Monday, July 22

Mysterious attraction to Sarikei and Sibu

A bowl of kampua is a must-have breakfast in Sarawak’s central region.

A bowl of kampua is a must-have breakfast in Sarawak’s central region.

A yummy bowl of vermicelli rice noodle cooked with preserved vegetables (zao cai hun gan)

A yummy bowl of vermicelli rice noodle cooked with preserved vegetables (zao cai hun gan)

A scrumptious bowl of dian bian ngu.

A scrumptious bowl of dian bian ngu.

 BAT6 leader Peter Sibon (right) taking a photo with Dai Max Automobile team led by sales manager Sibu branch Tang Tze Yong (fourth right). Also present were sales advisors (from left) Arni bin Bujang, Lau Yu Ee and Toh Kok Tung.

BAT6 leader Peter Sibon (right) taking a photo with Dai Max Automobile team led by sales manager Sibu branch Tang Tze Yong (fourth right). Also present were sales advisors (from left) Arni bin Bujang, Lau Yu Ee and Toh Kok Tung.

Delicious egg sponge cakes (top) and ‘zheng dong pian’.

Delicious egg sponge cakes (top) and ‘zheng dong pian’.

Makeshift garbage bin found along the road to Kanowit.

Makeshift garbage bin found along the road to Kanowit.

A newspaper cutting of BAT5’s article on Kanowit pasted on the wall.

A newspaper cutting of BAT5’s article on Kanowit pasted on the wall.

The town of Kanowit.

The town of Kanowit.

Pedro Blasco having lunch in Kanowit after cycling from Sibu.

Pedro Blasco having lunch in Kanowit after cycling from Sibu.

SIBU:  Sarikei and Sibu are the two towns which we will try not to miss whenever we are on the current trunk road linking Kuching to Miri.  They seem to have some mysterious magic that tends to pull travellers to them, at least for a short stay.

Though about 100 km apart, Sarikei and Sibu have many similarities.  They are both Foochow settlements where each town has its own strengths.  And because both are Foochow towns, food found in both towns are rather similar.

Perhaps their biggest difference is that Sarikei and especially Jakar which is considered part of Sarikei is famous for its prawn noodle while Sibu cannot boast about the same dish.

For both Sarikei and Sibu, Foochow dishes such as kampua, preserved vegetable vermicelli rice noodle (zao cai hun gan) and red wine chicken vermicelli are commonly served.  Then there are cheap and delicious pastry and cakes like the egg cakes and kompia (the Chinese bagel) as well as “zheng dong pian”, another variety of kompia.

As for BAT6, there is one place that we will always frequent for breakfast – Lai Lai Coffee Shop. Initially it is because the coffeeshop is right below our lodging place.  However, we slowly fell in love with the food offered in the coffeeshop where there is a variety of Foochow dishes including the lesser known “fried pa kuek” which is something quite similar to kuek tiao but thicker and of a different texture.

Apart from the fact that it offers good food, what makes BAT6 like to stop by the place is that those running the coffeeshop are not only friendly but honest people.

In one of the previous trips, one of the BAT members lost her expensive dark glasses.  The coffeeshop owner kept them safely for her until she came back to look for them.

During this trip, the same BAT member lost her purse which contains all the important documents – credit card, debit card, driving licence, identity card and few hundred ringgit of cash in the coffeeshop.  The purse was returned untouched.

BAT6 was waiting at the coffeeshop for a friend to pick them up.  When the friend came, all hopped onto the car excitingly.  Upon reaching the restaurant, the BAT member found she had lost her purse.  They rushed back to the coffeeshop instantly.  On the way, the BAT member who lost the purse thought that there was very slim chance of recovering the purse because the table they were seated earlier was on the five-foot way outside the coffeeshop.

However, upon reaching the coffeeshop, there seemed to be some kind of a commotion where the coffeeshop owner, workers and some customers were crowded together, talking excitingly.

“She is the one.  She is the one!” cried the young Indonesian helper when seeing the BAT member approaching.

Joining the commotion was an elderly customer.  While the coffeeshop operator and the Indonesian helper just handed over the purse without asking any question, the elderly customer explained that that had been how things were in small town like Sarikei.

“The coffeeshop people are nice people.  They found the purse and kept it for you.  This is what our town is like.  If in other places, your purse would have been gone already.

“And you must thank the Indonesian helper who had found that purse and gave it to the coffeeshop operator,” said the elderly man.

