WHENEVER the topic of racial harmony and religious tolerance comes up, Sarawak will more often than not be cited as the perfect example of a state where her people live harmoniously as one.
So much so that on Aug 1, 2015, coinciding with the city’s 27th anniversary celebration, the city of Kuching was proclaimed the country’s – and the world’s – first ‘City of Unity’.
From the warmth of her ethnically diverse people to her beautiful landscape and array of delicious food, the allure of Sarawak has drawn many from other parts of Malaysia and overseas to call the state their home.
For 52-year-old teacher Ahmad Faizal Osman, who hails from Teluk Intan in Perak, he finds the level of acceptance in Sarawak very high regardless of one’s race and religion.
“I am very touched because in Sarawak, there is still respect for one’s religion and cultural differences. For example, how ‘Indai Aga’ who is willing to order fried noodles from ‘Mak Dayak’ to entertain Muslim guests who come to celebrate Gawai at her house, is enough to prove that respect and tolerance are still practised very well here.
“It still amazes me to see the people of Sarawak who are of various races can eat and drink at the same table,” said the well-known blogger, whose writings on his ‘Cikgu Emmet Menulis’ blog on Facebook often touches on how the unity and tolerance in Sarawak should be adopted by all Malaysians.
Having lived and served in Sarawak since 1995, Ahmad Faizal said the country’s peace and harmony is too valuable and must be protected at all cost from those seeking to fan the flames of hatred.
“I hope our country in general and the people of Sarawak in particular take heed of what has happened in other countries where there is no racial and religious tolerance.
“Remember that Tok Nan’s message ‘Jaga Sarawak bait-bait’ is actually intended for every citizen who breathes on this earth, because politicians can change, but the people will always remain,” he said, referring to the late chief minister Pehin Sri Adenan Satem.
For a country as racially diverse as Malaysia, he said the importance of preserving peace and harmony amongst her people cannot be stressed upon enough.
“To drive the country to keep moving dynamically, the most important foundation is stability and peace. This is an important asset to attract foreign investors to the country, thus bringing economic growth to the various industries.”
For Jakarta-born Alexandri Legawa, 47, who is attached to the Consulate General of Indonesia in Kuching, he said living in Sarawak for the past 16 years “feels like I am living in my own hometown with my own people.”
“People in Sarawak are very friendly, kind-hearted and very warm, and are always willing to assist other people in need no matter what race, religion, tribe or ethnicity you are.
“I have seen many Sarawakians extending their hand to help my fellow nationals who are in need of help in Sarawak here, no matter what background they are,” he said.
As a nature-lover, Alexandri said he loves that Sarawak has so much to offer in terms of her natural beauty.
“You have beaches, mountains, rivers, jungles and clear blue sky. Its actually one of the most beautiful places I have ever come across to visit. I feel Sarawakians should travel more within Sarawak and explore the beautiful places you have here.
“I still prefer to live in Sarawak rather than the peninsula as life here is more relaxed and you can have more quality time with your family and friends,” he added.
Fellow Jakarta native Dr Ida Juliana Hutasuhut said Kuching is a diverse and harmonious city that is family- and community-focused.
“Moving from the bustling metropolitan of Jakarta to the quieter and enchanting city of Kuching 20 years ago has been a blessing for me and my husband.
“We were immediately captivated by this beautiful city, its prim city planning and the abundance of greenery scattered throughout, with the lovely Kuchingites actively upholding their communal duties of keeping the city clean,” said the 51-year-old senior lecturer of the Faculty of Cognitive Sciences and Human Development at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas).
“We were warmly welcomed into the community and workplace with the trademark Sarawakian hospitality that made us feel right at home, with an abundance of supportive peers and friends.”
Her 19-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter were both born and raised in Kuching and are proud to call the city their hometown.
Ida said her family is always honoured to be invited to experience the many religious and cultural festivals and celebrations, and they have always felt appreciated and a part of the local community.
“The delicious array of dishes that Sarawakian cuisine has to offer has also hugely impacted our eating habits, and we regularly go for Laksa Sarawak and Mee Kolok/Sapi breakfasts everytime we have the opportunity!
“I can honestly say that these past 20 years of my life in Kuching have been harmonious, filled with laughter and joy. Sharing our different cultures with the locals has always been a joy we often experience.
“To show my appreciation to this city and all that it has given to my family, I wish a Happy Malaysia Day to this big family that we are lucky to call our home,” she said.
Another Unimas lecturer, Noorhaslina Senin, said she chose to move to Kuching from her hometown of Johor Bahru 14 years ago after the university offered her a job, and now considers Sarawak her second home.
“I already had a stable job back in my hometown. Because I was an alumnus (of Unimas), I felt an attachment with Sarawak and decided to take up the job at Unimas.
“I was born and bred in a fast-paced city. I find life here more relaxed and peaceful than in other major cities, with less traffic. It’s blessed to live in a place where your workplace, the city, the beach, the national park are all within a one-to-two-hour drive only. So it’s an excellent place to settle down,” the 40-year-old said.
Along the years, she has made many friends especially among locals who have made her feel a part of the Sarawak family.
“The festive seasons are the best because I get invited to their houses for Hari Raya, Gawai and Christmas. What’s even better is that if you are lucky, you will have that one friend who celebrates all these major celebrations!
“Of course, when you talk about festive seasons, how can you forget about the food. It’s the best time to try the local food or a family’s special menu. So thank you Sarawak and her people for making me feel at home. I hope we can all continue to live in peace and harmony.
“No matter where we are, we are all Malaysians. No matter where we settle down, it’s our responsibility to protect our land and our people. So let’s make Malaysia our dream home for us and our future generations.”