Rhythm of life on the river


We struck gold re­cently with an Airbnb apart­ment be­side the Sarawak River in Kuching, Malaysia. The twobed­room, two-bath­room condo 10 floors up in a mod­ern block was spa­cious and airy. But best of all it had a pri­vate bal­cony that looked out over the gen­tly flow­ing tidal river, giv­ing in­sight into lo­cal ac­tiv­i­ties based on and around this life-giv­ing source. We soon got to know the low chug­ging en­gine of the small com­mer­cial fish­ing boats as they headed out to sea each morn­ing; the puttputt of tiny dinghies used for transport and river fish­ing; the daily rush­ing of waves and loud com­men­tary of the tourist cruise boat.

My room opened on to the bal­cony, so no need for air­con­di­tion­ing as the breeze kept me cool with the door left ajar all night. My pre-dawn alarms were the roost­ers in the vil­lage across the river and the 5am call to prayer from the large mosque on the op­po­site bank. This was my sig­nal to brew tea, start up the lap­top and be­gin writ­ing in those hours be­fore my com­pan­ions woke, as the sun slowly rose and the river’s res­i­dents stirred for the day. The re­laxed city of Kuching owes its ex­is­tence to the river and the in­dus­tries it brings: agri­cul­ture, fish­ing, tourism and transport. The prom­e­nade along its banks in the town cen­tre draws lo­cal fam­i­lies for evening pic­nics and ho­tel visi­tors to stroll and take in the view.

The city’s restau­rants and hawk­ers’ stalls serve re­gional pro­duce, with many dishes based on seafood sourced nearby. Small mar­kets un­der can­vas on the run­down jet­ties sell all man­ner of fish, prawns and crabs. The ice fac­tory on the banks fills the holds of the fish­ing boats as they pre­pare for their day’s jour­ney.

Sa­tok Week­end Mar­ket ven­dors proudly dis­play their pro­duce, grown, raised or caught on the sur­round­ing coun­try­side and wa­ter­ways. Small stacks of in­tri­cately dis­played fruit, veg­eta­bles and herbs are eye-catch­ing, fish pre­cisely lined up in rows, cooked snacks of­fered for tast­ing, and the fresh­est tofu and noo­dles bagged ready for home cook­ing. Stall hold­ers in this mul­ti­cul­tural district are wel­com­ing, happy to ex­plain newly dis­cov­ered items and in­dulge our cu­rios­ity and need for end­less photos. I could hap­pily spend the rest of my days in Kuching, as long as I had that bal­cony with a view of the river. Send your 400word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@ theaus­tralian. com.au. Colum­nists will re­ceive a Cross Tech3 Mul­ti­Func­tion Pen that neatly switches be­tween a black and red pen, pen­cil, eraser and a sty­lus for use on smart­phone or other touch­screen de­vice; $89.95. More: lux­u­rypens.net.au.

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