Last Morning in Kuching
I sat on the balcony on the second floor and had my simple breakfast. A row of pigeons perched on the wire preening. Today I planned to visit the museums before my flight to Penang. The Sarawak Museum is housed in a pleasant looking building with Queen Anne edifice of the Victorian era. Unfortunately there was a power outage and many of the stuffed specimens could only be peered at in the dark.On the second floor were daily implements, musical instruments, war totems and a replica of the inside of a longhouse.To visit a genuine longhouse, one has to travel a long way into the interior of Sarawak and since I have little time left I would have to do this another time.Few longhouses are being built today because of a scarcity of Belian trees.The Dayaks who live in such houses used to be head hunters, a tradition that was abandoned after they were converted to Christianity by the British.When someone passed away there were many restrictions placed on the tribe and these could only be lifted after a head was obtained from another tribe.A suitor was deemed capable of taking care of his bride-to-be if he were to offer a head to the father of the bride. In some longhouses one could still see skulls from the days of the head hunting.
The Chinese History Museum recounted the three waves of Chinese migration mainly from the Kwangtong and Fuchien provinces of southern China. There were also Foochow, Hannan and Hakka people as well. The first wave started in the nineteenth century as a result of scarcity of land and poverty in southern China, many hazarded the long sea voyage across the South China Sea to Singapore and from there they were contracted to work first in the gold, tin and antimony mines and then rubber plantations of the various regions in South East Asia. Charles Brooke paid contractors to recruit Chinese immigrants during the third wave because of the great need of laborers in Sarawak. Today the Chinese community constitutes 29% of the population. Firecrackers could be heard periodically in the city as business men wish for a prosperous new year.
Across the Chinese History Museum was the Tuo Pek Kong Temple, over 100 years old. Many devotees burned incense, gold paper money and said their prayers.
There is a Jalan India (Indian Street) in Kuching where Indian immigrants run their stores. Old Colonial store fronts line the streets of Kuching selling crafts and Kek Lapis (layered cakes) of various flavors. I bought some Ang Koo (red bean tortoise cakes), Kueh Talam and a Chinese pear for my lunch.
Shortly before noon, it was time for me to depart for the airport to fly to Penang to visit my family. As the plane approached the island, it brought back memories of my first flight out of the island many years ago as a teenager to go to Wellesley College in the US on a full scholarship. The airport was small then and through the airplane window, I could see my father, my sister and my adopted brother on the balcony waving. I had no idea then that I would not see my family or the island again for another seven long years.