The gem that is Sarawak- a Penangite’s perspective

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It has been slightly over a year since I uprooted myself from my hometown of Penang to Sarawak and boy, what an experience it has been!

No doubt I miss my little island in the West but Sarawak has really opened up my eyes to many things and provided me with many interesting discoveries and new adventures, which has in many ways cured my homesickness. 

While Penang is known for being a food  paradise or the land of “Nasi Kandar”, Sarawak offers me the chance to tickle my taste buds with many interesting food and dishes from sago worms, umai, to Mee Kolok, Laksa Sarawak and two things I can never get enough of here- the endless varieties of Kek Lapis Sarawak and also Ais Krim Gula Apong! Bearing a sweeth tooth, some of the best desserts and dishes are found in Kuching, Sarawak.. no kidding! 

Food is a topic that does not escape the mind of any typical Penangite or any Malaysian for that matter but when I speak of food, it brings to mind another thing I noticed about Sarawak. Diversity, harmony and tolerance. Why do I equate food to all these qualities? 

Eating out especially at coffee shops here really reminds me of the good old days of Penang back in the 80s when I was growing up, where coffee shops are a place to congregate for friendly banters over coffee regardless of race, religious and political beliefs .

Here in Sarawak, I see people of different religous beliefs and ethnic groups coming together under one roof especially at meal times.
At one stall is a Muslim selling nasi kukus and over at the next stall is another auntie selling Char Siew Kolo Mee. I see Muslims and non-Muslims eating together at the same table even if the non-Muslim ordered char siew kolo mee. That is what I call harmony and tolerance at its best! In my observation, people here are less judgemental in terms of religion and ways of living. Sadly, back home in Penang I don’t see this much.

Another thing I like about Sarawak is the carefree and safe feeling it provides me with. I feel very free and safe to walk and run around at any time of the day I wish without much worries. Sometimes I set out alone for my morning runs as early as 5am when it is still dark and I have never felt safer! When I did that back home in Penang, I got mugged twice and almost got knocked down by vehicles a few times.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to take things for granted and I take precautions too but really, nothing peculiar has happened and this has been illustrated in a few incidents. There was a time when I went to withdraw cash at an ATM and being the absent minded person I that am, I actually left behind wads of notes at the machine and made way for my car when a Good Samaritan had called out and handed me my cash!

My gold necklace, which I thought I had lost for good after realising it was missing as I was showering, was returned to me the next day by a dear colleague who found it at our office parking lot. Thank you, Haris! What a gem of a Sarawakian you are, like many others here.

Back in Penang, every time I dined out, I’d place my handbag or purse close to my body and never left my mobile phone on the table after experiencing a few incidents of snatch-theft.

Over here I see people casually placing their belongings on dining tables while eating out in cafes or coffee shops. So one day I decided to advise a few colleagues for doing the same which was met with quizzical stares from them. “No, it is not that crazy over here,” I was assured. 

From time to time, I do miss Penang and the rustic charm that is George Town, with the rows of well preserved heritage buildings and pre-war houses. That can be easily cured by taking a stroll down Carpenter Street and India Street which is reminiscent of George Town and its facade. As the Chinese here also speak Hokkien, it being my mother tongue and all, I sometimes forget that I’m a few thousand miles away from home..

Another thing I appreciate about Sarawak is how simple life can get here. No cash? No problem! Just scan and pay using Sarawak Pay! This has made life so much easier for me even when I need to buy something as cheap at a can of Coke from a sundry shop. Just scan and pay! 

This vast state of the Borneo Islands has truly changed the way I view and see things. Having lived in Kuching for almost a year and a few months in Dalat before that, I realise that Sarawak is really a state like no other- its people genuinely warm, polite and caring, lush greeneries everywhere with almost no skyscrapers, modern facilities and truly great vibes!

Despite the speed of development here, life in Sarawak is truly laidback and also modernisation here has never compromised with one thing- environment and nature. Sarawak still boasts of its lush tropical rainforests, lush greenery in the city with minimal pollution. I can attest as I run outdoors a lot. The air feels so fresh, reminding me of parts of Europe I have visited and run in. I also admire how people here have more regard for cleanliness. The city is very clean with almost no litter in public parks and other places. 

At my workplace, I hear friendly chatters (at times banters too!) in Iban, Bahasa Melayu Sarawak, Bidayuh, Melanau, Hokkien and at times punctuated with the occasional Penang Bahasa Malaysia and Hokkien by yours truly! 

Before coming to Sarawak, just like many other ignorant and oblivious West Malaysians, I always had the perception that Sarawak would mean vast jungles, the countryside and probably a tad backwards compared to the Peninsular. Oh boy, I could never have been more wrong!

I have travelled to many different countries around the world but Sarawak is really something that I have never experienced before- from its array of mouthwatering food, unique blend of diferent cultures and tradition, its warm hospitality and breathtaking beautiful nature…

Sarawak does truly have it all! -TVS

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