Kuching is the capital of the East Malaysian state of Sarawak. Being the most populous city in the state of Sarawak, Kuching emerged as one of the most vibrant cities in the region and it is the largest city on the island of Borneo and the fourth largest city in Malaysia. Kuching was elevated to city status on 1 August 1988 and carries the nick name of Cat City.
The area north of the Sarawak River, parts of Old Kuching, Satok and the western Central Business District (CBD) is within the jurisdiction of Dewan Bandaraya Kuching Utara (Kuching North City Hall) covering an area of . Kuching North City Hall is directly under the supervision of the Chief Minister of Sarawak. The area south of the Sarawak River, eastern CBD and towards the South China Sea is within the jurisdiction of Majlis Bandaraya Kuching Selatan (Kuching South City Council), covering a smaller but more densely populated area of .
There are those who believe that the divisions in power for the Northern (primarily Malay and Bumiputera residents) and Southern (primarily Chinese residents) districts came about due to ethnic reasons in the 1980s. There are also those who believe the administration is divided due to geographical reasons, as the Northern and Southern districts are linked by only two bridges spanning the Sarawak River.
The third local government is Majlis Perbandaran Padawan or Padawan Municipal Council, formerly known as the Kuching Rural District Council, which administers the rural areas within Kuching district, Batu Kawah, Kota Sentosa and Third Mile. It covers a large portion of Kuching district with an area of .
Sarawak was a part of the Sultanate of Brunei 200 years ago but as a reward for help in putting down a rebellion, it was ceded to the British adventurer James Brooke who ruled it as his personal kingdom. Kuching was made his capital and headquarters. The Brooke Administration was given the status of Protectorate under Rajah Charles Brooke's rule and was placed behind the Indian Rajs and Princes. The Brooke family ruled Sarawak until the Japanese occupation in December 1941.
Kuching was surrendered to the Japanese forces on 24 December 1941, and Sarawak was part of the Japanese Imperial Empire for three years and eight months, until the official Japanese surrender on 11 September 1945 on board HMAS Kapunda at Kuching. From March 1942 the Japanese operated a POW and civilian internee camp at Batu Lintang, three miles (5 km) outside Kuching.
After the end of World War II the third and last Raja, Sir Charles Vyner Brooke ceded Sarawak to the British Crown in 1946. Sarawak and the British Commonwealth fought an "Undeclared War" with Indonesia to keep Sarawak from being absorbed into Sukarno's Indonesia. The British gave Sarawak independence in 1963 and together with North Borneo, Sabah and Singapore, helped form Malaysia on 16 September 1963. Singapore became an independent nation in 1965.
One highly unlikely theory is a story based on miscommunication. According to the story, when Rajah James Brooke arrived in Kuching on his yacht, the Royalist, he asked his local guide what the settlement's name was. The guide, thinking that the English adventurer was pointing towards a cat, said "Kuching." However, Sarawakian Malay for cat is "pusak" and this theory does not hold much credibility.
Another theory is that the city was named after the "mata kucing" or "cat's eye" fruit. Trees bearing this fruit used to grow in abundance by the river banks - where the city's commercial heart, is located. There is a hill in the heart of the modern city called Bukit Mata Kuching, and was named after the fruit. Also, at the foot of the hill, there was once a stream called the Kuching River. The stream, located in front of the Tua Pek Kong temple, had large amount of silt deposit and during the 1950s, was filled in to make way for roads and the city's expansion eastwards.
There is another more credible theory and that Kuching actually means "Ku" - Old and "Ching" - Well or "old well" in Chinese. During the Brooke's rule, there was no proper water supply and water-borne diseases were common. In 1888, there was a Great Cholera epidemic. However, water from a well at the present day China Street in Main Bazaar area saved Kuchingites from the disease. Clean supply of water from the well helped water-borne diseases became a thing of the past. Evidence of the well is still found at China Street. As Kuching expanded and the population and demand for clean water supply increased, the well was not adequate to supply the clean water and it was replaced by clean water supply from Matang area later.
Despite those theories, the city was named Sarawak under Rajah Sir James Brooke's rule. Under Rajah Charles Brooke's rule, the city was renamed Sarawak Proper in order to avoid confusion with the ever expanding Kingdom of Sarawak. Only in the latter part of his reign was Sarawak Proper renamed Kuching.
The city has never been noted for having a significantly large population of cats. In fact, the many cat statues, the Kuching Cat Museum and other association with cats have been largely a recent phenomenon, part of a modern effort of tourism. Many travel brochures refer to Kuching as "Cat City" or the "City of Cats".
