11 Jul - 01 Sep 2013 Kuching

Flawed-Democratic Federation of Malaysia
Malaysian Borneo
Sarawak aka Land of the Hornbills
Jalan Tabuan 30
B&B Inn +6082237366 bnbswk@streamyx.com
Clean, spacious and well-lit a/c standard twin room (no. 10) with shared bathroom and free wifi for MYR 189.- or US$ 57.50 per week. Fully equipped communal kitchen with fridge; home away from home. Very friendly, knowledgeable and helpful staff; good English, lah.
Some patriotic noise pollution from the high-school's p/a system across the road.
Beer: Three-packs with 330-ml cans of chilled Foster’s (c. 4.9 % alc./vol.) for MYR 10.- per pack from the reception or from the agent on duty; alternatively, three-packs with 330-ml cans of chilled Warsteiner's Premium German Beer (fritzactly 4.8 % alc./vol.) for MYR 10.- per pack at/from John’s Place.

Click below for an interactive road map of the B&B Inn in Kuching, which we would highly recommend, and for directions:
N 01° 33.26' E 110° 20.91'

Matt: Arriving at the beginning of Ramadan in the predominantly Malaysian Chinese city of Kuching, where business is as easy-going as usual, re-re-discovering the wonders and amenities of Borneo’s most stylish and sophisticated city, a place which Konni and I had previously visited together in 2009 CE [1], [2], [3], regaining trust in the Chinese-led world economy (every analyst on Economics: "...fuck this shift...") since the prices for beer haven’t changed a tiny weeny bit in Sarawak (obviously, there are still places on this planet with zero inflation: three-packs with ice-cold 330-ml cans of Foster’s, Beck’s or even Warsteiner's from any of the rugged Chinese kopitiam in town for still the same MYR 10.- or just US$ 3.10 per pack as it was four years ago; cheers and ganbei!), and overhearing a politically not-so-correct pub joke from next table: 
A cannibal headhunter was walking through the Sarawak rainforest and came upon a restaurant operated by a fellow cannibal headhunter. Feeling somewhat hungry, the ogre sat down and looked over the menu: (i) dried Australian backpacker head for RM 8.- per head, (ii) boiled Korean missionary head for RM 10.- per head, (iii) fried Canadian explorer head for RM 12.- per head, and, last but not least, (iv) baked European volunteer head for RM 99.- per head. - The cannibal headhunter called the waiter over and asked: “Why such a big price difference for the volunteer’s head?” The cook came and replied: “Have you ever tried to clean one? They're so full of shit, it takes all morning to prepare it!”

Matt: Paying tribute to the oriental parts in our three German-Seffrican-Chinese-Canadian grandchildren [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7] and shaking fortune sticks out of bamboo cylinders at three different Chinese temples: (i) for Raoni, at the centrally located 1770 CE Tua Pek Kong Temple, the headquarters of the Earth Deity which is supposed to be able to make people rich, (ii) for Tien, at the much frequented 1863 CE (Teochew) Hiang Thian Siang Temple where I teamed up for photo shoots with my Kuchingite friend Davy from Kaki Filem Studio +060128096393, and (iii) for Ronja, at the delicate and most beautiful 1848 CE (Hokkien) Hong San Si Temple with its colourful outlook and superior, almost jewellery-like stone carving.

Matt: Watching the staged re-enactment of the current government’s official interpretation of Sarawak’s modern history, quite a silly affair and a crude propaganda show, at least with some sexy Dayak and Malay maidens hired to represent the tribal diversity of Sarawak, attempting to make sense of the official slogan of “50 Years Sarawak Independence within Malaysia” and trying to decide if this political rally was about Sarawak’s independence from its British colonial masters or about its backstage incorporation into Malaysia, and finally wondering if the Brookes today would have rolled over in their graves or just benevolently smiled at their friendly subjects who, in this day and age, are tuning in more and more frequently to the alternative Radio Free Sarawak.

