Borneo – Strange Place – Strange Reminders Of Time Past

Recently my wife had work for the Malaysian Ministry of Education, which entailed her dashing around Malaysia like a mad thing – a few days here, a few days there.  I accompanied her on her peregrinations of course, even though I had retired by that time, so I was a gentleman of leisure, and happily passed my time in these places writing a blog I had in those days, and gently absorbing the pleasures of the places we were in.

Two of these places really appealed to me – for different reasons.

Kutching:  Singapore as it was.

The first was Kutching in Sarawak.   A small but active little city on the banks of a river.  I was wandering around it on my first visit there, and had a strong feeling of deja vu, which to begin with I couldn’t understand.

Kuching Street Scene
Kuching Street Scene

And then it came to me.   Kutching today is almost exactly how Singapore was in 1950 when I lived there.   Generally low buildings, very dirty and cheerfully chaotic, each ethnic group living and working in their own section of the city and the greater part of the street commerce taking place on the street rather than closed-off in shops.   It was a strange and mildly disturbing experience finding myself back in the word I had lived in when I was about 9 years old.

And it brought home to me strongly how much Singapore has changed since it belonged to us Brits.   For the better?   Not sure.  In some ways, certainly, but at the cost of the loss of its character I feel.

Labuan – Small but fine

The other place that intrigued me was the small island of Labuan, which is off the north western tip of Borneo, and is chiefly notable for being a free port and for being in the middle of an oil field.

The first means that it is full of “duty free” shops, so a great place to buy booze and smokes, the second means it is entirely surrounded by drilling rigs and full of oil workers of all nationalities.

It also had it curious characters too.  We stayed in one hotel on the sea front, which was about 200 meters from one of the other main hotels there, which belonged to two very rich young men.  Each of whom had a luxury sports car, one a Lamborghini, the other a Ferrari, (or something similar, not very good on car models) which they kept parked on the forecourt of their hotel.  Each evening, at about 7 pm, they leapt into their respective cars, and with much roaring and spinning of wheels, drove to our hotel, where they spent the evening drinking gently and talking to their friends, and then at about 11 pm, they leapt back into their monster cars and roared back to their hotel.  As far as I could tell that was the extent of the use they put those two cars to.

The two sports cars..... with one of the proud owners
The two sports cars….. with one of the proud owners

I came across another intriguing thing there.  In the centre of the town is a small grass covered square, with two small stone monuments in the centre, the first a memorial to a Japanese General who died in a plane crash during the war, the second being a statement of imperial arrogance that I found quite breath-taking.

It stated that Captain so and so had arrived on this island in about 1828 (or thereabouts) and that he had claimed the island for Queen Victoria in the name of his Admiral.  Wonderful arrogance indeed, the damn place as already inhabited by its own owners after all.  Howsoever, it remained British until some time in the early 1950’s I believe.

The other curious thing was a small graveyard in the botanical gardens, which was reserved for pirates!

Odd place – the world.

Share with us:

If you have wandered in these two places and have any thoughts about either of them, do share them here with us.

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