The climate in Kuching is tropical, moderately hot and receives substantial rainfall. The average annual rainfall is approximately 4,000 mm or 160 inches. Kuching is the wettest city in Malaysia. The wettest times are during the North-East Monsoon months of November to February. The temperature of Kuching ranges from to but the average temperature is around in the early hours of the morning and rises to around in the mid afternoon. This temperature stays almost constant throughout the year if it is not affected by the heavy rain and strong winds during the early hours of the morning which would rarely bring the temperature down to . The temperature would also rise to under rare cases due to the haze caused by open burning from Indonesia during the dry season. The haze occurs annually around mid year in Kuching.
The city is considered one of the cleanest cities in Malaysia and was voted as one of the world's healthiest cities, recognised and awarded by both United Nations (UN) and World Health Organisation (WHO) and by the Alliance for Healthy Cities (AFHC) in Suzhou, China.
The population of 579,900 (2006 census; Kuching City South - 143,500; Kuching City North - 133,600; Padawan- 3rd Mile/ 7th Mile/ 10th Mile - 302,800) is made up of Chinese (220,400), Malays (207,000), Ibans (58,100), Indians and other ethnic groups. The Dayaks, the grouping of local indigenous tribes, can be categorized into Ibans, Bidayuhs, Melanaus and Orang Ulu, among others. The Chinese are made up of Fujianese (Hokkien) in the city areas and Hakka in the suburbs mainly. Other Chinese consist of Foochow (Fuzhou), Teochew, Hainanese, Cantonese, Henghua and others. Interracial marriages among those of different ethnic backgrounds are common in Kuching.
The main religions of the citizens are Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism and Islam. Malays practice Islam and all Malays are Muslim by definition. The Chinese practice either Buddhism, Taoism or Christianity. Most Dayaks are Christian, with the exception of the Melanaus, who are mainly Muslim.
A majority of people in Kuching are capable of communicating in Bahasa Melayu (Malay Language) and English. English is widely spoken in Kuching. The dialect of Malay spoken in Kuching is known as Bahasa Sarawak (Sarawakian Malay Language), which has lexical differences with the dialect spoken in Peninsular Malaysia.
On top of Malay and English, Kuchingites can usually speak his or her own ethnic dialect or language. An Iban can speak Iban, a Bidayuh can speak Bidayuh and the Chinese usually several Chinese dialects, the most common being Hokkien and Mandarin in Kuching. More recently, it has been argued that Mandarin has become more widely spoken than Hokkien since it is well known by other Chinese and is the language of instruction in Chinese vernacular schools. For the Bidayuhs, the dialect of Bidayuh spoken in one kampung/village may vary greatly with another kampung/village. It is also common to find people who can speak more than just Malay, English and their native tongue, not only due to the wide practice of mixed marriages but because of the close rapport amongst the people of Kuching.
The Sleeping Dictionary financed by Fine Line Features was shot here in 2000 and is probably the best-known Hollywood production to be filmed in Kuching.
Other famous Hollywood movies shot in (and around) Kuching included:
|1987||Farewell to the King||Orion Pictures||John Milius||Nick Nolte|
The common link in the locations of these international productions is a Malaysian company "Southeast Asia Film Locations Services" headed by a local Malaysian Chinese based in Kuching, Edgar Ong; whose partner, Chandran Rutnam (whose bases are in Sri Lanka, Berlin & Los Angeles) have jointly been instrumental in attracting these major studios and film producers to use Sarawak in Borneo as the backdrop.
Rutnam is an Oscar winner for his film "Indochine" (starring Catherine Deneuve) which won the Foreign Film Oscar in 1991. In 2007,another co-production "Water" (Dir: Deepa Mehta) was nominated for a Foreign Film Oscar.
Besides Hollywood, Kuching is also a target film location for Hong Kong while Japan used to shoot a Japanese Series briefly in Kuching. Currently, Indian's Bollywood are also making their ways to Kuching to shoot up an adventure Bollywood movie. This has indirectly attracted more Indian tourists to visit Sarawak because of the film.
Kuching is home to the international campus of Swinburne University of Technology, a branch of a major university from Melbourne, Australia. The campus, known as Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. Branch campuses of the Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and Open University Malaysia are located in Kuching. (Technically, the campuses of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) and UiTM are in the Samarahan Division). The Polytechnic of Kuching is located at the further end of Matang Road in the Serapi Mountain which provides further education at the diploma and certificate levels.
For primary and secondary education, like other cities in Malaysia, Kuching has National Schools, National Type Schools, Mission Schools and several International Schools.
The two International Schools are Lodge School and Tunku Putra International School. These schools were built to cater to the children of expatriates and parents who wish to have an English-based education for their children.
