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Published: February 3rd 2007
The great cat of Kuching
Kuching means cat. I guess James Brooke liked them. This statue is known as the Great Cat of Kuching and it is really really ugly. The wiskas totally freak us out.
We flew from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah on one side of Borneo (Sabah) to Kuching on the other (Sarawak) for a brief outing to sample a bit of Sarawak life. Although it's still Malaysia, Sarawak's effectively another country, on the other side of Brunei.
Sarawak has a strange colonial history too. Basically a rich English bloke called James Brooke went adventuring one day in south east Asia (bit like me and Kate, right?). He met the Sultan of Brunei who persuaded him to help quash an uprising in Sarawak. In return he ended up being in charge of the place (the story is probably more complicated but I don't want anyone getting to bored). He became known as the White Rajah and ruled Sarawak as his own private kingdom. Cool eh? Most people just bring back crap t-shirts from their holiday abroad. I bet people at school hated him and hoped he never came back for school reunions ("So what have you been up to since school Jim..?"). Anyway, there were 2 more white rajahs after James until the Japanese invaded in World War 2. After that, Sarawak was handed over to the British Empire for a
Another ugly cat statue
Cats are quite cute. It doesnt take much to make them look nice. I cant help thinking that they should have got a new sculptor in to do these statues.
bit before the formation of Malaysia in 1957.
So what's the affect of a long history of British rule...?
Kuching has a totally different feel to it to either Sandakan or Kota Kinabalu in Sabah. For a start its got historical buildings as they werent flattened during the war, which gives it abit more of a cultural feel. It sits right by the river and has a load of colonial buildings built by the Brookes - it even has a fort built to protect it. It now houses a police museum apparently but was closed when we visited it. It's also surrounded by undergrowth and a lot of very angry, biting red ants. No doubt this would also deter invaders as much as it did us.
And as mentioned, Kuching has pubs. It's pretty amusing to find that wherever the British Empire extended, beer followed. The pubs in Kuching are proper pubs too - not just roadside cafes that happen to sell a few bottles of beer which you come across a lot in Malaysia. Wander into any bar on one street in Kuching and you could be in a pub in Leeds - aside
Making roti at the Biriyani cafe
The bloke who runs it loves tourists and has photos of him with loads of them for all over the world that he brings out to show you. I dont know if he realises that he is in the Lonely Planet, or just thinks they all stumble in. Well, he makes great roti, which is basically very thick batter that they fry into flat crispy rounds and you eat dipped in curry sauce. The Malaysians eat it all the time for breakfast apparantly.
from the waiter service and the tendancy to sell 4 small cans of Tiger beer in a bucket of ice (inexplicably this was called a jug on the menu). Museums Galore
We spent our 1st day in Kuching exporing the museums - there are several and they're all free! They're building a new Natural History Museum to house all their collections of weird looking stuffed animals from 1800-and-summat, but the current set are still in the old building looking..well...stuffed. I found it cool that some of them were collected by Alfred Russel Wallace - but they still look weird. I've seen orangutans up close now and they look nowt like the "specimen" in that museum.
We also went to the Chinese museum and found out about how James Brooke encouraged a load of Chinese immigrants to come to Sarawak to improve the economy. Now the place is dominated by a lot of Chinese culture (we stayed in a Chinese Hotel called the Mandarin). Kuching and Cats
Kuching means cat in Malay. For some reason somene decided to call the town "Cat", which seems a bit odd. Anyway, for this reason alone the place is dotted with cat
Us in the Biriyani cafe
So here we are, foreign tourists and the bloke from the cafe. We said wed send him a copy!
statues - the majority of which are pretty hideous (see photos). There's even a cat museum that houses everything you want to know about felines. Great. We gave that one a miss.
Kate - I would have gone! I like cats!
Kris Visit Malaysia 2007!!!
When we passed through Kuala Lumpur we picked up a copy of one of the English language papers in Malaysia called The Star (no page 3 in this one though...). One page had a big article by an MP practically demanding that all Malaysian citizens were helpful and friendly to foreign visitors. I found this pretty funny. The thought of any MP demanding anything but abuse from British citizens is laughable. But they have that power in Malaysia. Anyway, the drive behind it is to make Malaysia a premier holiday destination and help it compete with the other SE Asia countries for the tourist trade - all done currently under the banner of "Visit Malaysia 2007", basically to celebrate their 1st 50 years of nationhood. Dunno if it is because of this or just because Malaysians are in general so nice...but we have to admit that Malaysia has generally been a very
...with displays on blowpipes, headhunters and odd genital-piercing practices of the indigineous people.
nice place to visit and everyone has been very, very helpful! I mean, we love Thailand, but it's just generally the case that most things cost you and you have to be wary of rip-offs wherever you go. In eveywhere we went in Malaysia people actually offered us directions and advice for FREE! No one tried to get us into a taxi or a particular shop and no one did the hard sell tactic for anything. People seemed genuinely laidback and even the taxis were reliable, used meters and charged consistent prices - no haggling required. It was all quite refreshing.
But it went beyond that. While wandering through the jostling streets of Kuala Lumpur, a guy on the back of a moped sped past us shouting "Welcome to Malaysia!!!", which was odd. In Sabah they seemed to have been told to peep their horns and wave at tourists because sometimes when we were walking along, every single car did this. Plus, on a Friday afternoon in Kuching we were surrounded by schoolkids who basically just wanted to talk to us and practice their English. They were particularly excited when they heard we were English as they really wanted
An odd statue
Outside Kuching Museum
to talk about English footy. I worried that I might let my country down should they have asked me to join a game and assumed I was a Beckham or Owen purely by being born in England. One of the kids who couldn't speak much English also kept repeating "Welcome to Malaysia 2007!!" over and over. On top of this, on our last day in Kuching, while sitting on park bench watching the world go by, a group of university students came over to us and asked if we could help them with their project - I spied a series of questions on a clipboard that was titled "Make friends with a tourist". I had hoped this meant they were going to buy us dinner or something, but it just extended to asking our names, occupations and nationalities, as well as asking if we like Malaysian cuisine. The little interview ended with them taking our photos for the record. So there you go. We might have our mugshots on the wall of some lecture theatre. We've at least made our way into someone's uni project. How friendly! Busy doing nothing...
