Kuching for me is an expressive demonstration of a diverse people living together in generous kinship and unspoken coherence.
It is no easy task to sieve through the depth of emotion and pinpoint what Kuching means to me. Each layer that I try analyze in a quest to locate the heart of the matter appears more intense than the last until all I can see is a tapestry of pride, belonging and tender affection for this place and this people I find myself bonded to.
Kuching for me is the ultimate melting pot of culture, customs and camaraderie; where our colonial heritage buildings blend seamlessly with oriental mosaic tiles and Indian fare reminiscent of the spice trade; where laughter carries through Carpenter Street as silver bells, accompanying the melodic, muffled thumps of a kompang choir during humid mooncake evenings; where the celebration of festivals is a reason to reconnect and remind ourselves of the fragile beauty of relationships.
In Kuching, we enjoy our friendships through feasting together.
Culinary revelations help us learn more about each other’s traditions and culture. Kuching means not needing an excuse to throw a hedonistic food party filled with pansuh, tempoyak, ais kacang, serunding, sotong kangkung, ayam penyet, satay, ketupat, daging masak hitam, lemang, terung dayak, terung pipit, midin, nasi lemak, nasi kerabu, nasi pattaya, roti bom, hailam mee, kampua mee, teh C peng special, assam fish head curry, salted egg prawn and ikan bakar, and continue with another marathon spread the very next day.
I love Kuching for her perceivable qualities; her Petra Jaya canopy stringing one giant roundabout to the next, her silhouettes of Gunung Serapi, Singai and Santubong welcoming morning rush hour traffic, her “turn left when exit is clear” routes, her weaving jalan tikus that cobweb across the city, her Padawan rivers and her pockets of meeting places scattered indeterminately, but Kuching is more than crimson temple bricks or thatched roofs, more than kuih lapis or cat statues or carvings of hornbills and trees of life.
As much as they are a representation of home, Kuching is more than just her aesthetics; a true reflection of the soul of the city is found in her people.
Kuching for me is seen in the faces of the everyday man and woman who calls Kuching home. Kuching is seen in the neighbourhood aunty who leaves the house at 5.30am for her daily jog. It is in the uncle next door who polishes his 20-year old Toyota every evening after work and in children playing badminton in the lorong, unafraid. Kuching means driving at 40 kilometers per hour on a main road or double parking during the annual Kuching Food Festival and not getting honked at. It means having duck rice followed by apam balik with the family on a Saturday at Kenyalang market or laksa at Chong Choon with friends or sharing pandan ice-cream with extra peanuts at Sunny Hill on a Sunday afternoon. It is seen in the quiet understanding between strangers yet friends at the local kopitiam and the comfortable transformation of habitual routines into deep and long-lasting friendships.
The essence of Kuching lies in her people and indeed, in the people of the whole of Sarawak. We are a people who are loved and who have much love to give in return. Before labels of unity were created, we were. The freedom of cross-cultural exchange, acceptance and integration has long been ours, owned and lived, before the concept was wrapped in a pretty package and rebranded as a public relations exercise.
We are free.
Not because those sitting in cushioned echelons of power decree that it be so, but because our hearts beat together with the steady rhythm of a thousand ethnic drums. Those privileged enough to be born into this land are forever knitted into her rainforest vines and others blessed enough to have had the chance to call Kuching home find her inviting, welcoming them to set deep roots and dwell in her shade.
Kuching for me is a glimpse, a brief window, into the radiance of Sarawak; the strength of the mighty Baram and the resilience of the mysterious Bario Highlands. In the need for development and the betterment of our people, virgin forests have given up their shade and it is our duty and responsibility as Kuchingites and Sarawakians to ensure such sacrifice is not in vain.
Kuching has expanded rapidly over the last decade or so. Gone are the days when Jalan Song was surrounded by jungle or when a ride to Batu Kawah felt like an adventure. However, despite her incredible history, Kuching is still coming of age. Still pliable and accommodating to change, the sustainability of her promising future is dependent on commercial players and policy makers who have the power to drive her endurance yet preserve her character amidst progression.
What is Kuching to me?
Indefinable, the key lies somewhere between obscure philosophy and a sharp conviction to maintain the peace and harmony of various people groups across generations in our society. It is a treasure worth fighting to preserve, a legacy worthy of our collective possession as citizens of Kuching, of Sarawak and of Malaysia.
Although it is sometimes hard to stay positive when the latest burger joint opening counts as the city’s entertainment, the grass is greenest where we water it. Kuching to me is where I choose to lay my head and mark my future; where through the abundant grace of her people, I can keep enlarging my heart to love and serve a country that is going through challenging times. This land gives me hope and her Creator gives me faith that this beautiful city is a diamond in the rough, brimming with potential only just tapped.
Wherever life may take me, though there are other cities that I love, Kuching is and always will be the heartbeat of my soul, the passion in my blood and the embodiment of Tanah Tumpah Darahku, Ibu Pertiwiku.