Thursday, May 23

Road names in Kuching


THERE is a good reason to give every road or street in a town some name: easy to locate a house with an address or an important government office if you have business to do there, or clinic or police station, if you have problem with gout or traffic summons, respectively.

In some countries, drivers depend on the global positioning system (GPS) for directions to their destinations. During a recent visit to Brisbane, my driver had to talk to a gadget and tell it where we wanted to go, giving out the house number of our mutual friend and name of the street where he lives. As we were driving, a sweet voice of a girl kept telling us where to turn until we were nearer our destination somewhere in the Gold Coast.

NAME CHANGE: India Street was once known as Jalan Keling until Indian traders there objected to the name.

In Sarawak, the use of this gadget has not caught on yet. One day it will as the city grows bigger and the number of houses increases. Still it is comparatively easy to find a house, except at night in the housing estates with all sorts of lanes and avenues and cul-de-sacs.

Cool names

Many of our roads in Kuching are named after the people considered important by the road naming authorities. These may be deserving statesmen; they may even be convicted murderers but regarded as national heroes, or they may be just names in history only indirectly or remotely connected to the State.Roads are given ethnic names like Jalan Bisaya, Jalan Bidayuh, Jalan Bukitan, Jalan Foochow, Jalan Chawan, Jalan Hokkien, but where is Jalan Iban, Jalan Melanau, Jalan Melayu or Jalan Penan and so on?

I am not suggesting that those names should be replaced now. Let them stay, but all new roads should be named after local flowers or trees or birds to  show that we are going green. Nowadays, it is cool to be green.

If you must commemorate your favourite VIP by a road at all, wait for a little while before according him a road or street, for he may have skeletons in the cupboard only cleared after his demise.

In Kuching there is a new road that runs parallel to the airport runway. That is a useful route to take if you want to avoid the traffic jam at the junction of Jalan Song/Jalan Tun Jugah. It is fun driving along it especially when there is a plane landing or taking off and you want to try racing with it. Unless you are not a Kuching driver you can hardly see its name as you turn to it because the sign is partially covered with plants and the iron post.

A friend from Sibu asked me what the road was called and I couldn’t tell him. We drove on nevertheless and enjoyed it until half way down we crossed the bridge over a stream called Sungai Gatal. There must be a reason why the stream is called Gatal (itchy in the local Malay or Iban language). Possibly the water there is polluted or something in it causes the skin to itch. In my family, this road is now known as ‘Jalan Gatal’ though I believe the official name is Jalan  Stutong Baru.

It is a shorter route in terms of time and distance from my place to Petra Jaya, Pending or Unimas. The traffic is not heavy until you reach the junction with Jalan Setia Raja. Road users may ask who was Setia Raja and what connection did he have with Sarawak?

On the way home from Petra Jaya and using the Setia Raja, have you ever noticed that on that stretch near the roundabout at BDC-Samarahan-Jalan Gatal, the arrows point against you? You are driving on the wrong side of the road according to the arrows.

There is another road named after Laksamana Cheng Ho. What did he do for Sarawak? Where is Jalan James Brooke? A road named after James is more to the point, isn’t it?

Before a new road is given a name, it would be a good idea to learn about the history behind it. The old roads built during the Brooke and colonial times were named after famous local people and places. For instance, the Ban Hock Road was named in honour of a contracting firm called Ban Hock. Owned by Mr Yeo Guan Chow, the company built the Pavilion, that building opposite the present General Post Office. The Pavilion was occupied by the Medical Headquarters in 1909, later used by the Educational Media Services, and now as the Textile Museum.

Around this time in the history of Kuching, there was another well known firm called Ghee Soon, a soap manufacturer. Has the company got a road named after it? In the 1950s, the name of Chong Kim Eng was connected with the manufacture of aerated water or lemonade. Is there a road called Jalan Chong Kim Eng somewhere?

Of course, one cannot accommodate all famous names for roads; there are more very important people than the number of roads available at present. So one has to be selective and arbitrary or discriminatory in giving names to roads but the decision to choose a name must be rational.

What is the rationale for Jalan Laksamana Cheng Ho? Or Jalan Liu Shang Bang if this refers to one of the leaders of the rebels who ransacked Kuching in February 1857, murdered several people including innocent children and burnt down the precious Rajah’s library? In my opinion, killers of human beings simply do not deserve a mention on roads in Kuching.

Names connected with Sarawak

It is more sensible to call roads, avenues, crescents or boulevards by non-controversial names such as those of local plants and herbs or rocks. If you don’t like Jalan Gatal, name it Jalan Keladi.

The Rock Road is named after a rock crystal known by its Malay name Batu Kinyang. It has a myth. The outcrop of rock is supposed to be a keramat, graveyard of a holy man, often visited by believers seeking divine help or just giving thanks for help already rendered. People began losing interest in the   place, however, when an abattoir was built nearby.

Jalan Lumba Kuda has a connection with pony racing during the Brooke’s time. Jalan Kereta Api has connection with the railway built by Charles Brooke. According to a source, subject to further confirmation, Green Road was built in honour of a medical doctor, Dr Green, whose wife had donated a house to St Teresa’s School.

The present India Street is the former Jalan Keling; it was changed to ‘India’ when the Indian traders there objected to the name. The Chinese had no problem with China Street – they had two anyway, Upper and Lower.

Pearse’s Road was given by Charles Brooke because the Rajah was so grateful to another Charlie — Charles S Pearse, who discovered that the Sarawak government’s accounts were in mess until he had a proper accounting system installed. Pearse had been appointed the Treasurer of Sarawak and a member of the Supreme Council and of the Council Negri. Jolly good, YB.

Pending Road. As all cargoes bound for Singapore were stored in the sheds by the river in that nameless part of Kuching, the Borneo Company marked the place as the  ‘pending sheds’, and the name ‘Pending’ has stuck to this day. The Malays call the place Pending; it may be the real name for the place. Any idea?

When a road was built in the 60s to lead traffic from Pending out of town, the road became known as Jipun Lo by the lorry drivers, until it was named after Tun Jugah.

However, ever wondered how long is that Tun Jugah Road or where Jalan Datu Bandar Haji Mustapha begins and ends? They seem, subject to correction, to share the same road going the opposite direction. Luckily these two great men would never quarrel over a small thing like road naming.

Deshon Road. It was named after Henry FitzGibbon Deshon who led a force of 12,000 men on a headhunting expedition to punish Bantin of Ulu Ai for failure to stop headhunting. Unfortunately for them, some 2,000 of the Bala Raja died of cholera before the big fight. The force under the command of Deshon had to return to Fort Alice at Simanggang. Called the Cholera Expedition 1902 or Kayau Bunto, according to the late Pemanca Manau.

I have come to a crossroads now as I have run out of space for road names. If any readers have another road name to share, please let me know. Happy motoring today. Always drive on the right side of the road which is the Left.