Thursday, September 25, 2008

Day 10 – Kuching – Sarawak Cultural Village

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mr. Bong, our driver and guide from yesterday, met us at the hotel and we headed out to the Sarawak Cultural Village. SCV is a collection of traditional style houses for each of the ethnic groups of Sarawak: Chinese, Malay, Melanau, Bidayuh, Iban, Orang Ulu, and Penan. You tour the houses and then go for the big dance show at the central theater.

Our first stop was the traditional Chinese farmhouse.

Then a traditional Malay Borneo house

Then we got into the more exotic indigenous groups. First was the Melanau Tall House.

The Melanau people harvest the sago palm, both for its starch, similar to tapioca, and for the sago grubs that were traditionally a source of protein. I held one, but couldn’t bring myself to eat it alive and wiggling. Sautéed in butter and garlic might have been a different story.

I also tried their stick dance, where the sticks are clapped twice on the floor, then smacked together twice. I was unsuccessful, but the professionals there made it look easy.

Can you tell which ones are the professionals?

We went next to the Orang Ulu longhouse, another tall structure. There a man was playing a sape' and three dancers performed.

The Penan people are nomadic. To show this nomadism, sometimes they're at the SCV, and sometimes they're not. They weren't in residence when we were there, but they did have one warrior showing how to shoot a blowgun. Three tries for one ringgit. I wish I had this advice then: "Do not blow from your mouth. Blow from your chest and your stomach." Let’s just say that I would have gone hungry for a long time if I had to hunt with a blowgun. Unless the animal died of laughter.

Next was the Iban longhouse. Formerly a tribe of fierce headhunters, they have managed to ease into the modern world without losing their identity and culture. There was a demonstration of weaving there, showing how their ornate textiles are made.

Our last house was the Bidayuh headhouse. Like the Iban, they were headhunters as well. The headhouse was where the heads of their slain enemies were hung, as well as a store for weapons and meeting place for the village.

Here is a youtube video of the inside of the headhouse.

The hornbill sculpture that is the crest of the house.

Bidayuh using bamboo for weaving what looks like a small basket for poison darts. They sold blowguns there as well. I knew better than to buy one, because of my miserable failure at the Penan hut.
After this, we went to the big dance/musical show at the central theater. It was spectacular. I'm not sure if I learned anything more, but I certainly enjoyed it.

On the way back to Kuching, Mr. Bong asked if we’d like to make a side trip to the Cat Museum. Remember that Kuching means "Cat" in Malay? To tell the truth, we were museumed, cultured out, from all we had seen for the past two days. But I knew the Cat Museum was a little bit silly, a little bit of a tourist trap, and it was on the way, so why not? And after all of the seriousness, it was fun and lighthearted.

A Muslim Girl's School was having a field trip

A mummified cat from Egypt

Cat porcelain, including a cat pipe

Friskies through the ages

The museum is in the Kuching City Hall, up on a hill, so you also get a beautiful view of Kuching from it.

When we got back, I had to do some business with the bank. The day before, I had tried to withdraw some cash for my shirts. It didn't work the first time, and was like the machine reset itself. I did it a second time, and it worked. But I also checked my account online and it showed two withdrawals. So, I went to the bank there and filed a report, and also reported to my home bank via e-mail. The transaction was reversed very quickly, but I was told by the Hilton doorman that he only recommends the Standard Chartered Bank ATMs, in the same row of banks across from the Holiday Inn.

After this was squared away, we took a walk along Jln Main Bazaar and Jln Gambir looking for souveniers for my colleagues at work. Afterwards, Barbara headed back to the hotel to write and I went to take a massage. The masseuse I had wasn’t as good as the other ones I had and seemed a bit sketchy.

After that, I went and had my usual beer and cigarette at the Chinese café across from the Hilton. This had become my place where I could sit, read, and think about everything that happened during the day. Barbara and I travel well together, and part of that is knowing we both need a little alone time to think. Hers was in the Executive Lounge of the Hilton, writing in her journal, enjoying the river view, watching the little water taxis running across and up and down the river.

Dinner was again at Top Spot. There is nothing, nothing better than fresh seafood cooked by people who know how to cook it just right.

Another Pomfret, a cousin of the Florida Pompano, and just as tasty.
Shrimp with onions and chiles.
More stir-fried midin, the tasty fiddlehead ferns also known as "jungle vegetable".

A small portion of deep fried squid. I asked the waitress to ask the cook if he would, after frying, toss it with salt, hot peppers, and garlic like they do at the Chinese restaurants back home. She did, and it came out wonderful. The entire deal, with beer and everything, was around $30.

After dinner, we walked along the riverfront. This was our last night in Kuching, and we didn't want to leave. It had been a wonderful experience for us. The people were all so friendly, and a little curious about the Americans. We had seen a lot of wildlife and a lot of history. We also just enjoyed being there. It felt good.

Tomorrow was another day, another adventure, the final destination of our trip, Kuala Lumpur.

Logistics: P.F. Bong, a local taxi driver, arranged the trip to Semenggoh on Monday and SCV on Tuesday for us. Because he got the tickets to SCV ahead of time, they were a little cheaper. He can be reached at email (, or on his handphone at 013-8089724 (outside Malaysia, +6013-8089724).

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