10 October 2009

Visiting Sibu, Sarawak

When a friend of mine called to tell he was coming back to Malaysia for the Hari Raya Holiday, I decided to travel down to his hometown Sibu of Sarawak to catch up with him there. A few days after I bought my tickets, he told me he would be on his way back to England by the time I got there. I decided to go on with trip though and discover what the town has to offer. It would be my very first trip to the neighboring state Sarawak and yes, I was really excited.

Sibu is the third largest town in Sarawak after Kuching & Miri (both had claimed their city status). Thanks to Air Asia, I arrived in Sibu on a delayed flight. Quite to my surprise, Sibu airport is almost twice as bigger than Sandakan Airport.

It caters more flights and I was actually surprised because it has direct flights to Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur and even Johor Bahru. No wonder it seems almost as busy as the Air Asia international airport in Kota Kinabalu.
There gotta be something that attracted people to come to Sibu. I got more excited. Out of quite a number of hotels suggested to me by a friend, somehow I got attracted to a hotel called Hotel Bahagia. Well, the name itself radiates some kind of ‘happy aura’ that it seemed to stand out over the others. I was quite surprised when I was placed into a double-bed room. While I didn’t expect anybody to join me for all my 2-night stay in Sibu, it had served well where I can spread my things out on. Well, quite just perfect for my ‘just leave it there’ rushing habit. Situated in one of the most happening areas in town, I was glad I had stayed there. It was just a few minutes of walking from the daily night market. I went to the night market quite too late when most of the stalls were packing up. Still I managed to get something to tapau back to my hotel room. Errr, blaming it to my poor geographical knowledge, I had thought Sibu was a coastal town. Mind to tell you now that Sibu is not anywhere nearby the sea. In fact it is located in one of the interior parts of Sarawak. No wonder all of these had cost me around thirteen bucks! Walaweiii!!
And it might be quite a no-no thing back in Sabah, they do actually sell alcoholic drinks quite openly in their pasar malam stalls! Hotel Bahagia is located in one of the most happening areas in town. Still having some energy left in my groin after the just over an hour flight, I decided to check out the area. While pubs seemed to be scattered all around the area with all kinds of fishy names, I decided to take a seat at one of the restaurants and do a little bit of warming up by ordering 3 cans of Heineken for RM 10, quite of the same price at it is at most restaurants in Sabah.
Ehh, they oso serve beer with ice cubes here kah..? I tot only Thai people do that..?

All of a sudden a car suddenly rammed into another neatly parked car just across the road from where I was sitting. It had instantly drawn quite a number of spectators. Somehow I got reminded of the 2003 car accident where a Sarawakian student couple rammed into a row of tables outside of a restaurant in Section 14 of Petaling Jaya, killing a 19 year old girl and injuring 8 others. Errrr, I kind of wondered if it was a Sarawakian thingy.
I barely had finished my first can of beer when I got approached by a local guy asking if I was interested in buying a pangolin! I decided to take a look. I was led to a white Kancil parked over the side of the road and he opened up the bumper where a baby pangolin was crooked to one of the amplifiers. Looking at it, I was shocked. While I had always considered myself an environmentalist, I couldn’t help but cursing inside. I knew for sure pangolin was a protected animal. I had to brace against the idea of making a phone call to the Forest Department, if they ever cared. Knowing that it would eventually end up being on the dish of some exotic food enthusiast, I really felt sorry for that little creature.

My attention was caught by a fishy night club just across the street from where I was sitting. What seemed to be a massage parlor to me at first turned out to be a dangdut club. Welcome to the Hutan Buluh Bandung!!

I wonder if what they meant was Hutan Bulu Bandung..
While dangdut has almost entirely vanished from the music enthusiasm in Sabah, dangdut is still widely popular among the locals in Sarawak. Dangdut clubs are still making good business and Hutan Buluh Bandung seems to be a running proof. It was quite crowded when I got inside and I just let myself be amused by the scene of scantily dressed ladies dancing and singing dangdut songs – of which all of them I’d never heard in my entire life. I was there for less than an hour before I called it a day. ZZZZZZZZ.. My next day was more on checking out the town of Sibu as a whole. Somehow it reminds me of Tawau where the buildings are quite concentrated within a centralized township area and some satellite towns scattered on the outskirts. Sibu is located on the riverbank of Batang Rajang (misheard it for Batalanjang at first when somebody said to me - Banyak orang mandi batalanjang..) which is at 640km happens to be the longest river in Malaysia. It is like the lifeline of Sibu and it serves as the only mean of transportation to some of the interior parts of Sarawak including the place that I had always wanted to go to – Kapit. Errrrr, probably next time. Traversing along the riverbank of Batang Rajang in Sibu is a must-do thing. The Sibu Council had put in some effort to make it such a worthwhile experience. The most prominent landmark of Sibu is probably the Wisma Sanyan building. Standing at 126 meters, the 26-storey building is simply the tallest building in Sarawak. With Sibu as a hill-less town, I just hope that someday they’d consider opening the top storey of the building to the public so that everybody can have a good aerial view of Sibu from it. Just a few hundred yards away from Wisma Sanyan is another architecturally eye-catching building. It really makes up a good landscape for Sibu that taking a picture with it in the background is not a bad idea at all. I was told that it'd be more worth checking out at night when all the lights are switched on.

