A Travellerspoint blog

Further City Forays

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Waking just too late for the intended early bus out to Semenggoh Wildlife Park, Plan B involved a more sedate pace in traipsing Jalan MacDougall and onwards through the blistering heat in search of a more unusual diversion, the Planetarium. Upon arrival I was surprised to find it deserted however and tracking down the caretaker revealed that it was closed for renovation, he was almost distraught in his apologies and did not want to let me go off disappointed. I guessed they didnt actually get too many tourists frequenting it after all. Eventually managing to escape, as a vague compensation I was at least able to mount the adjacent Civic Centre watchtower, a very tall and elaborate design which afforded fine vistas of the whole city and Sarawak River, before completing a loop back towards the centre which found me passing the state museum.

It was to here that I had intentionally returned in order to investigate a mystery which had only belatedly dawned on me, that throughout my pursuit of the entire heritage trail around Kuching there had been barely a mention of the fundamentally important Brooke dynasty, certainly there was somewhat bafflingly no related artifacts on display at the museum. I could recall having come across artifacts related to the histories of Sarawak and Sabah at the National History Museum in K.L. but had paid them short shrift at the time in the expectation of later more thorough insight. Now here I was looking for that history but none was to be found. No statues around town, not a single potrait on display. Enquiring as to their whereabouts had me informed that they had been placed in storage for preservation, a lame excuse which rang less and less true the more I contemplated it. It was upon later relating my perplexion to Jeremy an older English guy and resident of Sabah I had had for company the last couple of nights that he immediately sussed what was gradually dawning on me. Sarawak was in denial of its own history, a situation which could be considered something of a scandal. My realisation of this had come too late for me to assume any action over it, but considering the unique and fascinating nature of Sarawak's past it merited further investigation we agreed. Over the coming weeks Jeremy was to keep in touch as to what he had managed to deduce, and ended up sweet talking the museum security staff and contacting the Borneo Post in this vain. He also managed to track down the Brooke family mausoleum situated close to the Palace across the river, just one more attraction and point of note to which there had been singularly no reference around town.

Leaving it at that, I then checked out the post office, perhaps Kuching's grandest colonial vestige with a view to sending stuff home, inside it was contrastingly small but orderly as required. That was only after I had strolled around the Textile Museum across the road however, really a sidetrack pursued just for the sake of completeness. Ostensibly uninspiring, the presentations of traditional dress and collection of old black and white photos transpired to be a better introduction to indiginous culture than the Ethnographic Museum had been, and a single map and storyboard revealed a history of Sarawak which included facts hitherto undisclosed. It was only here and now that I found my first reference to the mysterious Langkasuka Kingdom which purportedly had ruled over an expanse of the Thai-Malay border region from the first to the 10th centuries AD. The Sriwijaya Empire which had incorporated nearby land in western Kalimantan was dated here as early as the 5th century until its 14th century demise, and the Majapahit Kingdom was revealed to have conquered the vast majority of the present day Indonesian and Malaysian lands from the 13th century, obviously in opposition. The less extant Melaka Kingdom of the 15th and 16th centuries also got a mention. This one simple representation was enough to justify my whimsical visit, and served to illustrate that in trying to piece together a jigsaw of complex scattered pieces, dark corners could sometimes reveal hidden gems. You could read books about it very succinctly, but it would only stay with you if you had tangibly seen it, touched it, tasted it I mused. I had often thought back to the National Museum of Cyprus visited almost a year before and how I had marvelled at the unexpected warrior statues of a hitherto unknown tomb, I knew I would always remember them better than any history could have ever related.

I resisted the choresome investigation it would have been to interpret the local artistry of weaving, but in the passing gleaned passable insights into the fact that much of the intricate patternwork served to resemble local flora such as ferns and bamboo, also that the cloth had to be prepared in a carefully concocted bath of ginger, lime and salt. The women would perfuse it into the cloth with their feet and then quench the resulting burning with a paddle in the river! That served to illustrate an intelligent industrious nature which had somehow discovered inspired unlikely solutions to seemingly inconsequential problems.