We were a bit lazy in Kuching. After our
Apparently this is like a coffin and was originally built to hold a dead body. Gruesome, eh? And probably a bit wiffy.
museum day we could have gone to another national park or visited a tribal longhouse (populated by the descendants of headhunters no less)...but, well...it was raining (and we couldnt afford the longhouse visit - one for another time). Plus, I reckon every now and then when travelling you need time to do nothing at all. Which we did in Kuching. We spent the best part of one day lazing around our room reading and then had a sudden urge for a proper cup of coffee, so headed into town and found a branch of Coffee Bean (sort of a sworn enemy of Starbucks). So there we were, in an aircon coffee shop by a shopping mall, drinking capuccino, eating cake and listening to Simply Red. Welcome to deepest, darkest Borneo. Double Dutch
Malaysian language is crackers. We made no attempt to speak Malay while we were there because everyone speaks English (practically). But they sometimes speak Malay...and often they speak both in the same sentence. We had a telly in our room in the Mandarin Hotel and it was very confusing. 50%!o(MISSING)f the time programs were in English and the rest of the time Malay. They have imported
The Police station
Another one of the Brookes' colonial buildings.
English kids programs, interspersed with Malay-speaking cartoons...and then they have Teletubbies. I can't help thinking the kids must be really confused. We overheard parents actually talking to their kids and switching between the languages with the greatest of ease.... They have this breakfast tv program we saw a few times - a bit like This Morning - which is in English, but every now and then the fluent, English-speaking hosts will laugh and utter a sentence in Malay and then immediately return to speaking English - to the point that you are wondering if you just missed what they said. Oh yeah, and a lot of people speak Chinese too.
We spoke to someone about this while grabbing a drink at Mount Kinabalu and she told us that apparently, during the Empire days all the schools were English-speaking. Then after independence, the president decided everyone was going to speak Malay and he was going to make it an international language, so the schools reverted to teaching in malay.........then after a few years they thought "Bugger it" and decided it was wiser to teach English. The result is a dizzying level of multi-lingualism. There you go then. Local Scran
According to a plaque at the end of this street it's the home of Kuching's resident Indian community...but we didn't see one Indian person there. Maybe they were at work.
We've eaten a lot of different foods since we've been away and hardly ever eat western. Partly cos it's usually twice the price mind you and I do occasionally have urges to eat something that isn't accompanied with rice or noodles. Anyway, not long ago I admitted to Kate that despite this, I never had an urge to have eastern food for breakfast - always want coffee and toast or eggs or something. Well, I've clearly been away to long already, becuase without even thinking about it I suddenly found myself sat outside a cafe in Kuching, 1st thing in the morning eating spicy noodle soup. With chopsticks. Plus it was the third time in the week that I'd had laksa (aforementioned Malay spicy noodle soup) for breakfast. Wow, look at me blending in seamlessly with local culture.
The locals were probably tucking into Frosties and thinking I was a right weirdo. Stella Artois and Orangeboom Facts!
They brew Stella and Orangeboom in Korea and sell it in Malaysia for cheaper than local brew Tiger. Thats my beer fact for today! I enjoyed a nice Orangeboom one night and got all misty eyed about buying it from Morrisons
Indian-less. Kris can be seen to the right of the picture searching for a local Indian.
in Bramley... Bye bye friendly Malaysia...
We flew out of Borneo on the 21st of January and headed for the bright lights of Kuala Lumpur. We did all the Borneo flights with Air Asia, who are the biggest budget airline in Asia at the moment and very cheap. Strangely they advertise being the only budget airline to sponsor Manchester United. Their planes have huge Wayne Rooney photos on the tails, and they sell Manchester United merchandise onboard. Why Manchester United have an Asian budget airline sponsoring them we didnt know. Perhaps they fly on them whenever they are in Asia (do they visit Asia?). They werent onboard when we were flying anyway.
Kuala Lumpur was another brief stopover and we flew to Bangkok on the 22nd. We found to our surprise that Malaysia is alot more expensive than Thailand or Laos. Surprising because people we spoke to told us otherwise and rattled on about how cheap it was there. Basically a room with nowt more than a bed in it, bathroom you share with lots of other people and with nothing to sleep under costs around 10 quid. Many rooms dont have windows and only a few have
Dropping us at the fort
This bloke took us over the river to visit the fort. At this point, as he sailed away, he was probably thinking - I don't know why they want to go there, it's closed.
aircon you can control yourself, meaning its often too cold or too hot. You may get breakfast of toast and coffee thrown in, but its still alot more than Thailand where we paid less than a fiver for en suite room. Food is about the same price, but if you eat in a restaurant you pay 15% tax and service charge on top. And booze is very pricey. It is Muslim so its not surprising but we were paying over 5 quid for a jug of Tiger beer. Altogether it was expensive so we decided to hot foot back to where its cheaper....
We've returned to the backpacker madness of Khoa San Road (found an en suite room with a fan and massive window for 4 quid) and are currently enjoying watching the many traveller types pass by...
And avoiding persistent tuk-tuk drivers with a new level of experience and finesse...
It seems nothing much has changed since the bombings of New Years eve - although there are 2 soldiers stationed at the end of the road that I can't remember being there before and way more tourist police.
Next update coming soon.
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