. Kuching possesses a distinctive quality of being a city consisting of various hues and colours, each blending together and complimenting each other. A beautiful artwork, one of its kind.
I roused myself and walked along the waterfront. A deep sense of serenity threatened to overwhelm me. I could see small wooden boats (known as ‘sampan’ in Malay) tied to the docks. The surreal music of a ‘sape’ floated over the waters. I followed the unmistakable sound of the traditional native instrument leading me to an elderly man playing it to entertain the on-looking spectators and possibly for a bit of money. I stood enraptured and basked in the beautiful tune emanating from the elderly man’s fingers. The stark contrast of the native ‘uncle’ playing his traditional instrument barely 100 meters from the ultra-modern Dewan Undangan Negeri across the river moved me in a way difficult to express. A fierce pride swelled up within me. The amalgamation of various races and different native ethnic groups in Kuching gave birth to a truly Malaysian way of life; that all of us remain united under one flag. The beautiful colour of the sky reflected in the rippling waters the same way that tolerance and love reflected itself in the lives of the citizens of my multi-ethnic city. Additionally, each group offers traditional music of their own, which sums up to a wide selection of all kinds of music. All alluring in its own way. Kuching’s internationally-renowned Rainforest Music Festival is testament to this. I could not help but feel a wave of gratitude overflow within me for growing up in a city of which I am proud to call “Home”.
My stomach growled in a vile manner. I quickly dropped a few Ringgit Malaysia notes into the musician’s bag and departed from the area in search for food. I crossed the street and managed to spot a friendly-looking ‘kopitiam’ not far from where I was. I immediately set my mind on having dinner there. Upon entering the establishment, my breath was taken away by the vast array of food available there. Malay, local dishes, Western, Chinese- you name it! Cuisine of all sorts were being sold there! I had a craving for ‘kolo mee’ (a popular local dish) at that time so I approached a hawker and placed my order. Sitting down in the noisy ‘kopitiam’, I appreciated how we were all bonded by a special connection – food. We, Kuching people, absolutely love food. The city unites every Kuching Festival (otherwise known as ‘Kuching Fest’) to parade their edible wares in a display of collaboration transcending the colour of one’s skin, a feat rarely seen anywhere else in the world, particularly considering the regularity which this event is conducted. Popular food stores gather together and set up their own stalls in a specific location. My personal favourite in Kuching Fest is the durian cream puff, a sweet, savoury desert with a delicious durian filling. For the entire month that the festival is held, it would be the only thing people in Kuching would be raving about. That is how much food brings us, Kuchingites, together. Kuching Fest is but an example of how the various races hold hands that the idiosyncratic cultures may intertwine and strengthen the bonds built by decades of acceptance and understanding.
If I could have but one wish in the world, it would be for Kuching to forever remain the same harmonious, loving, and diverse city I have come to know and love. It would be the ultimate utopia of people and a bold proclamation that racial unity and harmony is not just a pipe dream. Kuching, my city, my home, my favourite work of art.