Dear Readers: Greetings from Kuching, Malaysian Borneo!
It has been a mild monsoon season. The rains that usually last three or four months around the clock have waited until the night or early morning hours. Most days are cloudy with peaks of sun; and we can usually walk along the river, or into town without an umbrella.
Our river walks always include Dzul. He stumbles along chasing the birds, a leaf or any child his age. Most of the men who pilot the many sampans always wave and yell Assalamualakium (Peace be with you), the Islamic greeting. They all know me because I am the only white guy who frequents their vessels for the short trips across – or up and down – the river. We always give a hearty Assalamualakium in return. Dzul, at two, can’t quite wrap his tongue around that so he returns with Beeaaaa! I figure that’s close enough.
We always stop at a small ice cream stand. Well, they call it that; but it’s really ice milk. They are always out of my favorite flavor, vanilla chocolate chip, so I end up with plain vanilla. One time I pointed to one that looked like vanilla but it turned out to be durian flavored. Durian is the most disgusting smell and taste in the universe.
Our ambles into town take us down the covered sidewalks next to Chinese shop houses. We always hear the call DZUUUUUUUUUUL and have to stop as we greet everyone, smile, exchange a story or two and talk about the family. They have known Dzul since he was born and he is a fine looking lad with an award winning smile and personality – just like his father.
A new shopping center has opened with a food court on top. There is a vast array of individual kiosks that sell chicken rice – Arabic, Malay, Indian, Indonesian, Foo Chow and a host of other local delicacies. However, we have lived here going on five years now, so the different culinary delights have worn off.
We always head for the Tex-Mex stall where we order tacos. Yes, in the middle of this cacophony is a Mexican restaurant. The owner, my Chinese friend Ben, had lived in Texas for 10 years studying engineering. He earned his degree, came back to Kuching and – instead of pursuing a career in his major – decided to enter the food industry.
His major problem is acquiring taco shells, not exactly an Asian staple. He has arranged for a baker in Kuala Lumpur, about a two-hour flight from here, to make batches and fly them over.
He sells the tacos for about US$2 for two. They are expensive because none of the ingredients are made locally. We don’t have cows, so imported milk runs about US$8 per gallon. Cheese prices are astronomical because it has to be flown in. Lettuce only grows in the highlands and not much of that, while hamburger (minced meat they call it here) is also high because, again, no cows.
Yet, Ben does turn out a delicious soft taco and seems to be doing well. We do support his business because they are good and I don’t know where I could get all the things I love and miss in one meal. Suriani, my Borneo wife, enjoys them also. Ben also throws in a free order of French fries. Dzul loves those.
We are making arrangements to fly to Kuala Lumpur, the capital, to attend the wedding of a friend’s daughter. The friend and I were in the kampung together in Kuala Pilah while I was Peace Corps, 30 years ago and reunited. I am now planning to return to the States for a visit in mid April to meet my new granddaughter/son, whatever God sends. Gosh, air fares certainly have gone up since two years ago!
Well, that’s all for now. More to come in my next letter…
…Life is good