Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On on ... to Hong Kong

I couldn't have timed my departure from Kuching any better ... Five thousand Hash House Harriers are descending on the city for the 17th World Interhash. It could get very trashy!

Last night was a farewell dinner with Emily, Rita, James, Ramsay, Michael and Moses at Tarot Salmon. This new Japanese restaurant is attached to the very funky Batik Boutique Hotel. Great food and excellent dinner companions. James took pics.

I've had such a wonderful time here in Kuching, Sarawak. My hotel, the Lime Tree, has been brilliant. Lovely people.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It aint over until it's over

I'm perfectly OK now, but I burned and then crashed (literally) in my race yesterday afternoon.

I overheated, got the staggers, and then apparently passed out. I have no memory of what happened after I first started lurching around, until I came to surrounded by blokes from the mosque. My only physical injury was a big lump on a left knuckle. I don't recall seeing any other runners pass by, which makes me think I might have wandered off course. For about 20 minutes I lay propped up against the roadside embankment, where I vomited, panted, and answered questions. A couple of blokes fanned me with bits of cardboard.

I begged a lift to the finish line back on the waterfront, and two blokes took me in their car. I was disappointed to see it was less than a kilometre away. The St John's Ambulance people there didn't know what to do with me. When I said I was going to be sick again, someone handed me a container the size of a soap dish. I brushed it aside, spread my feet, and vomited a huge spray all over the pavers.

An ambulance arrived, and we went (with the siren blaring) to the Kuching Specialist Hospital where I spent a couple of hours on a drip. On the way, Rita gave me some treatments and held my hand, while Emily and James went back to my hotel to get my passport and some clothes. They have been *amazing* friends.

It was a hot day, and there were hills. I should have taken water if I wasn't sure there'd be some available along the course. By the time I was in trouble, I wasn't thinking right.

A lucky escape. A damned shame about the medal, though!

It just goes to show that, in a race, it aint over until it's over.


Yesterday, Emily and Rita and I retraced my steps from the last part of the course I could remember. When I "came to", I was about 500 metres off course. I apparently fell at some stage, and must have staggered through traffic. I was headed totally in the wrong direction. We talked with some people from the kampong near the mosque who had been there. They had seen me staggering and had stopped me and sat me down. They gave me something to drink. That's when I vomited. They were understandably confused by my thinking they were involved with the race. I must have been off the planet for 15 minutes or more. Given that I went into a kind of coma, it's possible I had heat stroke, and not just heat exhaustion, brought on by dehydration in the hot and humid conditions.

But I still won a medal. It turns out I was in a category of one "VIP/Guest" running the 7K. However slowly I had jogged it, I would have come first.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Who has time to work?

I'm having difficulty squeezing in work around my busy social life here in Kuching!

Rita picked me up this morning for a two-hour remedial massage therapy session at the holistic healthcare clinic where she has her practice. She shares it with two retired GPs who now practise complementary and alternative medicine. Rita is an Emmett practitioner. It was fantastic. I also got to talk with Drs Leong and Yao. I wouldn't hesitate to put myself in the hands of these three people if I ever had any issues with my health. I'm going back on Monday for another session with Rita, and I'll do some other therapies with the docs when I'm back in December.

I squeezed in a couple of hours' work before heading out to see Ramsay mid-afternoon. I wanted to get a couple of gifts, things made by him. In the gallery, he was talking with Bob Reece, who is the author of articles and books on Borneo, including "The White Rajahs of Sarawak". He told us a bit about an article he has just written on a previous Sultan of Brunei. I ended up buying that book, and Edric Ong's book "Sarawak Style", on and using the Central Park West address in New York for delivery. They are both heavy coffee-table books.

I gave Emily her gift. She showed me some of the drawings she does. They are really beautiful. (The one accompanying this note isn't one of Em's.)

Tomorrow's race is at 5.30 pm. Emily said James wants to get some video footage at the start and along the course!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Going bananas in Borneo

This is Ritchie, the alpha male out at Semenggoh Wildlife Reserve. There are about three dozen orang-utans that have been rehabilitated to life in the wild or born there. It's amazing watching them tree surfing.

