Kuching for me, is more than just a hometown.
I remember the moment when I was six years old and butt naked in the bathtub at my grandmother’s old house at Rubber Road West. My mother was asking me which school I wanted to go to – “Mok sekolah di St. Jo ka di Green Road?”. Faced with such a difficult life decision at such a young age, I did what children do best – I went with my instincts. I picked the school named after a road that is not even that Green. Maybe it was because I knew my uncle had gone there, or maybe it was because even at that age, I didn’t want to be too far from girls.
I spent 17 straight years of my life in Kuching, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It’s a place where I can have a face that resembles Lee Chong Wei (even though I’m hopeless in badminton) and Mohamad in my name and only 2 out of 5 Chinese people (instead of 4 out of 5) would ask me about it. It’s where I can respond ‘bo lui’ to a friend of mine, and ‘nadai bisik’ to my sister, when none of them speak those languages.
I love how some of the Malays look more Chinese than the Chinese; and some of my Iban friends speak Bahasa Sarawak just like me but also how some of them only learned how to recently. I love how even though we have areas consisting primarily of one race, we all end up in the same ABC shop.
I strongly believe that we’re not racist in Kuching, primarily because it’s just not practical to be racist – almost everybody carries the blood of everyone else. The Hari Raya photo of me and my relatives look more like a Chinese New Year photo when you look at our faces. We have members of the family marrying Ibans and Pakistanis. This situation is definitely not unique to just my family. It’s even safe to say that the families in Kuching are as colourful as the Kek Lapis sold at Kampung Gersik.
Kuching is where my grandfathers are buried, and it’s where I want to be buried. Because as good as croissants are in Toulouse, or Cheese Steak is in Philadelphia, I would take my mum’s nasik aruk any day. While this might be controversial, but I also think that Kuching should be the country’s capital, not because that’s where I’m from, but because of how we run things.
On second thought, I don’t want to lose the open spaces and the lush trees. Maybe that’s why people are how they are, and I don’t want to risk it changing. So it’s fine, we’ll keep it that way.
It’s not easy to summarise in words how I feel about the place I would not trade for any other, but if this was your hometown too, it’s a city you’ll miss, whether you’re in Berlin or Bintulu.
Kuching, I know If I ever end up straying far away again, I know that I’ll always be coming back home to you.