The young Indonesian girl could never fathom how grateful the BAT member felt then.  It is one thing to lose money, it is another

to lose all the important

documents.  What is worse is that if the purse was lost, the whole BAT6 would be affected.  And the BAT member would feel so bad as she would be slowing down the whole team with the “aftermath” of losing a purse – making reports to both bank and police.  In addition, the BAT member would be haunted for the rest of the trip by the unsettling feeling of having so much to do – applying for new documents and so on upon reaching Kuching.

Out of gratefulness, the BAT member tried to give some money as a token of appreciation to the Indonesian helper.  The good Samaritan however, refused the money.

“It is your money, I am just returning what belongs to you,” said the Indonesian helper.

An unfortunate episode had turned into a blessed experience because of the good heart of a foreigner.  Sarikei will always be remembered by the BAT member as a town of good Samaritan!

The BAT team set off for Sibu the next day.  On the way, we saw a pied hornbill flying across our Isuzu MU-X from the right to the left.

It is an ancient belief of the Dayak communities that if there is a hornbill flying across above from the right to the left when one goes hunting, it is a good omen signifying bountiful hunt.  If the hornbill were to fly across from left to right, then it is bad omen, a sign that the hunters would go home empty handed.

With that ancient belief pronounced in the car, we all agreed and concluded that it would be a good and fruitful day for us.

Reaching Sibu, however, things were not that smooth.  As we passed by Dai Max Automabile Sdn Bhd, an Isuzu authorised 3S centre, we went in to get the new road tax for the MU-X which Isuzu has kindly sponsored the BAT team.  The part was smooth and easy.

And noticing that it was almost 11.20am, we rushed to UTC at Central Market of Sibu so that one BAT member could renew the passport which was needed to cross Brunei to go to Lawas and Limbang, to finish the scheduled trip for this BAT trip.

Reaching UTC at 11.35am, we were informed that the office was about to close and we had to come again at 2.30pm to apply for the much needed passport.

Figuring that we had two hours to spare, we went straight to our destination, Kanowit, to see the latest development on the missing link of Kanowit-Song Road – the Kanowit Bridge.

From Durin Bridge, we took a road underneath the bridge to go to Kanowit.  After one year, the drive was still as bumpy.  And along the way, we noticed that there was no green bins.  Residents along the road were seen to place their bags of garbage on the table-like structure outside their houses. Driving past, we could not help but thought they were drying some farm produce!

Upon reaching Kanowit, we sat in the coffeeshop of Chua Kie Soon, BAT Team’s friend in Kanowit.  Chua, a young coffeeshop owner had made such an impression on BAT5 last year with his innovative drinks – GS-Tea, a mock tail of eight different sourish ingredients.  BAT5 featured him and his thirst-quenching drinks.  And yesterday, the article was seen pasted on the wall of his coffeeshop.

When we stepped into his coffeeshop, he recognised us instantly.  Even before we ordered, he already placed four glasses of GS-Tea in front of us.  Ten minutes later, he brought forth another four big glasses of his new creation – the Blue Sky which was blueish drink with pink sago pearls.

After having our lunch and a short rest, we headed off to meet some town people.  At a coffeeshop, we were surprised to see Petro Blasco who claimed to be in the ceramic industry and a lover of Borneo.

“I have come from Kuching to Sibu by express boat.  I will then cycle from Sibu to Kanowit.  I love Borneo and whenever I can take time off my work, I would go to Kuching,” said the 40-year-old Spanish.

The BAT6 after taking a walk around town, went to check on the progress of Kanowit Bridge.  Work was clearly in progress.

The BAT Team was satisfied

with the progress as it was about 80 per cent completed and there was an obvious improvement compared to what we witnessed last year.

The Kanowit locals, however, were not as excited.  Some were complaining about the project being perpetually talked about but never seemed to be completed. Others were worried that the new link might result in travellers bypassing Kanowit, leaving the town dying a slow death; while another lot believing that Kanowit people who are a rich lot can sustain the town’s economy and growth.

After a round of interview at Kanowit, we were on the road again, rushing to UTC for passport application.  We reached there at 3.25 pm, only to be told that the payment counter was closed and that they could only accept application, where the BAT member could only collect it the next day.

It is pathetic that governmental one-stop centre such as the UTC is operating like any other government agencies.

UTC has been created to provide convenience for the general public.  For the UTC in Sibu, it is meant to serve residents from rural areas such as Kapit and Song which depend on riverine transport.  And if Sibu UTC has been serving the same operating hours like any other agencies, it is then not sensitive to the needs of the people.

Sarawak is different from Peninsular Malaysia.  Why should the operating hours of UTC be dictated by those sitting on armchairs in Putrajaya and not based on the needs of the locals?