I had a half-hour interview at Radio TV Malaysia in the afternoon with Jennifer Lau for her program, "The Living Room". I got in a good plug for the charity run on Saturday. (The guest before me was Edric Ong, who I met through Ramsay!) Daryl called yesterday to tell me that despite my age (!), they were making an exception yet again for me and allowing me to run the 7K course. The other guests are entered in the 3K event.

Emily picked me up at 5.30 and we went to her brother James's video editing suite. He showed me the corporate video he was working on when we were there a couple of weeks ago, plus a music video and a couple of other more creative things he's worked on. Rita met us there. We went for dinner nearby. The girls and I went to see "Sex and the City 2". A bit of fluff. There wasn't enough of New York for my liking!

Ran c. 10K with the Kuching Rat Pack this morning. We backtracked when it started to sprinkle with rain. It seems December is monsoon season here...

Worked all day today.

I've got less than a week left here.

I was catching up the other day on some "Borneo Posts" from when I was away and in one issue I knew two people who were written up (the mayor of Miri, and a trainer who came to my talk there)!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A "welcome home" hug from Kuching

The Kuching running rat pack appeared on schedule just after six this morning near the Hilton. So good to see them!! We did the basic 10K run over the bridge and back to the kampungs, but Sim threw in a few extra hills. I think she has a slight sadistic streak!

Daryl Leong, from Saturday's race sponsor, arrived at 3 pm for an interview for an article that may come out in the "Borneo Post" tomorrow or Thursday. My event is over 7K.

I called in to see Ramsay this morning, and he and Michael Lim called by the hotel early evening to drop off the work of Ramsay's I've bought. I'll have it here to enjoy for the rest of my stay, then it will be sent down to Albury.

Saw Emily this morning after my run. Having dinner with her tomorrow.

I've decided after talking with Sim and Madeleine this morning to come back to Kuching on 22 December and spend Christmas through to mid-January here training for the Mumbai half marathon on 16 January. I love this place, and I've been really lucky to find such a great bunch of people to train with.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Instead of staying the last night of the trek at a longhouse an hour upriver from Kampung Medamit, I asked Han to negotiate a price for me to go by longboat down to Medamit, from where I could get a van to take me to Limbang. This was all because I had no dry clothes to change into! The chief of the area ferried me downriver. If it hadn't started to pour with rain halfway through the trip, I might have felt a bit like Katherine Hepburn in "The African Queen". Instead, I just felt very soggy!

The air-conditioning in the vehicle that took me on to the market town of Limbang was fierce, so I was soggy and shivering by the time I checked into the commercial traveller-type hotel that was home for the night. It was the best available in town and was very ordinary. I bought some cheap clothes in a shopping centre attached to the hotel and after a hot shower I felt a lot better.

The next morning I checked out all the wet and dry markets around the main part of town, then headed out to the airport.

In Miri, Jennie Soh collected me from the Mega Hotel for dinner with her husband Matthew, daughter Cheryl (a perky businesswoman who spent five years studying in New Zealand), her NZ partner Chris and their NZ colleague Oliver. The three of them run an IT business. Miri is an oil town. Shell seems to run the place.

Jennie picked me up at midday on Saturday for lunch. We then went to Pustaka Miri, where there was a notice up saying: "A Moment with Robyn Flemming from Australia: A collaboration project by SOSWE (Society of English Writers Northern Zone Miri) & Pustaka Miri".

There were only about 20 people, so it wasn't as scary as I'd feared. I talked about my career and about travel writing, and answered questions.

After the talk the mayor of Miri, Lawrence Lai, presented awards to some students who had won a writing competition and also presented me with a gift.

Today I flew up to Labuan. I went straight out to the War Memorial to see the plaque with the name of Dad's Uncle Alf, who died during the forced march of Australian prisoners across Borneo in 1945. His body was never found, but if his spirit is there, he's in a good place. It's by the sea, and the place is well maintained and very peaceful.

I walked back to the hotel along the sea. Lots of families were out having picnics and barbecues for Father's Day. I wished a few of them who greeted me a "Happy Father's Day"!

After a quick look around the town—it's a duty-free port and offshore financial centre—I've been working.

The thing to do here is scuba diving. There are four great wrecks, one of which, the Cement Wreck, is apparently "the world's most colourful and photogenic wreck".

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Girl's Own Adventure in Borneo

This is a preview of my second column about Sarawak...

