Kuching for me is home.
In the dictionary, the many definitions of home includes a house or shelter but to me, it is so much more than that. Of course, having a place where I feel safe enough to go back to every day is important but that is not what home is entirely about.
Kuching is my place of birth and origin. I was born and raised here but the story wasn’t always that simple. It started with the arduous and challenging journey endured by a boy from his hometown in China to Kuching, Borneo when he was just a young age of 13. Since an age he was too young to remember, the boy was separated from his father, who decided to travel far from home alone to try and make a living when things got difficult back at home during those tumultuous times. He left behind his wife and young children, knowing that the journey would be too difficult for them.
When his young son reached the age of 13, he decided to have him brought over to help and also for education. Like what his father has already endured, the boy sat in a boat for many days, squeezing with many others who had started out with their eyes glimmering with the hope of a better life elsewhere in. The glimmer in their eyes soon disappeared, replaced by a dullness and exhaustion reflected in everyone’s eyes.
With limited food and water out at sea, people soon started to get sick. When they eventually reached the shores of Singapore, they were not allowed on land for fear of spreading whatever illness they were carrying. They were quarantined on the tiny space of the boat until the authorities were satisfied that they didn’t have any disease that would infect the locals. Some decided to stay in Singapore while others, like the boy, continued their journey and after more days out at sea, they reached the land of Sarawak, and more specifically, Kuching.
And that boy in the story? He was reunited with his father, but most importantly, he is my grandfather. Without him and his challenging journey from China 64 years ago, my family and I would not be here and we wouldn’t have the chance to call Kuching our home.
As a city rich with cultures and ethnic groups, I am glad to say that I have friends from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. We have no time and space for racism and discrimination but instead, we spend our time getting along with each other and visiting houses of friends for big cultural celebrations like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Hari Gawai and more. Truthfully, racism and discrimination never occurred to us; race and religion were never an issue. One particularly memorable incident from a few years ago, was a Malay colleague who personally baked and drove to my house to give me a delicious cake for Chinese New Year!
Kuching for me is a unique place I call home because of the many languages I get to learn. At home, we learn Chinese dialects and language like Mandarin, Teochew, Hokkien, Hakka and more. My siblings and I went to national schools (sekolah kebangsaan) for our primary and secondary education and we learned to be fluent in not just English but also the national language, Bahasa Malaysia. Then, I attended local university, graduated and started working. From work, I learned Bahasa Sarawak, a language or rather dialect found only in Sarawak from my colleagues. In my opinion, it is not a surprise that any random local from Kuching and generally, Sarawak would know at least 3 languages.
Also, how could anyone mention Kuching without thinking of the drool-worthy food here? We, Kuchingnites, love food so much that we have an annual food festival! Even during a recent trip to a Mooncake Festival celebration at Carpenter Street, I witnessed friends and fellow Kuchingnites from all walks of life there enjoying themselves, be it vendors, customers, performers and more. I am really thankful to have a peaceful community of various races and cultures in Kuching that brought us so many countless yummy food! Just think of laksa, kolo mee, ayam pansuh, umai, kek lapis, mee jawa, midin, lemang and so much more!
With its rich history and variety of ethnic groups in Kuching, it is no wonder that British colonial architecture co-exist with centuries-old Chinese temples, grand mosques, Borneo-style buildings, modern shopping malls and office complexes where fusions of the unique qualities of the many ethnic groups are also observed.
Kuching, recently declared City of Unity, is a huge melting pot of ethnicity and cultures where its people get along and live together harmoniously. It is no easy task to be a city known for its unity and diversity but Kuching has done it for so many years now. It makes Kuching, as a city, unique and that makes it home, the only way that I have ever known it to be.
Kuching for me is home.