Sibu for some reason is known as the swan city. I didn’t really get to know as to why swans are so significant to the town of Sibu but replicas and images of swan can be seen just about everywhere.
But then, every town should have something of which it is known for. They even have a giant swan laying her eggs on the most special spot over the Rajang River. I was actually riding in a Sibu friend’s car when some outstanding single-storey building caught my attention. Asking her to stop by, I had come to find out that it was the Lau King Howe Hospital Memorial Museum. Driven by some curiosity, I walked inside the building and felt glad that I did. While I wasn’t really into museums, I found that Lau King Howe Hospital Memorial Museum was quite fascinating. It has some inspiring story to tell to its visitors. Apparently some kind-hearted Samaritan had too much money in his bank account that he decided to give a big portion of it to the then quite poor government so that a hospital could be built out of it. And all it took was this simple letter. You know, JUST LIKE THAT.
And that was how the construction of the hospital got materialized. He really thought it was much more worthy than leaving all the money to his offsprings who he believed might waste them over beer. Errr, literally.So, this is the man who had a place in heaven. I was just so inspired. The museum has quite so many things worth checking out. It is like traversing back through the evolution of medical history in Sarawak. Seriously, it is worth a drop-by. I was lucky to be in Sibu on the eve of the moon cake celebration. Being a pre-dominantly Chinese town, any Chinese celebration is BIG in Sibu.
The whole town seemed to be strapped in long strings of tang-lung, the colorful bulb lanterns. They are even more beautiful at night. I wonder how Sibu would look like during the Chinese New Year. Another place worth checking out in Sibu is its sprawling open market. Believe me, it is so big it makes the Sandakan wet market almost look like a public toilet. But be careful what you take photos. This lady here snarled at me when she saw me taking this picture. I hastily said 'Kitak mauk cuba kamera baru bahhh...' Errr, she seemed to understand my broken Sarawakian Sabahan Malay.Located under a multi-storey parking building (it's not really an open market then), it offers just about everything from the most commonly seen like bambangan in Sabah.. .
to the most unfamiliar ones.. No. They are not apple, nor sunkist, nor kedondong.. Not even tomatoe.. They are... EGGPLANT.. (they call it sweet eggplant).. usually cooked with salted fish..

Ohh, and for the first time in my life, I’d seen chicks wrapped up alive in such a take-away pattern, ready for a quick grab-away. I didn’t know that Sibu people could be so busy.

Another thing that was new to me was the existence of dabai – a fruit that is widely popular among the people in Sarawak but is hardly seen in any other Malaysian state. Errr, as far as I'm concerned.. It has that milky and oily taste of an olive. In order to be edible, it has to be soaked down in hot water, then mixed with salt or a combination of soy sauce and sugar. It wasn’t quite of its season when I was there so it was sold at a quite expensive price of RM15 per kilo. I was told that it is sold at as low as RM6 per kilo during its crop season.

It also makes a good ‘pusas’ for a drinking session. Errrr, anything eaten over alcoholic drinks is called pusas in Sabah..
I was taken to the opening night of a restaurant on my last night in Sibu. Offering a variety of Sarawakian traditional cuisines, the restaurant seems to be just on the right track of the business. The opening had seemed to be a good omen. There was a big turn-up. I got to have a drink with a bunch of Sarawakian people for the first time in so many years. It had been quite awhile I’d almost forgotten that they are just as boisterous as we are in Sabah when it comes to drinking. Or may be more.

After a few rounds of beer, with Barcardi Lemon and Scotch liquor in betweens, I had to brace from humiliating myself by spreading my puke out in front of the whole bunch. While they seemed to be effortlessly enjoying gorging more and more can of beer, there were a few times when the breaking point was almost reached. Seriously, if they were the pros, I was the amateur.
Luckily they were all married and at certain time HAD to go home. I was eventually spared from the humiliation.

While Sibu is a modest town where everything seems to be plain and mellow, they are certain places where you can still get cozy and errrr, classy. Well, if you need one, just head for the Café café.
The restaurant has been designed to bring up the air of privacy and intimacy to its visitors. It’d be great for couples too. It might look small from the outside but as you come in, it is quite a large room inside. There's even a room for group diners on the second floor! Just be careful when you make your order. Foods in Café Café are served in big portions that sharing a single dish can be a good idea. I mean, that was what I did with my friend Lizzie. Before heading back to the airport, somehow I came up with an idea of dropping by a music shop to buy this. Errrr, random pick.
I didn't know him and I didn't even know a single Iban singer. And believe me, there are so many of them that picking a VCD wasn't a simple task. Sarawak seems to be a prolific music producer. errrr, for Iban songs.
And this singer here must be the superstar because he seems to have the most CDs. He probably is like the Jamal Abdillah of Sarawak.
Well, never mind my misses with friends, I'm still glad I travelled down to Sibu. It was quite an eye-opening experience. While Sarawak is just bordered by a single line to Sabah, I've come to find out that there are so many things in Sarawak that are quite unknown to the people of Sabah or probably any other states in Malaysia.
Now an urge of doing another visit to Sarawak is already tugging inside me that I'm already planning my next trip to the neighbouring state, probably this time to its capital city - Kuching!


Anonymous said...

interesting post. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did anyone learn that some chinese hacker had hacked twitter yesterday again.

Anonymous said...

Ah, This is exactly what I was looking for! Clarifies
several contradictions I've heard

Anonymous said...

Ah, This is spot on! Clears up
some contradictions I've seen

Anonymous said...

great post!

crapper D said...

Thanks for composing something awesome !!! warm regards from me, a sibu ppl. =))))))

Ellen said...

I always do love your travel posts cause I feel like I can 'virtually' (eh, literally) taste the foods that you happen to sample/see. I've been culture-starved recently. This is just what I needed!

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Amazing places of the India to visit. One can also visit the awesome Pench reservoir to see the attraction of Pench and jungle safari.For more details visit pench safari online booking

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