When I emerged from the jungle on the last day of a four-day trek through Gunung Mulu National Park, in northern Sarawak, I was relieved to find I had provided lunch for only one of the half-dozen or so leeches that had chosen me as a possible meal ticket.

The Headhunters’ Trail is a dank-smelling, 11.3 km path once trodden by Kayan headhunting parties. Today, it forms either the start or finish of a trek that takes in some of the highlights of this UNESCO World Heritage-listed park. Our group of trekkers and guides had started out from park headquarters, near Mulu’s airport, after a night spent in basic dormitory-style accommodation.

The Mulu Caves are mindboggling. Lang’s Cave (a wonderland of dripstone formations) and Deer Cave (its cave passage would fit eight St Paul’s Cathedrals) are an easy 3 km stroll along well-maintained plank walkways from the entrance to the park. Deer Cave is home to an estimated three million small bats that emerge in waves most afternoons in search of insects for supper.

I enjoyed the Canopy Skywalk, about 15 swinging bridges suspended high up in the foliage.

The next morning, after a journey up the Melinau River by longboat, we visited the Cave of the Winds and Clearwater Cave, which extends for over 170 km and is popular with adventure cavers. Following a further stint on the river, including some whitewater longboating, we disembarked and walked for over 8 km through dense rainforest to our camp for the next two nights.

Camp Five is the starting point for an all-day return climb to the summit of Gunung Api to see the limestone formations known as the Pinnacles.

Readers of this column will know that I enjoy hard walking. The more effort a trek requires, the better I like it. However, I started to reconsider making the ascent when our guide, Han, described it as "a really, really high-risk activity". I think what clinched it for me were the hazard warnings, complete with 13 exclamation marks, on the map of the route on the information board at camp.

I decided to complete only the first of the three distinct stages of the climb, a distance of 900 metres, from where I could descend on my own. From there on up, it’s considered dangerous to descend unaccompanied. The final stage of 400 metres is traversed mainly on ladders; technically, it’s more climbing than trekking. And in a landscape with razor-sharp limestone outcrops, a slip could prove very nasty.

I really enjoyed the effort of clambering up to the first rest stop, sometimes using the ropes strung along the more difficult sections. The descent—which I made with a young English lawyer who was feeling unwell—was harder than the ascent.

Back at camp, I washed off the sweat and grime in the river, and then headed back out along the trail we had used to reach camp the day before. For two hours, I walked alone along that track through the Borneo jungle.

I am in awe of everyone who did the Pinnacles Walk, and feel some regret that I wasn’t among them. But, a girl can still have her own adventure.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Up, up and away

Tomorrow I'm flying up to Miri, and then on to Mulu in Gunung Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage listed area, for four days of walking, trekking, climbing and general exploring.

I had dinner last night at the home of batik artist Michael Lim. I was invited by Ramsay Ong (one of whose works I bought today to send down to the Albury Art Gallery for safekeeping). Another guest was Ram's cousin Edric Ong, an architect-designer and president of the Arts and Crafts Society of Sarawak in East Malaysia. He designed Kuching's airport and the Sarawak Cultural Village (which I haven't had a chance yet to visit), and wrote the text for the coffee table book "Sarawak Style". Alicia, who works at Artrageously Ramsay Ong, was there with her husband, I think Andy. The very sweet Moses Joseph, who works with the water board, picked me up and dropped me home afterwards. I didn't have a chance to talk with Colin and David, and one of Michael's sisters, who were also there.

Michael made an amazing meal. Apparently his cooking is going to be featured in a series on The Discovery Channel.

I've found my hairdresser in Kuching :-))

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rob in Wonderland...

I'm completely amazed by what has been happening to me since I flew out of Oz two weeks ago.

The "Borneo Post" ran a piece this morning titled "Author from Hong Kong keen to share her writing experience with Miri residents". Apparently, I'm still a Hong Konger even though it's 17 years since I lived there, and it seems I've already completed my book based on my experiences! Readers are urged not to miss my talk on 19 June in the far north of the state.

