While Malaysia is a Moslem-majority country, Christians make up a plurality of the population in Sarawak, the state we’re in; Sarawak in fact has the largest Christian population in the country. Interestingly the Malaysian constitution apparently officially designates all ethnic Malays as Muslim but most people here are not ethnic Malays; they’re Iban, Dayak, Chinese, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, etc., etc. And since the Christian missionaries converted lots of them before the Muslims got here, well, that means there are cool bars and happening restaurants here. Who knew Mark & I would become such big fans of Christian missionaries??Seriously, we couldn’t make sense out of Kuching until we figured that out. When we were in Penang, there was precisely one classy restaurant in town – the one in our hotel – despite the fact that it’s a big tourist destination. We asked the GM at the hotel why there weren’t others and he told us that too many Muslims simply wouldn’t go into a restaurant that served alcohol and except for his place no one else could afford to give up on locals even with a significant tourist presence. It was just as bad or even worse in Langkowi, Malaysia’s premier beach resort and tourist destination. But here in mid-sized Kuching we’re in foodie paradise?
Well, that’s what you find in a city where the Muslim presence is significantly understated. And I’m OK with that.
Now, onto the really cool stuff. The jungle. Head hunters. Kayaking. Orangutans! Yesterday we did a day trip outside of Kuching. First stop was an orangutan rehabilitation center at feeding time. We were somewhat skeptical of this, since it sounded like we might just be looking at monkeys in a zoo. We needn’t have worried. The Semengoh Wildlife Center is a legitimate research and rehabilitation center in a large nature preserve where dozens of semi-wild orangutans live. They’re not wild anymore, but it’s not as though you could walk up and pet them or anything.
They were amazing to watch. So human-like, and yet so different. Watching them maneuver through the trees using whichever of their four limbs seemed appropriate at the time. Watching them break open and eat through coconuts with their bare hands. The power in their arms and legs and jaws was phenomenal. And, for me at least, doing that just after reading a great book about human evolutionary biology and seeing the links between us and other primates that the author described was really something.There was a walk-through of a local village. These things can be painfully touristy – “Oh, look how poor and backward these people are!” – but it wasn’t bad. Short, to the point, and the tour company pays the village something for us to walk-through. This being Borneo, of course, they had to include some human skulls from headhunter days, so we got to see those, too.
Finally, the bulk of the day was spent lazily kayaking down the Left Sarawak River. That really felt like we were in Borneo. The sounds and the smells were all very jungly. They assured us that it was a safe river – no crocodiles, no piranhas, no leeches – so it was pretty comfortable. A couple stops for a waterfall and swimming and we were happy little boys.
We’re going to spend another day or two here – still haven’t seen the cat museum, a national park that we can walk around in – and then we’re off to Brunei. It’s supposed to be a painfully boring place, but when you’re counting countries, have the time, and are this close, you just have to go there. Then we’ll cross back into Malaysia – still on Borneo – in theory at least to climb Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak on Borneo. And then? Who knows?
And, since Jeanne said she wanted more pictures of us, here they are: