“Kuching for me is….” I began before trailing off, trying to find the words. What exactly is it to me? It’s definitely my hometown, but what else is it? “I’ll think of how I can describe Kuching. You guys go ahead.”
The four Swinburne students I was with chattered on about their respective hometowns. They were part of a youth exchange trip to South Korea while I was supervising the trip as one of the lecturer advisors. We were in Dankook University on a campus visit and were chatting with Lee Jiseon, a senior editor with the university’s newspaper. She was interested to find out about Malaysia for a possible feature on the trip and its participants. It was a coincidence that we came from different hometowns all over Malaysia.
As the others excitedly described what the hometowns’ specialties, I was deep in thought. I could start by explaining that Kuching was actually named because of the mata kucing trees and cats. Or, I could talk about our delicacies such as laksa and kolo mee, but those could be in Miri too. Having lived in Petaling Jaya for work before, I’d been eager to move back to Kuching when I could. Although not as happening as PJ, there was just something about Kuching that appealed to me more than just being my hometown.
It’s easy to see that there is some undefinable quality about Kuching that seduced visitors into becoming citizens. While Malaysia is home to many nationalities and religions, somehow Kuchingites seem more tolerant and accepting of one another. There has always been mutual understanding and respect for the different cultures, where it’s common to see people of different races sharing a table at eateries and co-existing peacefully. It’s also small enough that everyone seems to know one another but it’s easy enough to strike up a friendly conversation with a new face. While the local mindset is more relaxed compared to West Malaysia, there is no doubt that Kuchingites are capable of producing high-quality work, as evident from our various successes in the different fields. The rest of the world is beginning to realize this as we see more multi-national companies coming in to invest locally.
Although Kuching may still considered small, it is blessed to be in Sarawak, where it is surrounded with abundant and fertile land. It was known as a small town with nothing but the local infrastructure is developing progressively. However, when people talk of visiting East Malaysia, people automatically think of Kota Kinabalu with its pristine beaches, blue waters, exciting islands, mountains and more. Yet, Kuching has most of those things too. Problem is, not many people have realized that, myself included until that moment. Admittedly, more could be done by everyone to further promote our natural heirlooms to tourists, while supporting transportation systems need to be better planned and developed. One example is the supply of parking spaces, especially since Kuchingites love to park as close as possible to their destination.
There is definitely room for improvement in Kuching. Despite being a friendly place, there seems to be a decreasing sense of community nowadays, especially among the younger generation. Everyone is glued to their technological devices that many do not even know their own neighbours or what is going on outside their own homes.
What Kuching lacks is a way for everyone to be a part of a real community. The simplest, most effective solution would be to create a gathering place which welcomes all to for events, festivities, community projects and more. While some may claim that existing shopping malls do so, most still lack that spark to bring Kuchingites together. This place should make people excited to look forward to keep going back. It should be lively and bustling, with a steady flow of activities and events, in an easily accessible location with features and facilities to encourage all Kuchingites to participate as a whole, instead of individuals.
This place should celebrate the spirit of Kuching by getting the citizens involved by asking them to help decide on upcoming activities together. Besides being a communal area, it could also be a convenient one-stop destination, well-equipped to meet the appetites and retail needs of the people. In the present, there’s currently no other Malaysian city with such a location for and by the people, without any political or religious ties. To make this place even more like home, and a representation of Kuching, it should also have a green lung area planted with plants and trees indigenous to the city or Sarawak. This would help educate the younger generation and tourists alike in a convenient setting.
My mind started filling with ideas and possibilities for humble Kuching. That’s the best thing about it, there’s just so much to discover and to work on to bring out the best of what it has to offer. It just takes the right people with the appropriate mindset and opportunity to get it started. As I thought of what else Kuching could do to improve, my musings were interrupted with “Andrea, are you still with us? You seem to be thinking a lot,” Jiseon waved her hand in front of me.
“Oh, yes. I’ve finally thought of what to tell you about my hometown.” I said as she nodded in anticipation. “Kuching for me is a well of untapped and never-ending potential,” I began, this time excitedly and confidently. I went on to explain all that is beloved of Kuching, how the little city is and will be even more special. What I said must have struck a chord with them, as every Korean whom I told about Kuching has decided to visit in December. I really can’t wait to show them our little gem of a hometown.