Miriam Feder home


Report 24: C’est Formidable!

That’s what my new friend Sylvie—French—and I decided about the day at Baku National Park. Sylvie will spend 6 nights—a lot of Baku, perhaps. I only had a day trip—a 45 minute city bus ride to a boat where Sylvie, two Frenchmen and I became boat mates. Then the two of us took a lovely morning hike through an area where we hoped to see proboscis monkeys and pitcher plants (no dice) out to a beautiful beach. Just another beautiful tropical island but this one–a surprise. We swam—one last luxurious goodbye to the South China Sea and a fantastic third of a year in Asia.

Kuching was quite a nice stop. After flying in and getting settled at the Marco Polo guesthouse, I set out around 3 pm, map in hand, and walked through the old city to the oldest and most interesting places. Exploding-wet-face-hot again—no ocean breezes in this river town. But that’s what it is.

The old part of town–the original Chinese settlement–begins right by my guesthouse. I’ll miss the rest of the town, except for my meandering bus trip. Restaurants and food booths either proclaim “ Pork” or “ No Pork.” In this part of town, the pork wins (or or more clearly, the pigs definitely lost.)

I remember hearing about a water taxi behind the Hilton and head in that direction. I’m along a lovely riverfront and follow some ladies who look like Malaysian visitors, down a boat ramp. The women are here for a Othopaedics convention and have been told to go to the other side of the river to check out the cake shop. With no real agenda, a short boat ride sounds like a good distraction and I join them.

I enter the cake-trying zone and we mill about, putting cubes of cake in our mouths. Apparently Sarawak is known for multi-colored cakes. Each color supposedly has a different flavor, although I don’t find most of them flavorful. But the raisin cake is lovely. I go for a few more squares of this one—clearly not the favorite of most visitors—and decide I’ve had more than enough cake for quite awhile. I survey the Malay food stalls. I had wanted lunch before my cake foray. Now I’d have to think about coming back for dinner. Back across the river.

The really old area is punctuated by a colonial Courthouse. It’s lovely and too hard to photograph. China street has the gold shops. India street is a pedestrian way filled with little shops. I find a handbag that will take up any slack, should I not be completely able to do with the “extra” bag that I intend to shed before my next flight. Apparenty, most of the Indian residents have left this area, but it’s fun and colorful.

I wander along the river and into a few shops. If I’m going to buy anything, this is the time and place. I stumble into a shop that has native masks and wood carvings. I haven’t thought about masks—once my passion—in so long. And now the itch returns. I find an Iban mask (one of the groups of indigenous tribal people in Sarawak) that has a good look—a rather surprised fellow– a good price and good pack-ability; my little Kuching prize.

Kuching also has a variety of large Rouse-type shopping malls. They’re ok for a dose of AC and quick inventory of the sorts of merchandise locals go for. They are mostly filled with groups of young women in the typical Malay headscarf.

I’m sent to Top Spot for dinner by a Security Officer who was quite adamant that that’s where I wanted to go. It turns out that it’s a seafood food court—common around here. I order a fish Thai style and meet the folks I’m sitting next to. They’re a couple from Holland and we spend a fairly long evening together, once the rain starts pouring down. Then after a couple of hours of too much delicious fresh food, discussion, and marveling at the volume of water that is falling out of the sky the buckets slow to a rather normal rainfall and we head off in our separate directions. I have about a mile walk, but with the interconnected overhangs, I’m pretty sheltered from the water and the refreshed air feels good.

Leg one of the return trip home takes me to Singapore, where I stash my bags and take the subway into town. After being rather turned off by the artificiality that is Singapore (they have built a Tiger Balm gardens-version of everything) I had a wonderful trip on the train back to the airport. I asked a young headscarfed woman who was part of a group of five, with at least three somewhat cumbersome bags and boxes between them, if they were going to the airport. When she answered yes, I asked to follow them, for the simple trip required at least three train changes. I loved being specially coached by the tall unscarfed girl with flashing dark eyes, who turned out to be only 7, that I had to make one more change before I would be there. At the end, we parted with handshaking and best wishes for good travel for me, a good sendoff for their uncle going to India and a lovely meeting. Singapore humanized and redeemed.

And of course Singapore does offer the most lovely airport bathrooms in the world, lots of clean running water, an hour long check in process (what happened with that?) and the ability to eat pretty decently for $8. At 1:40 I’ll be hurtling through the air towards Seoul—another amazing huge mega airport.