Kuching for me is the city where the opposites meet. To many, Kuching is best known as ‘Cat City’ and have won various awards such as Alliance of Healthy Cities (AFHC) awards, ‘Tourist City Award’ and recently ‘City of Unity’. However, to me; I see contraries as the ‘soul’ of Kuching city. A lot of the elements of Kuching city are opposites of each other, yet existed together in harmony. Like the ‘yin and yang’ in Chinese philosophy, a lot of elements in Kuching city that seem apparently opposite or contrary to each other are in fact complementary and give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. That is the beauty of Kuching city. Let me elaborate further….
Firstly, Kuching is the only city I know in Malaysia to have two mayors; where the city is divided into two city councils administering Kuching city North and Kuching city South. Kuching city North is where most of the administrative activities are while Kuching city South is where most of the commercial activities are carried out. Though separated into North and South like a magnetic poles, these two parts of the city which are mostly opposite to each other separated by the Sarawak River need to come together to have a fully functional Kuching city. Hence, the two opposite city councils are in fact complementing each other in governing Kuching city.
Secondly, in term of development pace, Kuching city has witnessed rapid growth especially in the recent years with new shopping complexes cropping up almost every year making Kuching city a more ‘happening’ place. Despite this rapid growth, its people still manage to model the slow-flowing Sarawak River in their pace of lives. Kuching city still be able to stick to its old ways and hushed charm. The contradiction between the pace of development and pace of lives has make Kuching city a more attractive place for tourist, expatriate and even people from other cities in Malaysia to come and work in Kuching and made Kuching city their home. I have friends from the peninsular Malaysia whom after graduation from the universities and colleges in Kuching decided to find job and settle down in Kuching city. According to them, life is more easy-going and less hectic in Kuching city as compares to their home town. Thus, another opposites complement each other for Kuching city: on one hand the development is rapid; while on the other hand, the lives go on at a leisurely pace.
Kuching city is also the place where the old meets the new. Standing at the 9th floor of Medan Pelita where Star Cineplex is located and looking toward the Sarawak River, ones can see the old side of Kuching city on the left where Carpenter Street is located and the new side of Kuching city on the right where newer and taller buildings such as Hilton Hotel, Riverside Majestic Hotel and Grand Margherita Hotel are located. Though the difference between the old side and new side of the city is very distinct, it is this contrary that made Kuching city unique by embracing the old and the new in harmony. The old fashioned shops and historical buildings around Kuching city depict the history of the city and also the kind of people lives in the city while the new buildings describe the success of the city. Ones need to visit both the old side and new side of Kuching city to fully experience the city.
Another opposites in Kuching city is in term of the city’s planning where concrete jungle meets with greenery. In planning for the city’s development, a lot of emphasis has been placed on preserving the nature to ensure that the city will one day become the most liveable and beautiful city not only in this region but also the world. Other fast developing cities in the world may have lost its greenery; replaced by concrete buildings causing heat island and pollutions. Kuching city on the other hand has been able to strike a balance in its development by incorporating greenery and gardens into its urban areas. The effort by the city planner pays off when Kuching city was declared as “Garden City” by the State Government in July 2003. Hence, the philosophy of the opposites blended together in harmony has been used in the planning of Kuching city.
Looking at the architecture of Kuching city, especially on the old side of the city, ones can see the influence of the east and west; yet another opposites. The western style historical buildings from the White Rajah’s era are still standing tall and well-preserved alongside the Chinese/local style shophouses. Some of the buildings even blended both the eastern and western style into its design such as the Old Court House. Although western influence can be seen with the use of colonnades of classical columns that line the verandahs of the Old Court House; the layout is more akin to how a Malay village might be laid out, with a series of independent houses or pavilions laid out around a common space; in this case all the individual roofs are connected to form one common roof over all the pavilions, or wings with a courtyard open to the sky in the middle.
There are a lot more examples of how the opposites meet and existed together in harmony in Kuching city that I can give, but I think I have made my point. It is by embracing and blending these opposites that give Kuching city its soul and make it unique. Furthermore, not only the opposites meet in Kuching, it also attract. It is in Kuching city that I met my wife. That is the beauty and charm of Kuching city as seen from my eyes.