Friday, June 5

Need for a diversion from the quarantine blues

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A piece of Kuching history not generally known.

THE first of April of the year is associated with practical jokes and fun. This year’s April Fool’s, however, was not a joke at all in Malaysia. The movement control order (MCO) was extended. Nine more days to go. Not funny …

I urge everybody to abide by that order as we have done for the past 18 days — all for the good of ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbours.

We shall cope well and we shall overcome the inconvenience of restrictions on the freedom of movement the best we can.

That’s law abiding.

Our plea to government 

Meanwhile, we hope that the government will be successful in rounding up all those people in Malaysia who might possibly have been in physical contact with potential carriers of Covid-19 during the large gatherings, religious and otherwise, before March 18.

We appeal to these people to cooperate with the authorities by personally and voluntarily showing up at the nearest medical centres in order to be tested for the symptoms of Covid-19.

This cooperation with the authorities will allay us from the worry about another extension of the MCO.

In fact, these people (whoever they may be) are required by the law (Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988) to do so. Assuming they are ignorant of the law, which is possible, their failure to personally volunteer to be tested for the symptoms of the coronavirus is no excuse. For their own health and safety, really.

They should think about the rest of the people who have abided by the law for the past 18 days and who will have to undergo nine more days of staying at home.

They are full of anxiety and even forebodings of the future. Please save them from the fear of attack from this common enemy; let them have the peace of mind, at least.

Trusting the authorities  

While waiting for the authorities to finally persuade these people to be diagnosed for the virus, the law-abiding residents of this country must find ways and means with which to beat the boredom or cope with the quarantine blues the best they can.

For instance, have you men (husbands) tried your hand at making waffles, sewing, or even knitting?

For the next nine days, let’s look at the positive side of things. The time spent at home in compliance of the order could be a blessing in disguise of sorts for certain people who know what to do with time.

The mobile phone

The lucky ones are those people who possess such luxuries as mobile phones and other forms of trans-border communications. In a lockdown, they utilise this period to get in touch with relatives and friends regularly, via their wireless gadgets. At other times this is not possible because a lot of their time is wasted in the traffic jams. Even when one is at home, that precious time is devoted to one’s family members and answering emails. People of this category even make future travel plans when the better times are around once again.

Good time for bookworms  

For the bookworms, this is the time to catch up with reading – from the holy books to the old glossy magazines; from the books on recipes to the cuttings from old newspapers.

They participate in chitchats on social media, the best form of social distancing. In this crisis, there are people who are relatively lucky. No thanks to Covid-19.

My grandchildren wanted to know how I would cope with the situation – without the usual political gossip groups at BDC and Sungai Maong. I said give me books and newspapers, a handphone, and regular meals (fish vital), and I will survive.

I have been following developments of the Facebook page called ‘Kuching – Then and Now’, and have learnt a lot about Kuching’s present and its past. During this quarantine, I have time to look and relook at Kuching’s history from various sources – written and oral.

That creek 

Unless I missed reading it, no one has mentioned an important piece of history of Kuching on that Facebook page. I refer to the stream by the side of the wet market at Padungan. Did you know that there was an Iban longhouse built before the arrival of James Brooke (September 1839) at Sarawak (Kuching now)? There was another house, probably a temporary one (dampa), on the opposite bank of the Sarawak River, the site could probably be on the bank of the small stream near the present Kampung Gersik.

In 1859, the Rev Fr William H Gomes was staying at the Bishop’s House in Kuching. He had travelled to town by sailing boat, to take a short break from his work at the Anglican Mission station at Stunggang in Lundu. He wrote to his boss in London on the eve of Christmas of 1859:

“My dear Sir, as in all probability, it will be some time before you hear from me again, there being no regular communication between Sarawak and Lundu, and I avail myself of this opportunity to address a few lines to you. I am happy to be able to speak still favourably of the prospects of the Mission in general and of the progress of our children. It is a source of no little gratification to hear them read and answer simple questions in sacred scripture, considering that many of them two years ago scarcely knew the alphabet … it is a matter of great thankfulness to see our poor efforts in training up our children thus crowned with success.

“God grant that we may all have more and more the virtue of humility to attribute all success to him who alone can give the increases. I have visited the Padungan Dyaks who live in one of the creeks of the Sarawak river and have opened a kind of school amongst them, Mr Fox having kindly promised to keep it up in our absence. With the tide in favour it takes me only 10 minutes to reach them, and if we had the leisure to visit them regularly I have no doubt that a great deal of good may thus be done, but with our limited numbers and the pressure of other duties, no effectual measures can at present be adopted towards evangelising them.

“They all being Sabuyooh Dyaks, speak I believe the same language as the people of Linga and Lundu, and if we can establish a regular school amongst them, besides other, it will afford ample opportunities for our missionaries to get an insight into the Dyak character and prepare them, during their residence at Sarawak, for effectual working among the several tribes to which they will be sent …”

This longhouse was where the Petanak Wet Market now stands. I wonder if I could lay claim to the land? It certainly keeps my mind away from the focus on Covid-19!

In the next column, I will continue with the rest of the content of this letter – more about Kuching then …

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