Matt: Deepening my knowledge about the distinctive Iban headhunting rites, rituals and beliefs in the first-rate ethnographic section of the Sarawak Museum (free admission for both Malaysian and non-Malaysian/non-Bumiputera visitors), comparing the museum’s full-size but untenanted Iban longhouse, which is essentially an entire village under one seemingly interminable roof, with the real ones, which Konni and I had visited in 1Sarawak in 2009 CE [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], and thereafter studying the comprehensive collection of rare and unique artefacts of their cranium-nabbing ancestors in Suri & Jerry’s exquisite gallery Unika Borneo +6082416857.

Matt: Responding to the call of the rainforest, taking Rapid Kuching bus no. 1 from the Jalan Masjid bus stop in Kuching to Kampung Bako aka Bako Bazaar (c. 30 km, 1 hour, MYR 3.50 per person), sharing a motorboat with four other travellers (MYR 94.- or US$ 29.- for the boat ride, return, plus the single-entry pass to the Bako National Park for MYR 20.- per non-Malaysian adult) to the park’s Telom Assam jetty and spending all day in the Lintang trail’s mangroves, lowland dipterocarp forest and heath forest aka kerangas thus spotting (i) a harem of proboscis monkeys (Nasalis larvatus), which also go by the Malay name monyet/orang belanda, as Indonesians remarked that the Dutch colonisers often had similarly large bellies and noses, (ii) the usual suspects, criminal gangs of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis), and (iii) a sleeping, indulgent Malayan flying lemur (Galeopterus variegatus), which can glide, if awake, over a distance of 100 m with a loss of less than 10 m in elevation, and, along the way, looking down with the utmost contempt at all these carnivorous monkey cups aka nepenthes that trap insects and some small mammals in its juglike protuberances; once a vegetarian always a vegetarian (albeit still with a pescetarian blot, agh).

Matt: Joining a group of drugged, obese, noisy, perfumed, pierced, tattooed and heavily armed human primates (Homo sapiens sapiens) and watching a shrewdness of semi-wild, non-religious Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) watch their daily freak show, with a few bananas thrown in for good measure, at the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre (entrance: MYR 10.- per non-Malaysian adult; City Public Link bus no. 6K from Kuching’s Jalan Masjid bus stop to Semenggoh: c. 25 km, ¾ hours, MYR 3.- per person, one way): “...any person visiting Semenggoh Wildlife Centre shall enter the centre at his/her own risk; the Sarawak Government shall not be responsible for any physical, mental or emotional injury…”

Matt: Wandering aimlessly and soaking up the relaxed vibe and charming cityscapes of areas such as Kuching’s Chinatown, Little India and Kampung Boyan and taking a shot at some typically Sarawakian fares, over and over again: (i) Kuching’s signature dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the delicious, nutritious and spicy Sarawak laksa (give or take MYR 4.- per regular bowl), a local noodle soup made with coconut milk/gravy, lemon grass, prawns, omelette strips, tofu, beansprouts, garlic, galangal, sour tamarind, fiery shrimp-paste sauce aka sambal belacan and with fresh lime juice squeezed on top (my favourite place for laksa: Kok Boon Café, MYR 5.- per large bowl), (ii) Sarawak’s answer to Japan’s sashimi, Sweden’s surströmming and to Peru’s ceviche, the Melanau raw-fish salad aka umai ikan which is made from fresh red snapper fillet or from dory fish, cut into small pieces, and marinated with lime juice, tiny green chilies, turmeric leaves, lemon grass, shallots and wild ginger (my favourite place for umai ikan: Rohaniey’s Kiosk Umei Ikan +60128561793, MYR 10.- per plate) and (iii) the whole gamut of Borneo’s jungle veggies straight from of the rainforest, e.g. sweet leaf aka sayur manis, midin and paku fern (my favourite: the friendly Bidayuh Aroma Café +6082417163, famous for its traditional Sarawak longhouse food, MYR 10.- per plate for steamed rice with crispy jungle veggies).

