PEOPLE usually think of a museum as a solemn gallery house where antiques are displayed for visitors to browse through and comment on quietly – usually in whispers – but not touch.
The Borneo House Museum in Kuching is different. It is an interactive fun house for both young and old alike. Visitors can even show off their creativity by immersing in the artworks on display and becoming part of them.
The Borneo House Museum can be described as an interactive three dimensional (3D) and educational museum where visitors are encouraged to have fun while interacting with the artworks, seeing them come to life and experiencing the trick paintings and replicas.
Selected Sarawak artists took months to cover the 12,500 square foot museum with paintings, cleverly designed to trick the eyes into seeing depth.
The museum, opened to the public in November last year, features interactive displays that bring Sarawak’s nature, culture, heritage and food to life. Through clever simulations, visitors can feel as though they are walking through the heart of Sarawak and Borneo.
The museum has four zones – Sarawak Nature, Old Sarawak, Sarawak Today and Sarawak Iconic Food. The Sarawak food replicas took half a year to set up – from planning to completion.
All the art pieces on display are the result of concerted efforts from the selected Sarawak artists. Each piece carries a very informative and educational storyline. In fact, touring the museum allows one to be an actor, director and photographer – all rolled into one.
“We try to add a new dimension to the concept of a museum,” said Chai Mingtze, one of the supervisors.
“Traditional museums seem to be serious places and visitors can only look but not touch. But here, the overall setup is focused on interactions because we believe visitors can have a more meaningful appreciation of the artworks if they can touch and play with them. We have, for example, made the paintings appear incomplete if you’re not in them.”
He added that visitors could look for the camera angle guides on the floor to know where is the best spot to stand to take a picture of the object for the best 3D effect. Staff are on hand to help visitors with suggestions on where and how to pose to have a perfect picture taken.
The museum has received up to 10,000 visitors since its opening. Besides from Kuching city itself, visitors also came from Betong, Sri Aman, Sibu, Miri, Sabah, Johor, Kuala Lumpur, Kelantan, Perak, Penang and Kedah with some foreign tourists as well. The numbers do not include school educational tours.
“The response we receive is very encouraging. We are planning to add more zones to make touring the museum more interesting,” Chai said.
He said 3D museums are still rare, being new to the tourism industry, especially in Sarawak, adding that the Borneo House Museum should, therefore, be added to the list of places to see and visit for tourists to the Land of the Hornbills.
Chai explained that since the idea was to promote local culture and food, all art works were produced by local artists.
“In this way, we are also promoting local talents to the world. We do receive a lot of positive feedback from visitors – mainly about the enjoyable time they spent here and that it is a perfect venue for a beneficial family outing because everything on display is educational and informative.”
He noted that children were more attracted to the food replicas probably because they could touch and hold the items and also pose for pictures in their own creative ways.
According to him, the reason could be that children have all the while been asked to just look and not touch or play with any of the displays in a museum. But when they come to the Borneo House Museum, they get very different treatment.
Local food replicas
Chai said the displayed Sarawak food replicas were “very realistic looking” and not cheap to produce.
The tomato kueh tiaw, a uniquely Sarawak dish, is included in the top 10 must-show local foods. It is fried rice noodles served in a slightly sweet tomato-based gravy with sliced fish balls, fish, meat and local vegetables.
Among the other food replicas are Sarawak rojak, Sarawak laksa and kolo mee.
“These are among the popular local food sold at eateries or hawker stalls in the city that foreigners must try if they visit Kuching,” Chai suggested.
The Sarawak rojak consists of mainly pineapple slices, jicama (sengkuang), cucumber and puffy deep fried bean curd mixed with a sweet and fragrant thick sauce made of shrimp paste, sugar and tamarind with coarsely ground roasted peanuts sprinkled on top, and served on a plate.
The laksa is a signature dish of Sarawak and a must-try for gourmets. It consists of vermicelli with a shrimp-based broth, thickened with coconut milk and garnished with prawns, shredded chicken meat, julienned omelette, bean sprouts and chopped parsley, and served with thick sambal paste and lime at the side.
Kolo mee is another popular dish. Many Kuching residents claim they cannot go without a bowl of kolo mee for breakfast. It is a simple noodle dish, tossed in plain or red sauce together with fried onions, and topped with barbecued meat, minced meat and local vegetables – a dish suitable for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Another food replica is sago grubs, a traditional delicacy of some indigenous groups of Sarawak. To most people, the idea of eating the grubs can be rather intimidating. The grubs, found inside fallen sago palms, are usually stir-fried and but can also be eaten while they are still live. If you are daring enough, just put a wriggling grub into your mouth and start chewing – like chewing gum.
The grubs are said to be very creamy and rich in taste and also full of protein. The head is crunchy as well.
Chai said among other things of interest – and historical appeal – is the replicated office of the third Rajah of Sarawak, Charles Vyner Brooke, where some old documents are kept, including one on Sarawak Land Indenture, dated Jan 16, 1897, signed by Charles Brooke, the second Rajah of Sarawak.
According to the document, the signing was witnessed by Charles Samuel Pearse, the Treasurer of Sarawak, whose signature could also be found on the banknotes of that period.
Mark Gordon signed as Land Office Clerk. He was later promoted to Superintendent of the Public Works Department and Acting Registrar of the Supreme Court.
“Everything on display in the office is real. The antiques and the table you see are more than 50 years old. The phone is also an antique. Actually, most of the furniture and antiques displayed in our museum are authentic. The bicycle you see is also an antique,” Chai said.
Situated at Jalan Penrissen, Kuching-Serian Road, the museum is 25 minutes from Kuching City centre, eight minutes from Kuching International Airport and five minutes from Kuching Sentral by car. It is open from 9am to 6pm every day and usually packed on weekends and public holidays. There are part-time staff to attend to visitors during peak seasons. Travellers will pass by the museum on the way to Serian, Bau, Sri Aman and beyond.