The mission schools were founded by the Anglican missionaries (SMK St. Thomas for boys, SMK St. Mary for girls), and Catholic missionaries, Mill Hill and De La Salle Brothers (SMK St. Joseph for boys, SMK St. Teresa for girls) during Rajah James and Rajah Charles' reign.
Most independent Chinese schools in Kuching were built and continuously sponsored by rich Chinese businessmen.
Transport by taxi is reasonable but it is usually difficult to flag down one on the street since there are only popular amongst tourists. One can get a taxi from the taxi stand near the corner of the Electra House/end of India Street, in front of hotels or by contacting them through the telephone. Intrepid back-packers can try the public transport by antiquated, smoky, non-air-conditioned buses or the 'van sapu' (mini-van converted into mini-buses) which offer cheaper mean of getting to places. Air transport is served by Kuching International Airport, 12km away from the city, currently the subject of several expansion projects. Those trying to get a bird-eye's view of the city have the option of hiring a helicopter or small plane from Hornbill Skyways.
Kuching is served by several major bus companies. Among others, Chin Liang Long Motor Vehicle Co. (traditionally blue) serving Kuching South, Matang Transport Company (yellow and orange) serving Matang-Kubah and Petra Jaya Transport Company (Black, yellow and red strips) serving Kuching North. The Sarawak Transport Company (traditionally green) and Bau Transport Company (Red) have routes from Kuching to other smaller towns. A large portion of the buses in service are antiquated and not air conditioned. The fares are low. Although, the routes are poorly documented, the stops have no names and the buses not well known for being punctual - it is not difficult to get to places because Kuching is a friendly city and most are able to communicate in English. For tourists, the State Ministry of Tourism has provided bus shuttles to transport tourists around Kuching.
Road signs adhere to the Road Sign Standards issued by the Ministry of Transportation. Kuching is famous for many large traffic circles or roundabouts. The roundabouts are efficient at handling medium scale traffic. However, as traffic continues to rise in Kuching several roundabouts have given way to traffic lights and over and underpasses. These traffic circles are usually well landscaped.
Kuching, like most towns in Sarawak, has connections to other urban centres and settlements by water transportation. Between the banks of Sarawak River, near the city center, many 'tambang' (small boats) can be seen ferrying passengers from one riverbank to the other. For those staying along the river banks, it is a faster means of getting to the city-proper. The wharf for express boats servicing transport to further areas such as Sibu and Bintulu, is located in the east of the city, near the Sim Keng Hong Port, also known as the Tanah Puteh Port, in Pending.
Within the town, there are several museums such as the well-known Sarawak Museum, Chinese Museum, Cat Museum, etc, which are definitely not to be missed when visiting Kuching. Interesting landmarks and sites are the Astana (the Rajah's former palace), Fort Margherita, Tua Pek Kong temple and Main Bazaar. The Kuching waterfront, which is really a riverside esplanade, is situated right next to the main hotels and commercial heartland of the city, and offers a pleasant walk in the evening. When you are tired of strolling, the old shops on the opposite side of the waterfront will gladly sell you all manner of 'antiques' and tradecraft.
Some other interesting areas near the centre of town include Padungan Street, which is the main Chinatown area of the city. Shops here appear virtually unchanged from 20 years ago, and offer fascinating insights into life as it was then. Meanwhile, Carpenter Street and India Street still maintain their olde world charm, though the relentless process of globalisation is slowly encroaching. The old Courthouse building forms the link between Carpenter Street and India Street, and is well worth a quick stroll as you re-live the faded colonial splendour (now restored and modernised). The many well-manicured parks dotted around the city are also great to visit.
Numerous natural attractions including National Parks (notably Bako & Kuching Wetlands National Park) and the Semenggoh Wildlife Center which places an orang utan orphanage and rehabilitation program are also popular attractions.
Kuching is also noted for its intense and beautiful sunsets, often complimented by tourists as "one of the most beautiful in the world".
Since 1997, Kuching has been host to the Rainforest World Music Festival, an annual music festival that brings performers and spectators to the region from all over the world.
Custom ordered dishes (usually called the "special") are available on request. Most hawker stalls serve a variety of these three dishes, but locals often debate vigorously as to where to find the best variety. Visitors should be aware that portions are half of what is usually commonly found at Chinatowns in the West.
Kuching has some very good local seafood restaurants, often run by the Chinese residents serving prime local shellfish. Prices are usually very reasonable. There are many such establishments in and around the city, most notably along the way to popular seaside resorts located on the island of Santubong.
While global chain outlets (McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Starbucks) are ubiquitous in the prime commercial complexes, a local fast food chain "Sugarbun" also serves a variety of Malaysian food in a more Western (plastic trays, brightly-lit menus, uniformed staff) style.