From there, a long hot sweaty walk failed to reveal the FAX airline office, discovering instead another of the many cat statues favoured for the cities roundabouts, I did finally get the remainder of my photos burnt to DVD surprisingly efficiently however, even if it was pricey. I was now well wary of wasting further days to Kuching's chill out factor but still had a number of practicalities to attend to. Even the supposedly simple tasks of picking up small bottles of DEET and surgical spirit had proved fruitless, and I couldnt give prospect to tackling the jungle without them. I rounded off the day with more frustrating time on the net, sometimes mimicing 2 steps forwards and 1 step back, at other times the even more crushing contrary. Just as well the beer was cheap!

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Kuching

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Having squared away the main priorities in Kuching's considerable attractions commensurate with a state capital, today became a time for practicalities. A review of my kit had underlined the immediacy of certain shortcomings, and so it was a boon to efficiently track down such acceutriments as thin ankle socks, a surprisingly rare convention which had eluded me in months of searching, also a new pair of knee length shorts and fantastically after a more enduring search, new shoes. The whole city could only offer one style up to my requirements it seemed, yet remarkably matching my new shorts in their brown/orange hue and a superb bonus in securing them for only 6 quid. My depleted antimalarial tablets had to be supplanted by less desirable capsules, but 9 quid for 100 was a good deal and the boy waived the prescription requirement in the face of practicality. I also got at least some of my photos burnt to disc after a plague of hitches, compounded by the loss of 2 hours of work on the net which failed to save. All in all a very satisfying day however, capped off with what had now become a ritualised daily pilgrimage to the suitably relaxed and shady Spring Forest Cafe, a hybrid of local and tourist offerings which secured me a chicken curry and a 4 beer in an ice bucket "set" for all of 2 quid. That just had to be the best deal in town.

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Bako National Park

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After too many beers too many we somehow managed to drag ourselves up for an earlyish departure, wheeling the short 28K trip north to Bako in a beat up old Proton, Malaysia's now dated national car. After a wild goose chase to escape the city in the right direction we eventually parked up at what proved to be a super scorchy reception area adjacent to a river, and it was only here that it dawned on me that the last leg into the park had to be done by boat. The 8 quid odds that cost was certainly better split 3 ways and soon we were motoring in a semi conventional longboat past stilt houses and rusty barges into a beautiful ocean bay studded with net tethering platforms and lone fishermen in small Tampangs. A prominent sign at the jetty had warned of crocodiles.

Fresh from incongruous industrial estates and housing developments, it was a sudden delight to be thrust into a world of pristine rainforest, mangrove flats and enticing mountainous offshore, painted in rich blue and green. Rounding jungle clad rocky escarpments we risked the short crocodile conscious paddle onto a wide mudflat cum beach, with another reception centre just discernible through the trees. The realisation of further organised, user friendly infrastructure immediately told me that a day would not be enough after all here, but it was all we could do to follow the pristine monoblock path out in the direction of the trekking trails, from whence we had opted due to time constraints for a short 800 metre jaunt called the Puku Trail. It was even before we got to the trailheads though that a boardwalk bridge spanning a narrow muddy river had us peering at the stark very sparse vegetation of a mangrove forest, my main priority was immediately realised. Sadly just a little too far away for comfort, my camera zoom revealed further detail in the tan and cream creature which fed here nonchalantly, occasionally reeling on one arm or jumping between branches. Its colouration had originally fooled me into believing it was a Red Langur, what would have been a notable find in itself, but further consideration revealed it to be Bako's star attraction amongst many, a Proboscis Monkey. These unlikely creatures are found nowhere else on earth except Borneo, quite sizeable primates whose most characteristic feature their long droopy nose makes them equally fascinating and perplexing. I watched as my suitor fed voraciously on mangrove leaves, occasionally being rewarded in witnessing fantastically agile leaps with a co-ordination showing them to be supremely well adapted. It did just surprise me somewhat to learn that their chosen habitat is remarkably sparse and seemingly exposed.

