Kuching for me is unique because of the people and the food. It is a liveable place – to earn a living, to grow old and to retire in.
One of the greatest assets of Kuching is the people of various ethnic groups living peacefully together. There are a variety of races and religions mixed in Kuching – from the Malays to the Dayaks — descendants from the native tribes, like the Bidayuhs, the Ibans, the Orang Ulu — to the Ethnic Chinese. It is these various ethnic groups that give Kuching its unique character.
Cross-ethnic marriages in Kuching are very common, comprising almost 30%. It is the main factor that makes Kuching unique. Genuine friendship among the different races is exemplary. In Kuching, you cannot be totally sure of the race of a person as he may be a Malay or a Bidayuh or Iban but he has the Chinese look. Family members married to different races often come together to celebrate festivals such as Gawai, Hari Raya and Chinese New Year. Therefore, Kuching is an excellent example of “unity in diversity” where various ethnic groups live in peace and harmony.
In Kuching, muslims and non-muslims can have meals together because they respect each other. In food courts, stalls serving food of various ethnic groups are under one roof and patrons enjoy their food without any controversy. It is also a common sight that a Muslim food stall and non-halal food stall are placed side by side. You will never see this in West Malaysia. I simply enjoy watching how children of different races, colours and religions play together. They are blind to race and skin colour! Let us always respect and treasure our similarities and differences, protecting and preserving the rights of every ethnic group.
So, when Kuching was awarded a new status – a city of unity on 1 August 2015, it was a hallmark declaration of showing to the rest of Malaysia and even the world of how to live in peace and harmony. We are one big family even though we are of different races, religions and cultures. Datuk Seri Azman Ujang, a member of Y1M board of trustees said “The racial unity in this city is intact, unlike other cities elsewhere in the world where relations among the various ethnic groups tend to be brittle”.
Another asset of Kuching is the food. It is famous for its kolo mee, laksa Sarawak, terubok masin, kek lapis and the list continues. Kuching offers food lovers a gastronomic experience like no other – ranging from local traditional food specific to the different ethnic groups to a host of cuisines, each continually borrowing from the other. Thanks to my husband who is a Bidayuh that I have a chance to enjoy Bidayuh foods. Asam Siap, or chicken in the bamboo stuffed with tapioca leaves is one of Bidayuhs’ famous foods. It is Bidayuh’s own version of Manok Pansoh, which is originally from the Ibans. Another yummy Bidayuh food is durian chicken soup, consisting of ayam kampong, lemon grass, ginger and preserved durian. Amazingly, it has no taste of durian but the taste resembles my mother’s ginger red wine chicken soup used for Foochow Mee Sua. Recently, my husband brought my children and I to pick durian flowers. I never knew that durian flowers when stir fry taste sweet and crunchy. There are so many wild jungle products such as daun dada, tepu and wild palms that can be eaten too. So, come to Gawai open house in the kampong or patronise Awah Café at DBNA if you want to taste the authentic Bidayuh food.
Kuching’s other huge asset is its day trip proximity to a dozen first-rate nature sites. Damai, one of Sarawak’s main beach resort area, is located on the Santubong Peninsula, about 35 minutes drive from Kuching. The area has sandy beaches at the foot of a majestic jungle-covered mountain. Kuchingities can also bring family members and friends to Bako National Park for wildlife experience. Long-tailed macaques, silvered langurs or leaf-monkeys, common water monitors, plantain squirrels, wild boar and mouse deer are all found here. The macaques are totally fearless as they will enter the kitchens in the resthouses, stealing food and drinks. The Bornean bearded pig, Bako’s largest mammal, will disturb you if you sleep in the tent. A bearded pig came snooping, almost kissing one of my friends with its snout. Semenggoh Wildlife Centre which operates an orangutan orphanage and rehabilitation program is another pride of Kuching. Travellers from all over the world come to Borneo just to see the Orang utans!
However, there are a few things that Kuching needs to improve if it wants to remain a liveable city. First, solve the massive traffic congestion. People will take public transport if the service is reliable and safe. Kuching should have a quality public transport by building public transit networks within the city to ease traffic jam, to lure more tourists to the state and to reflect the richness of a city. Another way is to emulate Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Tokyo and Perth, the five bike-friendly cities, to structure the city with cyclists in mind! The bicycle paths should be protected lanes, allowing commuters to go around their city with ease.
Second, Kuching needs more recreational parks for leisure and exercise. With the growing population, the few parks such as Reservoir park, MBKS park and Friendship park are not enough to offer recreation and green lungs to residents and visitors of the city.
Finally, Kuching is endowned with limestone mountains along Jalan Borneo Heights. The limestone mountains in Kampung Mambong have been blasted and bulldozed for development. It is time to save the remaining mountains as these are hidden treasures to be preserved for our future generation. It can be another Zhangjiajie National Forest Park where the movie “Avatar” was filmed.
In conclusion, the state government, community and media play a role in making Kuching a vibrant and liveable city – a beloved home for many.