Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sarawak Stories 1 : in which I am introduced to leech socks

We flew from Singapore's busy airport into Kuching (capital of the state of Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo) by Air Asia, a remarkably well run budget airline.  Kuching airport was smaller but busy as well.  All our baggage was x-rayed on arrival and then we found ourselves outside - in the bright tropical sunlight, looking for the hotel taxi.  We didn't have very far to look.  There was only one man with a large sign - a jovial, chatty driver (Mr. Soh) who effortlessly loaded the bags and us into a large, gleaming white van.

Our destination was the Lime Tree Hotel - a zesty little hotel, done in white and lime green, perched at the edge of Chinatown, about two blocks away from the river.  By the time we reached, it was already afternoon.  The sun was blazing down from a partly cloudy sky.  We strolled around a few streets of Chinatown, trying to get our bearings.  Cats of various shapes and sizes - real and models- stared at us.  Kuching (which means 'cat' in the local language) is full of fairly well-kept cats.

We ate some steamed buns for lunch and drank an iced coconut milk drink, which was quite refreshing.  After a little rest, we decided to walk towards the river front and buy some things for our forthcoming rainforest trip.

Malls are a big deal in Kuching.  The first thing everyone tells you about is the latest mall that has come up and where it is located.  Kuching is a city of about one million people and it looks, on the whole, quite clean and prosperous.  The only hazard here is trying to cross roads, but coming from India, it was a relief to feel that one could actually attempt to cross roads without getting run over or horned out.  The traffic moved swiftly and silently.  We also discovered, over time, that though this is one of the larger cities of Malaysia, it is also an incredibly friendly, relaxed and honest place.  "Everyone knows everyone else," a shopkeeper told us one day, "We cannot afford to cheat our customers."

We had only one evening in this city before we left for the rainforest, so a little checking on the internet provided the name of a mall which might have - leech socks.  Leech socks, which we had been looking for in Singapore and India, had eluded us so far.  This mall was not far from our hotel (in fact most places of interest were walking distance), so we headed there.

The mall, like many parts of the city, was Christmasy and busy (Sarawak has a large tribal belt and most of the local tribes have been converted to Christianity.  The Muslim population here is much less that in other parts of Malaysia).  Within the mall, there was only one shop which stocked leech socks - Greek's Outgear's Discovery.  A visit to this shop (which was fairly well stocked with outdoor gear) revealed that there were indeed leech socks available - in two styles.  We went up to look at what these might be - and they turned out to be large, shapeless green stockings with bits of elastic.  We could easily have got them off some of the Christmas trees, had we but known.  The style we preferred had only one piece left and my friends generously allowed me to buy this.  They purchased the second, inferior model, wondering all the time whether this would work at all.  Only time would tell..

We then proceeded to the basement, to a supermarket, and bought an array of small snacks to keep us going - fried local beans of different kinds, fried anchovies (very popular here), shrimp wafers, rice and sesame seed crackers - and from a fruit seller, a big bag of Mandarin oranges, all the way from China.

We walked down the river front, which was cheery and festive - full of smells of food, sounds of hawkers and sights of bright lights, prettily strung.  We ate in Hong Kong Noodles - a restaurant close to our hotel, which served delicious Chinese (or Malaysian-Chinese) food - stir fried greens, large prawns with a buttery curry flavour and a fish curry that was chunky and spicy.  Then we walked back to the hotel and I fell asleep almost immediately, dreaming of the rainforest that we would see the next day.

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