We eventually tore ourselves away with the promise of more, as the Puku Trail proved to be redeemed in its shortness by a realisation of full on jungle with erratic precarious clambers. Waterfalls and gigantic rock segments elicited dank atmospheric caves, and we descended into a darker world of thorn clad palms, towering trunks and the raucous screech of doubtless humungous unseen insects. Though full of otherworldly character it was perhaps the short well trodden nature of our trail which served to foil further notable animal encounters, but journeys end exuded an altogether alternative reward in the materialisation of an untarnished beach cove, prompted by more jungly rock cliffs and fine island studded vistas. Our pit stop here presented us with a contrastingly unshy grey Long Tailed Macaque for company, doubtless on the prowl for unattended tourist pickings, and though we heard the odd rustle and branch crack the only other discernible wildlife was the preponderance of surprisingly speedy and agile land dwelling hermit crabs the size of golfballs. Now having a vague idea as to which tree type they preferred, our subsequent return clamber was rewarded when I finally spotted another Proboscis seemingly unperturbed as it sat there nonchalantly high and distant on a branch with its back to us, qualified by eventually witnessing that it was surely a mother as a juvenile launched itself from a neighbouring perch into its arms. The mother perhaps better understood than we did the folly of energetic activity in the midday heat, and so we continued on to glean only a fleeting glimpse of a large squirrel. Passing reports of the sighting of a Flying Lemur were sadly not substantiated by us, yet it was palpably bad manners to admit to any sense of disappointment surrounded by such unparalleled beauty. Our return to the mangrove revealed there to be several Probosces inhabiting it actually, they remained too distant for our satisfaction but that was simply a reflection of natures way.

Upon return to the park HQ and a much needed isotonic top up, I reaffirmed my dismay at not being in a position to afford more richly deserved time to Bako and its wonders. The Lemurs and Hornbills had always been predictably elusive dreams, yet I had not even seen an inkling of the 4 species of similarly bizarre carniverous pitcher plants I knew were there to be had. It was a bitter sweet moment as I trudged the mudflats back out to the boat, happy that I had at least reached Bako at all and learned of its delight, yet sad that I had come upon one of nature's princesses and paid her no more homage than a whore. The outboard was coaxed into life only to abruptly air its propellor and die upon reaching the river estuary. Where jungle met civilisation our boatman wrestled with unspecified tinkerings as though Bako would not let me escape her throes. We finally got under way again to race another boatload back to modernity, I resented the fact that we won.

Too late in the day to justify the already overpriced Sarawak Cultural Village, a tourist enclave of traditional achitecture, art and practice, Ben and Fulya elected to plump for uncharted wanderings which thankfully took us unexpectedly to a very contrasting yet impressive attraction, perhaps the finest Chinese temple I have ever frequented. Its impressive proportions and typicaly garish hue was further qualified by very fine painted reliefs of warrior and guru scenes, and I had an interesting insight into prayer practices as a local young honey knelt upon a cushion to variously proffer her hands in a Buddhist "Wai" and use clay "dice" and "chance sticks" to elicit a kind of fortune telling. She would alternately drop a brace of clay tablets in front of her to be interpreted much akin to tea leaves I supposed, then rattle a tin of chopsticks until one would finally escape to reveal a written prophecy.

Back in town the requisite hose down and spruce up then had us boys jump in the car in search of an ATM, a seemingly simple task which got us variously gridlocked and disorientated in the realisation that a festival marking the run up to Malaysia's 50th anniversary had seized the city centre. A subsequent traipse out to a noodle house gave me the rare indulgence of fried venison with rice, and in the process we stumbled across a street parade of people variously made up as cats, gorgeous indiginous costumed chicks doing traditional dance to the Beatles, and a pipe band looking like the Boys Brigade banging out Scotland the Brave. In Borneo! I had previously hit upon a similar entourage at the ubiquitous Freedom Square grassy ground zero, but my prior exploits in the unprecedented heat here seemed to have compromsed my normal sense of enquiry, I found only the energy to briefly sample troupes of baton twirlers and flag whirlers before apathy intervened. Another boozy one capped the night, and like so many times before it was sad to be saying farewell to new found friends only for them to promptly disappear over the horizon. Ships in the night.