This morning I ran 10K again with Sim, Johnny and Madeleine (I misheard her Chinese name as "Akia", but Madeleine is her English name), and new acquaintance Lim. Before he peeled off, Johnny told me there is to be a charity fun run later this month to raise funds for children's cancer research. I Googled it and found a number to call. I was put through to Daryl Leong, who is organising the event. When he told me it's open only to Malaysians, I told him I'm writing about running in Sarawak and asked if an exception could be made for me. (I believe in asking for what I want!) He called me back and said that the powers-that-be had seen the "Borneo Post" piece and would like to invite me to run as an "international guest". Yay!! Daryl came by my hotel a few hours later with the entry form. He's 32 and totally besotted with Melbourne, where he did some of his studies. He is the corporate communications manager for the main sponsor of the event, which was actually his idea. He asked me if in the week leading up to the run I could be available to do some interviews with him for press releases! He said that I'll now be running the 7K course, though the website says "guests" do only 3K. (They include dignitaries, invited celebrities, and moi, apparently.) It's shaping up to be a real hoot. Lots of entertainment. The 7K course goes along the waterfront to the Chinese History Museum, up Jl. Tabuan, across to and around the Padang, then on-home. That doesn't sound like 7K to me. Maybe it *is* just 3K. Anyway, I'm going to give it my best shot.

I was incredibly lucky the other morning to pick Sim out of the blue to run behind. She is a core member of a rat pack of Chinese runners who have adopted me. During the run today I asked her what languages she speaks. Bahasa Malaysian, her own Chinese dialect, Mandarin and English, she said. I asked her which one she dreams in. Quick as a flash, she said: "German"! We were waiting near some piles of huge pipes for Madeleine and Lim to catch us up at the top of the big hill, and she said, "Let's take one and sell it." Sim's a card!

I've been trying to get through some work today while also gathering together things I'll need for my trek. I bought some cheap tops that I'll leave with Emily after they've been washed. She told me when I called by today after my run that she encourages friends to give her clothes they no longer want and she gives them to an HIV/Aids charity for distribution. HIV/Aids is a disease of the lowest socioeconomic class here, she said. I met another friend of hers today, Zarina, who works with the New Straits Times — in marketing.

I've added an excursion on to my trip next week, which I'll write about next week.

My throat is sore. I think I'm coming down with something.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

There's something fishy going on...

I went out with Emily (who runs the laundry I've been using) and her friend Rita (a remedial therapist) last night and had a fun time. They picked me up from the hotel and we went first to visit Emily's brother James, a film and video producer who was editing a film on (I think) Johor Bahru. We ate at an open-air food court in a suburban area. Lots of very unusual dishes and great juices... Emily has travelled in India, Cambodia, Vietnam... I like her a lot.

Rita has two daughters, studying pharmacy and law in KL. At age three, the daughter who is studying pharmacy became a paraplegic after contracting a virus.

I'm hoping to have a massage from Rita when I come back from my trek.

We had a look at one of these fishing places. It's open until 2 am and costs a few dollars to hang out with a rod and fish for prawns and other critters. We also called into a pet shop, where there was a gorgeous maltese/shitzu belonging to the owners. Rita bought some Frontline for her dog, also a maltese/shitzu. Emily has had four bichon frises but said it was too painful when they died, so she no longer has a dog.

Met up with Sim at 6 am today for a run as planned. Her friends Alan and Akia, who I met yesterday when we all found ourselves in the same tambang, also came along. We headed off along the waterfront. Yesterday, when it looked like Sim wasn't going to show, I'd asked a guy who was running past to keep an eye out for a Chinese runner who looked like she might be waiting for someone. When I'd given up waiting and started to run, he was coming back and said he hadn't seen anyone. Today, soon after we started running, he appeared again. When he saw me he pointed to Sim and said, 'This is who you were waiting for yesterday?' It turned out they run together all the time! (They are both retired public servants.) So, Johnny joined us and we were now five runners.

Sim and I decided to do the 10K run on top of the 2Ks we did along the river, and Johnny and Akia went some of the way with us before heading back. Our route was through the suburbs, over a long bridge, and then back along the main road. We cut down to the kampung the way I went yesterday and got a tambang (my Chinese friends just call them sampans) back over to the south bank.

Sim is 60, and a good strong runner. Her daughters are a doctor and a pharmacist. A couple of years ago Sim climbed the Pinnacles, which I've been worrying about. After talking with her I felt reassured that I might be able to manage it. In any case, there's only one way up and one way down, so if I lose my nerve I'll just wait it out.

