Kuching for me is the birthplace of some of my fondest memories.
When I was maybe two or three, some of my happiest times were when I went marketing with my late grandmother, my young mind filled with wonder at all the interesting sights and smells of the wet markets she frequented. I was often very impressed by how my grandmother could converse in so many languages and dialects with the different sellers we encountered, pidgin Malay mixed in with Bahasa Sarawak and the countless Chinese dialects she was fluent in, and sometimes, even the occasional English phrases.
Once, on one of these excursion to the market, a fish-monger at the old market at Kenyalang Park gave me a small crab that had been brought in with the rest of the catch. I spent half the morning clutching on to it, fascinated by the fact that something so small could already be so perfect in all its miniature detail, before abandoning it to climb the concrete dinosaur nearby with my cousins.
Kuching for me is the food. I was a fussy child, and the ubiquitous laksa and kolomee were the dishes I only learnt to appreciate when I was away for my tertiary studies, but I loved my sup terung asam and my midin belacan and my cha kueh, and oh, the seafood dinners that were a monthly affair for my family, and the cold drinks I could never find anywhere else – White Lady and Matterhorn.
While away from home I found myself becoming one of those people who would begrudge how the noodles weren’t quite the same as a good bowl of kolomee; the laksa in any other city would always be sub-par; the rojak back home was always the best. I never saw it coming, when I first made plans to leave this city, but a month of unfamiliar food later and the Kuching food loyalist in me emerged, and I found myself keenly missing all the street-food I had once snubbed my nose at.
Kuching for me is a place where lasting friendships are forged. I’ve made good friends in the time I was living in other cities, and I’ve made some strong connections even with some of the people I’ve met on my travels. But there is nothing quite like sitting down with an old friend from home and debating the best place for hakka mee and teh c peng special, or getting nostalgic of how the Satok Sunday Market used to be, before some of it relocated to Kubah Ria.
In my late teens and most of my twenties, I was away from this city for awhile, when I thought I needed to see new places, and I was trying to satisfying my wander-lust.
And then I was somehow drawn back home again. I had friends from Australia, the United Kingdom, American, Europe visiting me on my holidays when I was in town. I found myself playing host and unwitting tour-guide, and found myself learning about my own home-town, and as my friends marvelled and pointed out the things I had neglected to notice or appreciate, I found myself seeing Kuching through different eyes and I slow fell in love all over again with this little city I had taken for granted.
Kuching for me is love. Most of my family is still here, and I’ve always associated the word “home” with this city, as reluctant as I was, when I was younger, to return. When I was lonely, or suffered a heart-break, I always found myself taking the first flight back to where I felt safe and accepted and loved.
The first boy I ever loved was from Kuching, and despite it being almost half a life-time ago, I sometimes walk around the city, and I get a flashback from so many years ago, and a wistful smile will spread over my face, as I remember those early days of trying to make sense of these burgeoning emotions. It is unsurprising, of course, that many of these memories are framed by things that are quintessentially Kuching, be it food or the landmarks that define this city.
Kuching for me is the people. The wonderfully diverse culture that I never understood was so unique until I left for awhile, and returned to view through fresh new eyes, and even then, I thought I had seen it all, until I took a walk around the city, few months back, for a project I had co-founded, to collect stories of random people on the street. From that, I found out that this city is one of very open, friendly people, who never begrudge their simple lives, and are often almost unreasonably upbeat, despite how little they have.
Kuching for me is happiness. This city is a place I have learnt to associate with all the good things, and it will always be my home, no matter how far away I might wander. Kuching for me is all the best things in life in the relatively small space of 431 square kilometres, and I feel immensely privileged to be able to tell people that this is where my birth place is.