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More Museums

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SARAWAK ISLAMIC MUSEUM

Historically part of the Brunei Sultanate, the dating of the introduction of Islam in this part of the world is still debated but scant sources as diverse as Spanish and Chinese records suggest it perhaps extends as far back as the 13th century. It would certainly have been subjected to Islamic governmental influence as a vassal state under the Kuripan Empire of that period. Its instigation came however more from Arab traders who bore the title Sharif and who were certainly around at that time. The first state mosque was only inaugurated in 1852 however during the Brooke era (1841-1941), a square pyramidal structure made almost entirely of wood. Storyboards relating the fundamentals of Islam succinctly documented Mohammed's rise, explaining for example that he initially met resistance in denouncing the pantheism already practiced at the Ka'aba, it supposedly already being a house of gods at that time. After fleeing to Madinah he arbitrated on local conflicts and fought several battles in turn himself in order to secure his mission, returning in triumph to Mecca 2 years later in 630AD. He supposedly left behind an ideal of "Umma" (community) designed to cut across the interests of family, clan, tribe and nation. My cynicism gleaned another joke in that the storyboard told of human beings possessing fee will upon which their actions will be judged, which Islam promptly sought to take away. Explanation of Islam's 5 Pillars also gleaned the interesting revelation that the sunset prayer, number 4 out of the 5 daily submissions is known as Maghrib, literally the West where the sun sets. I knew that this has now been adopted to describe the Moslem lands of North Africa west of Arabia, sometimes used to refer specifically to Morocco. Quotes from the Koran revealed such delights as single people guilty of lust should receive 100 lashes, and that those married should be buried waist deep and then stoned to death. Quite a take on the ten commandments.

Amongst several stone obelisks here a copy of the Terengganu Stone inscribed in Malay language but Arab script reminded me that it is the oldest known such example, promulgating Islam as the official religion of the Malay peninsula in 1303. I learned that the first ever mosque built was constructed at Basra in 635AD with architecture synonymous with a fort, surely another insight into the prevailing political climate and strategy for dissemination! On education, a valuable quote from Muhammed was "a scholar's ink is holier than a martyr's blood", too bad they dont just stick to writing about it then, and there was also perhaps an inadvertant honesty in a storyboard telling of how " the Arabs had produced a literature of high quality before the coming of Islam. Poetry about deeds of valour, love, war, animals, the wind and so forth gave way to verses of praise of the oneness of Allah and the holy Muslim struggle, to set people on the true path". Free will and holy struggle, yeah? So now you could write about anything you wanted, as long as it was to fight for Islam!

Arab contributions to astronomy were interesting, first the fact that they invented the solar calendar and the first almanacs (derived from the Arabic al-munakh "the weather"). Mathematical advances made in this sphere are betrayed in further Arabic words such as Azimuth and Zenith. Their evolution of the astrolabe from the 9th century was an important development which must have allowed shipping to realise more far reaching dissemination of trade and so with it Islam.

Moving onto a music section, under Islam even this is deemed to be split into 2 judgmental classifications, with categories of permitted and forbidden recitals. The prophet allegedly allowed musical instruments as long as they were not used for sinful purposes, presumably such as shoving a flute up your arse. I wondered where Metallica would fit into all this. In a weaponry display, more contentious hypocrisy said "Islam detests war, so the contention that Islam was spread by the sword by force is quite unfounded...... the prophet himself was proficient in the use of weapons....... crafstmen depicted upon them the qualities of the holy struggle". Yeah, and if you don't submit to them they'll cut your head off. Unusual artifacts were an Ottoman sword with a walrus ivory handle, also inexplicably a camel saddle once belonging to Colonel Gaddafi and a replica of Mohammed's sword looking way too large, pristine and shiny, it was like the quintessential Excalibur. The display ended with ceremonial daggers similar to Acehnese Rencongs, called Keris' here, with the umbrella style handle attached to a wavy double edged blade. The final galleries of household items and Koranic writings were either uninspiring or for once devoid of translation so I was spared the espousement of more hypocritical hooey even if I was interested.

A very well presented museum in a fine shuttered colonial building even if it was of rather specialist interest, a large wall map of the Islamic world perhaps summed it up with the portrayal of Indonesia and Malaysia incontiguous with the remainder. Their nearest Islamic neighbour was distant Bangladesh, perhaps gleaning more of an insight into trade winds and the omnipresent desire for local produce such as highly prized spices as much as anything else. I moved on.

From there I came across several exterior exhibits at the neighbouring Sarawak Museum which had hitherto eluded me. First a couple of very grand and alternately carved or painted "burial huts", like small garden sheds elevated atop ghoulish faced totem poles. Of a similar function was a stone megalith reminiscent of the structures of Stonehenge which had been used as funeral altars as late as 1950. Mysterious rock carvings of a prone man and bird have been reproduced here, discovered near the Sarawak River delta near Kuching and tentatively dated to 1000 years ago.