My visit to Miri on the 19th to speak with people from the Society of Sarawakians Writing in English is now a major event. Apparently, I'm a "rare gem" to come into the lives of wannabe writers in English in northern Sarawak, and Jennie Soh isn't letting the opportunity slip by. I'll meet her when she flies into Kuching from Miri late on Sunday night, and before I fly out to Miri first thing the next morning. The "New Sarawak Tribune" is now also on the story!

It's all very surreal. I spent all day working on a job for my client in Singapore and keeping my feet on the ground.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sleepless in Sarawak

I tossed and turned last night, unable to turn my mind off. Up early and down to the waterfront to meet Sim at 5.50. By just after six she hadn't shown, so I ran a couple of kilometres and then decided to take a tambang across the river and run around the kampungs. It's very odd over on that side: there are some significant buildings — the Legislative Assembly Hall (shown here), the Astana, or former Rajah's palace, and Fort Marguerite — but I couldn't find how to get to the first two. Roads and paths just dwindle to nothing. The buildings seem to be plonked down in the middle of nowhere, though they are seen to advantage from this side of the river. I got quite lost, and was a bit wary of dogs, and ended up sort of scrambling through someone's backyard to get to a laneway that took me to a narrow road, that took me back down to the river. From there I walked back along to the tambang jetty. I was one of the first in, and we waited as more people arrived for their morning commute until it seemed no more could fit. Then a pair of legs appeared wearing running shoes, then two more pairs. It was Sim and two friends she had invited to join us on our run! I thought it was amazing that we had both chosen to cross the river and had ended up at the jetty for the return trip at about the same time! She said she'd been running a bit late.

"Sorry-ah. Tomorrow-ah? Sixaclock-ah? Wait-ah?"

Yesterday I read in "The Borneo Post" about an English-writing workshop being held on 19 June, organised by SOSWE (Society of Sarawakians Writing in English). Thinking it was being held in Kuching, I phoned up the contact given, Jennie Soh, and offered to help out if she thought I could be useful. She was keen.

I had lunch with Bernard Long, a former Old China Hand now turned Old Borneo Hand. His company researches companies and prepares "health reports" on them for clients in the US and elsewhere. Just the sort of thing I could help with, except that he does any of the rewriting that's necessary himself :-)) He has run 14 marathons.

After lunch I went to the travel desk at the Hilton and finally worked out an itinerary for next week's hike along the Headhunters Trail, and visits to longhouses and various caves in Gunung Mulu National Park in northern Sarawak. It involves five days and four nights, and four flights in small planes. I thought I'd be back in Kuching the day before I'd be needed for the writing workshop.

Today, Jennie Soh contacted me, asking if I would mind if they did a piece for "The Borneo Post", using me as a kind of drawcard to get people to come along to the workshop! That's also when I realised the workshop is in Miri, in the north. So, I've now changed my bookings to spend two nights in Miri following the trek in order to be a guest speaker. It's a totally unexpected turn of events!

I called in to see Ramsay and Alicia at Artrageous, and we're having dinner on Saturday night. I'm going to buy the work of his that I really loved and will send it back to the Albury gallery when I leave at the end of the month.

Having dinner tonight with Emily, from the laundry around the corner, who I've enjoyed chatting with. She asked for more of my cards and has been handing them out to various people.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Column #7: Footloose in Ubud

