Sunday, June 7

Discovering the hidden gems of Kuching

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EXOTIC: Models exhibiting batik-inspired garbs. (Inset) A stall offering hair tattoos enjoying brisk business during the festival. — Photos by Nurul Amarlina and Chimon Upon

I HAVE always lamented coming back to Kuching for my semester holidays.

Aside from frequenting the cinemas or kopitiam, I have no idea where else to go.

But my first visit to the recent Rainforest World Craft Bazaar (RWCB) changed my perception about my hometown which actually has a lot to offer.

I was assigned to cover the Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) 2011 for three days.

The Bazaar was held in conjunction with RWMF 2011 at Sarawak Cultural Village to showcase arts and crafts from around the globe.

As I read the word ‘craft’ on the festival programme, my eyes lit up – it’s a perfect excuse to satisfy my craving to shop for handicrafts.

It has been years since I went to the Sarawak Cultural Village.

As I walked toward the Melanau Tall House where the Bazaar was held, the view of the Village took away my breath and filled me with awe.

Lush green rainforest surrounds the village, guarded by pristine Mount Santubong.

The gorgeous view was reflected by the placid lake in the centre of the Village.

I whip out my camera phone to capture the moment.

At the Bazaar, the soothing sounds of sape, played by a local musician on a nearby stage, welcomed local and foreign visitors alike.

The laid-back tempo seemed to slow down time, and offered a relaxing ambience.

The afternoon sun was scorching hot but the visitors were protected by Mother Nature with the thick foliage of the rainforest.

Being at the Bazaar felt like reverting back to the old days.

Many traditional crafts and games were displayed.

There were Malay children in their traditional Baju Melayu expertly spinning the gasing (traditional wooden top) while an elderly Malay man was in deep concentration, sculpturing a wooden doll with a sharp knife. Nearby, two women were sitting on the wooden floor, busy frying kuih bahulu in a wok.

The apetite-whetting aroma of these cakes filled the air and placated my growling stomach.

As I browsed around to find good bargains, I realised the wide array of the local handicrafts was more than an excuse to shop.

They showed an amazing display of Borneo’s rich and diverse cultures.

Every ethnic group has different crafts, artworks and jewellery yet when displayed together, the beautiful resemblance is evident.

Borneo handicrafts use a lot of colours, and when put together on one table, they are an amazing sight to behold.

An explosion of colours lit up the place — sunny yellow ethnic jewellery, fire-like orange beads, ocean blue ethnic pendants, deep green bamboo coin banks and brown and red weave baskets — all arranged neatly at the display tables.

I walked over to the Malay traditional house next door to look at more crafts.

The affordable prices attracted both locals and tourists alike to the place.

I was delighted to see beautifully-designed Borneo wooden keychains sold at just RM1.

As I scoured for unique designs, the woman at the booth pointed out to me the keychain I was holding was shaped like the map of Borneo.

“I’m from Kuching,” I told her, smiling sheepishly. She laughed.

While I was looking at some Borneo pendants, she explained to me the meaning behind each design.

I learned to identify the shapes of tribal tattoo designs such as the Bunga Terung, the gigantic Rafflesia flower and Sarawak hornbills.

Behind each tattoo lies a meaning. The Bunga Terung or the eggplant flower, for example, is the first tattoo design to be given to Dayak males.

It is a coming of age tattoo, acting as a rite of passage for a boy into manhood.

After living in Sarawak for more than 20 years, I still find occasions to learn something new about its culture.

The Bazaar also featured friends from Indonesia and Kalimantan with five groups participating to share their artworks such as textiles and pottery.

A group from Singkawang even brought a pottery mill to give visitors a hands-on experience in making their own clay pots.

Being a city girl, I was excited to see a pottery mill (as always shown on TV) in real life for the first time.

So, I decided to give making my own pots a go.

It looked easy but dexterous hands and perfect timing were needed to shape the pots.

As I felt the wet clay in my hands for the first time, I ignored the heat, the noise of the crowd and the sape music, focusing solely on the task at hand.

The finished products were far from ideal but it was a fair attempt.

The potter man took my pots to dry in the sun. I offered to pay him but was assured it was not necessary.

I thanked him and left.

I joined the rest of my colleagues to return to the OneHotel Santubong to finish writing our stories for the day.

The trip to the Bazaar has certainly benefited me as much as the tourists in learning about Borneo cultures.

Being smack right in the middle of lush green trees and away from the city, the Bazaar was the most astounding classroom I have been to.

I left the Sarawak Cultural Village with a deeper appreciation of my own culture and a deeper love for Borneo.

Now, everytime I start complaining there is nothing much to do or see in Kuching, it does not mean there isn’t any — you should just know where to look.

EXQUISITE: An exhibitor showing hand-made ceramic bead necklaces from Lawas for sale.

WINDING UP: A SCV staff showing a young visitor how to wind the string around a hand-made gasing (traditional wooden top).

EXPLOSION OF COLOURS: A wide array of colourful ethnic jewellery on sale at the Rainforest World Craft Bazaar at Sarawak Cultural Village.