CHINESE HISTORY MUSEUM

A squarish pink building on the waterfront, Rajah Charles Brooke instigated it in 1911 in addressing the need for a dedicated courthouse for the local Chinese community. It only lasted 10 years before reverting to become the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, becoming a museum only in modernity. It had been set up through voluntary donations in order to educate first and foremost Sarawak's youngesr generations about the hardships and struggle the Chinese community endured since their arrival here around 150 years ago and their important contribution in developing the state. Linguistic groups from all over China emigrated here but naturally from the South China coast in the main. It's thought that Chinese merchants first arrived here during the 10th century since it lay close to already established trade routes running along Borneo's north coast and promised rich natural resources. Rare and prized produce such as Rhinosceros horn, bird feathers, bezoar stones and birds nests were traded for ceramics, metalware and silk.

The 19th century brought unparalleled pressure for Chinese people to emigrate, as domestic overpopulation created land shortage and poverty. The peoples of the South China coast were natural targets when Rajah James Brooke sought volunteers to develop Sarawak's agriculture, mining industries and trade with indiginous forest tribes. Emigrants tended to congregate according to their linguistic roots, and so it became predominantly Foochow and Hakka people from north Fukien province opposite Taiwan who concentrated in Sarawak. Pushed out by desperation, their arduous journey ended only with further privation in a contrasting land they little understood, and it was only initial government support with rations and their hardy entrepreneurial spirit which made them endure. Mutual help became essential, clearly demonstrated in the subsequent evolution of clan houses, and further migration programmes under Charles Brooke from 1863 provided the security of contract labour. The desire of many to seek their fortunes and return home was allegedly only realised by 1 in 10.

By 1947 the census showed the Chinese to now comprise over a quarter of Sarawak's population, and the largest ethnic group after the Sea Dayaks. Interestingly, that same census revealed the European contingency of the day to number less than 700. Present day, the Chinese number nearer 30% of the populace, an immediately striking revelation I had realised upon arrival but had not at all expected. The Hakka's in particular were susceptible to immigration since even in their native China they were referred to as "visitors", having already been forced into domestic nomadism which made them culturally distinct, their women could not afford the "luxury" of binding their feet for example. By 1820 they were already in Sarawak mining gold and antimony, preceding the era of "White Rajah" rule. They refused to entertain subserviance under James Brooke and so conflict arose until a final rebellion was launched in 1857. The museum did not relate its consequences, but the Brooke dynasty endured suffice to say.

FORT MARGHARITA

Just across the river though largely swamped by trees and conurbation, I took a small touristy Tampang (row cum chug boat) in search of this 19th century fortification. Built on the instigation of Rajah Charles Brooke in 1879, its design reflects English renaissance style in a pleasing whitewashed tower house with a crenellated roof, attached to a small adjacent compound with round corner turrets. Built in order to protect the harbour area and upper river reaches, it never fired a shot in anger, though of course it was occupied by the Japanese during WWII. The fort was tricky and disconcerting to track down, hidden as it was now in the corner of a police compound sprawling with barrack blocks and riot vehicles, but I eventually came across it suitably deserted, its internal Police Museum now closed indefinitely. What had not helped was that immediately adjacent to it was a large fenced off worksite where the construction of a massive shuttlecock-like dome structure had me presuming it to be another overindulgent mosque, before later learning it was to be the new seat of the Sarawak parliament. Near its main doorway lay a water bore, still boasting a cast iron wellhead literated with "J. Taylor and Co., Loughborough 1882". The fort was a nice bonus in managing to squeeze it into the remainder of the day, which I subsquently rewarded with the obligatory isotonic drink by a prettified riverside promenade, appreciating views which opitimised Kuching's rather schizophrenic hue in an unexpected fishing fleet being dwarfed by the Holiday Inn. Even a small neighbourhood mosque here had been uncharacteristically sweetened in bright yellow, green and blue to match local tastes. Another brightly painted Tampang chugged me the seconds it took to reach the other bank, retracing the heart of the town along the pristine riverside promenande where I chanced upon more historical insight. In an untypically indulgent tourist touch, brass pavement plaques related in sequence the unlikely beginnings of Sarawak's colonial history, a story like no other........