Sometimes a girl just has to take time out to put her feet up and recharge her batteries.
Ubud, in Bali’s central highlands, was a good choice for a week’s recovery from the stresses of packing up my life in Oz and preparing to go on the road.
Spas abound, with prices to suit all pockets. I could wax lyrical about the all-over pampering I enjoyed for two-and-a-half hours at Skin on Jalan Gootama, and about the even more bargain-priced foot massage and pedicure I had at Fresh on Jl. Dewi Sita.
Sang Spa, on Jl. Jembawan, comes very highly recommended by my new friend Di, a graphic designer and writer from Perth who has spent many years sampling the massages and beauty treatments on offer in Ubud.
I met Di early on the morning of my second day in Bali. I was walking to the local warung for breakfast from my villa that overlooks the rice paddies, just south of town. Di was running along the roadside. I introduced myself and asked if she would mind if I joined her the next morning for a run.
I think fate intended for us to meet. We got on like a villa on fire.
During a recent visit to Vietnam, Di ran regularly around Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake and recognised "Mr Chin" from my description of him in my column titled "The Quiet Australian"!
"He’s there every morning," she said.
Di and I caught up a number of times over the next few days, for runs and for meals. One morning we spent some time with a long-term Ubud resident, Canadian Cat Wheeler. Her book Dragons in the Bath: Tales from Rural Bali (available at Ganesha Books, is a must-read for visitors to Ubud. Cat is a catalyst for good works in the areas of literacy, dog welfare, and many other local social issues. She is also a hoot. In addition to three dogs, two turtles and a reticulated python, she has a parrot that calls out, "I love you!"
Di and I have offered to organise a dog-themed art exhibition in Ubud next year as a fundraiser for BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association), which is doing amazing work (
I couldn’t leave Ubud without joining in the weekly Hash House Harriers run. It had rained for the previous three days, and clambering up and down muddy embankments and wading through knee-high irrigation ditches in the rice paddies wasn’t a lot of fun. But it was even less fun for the young American mum and her 19-month-old son who I stayed with at the back of the pack. This was Tara’s first-ever hash "run", but there was no running to be had. It was difficult just to walk. Tara showed she had the true Hash spirit, though, when she said: "If I knew there was a short cut to the finish I’d take it and start drinking."
My villa was located in a small village a 20-minute walk from the centre of Ubud. I enjoyed living in that community, having breakfast at the warung and my clothes (and running shoes) washed by the local laundry. I very happily walked into town twice a day, past paddy fields and family compounds complete with their own temple. But after dark I would take some form of transport — a taxi or, usually, a motorbike.
A lift on his motorcycle with young Made (pronounced "Marday", and meaning "second child"), who told me he had done some jogging, led to an invitation from him to go for a run in the countryside the next day. I accepted the offer, but the 30-year-old Balinese boy with the long ponytail proved to be no match for this 57-year-old Albury girl.
After leaving the bike with a friend near the Agung River, we proceeded to run straight uphill. I wondered why Made had chosen this particular route when, very soon after we had started, he stopped running, clutched at his chest and gasped, "Smo … king!"
After a number of start-stops, my well-meaning friend had to pull the pin. While he returned to our starting point to get the bike, I ran on through the luscious green landscape.
Back in Ubud, over breakfast at Kafe, Made told me he had lost three significant people in his life: two brothers to strokes, and a friend who had been a bartender at the bombed Sari Club in Kuta in 2002. He has vowed to quit smoking and start training so that we can have a proper run together when I’m back in Ubud in December.
Many Australians think of Bali as just an offshore playground. It’s a wonderful, unique place that needs both to preserve its culture and to cope with the problems of modernisation. A few dollars can go a very long way. If you would like to help in some way, contact Sue Winski, a longtime resident, the owner of the villa where I stayed, and the incoming president of Rotary, at for some suggestions. I donated the security deposit I’d paid for the villa to buy books for a mobile library that will visit elementary schools in the Ubud area, and Di is donating her graphic design skills to help raise awareness of the work done by BAWA.
DON’T MISS: Evening legong and gamelan performance (tickets are readily available on Ubud’s main street, Jl. Raya Ubud); salsa dancing by wait staff and salsa dance lessons at CafĂ© Havana (; organic produce at Nomad (; The Yoga Barn ( for all things spiritual and alternative; and Bali Buddha ( and Kafe ( for the chilled-out vibe.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Wah! Foot reflexology really hurts! Or does pain mean I'm in bad shape? I had a 90-minute session with a young girl whose fingers were so strong I reckon she could crack walnuts one-handed. I asked her to lighten up a little, but she just couldn't do it. A good thing it was dirt cheap.

I worked for four hours this morning, then had a cultural few hours visiting museums: the small Art Museum, which had some great sculptures of big birdlike creatures made out of found objects and recycled cans; the main Sarawak Museum, with models of dwellings of Sarawak's tribal peoples, fauna, etc; and the museum extension, where there are exhibits on Sarawak's history, which goes back to Neolithic times. From 1841 it was under the administration of the "White Rajahs", beginning with James Brooke. I had dinner tonight at a place on the waterfront named after him.

