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August 25, 2010

August in Kuching

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – The tourist crowds have thinned markedly this month. The best time to visit Kuching, I think. Euro languages can still be heard but they come from the few backpackers and retirees, who, unfortunately, don’t mix. Hilton and Hostel visitors are on opposite sides of the Borneo experience.


I love listening in to conversations. No, I am not nosey. Okay, yes I am. I sat next to a group of young people, all staying at the same place. They were from France, Germany, The Netherlands (some people from that country get very upset when I call it Holland), Spain and few of the former Soviets.


The mixture, both boys and girls, were trying to communicate in broken English. Somebody would say something and then there would be long pause as they turned the phrase into their own language and then try to comprehend it. Then somebody would reply and then the long pause.


Sometimes, but rarely, a remark would be made and most everybody would get it at the same time and instant jabbering would result. From what I could gather, most talk was about where they were all going next, with the guys probably hoping the girls were going in same direction so they could hook up. That’s what I would have tried to do if I were their age. I would have gone where ever the girls were going.


Many retirees are a sour group who rarely interact with their wives. They eat their dinner in silence, ignoring the awe of a red, red sunset setting behind a mountain reflected in the Sarawak River. Seemingly exasperated husbands strut ahead of their wives.


Others have a jolly old time. Old souls, still lovers in their 70s sit and watch the river, and the fading colors, holding hands. Many smile and laugh in groups with a carefree abandon. I hope I am like them when I get there. Gosh, I am almost their age!


One thing about Kuching, you can fall in love or deepen it here, never mind the age.


The raptors are back. These huge hunting birds have returned from China and Russia on their usual migration south for the winter. They are beginning to spread out over Borneo for the rainy season, winter north, summer south of the equator.


The local bird watchers are eagerly photographing and counting these magnificent creatures. Also back, a few white egrets, skimming in formation along the river, me looking down on them from my 10th floor condo, with a smile knowing the rainy season will be here in a few months. Soon there will hundreds.


It’s also the holy month of Ramadan. Everybody, all people of all faiths, are quieter, slower, respectful. The music from the karaoke machine across the river has stopped. Weekend playing of western music from the four-star hotels has subsided. People are selling homemade foods, cakes and curry’s from set-up tables in the shopping centers and along the streets so no one will have to cook when they get home from work. Mid-eastern dates are a special treat and usually are the first things people eat to break the fast after the azan sounds at sunset.


The stores are beginning to announce Raya sales and specials. Hari Raya Puasa is the celebration at the end of the fasting month. It’s like Christmas morning, but way, way, way scaled down. Mainly new clothes and home visits.


Suriani and I have settled into a routine. I am up early, enjoy coffee and biscuits before sunrise and the azan sounds. I then answer my e-mails, share on Facebook (Borneo Tom) and work on my book. We sleep in the afternoon, because she is “in waiting” and I am old, well, not that old. We arise, shower, I write some more. Dinner at sunset, a stroll and then a DVD. We are counting the days, 16 (I just asked Suriani) until we arrive in the States. Then back here, then the birth. Life will never, ever be the same again, just better.


…life is good…


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