From there I made my third determined foray of the day to Kuching's tourist office, frustratingly now finding that the queue had diminished only due to its closure. I had decided that my next move would be out to nearby Bako National Park, an attraction which despite its proximity and humble dimensions promised something more akin to what one might expect of Borneo. The guidebook and fellow travellers had both eluded tales of its reputed wonders, so its predictable popularity required pre-booking of accommodation in Kuching. That was rather overtaken by events however in that frequenting once again that night my favoured haunt the Spring Forest Cafe, I was accosted by Ben and Fulya, an Anglo-Turkish duo who both taught English in Istanbul and who were here on a leg of their honeymoon. It was a rare and fortunate quirk that I had sported my now weary looking Besiktas top that night, the Istanbul team Fulya supported, a highly unexpected reminder of home for her. Over beer and blether it was revealed that they had hired a car and were headed for Bako the following day, the invitation to tag along was too good to turn down.

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Sarawak Museum

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A hoof up over the hump of tellingly named Jalan MacDougall brought me to the city Padang (grass square) from where it was just a short hop across to Kuching's primary drawcard amongst many, the Sarawak Museum. An initial pottery section concentrated on numerous archaeological sites which had been disovered over the years in Sarawak but it was finds from Niah Caves which were the most important contribution. The famous "Deep Skull" discovered here in 1958 by Tom Harrison who became long term custodian of the museum belied human inhabitance here some 40,000 years ago, a revelation which initiated a radical reassessment of human history in Asia. It makes it the most important insight into past human culture in all the islands of South East Asia (so it was claimed), though I would contest that surely the discovery of Java Man beats that. Revealed amongst the finds were changes in ceramic technology, and insights into burial practices and
trade links. Pottery urns of "Double Spout" and tricolour design are unique to the area at that time. Surprisingly the present day Dayak population has no pottery tradition, they use bamboo vessels for cooking etc., but that said vessels were still being manufactured using traditional techniques by women of East Kalimantan until the 1990s.

Onto the beastie section, many snake species were represented, including tree snakes which can "fly" by flattening their bodies and gliding between branches. Crocodile skulls here were absolutely monstrous, so large that you might struggle to fit them into the boot of your car. One, a known maneater, was caught and dissected in 1993 to reveal a gold watch and a perfectly round ball of hair the size of a football attached bizzarely to a human dental plate. A surprising number of Tortoise species also inhabit here, and a display of fish crescendoed into local sea species the size of a man, including Tuna, Marlin and Giant Mackerel. Mangrove crabs the size of dinner plates also reminded me why I didnt like paddling. Amongst an overwhelming array of bird species the Hornbills were the most impressive, with the Rhinosceros and Helmeted Hornbills renowned for their distinctive calls. Very large birds with mammoth sized beaks, they are the official symbol of Sarawak and before their protection were prized for ivory carving, especially for trade with the Chinese who favoured their use to make snuff boxes. They display the unusual nesting behaviour of the male shutting the female inside a tree burrow behind a wall of shit, with just a small hole left unplugged through which he feeds her. Onto the mammals, the first were local stars the Proboscis Monkies, very weird looking in general never mind the nose, and there were also Macaques, Gibbons, Langurs and Leaf Monkeys. The Squirrels were very diverse, some presenting super bushy tails and ears, and there was an assortment of flying species. A personal favourite was the Tarsier, absolutely tiny with big bulging round eyes, they are only the size of a fist. The remarkably large Tree Shrew and the enigmatic Moonrat only served to add to the otherworldly character and the Bat species were massive flying foxes. A contrasting Lemur was a flying wonder halfway between them and the Squirrels.

