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December 3, 2008

Moving East for a Spell

Tom McLaughlin

“Warm and tropical with pouring rains after 3 P.M.” describes Borneo in this northeast monsoon season. The city of Kuching combines old and new, with the modern Hilton overshadowing Chinese shop houses built in 1900's.


Moderate traffic with quiet streets as, unlike the rest of Asia, it is very, very impolite to use one's car horn. The greenish brown Sarawak River meanders lazily through town, small by our standards. Yellow boats, seating about 14 on benches move people across the bridgeless waterway, a few at a time. Two or three high buildings are under construction, at least I think they are, battle for space in the skyline close to the river.


Malay, Chinese, Ibans and others walk along the sidewalks with bright smiles revealing white teeth. Brown, yellow, off-white skin ladies with black hair dressed in colorful skirts with solid tops carry packages to and fro. Businessmen in western shirt and ties, some in suits, enter banks or investment houses occasionally toting a briefcase.


Chinese temples with green curled dragons flick bright red colored tongue and maniacal yellow eyes to ward off dangers sit in the middle of streets forcing traffic to unnaturally drive around. Mosques, with their gold domes with a crescent moon posted high on stick call out prayers. A church or two clang bells quietly, hushed on a Sunday morning.


They drive on the left with me looking the wrong way suddenly jumping out of the way. Mildly hot curries line the shelf with a ladle in each one for the rice. I avoid the ones with the fish heads floating on top with slivers of unknown spices meander between them. I gobble up stay, with a variety of sauces depending on the cook, in a small bowl next to them. Green and red chilies accompany every meal. Chinese food, me soup, won-ton soup, pork, no General Tzu or fortune cookies. They taste nothing like the meals in the states. Most is sold in stalls and I avoid the expensive hotel restaurants.


There are not many white people – orang puiths – here, mainly tourists. Some back packers with scraggly hair and road grime still soaked into their skin. Hostels nearby offer bath, clean sheets in large dormitory rooms with bunks. Been there, done that, not again.


My apartment will be ready on December 2 (yesterday). I’m bored with the hotel. Want to get settled in. Living from suitcases is not pleasant at any time or anywhere. The language I learned 30 years ago while in the Peace Corps is rapidly returning although I have a few problems with grammar. But, I have the same trouble with English.


Met a few expats, one an Irish couple, another a pub owner. The pub would be condemned and burned to the ground in the states, but it’s okay for here.


I haven't visited the forest yet. The huge national reserve (jungle) towers over my home. The South China Sea is across the road. I bought books on orchids and birds and will begin my nature studies soon.


Children, America and (President-elect Barack) Obama are the main topics I have with the local population. I tell them I worked on the Obama campaign so they think I know him personally. It takes a while, especially with my Malay language skills, to convince them otherwise.


On the Star Cable channel that is owned by Rupert Murdoch we receive a channel devoted to American sitcoms like Happy Days and Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. Another presents the BBC news channel, while another holds a travel channel from England. The rest broadcasts Malay, Chinese and Indian shows.


The local movie house has “Twilight,” “Bolt,” and “Tropic of Thunder.” “Igor,” “Quarantine,” “Quantum of Solace” and “Madagascar” all have Chinese and Malay subtitles. There is – of course – a large selection of Malay and Chinese films. Tickets are $1.97.


This is home now


Life is good


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