Matt: Encountering together with multitalented Robyn (painter, photographer and model) the Indian colours of the Sarawakian kaleidoskope of cultures at (i) the very gay and just refurbished Hindu Sri Srinivasagar Kaliamman Temple and (ii) the more sombre Sikh temple Gurdwara Sahib where the gentle, strong and mostly pot-bellied giants of the Sikh religion regularly feed the Guru Granth Sahib, their sacred book, with oh-so sweet parshad which contains at least one third of one of my most despised addictive substances … sugar!

Matt: Changing into market gear and discovering some obscure Bornean foods at Kuching’s tarted-up Kubah Ria Weekend Market (complete with well-maintained ATMs, a sweet kafeteria and cleanly segregated mosques aka surau wanita/lelaki): (i) delicious custard apples aka buah nona, (ii) therapeutic Sarawakian pitcher plants and (iii) disgusting but high-protein live sago worms.

Matt: Being guided into the right way by the Happy Cow and becoming a regular at my favourite vegetarian eateries: (i) simple but delicious and cheap vegetarian noodle snacks (e.g. kolo mee, kueh chap, kueh kiaw; each for MYR 3.- or MYR 4.- per large plate) from the Kopitiam Sin Wei Tong where cockroaches parade unmolested, (ii) the vegan buffet-lunch selection with fresh veggies at friendly and clean Zhun San Yen Vegetarian ("Makanan Sayur Sayuran") +6082230068 and (iii) a variety of unsettling but delicious mock meat dishes at Zhen Xiang Zhai Vegetarian +60198293389, albeit with valiumised service.

Matt: Sharing the guesthouse with a number of adipose, Nutella-spooning and kek-lapis scoffing backpacker girls from the Western welfare states, and witnessing, whilst preparing my own food in the communal kitchen (...if you won't peel it, boil it or cook it - just cut it and make crudités from it), a funny dialogue between an older but very fit long-term traveller, not me, and one of the young chubbies: "You're a big lass, aren't you," he broke silence. - "Tell me something I don't know," she replied with a tear in her eye. - "Salad tastes very nice!"

Matt: Compensating for Konni’s temporary absence with a bouquet of Asian flowers thus having stimulating encounters and photo shoots (i) with the spruced-up finalists of Sarawak’s 2013 CE Alluring Moms Contest, all dressed to kill, (ii) with charming Rani, the entrepreneurial founder and boss of Bollywood Pro (“For the Star in You”) +600123665098, listening to her uncompromising Indian quality concept of Made in New York, and (iii) with local Muslimas of varying persuasions in order to celebrate together with them, and always being a good boy, together with their respected husbands, the end of the fasting month Ramadan with traditional sweet titbits, thus hoping for the best that the ladies stop falling prey to the temptations of the sugar industry which uses, in Borneo, similarly cynical ads (e.g. F&N’s “Healthy Living Made Easy”) for addictive soft drinks which the tobacco industry had used in order to sell cigarettes (“Torches of Freedom”) in the 1990s and earlier.

Matt: Struggling through the Chinese, Malay and English operating instructions and managing to launder safely a few 4-kg loads of dirty linen at a nearby brand-new coin laundry (washing for MYR 6.- and drying for MYR 5.- per load, plus MYR 1.- for the dhobi dust).

Matt: Breaking away from Kuching’s friendly company (many thanks to Helda, Robyn, Jeremy ["Rupert"], Chan and Sasha for being great buddies), its cheap eateries and ice-cold beers and, still single-handedly, taking the City Public Link +6082239178 bus no. K3 from the Jalan Masjid bus stop in Kuching to the predominantly Bidayuh country town of Serian (56 km, 1 ¼ hours, MYR 5.- per person), famous for its hot pepper plantations.

Click below for more blog posts about orangutans
26 Sep - 04 Oct 2013 Sintang
Click below for a summary of this year's travels

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From the 2013 Moral Travel Compass for Our Grand Children's Journey of Life:
It’s bad to accept limits;
It’s good to question the system.
Keep your bearings!