The ethnological collection proved much more colourful and inspiring, with especially exquisite textile and rattan work, more scary wood carvings of totems, "Blum" (sickness images) of the Melanau, and deity figures such as the "Aso" (Dragon-like dog) of the Kenyah and Kayan tribes. Carvings of spirit figures were used as charms by the Iban people to lure game into their traps, planting a small spiked totem by the trap and reciting a spell. There were models of traditional boats varying from Sampans similar to Chinese junks to long slender "Dragonboats". Photos and models of longhouse architecture revealed them to be more rudimentary unelaborate affairs than Sumatran architecture for example, though some were very long indeed. The longest existing example today stretches a mindblowing kilometre, with over 100 doors. They are stilt elevated and generally sport a wide open verandah to one side. A walk-in model of one revealed that hung pride of place over the central fire was a "decorative" mobile of human skulls, status symbol of headhunters. Gongs were important additions to a predictable musical menagerie and other common diversions are cock fighting (a symbolically appeasing act of the warrior gods) and spinning tops. Most important though were the exotic local quirks of holing and elongating the earlobes by both men and women, painful application of geometric body tattoos, the supposedly beautifying head flattening practiced by the Melanau, but most incredibly the piercing of the penis glans by Iban men so that a Palang or rod might be fitted through it. This commonly becomes fixed in situ through deposition of calcium deposits from the urine. Other adornments include long spiral bangles worn around the calfs, similar ringed corsets and war charms such as boar tusks and deer horns. It was at this point that I came across that even more exotic of rarities in these parts, another Scotsman. Recognising him from the hostel, the Scotland top gave the game away immediately but Craig from Montrose was a tad charmless it had to be said.

A sideshow presenting Malaysia's oil industry explained interestingly enough that a 19th century trading company set up here in Sarawak by Englishman Marcus Samuel found kerosene so profitable it began to concentrate on it away from the likes of spices and polished shells for example, it subsequently became known as Shell. The mining of Antimony is also another important local industry. A few black and white photos gleaned insight into the now defunct Sarawak Government Railway which ran south from Kuching until 1961, though sadly I was unaware of any surviving remnants. Another old print related how the first aeroplane to arrive in Sarawak was a large 3 engined Dornier seaplane in 1924, on the wall was hung one of its wooden 2 blade propellors.

A quick detour to the adjacent Art Museum was useful if nothing else in explaining that local cave paintings around here date back 1200 years, depicting beasts and warriors in boats. Some fine carved statuary looked too fine to be authentic, but a sword and shield wielding Kenyah man and a pattern skirted woman figure in wood typically serve to guard either end of a longhouse against evil spirits and enemies. Some more genuine looking door carvings were bizarre anthropomorphous depictions Picasso would hae been proud of. Outside in the pleasing gardens a Heroes Monument had been erected to those of "the Sarawak Constabulary and the Malaysian, British and Commonwealth Armed Forces 1948-1966".

From there I continued the colonial theme in tracking down the Bishop's House, an English country manor associated with the very large Anglican cathedral here, before searching out an associated cemetery. I had actually stumbled across this graveyard by chance in spying it from the other side of a fence at the museum, yet it was a convoluted circuit perhaps a kilometre long through the heat before my guesswork had me enter its sorry looking grounds. Here I came across the last resting place of John Mackie Culross "of Tayport, Scotland, who died at Kuching 18th October 1908 aged 22 years", though sadly most of the inscriptions of colonial civil servants and missionaries were too badly eroded to glean much insight. A double check of the guidebook proved this to have been a fortuitous discovery however, since it was not actually the cemetery recommended within it. That lay stranded in an equally unlikely corner the other side of the cathedral, which I finally traced to reveal more colonial legacies. One to an Honorable Henry Skelton was remembered "by the Rajah, his brother officers and friends in Sarawak", and a much older one commemorated George Miers "late master of the schooner Julia" who died in 1846 aged 38. Sadly most of the inscriptions had weathered badly here too, and a very grand obelisk could not betray its significance beyond the words "HMS Leven". 2 adjacent stones bore the same name Channon, and careful consideration revealed that the wife Suzanna must have lost her husband aged 30 whilst pregnant, only for the fatherless son to follow the same fate in infancy. The same symptomatic colonial tragedy I had witnessed all over Asia. A Hispanic name was another unusual discovery here, and I later learned that Domingo de Rozario had arrived here as James Brooke's chef. His son became destined for an important role in the early development of Sarawak.

With that the best of the day was done, and so I searched out an Indian cuisine cafe in deference to the crap loaded propensity of Chinese and pretentious Western eateries, happy that the rain only now prevailed, a full on tropical storm. Later it was a quick splash dash through the torrent to my newly discovered niche of a relaxed hybrid Chinese cum Western cafe boasting a rare shady outdoor area, mustering cold Heinekens and supercheap and generous curry, right across from a good net cafe and 24 hour shop. Perfect.

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