March 22, 2017
Our next few ports are ones we have visited before – either on our first world cruise or on separate trips. The good thing about the cruise is although these places will be somewhat familiar, we are only in each one or two days so there is always so much new to see.
Last time we were here, we visited Bako National Park and hiked all day in the forest along with taking a boat excursion on the Sarawak river. We also got to see the proboscis monkey during that trip.
This morning, we were greeted by their beautiful welcome group who gave us each one of the handmade beaded necklaces.
Kuching is in the state of Sarawak. It is said to be named by the first rajah who pointed to the village and asked its name. The locals, thinking he was pointing to a cat replied, reasonably enough, “kucing”, “cat” in Malay. Either way only in 1872 did Charles Brooke officially change the settlement’s name from Sarawak to Kuching. There are cat statues and cat symbols all over the city and there is even a cat museum, which we didn’t visit.
Our first adventure was a trip to the Semenggoh Wildlife Center where injured and abandoned animals are rehabilitated. The main one of interest here is the orangutan. The word “orang” is Malay for “person” and “utan” is derived from a word meaning “forest”. At times they behave just like people and their facial expressions are particularly demonstrative. People used to keep them as pets which is now illegal, so some of the ones here have been confiscated. Since they lose their survival skills when kept as pets, this center in the forest allows them to re-learn. Food is placed on platforms for them but they also learn to forage for fruit, eggs, flowers and the occasional lizard. The platforms are considered “halfway houses” so as they reacclimate to life in the rainforest, they are seen less frequently. While we have seen these animals in zoos, this center is very different and terrific.
The orangutan is our closest relative, sharing 95% of our DNA! They are extremely smart and agile. They have opposible digits on both hands and feet! They are found in the wild in only 2 places – here in Borneo and in Sumatra. The two species look a little bit different. The orangutan is the largest tree dwelling animal in the world. They have a 45 year average lifespan and the young spend 5 years with their mothers. We observed the alpha male, Mr. Lichee who is 37 years old, and two others. We were lucky to observe him as he hasn’t been seen for 4 days. No other males will come near him as he is dominant and will fight them.
Here is an example of his humor: James warned us that you could get doused with “warm Borneo perfume” and hit with small bombs! But the animals were not close enough to pee or poop on us.
And of course, here is Norm interacting with another statue. He even loaned out his hat!
After we had time to watch these wonderful animals, we went to a pottery factory where we saw all phases of the pottery they make here. It seems that all of the pottery factories are right next to their garden and landscape centers and what a beautiful combination! A lot of the pottery is in the Chinese style. The Chinese and Malays together make up two thirds of the population of 700,000. James said this is just the place to cure the “disease of the fat wallet”.
We had a ride back to the city. Many of the buildings contain shops on the lower level and family homes on the second and sometimes third level. There isn’t an official Chinatown, but there are many Chinese temples, restaurants and shops. There are people of all cultures and religions here, the most are Muslim, but James says they all get along very well and celebrate each other’s holidays. We walked through the area on the south bank of the river. This is the main shopping area. The Masjid Negeri mosque and many administrative buildings are here. This city was not bombed by the Japanese in WW II so there are quite a few historic buildings. It is an interesting combination of architecture, culture and religion.
In a walk through the market, James pointed out the pepper roots. Pepper is a main export here and the root is boiled for tea and helps arthritis. And, we saw this crib made of bamboo and rattan. Probably wouldn’t be approved in the US. The Chinese shops have many herbs, and we even saw snake skins for sale.
James lives in a small town of just 60 homes in the countryside. They have doctors that travel by helicopter to provide health care all around the country. Children in the small villages have primary school there but once they reach 6th grade, they need to go to boarding school in the cities.
Here, if you can not find parking, just park on the sidewalk!
I am always interested in cemeteries and the way the different cultures handle their dead relatives. In our travels we have seen everything from air conditioned crypts to burial for a couple of years and then the body being dug up and cremated because land is so expensive. The land is then reused for another burial and the same cycle repeats. Here at the Muslim mosque cemetery, the stones are very small and the ones for the men have pointed tops and for the women they are rounded.