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May 25, 2016

Hidden Museum, Kris Showcase

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – We had another exciting weekend! The Friends of the Sarawak Museum (the state where I live) asked for volunteers to set up our collections and tell people about them. I suggested displaying our kris assortment. (A kris is a medium sized dagger, peculiar to the Malay world.)


The idea was that Suriani (my wife) would tell people about the kris, I would demonstrate how to clean one and Aunt Siti would take care of Dzul. The show was from 2-5 p.m. It was to be at a new venue that an Australian lady was putting together.


The location of the event was a mystery. Words like "reading room," "canteen" and "near the waterfront" kept popping up. They were all new to me even though I walk the area about a thousand times since I have been here.


I had suggested to my wife that we pack about 10 kris from our collection. After she got done, it was about 25. I heaved the very heavy backpack across my shoulders, called a taxi, and sent out to find the location. I figured it would be near the Merdeka Plaza Shopping Center. The lady in charge said I should be there at 10:30 to arrange things.


The event was inside a square that had a fountain in the middle. A restaurant was on one side of the square with the only opening from the inside. The rest of the square openings were blocked off with a hideous piece of metal. We were in the far corner room. Nothing advertised our location, or the inside of the square, or how to get there.


I wandered around and a lady took me to the location. Inside the room was a fashion show. Inside, transgender men (we don't have a problem with transgender anything like you guys do in the States) and real ladies (I think) were practicing for a display to be held later. I watched for a few minutes and was convinced this couldn't be the venue. I made the rounds of the square and sat down bewildered. I called the lady again, and she said to be on the lookout for two people inside the room. Either they were in line in the fashion show (two 60-year-olds), or they weren't there. Finally, Anuar showed up and said the room would be ours at about 12:30, after the fashion show.


A walked back to the shopping center and called my wife .It was 11:00. She would be there soon. By about 1:15, I was still waiting for my wife. I managed to choke down some god-awful Burger King chicken. She finally showed with Dzul (my five-year-old son) in hand.


Dzul ate some Burger King chicken. He thought it was awful, too. I told them how to exactly get back to the room. I heaved my back pack back on and carried some more kris my wife had brought along.


The room had been transformed into tables and chairs. I set up my side with a bucket of water, a banana trunk and about 20 lemau nipis, a type of lime about the size of a quarter that nobody eats. My wife and son went by a couple of times on the wrong side of the square looking for a way in. Finally, a girl brought them to the room.


Suriani set up the kris. She brought about 30 after we had agreed to display only 10. I sat in the corner and cleaned them.


Now, cleaning is no simple chore. First you wash in soap and water. Then you thrust them through a banana stalk and finally one rubs the kris with lemon to get off the rust while thrusting it occasionally through the banana stalk. This is supposed to rejuvenate the segamant, mojo to you and me, and to bring out the essence of the kris.


The people came in and took one look at the kris and went over to the guy who was explaining about beads. They then came by and wondered what I was doing rubbing a kris with a lime and then violently assailing a banana trunk with it. I was wondering myself after a while.


The people who seemed to be very interest were the museum staff, who took a very keen interest. You see, it is against the law to remove kris from the country, and one is supposed to register antiques with the museum. We told everyone that the kris were from Indonesia, which they were.


So, I rubbed my kris. Dzul went into the road after Auntie Siti lost him and was brought back by a benevolent stranger. Suriani explained to the museum people. At 5 P.M., we closed up after having to tie the kris to the sheath so they won't fly around, magically, after hours, whenever that was.


We went home. I took a bath and read The New York Times. This was the first and last time we would display our collection to the public.


...Life is good. . . . .


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