The 1960s feel
It was like going back to the 1960s when Singapore was less crowded with buildings, cars and people. Most houses and buildings in Kuching were not more than 4 storeys and were well spread out. The streets were conspicuously clean and they still have roundabouts. Modern tall hotels and commercial buildings with gleaming glass skirted the waterfront. Side by side with the modern, were charming old shop houses. The spaciousness of the small city relaxed the eye; the fresh air perked us up; the pace was slower; and it was quiet.
The Harbour View hotel
We stayed in the three star Harbour View Hotel. It was clean and the rooms and service were satisfactory. Under good advice, we had all our breakfasts outside, in the three Chinese kopitiams, 2 minutes to the left from the hotel entrance. There we had our breakfasts: beef noodles, kolo mee, Sarawak laksa, char kway teow, and a Malay dish which is satay atop mee rebus. Definitely a better choice than the hotel buffet, if you want to try the local fare.
The Kuching Waterfront
The hotel was 3 minutes from the Kuching Waterfront which made for a pleasant evening walk along the Sarawak river. We saw across the river, the lighted-up Parliament building, the Astana, a fort and a Malay village. The feel of the waterfront was the Singapore esplanade of the 1970’s: the Queen Elizabeth Walk. We searched for dinner and wandered through a shopping centre that had about 40 stores and hardly any food. We ended up eating at Top Spot, a popular seafood centre atop a multi-storey car park. The food was reasonably tasty and quite affordable. We loved the local jungle vegetable from the fern, but were shocked at the Medium serving size.
Sarawak Cultural Village
The next morning’s highlight was the Sarawak Cultural Village, about an hour’s drive from where we were. It was the size of several football fields with Mt Santubong as a beautiful backdrop. The theme park, a living museum showcased the different tribal people groups: their longhouses, utensils, culture, dances and food. The highlight was a professionally-performed cultural show of about 40 minutes which entertained us with its movement, colour, sound and humour. The sape, a native indigineous string instrument produced particularly captivating sounds, and I wondered if there were local churches that used them in their worship services.
Alan and Penny Hiu
Facebook again has proven to be a great social network tool. I was introduced to Alan Hiu by Peter Sze. We all got to know each other via today’s social media. Alan brought my wife and I to a better known Sarawak kolo mee stall for breakfast at 8.30am on Sunday. This was our first meeting and together with his wife, Penny and Richard their friend, we got to know each other. My children were sleeping in. It was amazing how quickly we gelled together because we shared a common faith in the Lord. Quickly, I learned that Alan was one of the leading back up singers with Lim Gee Tiong, the pastor of a 1,200 member Chinese church and famous composer and singer of the song, “Hold My Hand, My Lord”. He was deeply committed and served in the ministry without question. One day he received a Joseph Prince tape which, he said, just liberated him. So when he heard of SIB Grace, he joined them. Now he is a key leader of the Chinese service there. We were so absorbed in the sharing of lives, I did not fully savour the noodles, but judging from the crowd there it must be good. The next time, I will slow down and enjoy.
St Thomas Cathedral
Alan Hiu was a gracious host and drove us around. Public transport was unreliable and taxis did not use the meter, so to have a local to drive us around was a big plus. He brought us to St Thomas Cathedral, which unfortunately had its doors locked between the morning and evening services on Sunday. We walked around the Cathedral where my maternal grandparents married in 1913. It was of course a different building then. To see my children walk around the church made me smile. Heritage is important, and I wanted them to be able to say, “I was there” to their kids. That evening, Alan brought us to the Food Fair, an annual August event that never failed to draw the locals. We pigged out with his family and Elder Alex and Richard. Following this, we had cake and melon juice at Alan’s home. This was Malaysian hospitality at its best. Somehow we Singaporeans have lost this in our hectic city lifestyle. We need to recover this biblical value, this precious and timeless virtue.
All the way
The next day, they brought us out for a seafood lunch at a suburban restaurant with a Hockchiew chef. We loved the local jungle vegetables and the bamboo crustacean (that had to be fished out individually from the sea mud). Alan and Richard then did the second mile and sent us to the airport.