Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Kuching: The Cat City

I encountered this dog while walking back from the Sarawak State Museum. He looked so hopeless and captured at least half of the story of canines in Kuching. The other half of the story is tough to capture, since I'm usually on my bike bookin' it in order to not become a rabies zombie.
This totem stands right outside to the Sarawak Ethnology Museum. Origins uncertain, and for some reason the lights near the totem are prone to vandalism, hence the cages..
Kuching City (or "Divisional") Mosque near the open air market.

I've been planning a trip on my own into downtown Kuching for a while. Finally found which bus I need to catch and when. In less populated areas outside the city, there is a mobile bus stop policy, in that the driver stops wherever people are standing idly. I made sure to make eye contact with driver and wave him over to stop. He had no problem understanding that I wanted to go to the downtown area, near the waterfront. An hour later I was there. All the horror stories of bus transit in Kuching were overblown...sure it took like 30 minutes longer than a car and I the bus made a big circle, passing some of the same stops twice, but what's new? Many buses I've taken in Western countries have the same issues. I'll take it! It's still pretty convenient. 

I arrived near the famed Sin Kwang Heng open air food market on Jalan Market (Market Street, go figure). Walked around the area meandering through India Street (named for the most common ethnicity of its shop owners), with all of its antique and handicraft shops (Many very cool objects created by the indigenous groups in Sarawak). Must return here for souvenir shopping later on. Snapped some touristy photos of the waterfront, the beautiful Sarawak State Legislative Assembly Building, and the sampans (wooden river boat, locally called 'tampangs') bringing mostly townees across the river. I'd been on one months ago though; don't really understand why tourists hesitate to make the trip across.

Then the rain came, and there was nowhere to hide. I ran in the direction of the Kuching City Mosque, and then found my way to the very famous Sarawak Museum, considered to be one of the best in SE Asia. The museum complex has a number of buildings devoted to different aspects of Sarawak, from natural history (basically an entire exhibit of ~ten million-year old fossilized tree trunks) to ethnology. For basically all of the museums, I was the lone tourist wandering around. It was weird for museums with such a beautiful and rich display of exhibits, containing wonderful handicrafts, sculptures, tapestries, ornaments, traditional wear of every one of Sarawak's ethnic groups (generally agreed upon number of groups is in the mid 20s-30s, but some claim that this number might go as high as 70, when nomadic peoples are considered). Also there was this captivating exhibit about archeological discoveries in the Niah Caves in Northern Sarawak. Those caves were found to contain all sorts of proof that people did live in Borneo tens of thousands of years ago. It had been previously thought that  people could not survive in jungles during those primitive times, because they had not developed the tools or intelligence to do so. Turns out that theory was way narrow-minded on all fronts. Big surprise there.

On my way to enjoying the spice of life at Life Cafe  (described in a whole separate post), I stumbled upon two great photography subjects. First a dog, very sadly chained up to his owner's gate door. Seeing this made me think of how dog owners here do not treat dogs with much decency. Sometimes they cage the puppies up and don't let them out for days, often neglecting to feed them or provide water. If not caged up outside, dogs are allowed to roam the streets, but seem to find their way back home in many cases. This one was too dejected to even make a peep or flinch as I approached it, even though the strays here would have made a hell of a ruckus. I thought that combined with the graffiti and peeling paint on the door behind it, the dog's image symbolized a sad facet of reality in Kuching.
Literally 50 m from the dog, I encountered this cooky-looking black bird with a yellow beak. 
What jumped out at me, as it was hopping around, was how amazing the bird looked standing on the yellow line of the black road.I fumbled for my camera and got a pic, but the bird came out blurry...booo. It flew away before I could adjust the focus. Would have been a cool image otherwise. Well I guess I'm still an amateur, but I knew that already. I guess spotting a good photo opp is half the battle, right?

Ok, then I had my Life Cafe noodles and did a night walk along the waterfront. The Kuching Waterfront really lights up at night, and is great for walking or just sitting back to enjoy the sights. 
If only I could have captured this Tampang man with less blurriness. Knew the tripod would have been useful.

  Kuching literally means Cat in the Bahasa Melayu (Malay) language. There are three separate cat statues all within a few blocks of each other. Around festive seasons they are adorned by special cat statue apparel. Will try to catch it next time, and with festive occasions always around the corner in Sarawak, should be very soon.

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