Saturday, June 23, 2007

Arrive in Kuching, Borneo

About ten hours after leaving Chiang Mai I arrived in Kuching, in the West of Malaysian Borneo (an island split between Malaysia and Indonesia). I dumped my bag and went out for a look around. Seems like a modern clean city, on the taxi ride through town didn't see many people walking about. The Sarawak river runs through the city, splitting it in two, although most of the built up area is on the flat south. A fort on the north rises above the city, and a new construction of a large dome takes place under floodlit cranes. A cluster of large hotels are situated near the riverfront. As I was thinking there wasn't many tourist around, a big cluster of people spilled out the Hilton. Walking towards me a separate couple of tourists pointed at the group behind me and asked "Is that David Beckham? Yes it is!"
So I turned round looking at the tour group again, maybe David Beckham and his entourage? Nope, they were pointing at the 20 foot advert of him selling a phone.

After wandering around some more, I settled into a basic restaurant for some turmeric beef, which wasn't really worth the wait! Back to the hotel and find out that it next door is the dreaded top-volume karoke bar, a power cut saves the day and I get some sleep. I move into a quieter hotel the next day. Kuching being a compact city is easy enough to walk around for the most part, although the heat and humidity can be rather oppressive. I decided to visit the Sarawak Cultural Village a 40 minute drive away. After chatting with the hotel owner I purchased a "tour" i.e transport and entrance ticket, which was marginally cheaper and the van picked me up from the hotel. I was the only one in that van, passing along some nice green scenery, with a steep forest-clad pinnacle rising up from the ground. At the village there is a variety of longhouse (traditional architectural houses for the locals). The longhouses sit on stilts, with an angled log, with narrow notches carved out serving as steps. Inside a few local people sitting about, when I said I was from Scotland, one of the guys said he used to support Celtic (boo!), until he bot bored of football (hah!). Now more interested in rugby, aah, the benefits of satellite TV.

I managed to snare some free fruit from a leftover party, after a quick snack, it was onwards to the Penan tribe. Well actually it was just one guy. More of a lean-to shack rather than a longhouse as the Penan are traditionally nomadic hunters (although the government tries to settle them). Here the had a long metal rod, which has used to burn through a piece of bamboo. Just turn the rod back and forth for a MONTH and you have a blowpipe. (Hope you don't make a mistake). I stepped up for a go at the blowpipe skills, deep intake of breath, press lips against the pipe and quickly exhale! And the dart dribbled out the end...
At least the next few times it worked better, couldn't hit the target of a can though. With a poisoned tipped dart, hunt of all animals is possible.

Next stop was the Orang Ulu house, a huge longhouse built nestled into the hill. Upstairs they were playing music, something resembling a guitar, with a large flat bit of wood, with a few strings, odd placed frets, and tuned for droning. Then a few people danced around, kinda of slow and graceful, until I got dragged into it. After that, a quick stop in a sword hut, where with a fire and some belows, some hammers and somebody that knows what they are doing you can get a sword.

Another house had a medicine room, with something akin to wood oragami, with birds and insects representing the physical manifestation of illnesses, with the local quack would identify and cure. (At least I thinks that how it works!) The last hut was the Chinese pepper house, where the pepper is collected, thrashed and dried. Some samples of "Bird's Nest"
which is hugely expensive, collected at great risk and then served up to big wigs. Hmm, I wouldn't of thought bird mucus wouldn't of been that tasty.

Finally there was a show which highlighted the tribal dances, one of them featured bamboo poles being danced around, one of these carefully timed pieces, where if it goes wrong, you get your ankle broken!

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