Lunch was in one of my favourite streets, Leboh Carpenter, at a little eatery called Madam Tang's that has Sarawak laksa as one of its specialties. My young waiter was a tranny, with huge false eyelashes, some sort of amazing contact lenses, and a great toss of the head. The laksa was as fabulous as she was.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Kuching: City of Harmony

Kuching means "Cat City". I saw a bunch of cats in Chinatown at lunchtime, but I've seen only one dog in the two days I've been here. It's a complete contrast to Ubud, where dogs rule. I had lunch in a Philippine restaurant: stir-fried seafood and rice, and a watermelon juice.

This morning I ran up and down the waterfront a few times at around 7 am. I think the real action happens there at around 5, 5.30 am... At 7.30 I was still a bit early for a juice on India Street, though it wasn't too early to visit the Tua Pek Kong Temple.

I worked on a new job today, as well as on the textbook that I need to finish this week. I think I have a pretty good balance happening. I want to have time to do something new each day, and to experience the place I'm spending time in; but also, the work makes it possible to live this way, so I need to be respectful of schedules and the needs of my clients. I'm still really excited about my new life!

I made friends with Emily at the Chinese laundry around the corner today. Hotel laundry costs are outrageous, even at this lovely family-run hotel ( that I was lucky to choose to be my home for a month. Julie, the daughter of the family, solved an IT problem for me and has been super-helpful. She even found for me a hanging cloth wardrobe tidy, so that I can put everything from my suitcase in the wardrobe. (Jenny, would you believe I ironed everything I own today?)

I'm really bowled over by people here.

After work I headed out and revisited Ramsay Ong at his gallery to have another look at the work I'm going to buy, and I called in again to see Derrick Chin at Asiana Gallery. There are a couple of his pieces at my hotel.

By accident, I discovered that Kuching has a cinema, on the ninth floor of a gaudily painted high-rise. Thankfully, most of Kuching's central district is still low-rise, with old shophouses and artisan streets. Great for wandering and exploring... For three bucks, though, I might have to go and see a few blockbusters.

The dragon boat teams were out training again tonight. Exciting to watch.

I took a tambang (small motorised taxi boat) over to the kampung (village) on the other bank of the Sarawak River. The astana (castle) that was the residence of the first to third rajahs of Sarawak from the mid-1880s is on this bank. These rajahs were British, but Sarawak didn't actually become a British colony until after the Second World War.

There are a couple of big open-air food outlets on the riverbank. I had seafood noodles (I can see I'm going to be noodled out after Kuching!) while listening to the Muslim call to prayer.

While I waited for the tambang back to my side of the river I got chatting with a bunch of young boys who were hanging out together at the jetty smoking cigarettes after footy training. The alpha male among them was very friendly and we talked about Australia and New Zealand, where he said he wanted to visit, and about Kuching, which I said I was very happy to be spending time in. They passed my card from hand to hand, enjoying recognising the reference to King Kong, then handed it back up the line to the alpha male who asked to keep it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sunset in Sarawak

I think Kuching and I might become buddies. I could also get quite fat here. You could graze all day on the most wonderful Malaysian, Indian, Chinese and Thai hawker food, and iced juices and fruit teas.

I'm here for a month, staying at The Lime Tree, a quite groovy family-owned boutique hotel in a great location in Chinatown, about a 5-minute walk to the waterfront. The promenade alongside the Sarawak River is 1 km in length, so that's where I'll be running in the mornings.

This morning I met two really interesting locals. Derrick Chin has a business making fabulous furniture from recycled Borneo timbers ( If I was setting up house, instead of having just dismantled mine, I would have been tempted to buy about four pieces from him. Ramsay Ong is a local artist who has exhibited worldwide. I really liked a lot of his work when I had a look through his gallery ARTrageously (, but one work really stood out for me. Well, two, but the other one is out of my price range! I spoke with him for some time. A lovely, gentle man. He lived for eight years in Kandy, Sri Lanka, which I loved when my sister and I were there in 1992. He has used leaves from the bodhi tree in this work. It has a lot of depth. Very beautiful. Just the other day, he watched the documentary "Herb and Dorothy", which I was talking to friends in Albury about recently. I saw it last year in New York and I bought the DVD to watch again when I'm back there in September.

I worked this afternoon, then went out for another jalan-jalan (stroll) in the late afternoon. Had an early dinner on the waterfront, where five dragon boat teams were training for the big regatta that's being held in July.