By Sim Kwang Yang
I have just returned to my Cheras home after about a week’s visit to my home town of Kuching. This time around, home coming was a very ambiguous experience.
Of course, I used to know Cat City inside out, having lived there most of my life, and served three terms as the MP of the people there. One grows deep roots in the local community that way. It is a small town of about half a million where everybody knows personally or hears of everybody else anyway.
All the good things about Kuching have remained unchanged.
The old city centre has not changed much. The people are still very friendly, and racial alienation does not exist. The weather is really agreeable, and a bowl of kolok mee still costs RM2.50. There is no traffic jam to speak of, though local drivers complain about the worsening traffic — they have not lived and worked in KL. Parking is never any problem, and the parking fee is something like 20 cents per hour.
The roads and public spaces are empty most of the time. You will never see the kind of international mad crowd in KL city centre. Foreign workers are few and far between. People in this city have the time and space to be nice to one another.
The newspapers are unreadable, but that is nothing new.
There has indeed been nothing new in Kuching for a long time, and that stands out after I have stayed in KL, where nothing stands still. The only change in Kuching is that there are a few tall new buildings, some monstrous luxury hotels, and housing estates sprawling up country, all the way to rural Batu Kawa and Muara Tuang.
But I am happy Kuching has not changed that much. Ironically, that is also a sad reflection that Sarawak has not had much socio-economic development. No wonder so many Sarawak youths are now joining an exodus to Singapore and West Malaysia in search of better job prospects.
But Sarawak has also changed in some ways.
The taxi driver who took me from the hotel to the Kuching Airport was a man in his 50s, old enough to recognise my face. Like most taxi-drivers, he struck up a cosy conversation with me like long-time friends who have never separated, as is the Kuching way.
I asked him about the girls from China, since as a taxi driver, he would know such things intimately.
“Ah,” he proclaimed enthusiastically, “They were not here when you were here. This is the new big trend in Kuching now. There must be over 100 massage parlours now, in Kuching, and at least 1000 of these Little Dragon Girls working in them and in hotels.”
I ventured my own information gleaned from the legendary coffee shops. “I heard there are 195 massage parlours, and 3000 Chinese girls from mainland China enter Sarawak every month! They are now the hottest commodities in our town!”
He said, “I am not sure about the exact number of these China dolls. But there must be thousands. They stay in their favourite hotels, like GC, FP and PH for a few nights and then they move. They have local agents to look after them and procure clients for them.”
At night, after mid-night, these girls descend on a few local eateries in hoards after work. They are crazy about eating crabs. Apparently, back in China, crabs are beyond the means of poor villagers.
“The massage parlours can be very large, made up of from three to six shop houses. I think the fee is from RM50 to RM60 per session to well over RM100, depending on the duration and the package of service you choose. The girls in most legitimate places offer above-board massage services, but they must have negotiated private deals with their regular customers on the side.”
Then he told me, “I used to send them here and there. They go in a group and they talk Mandarin, and I hear all their conversation. Sometimes I send them to the money changers and banks and discuss how much they are remitting money home to China.”
“They can send up to RM10,000 to RM20,000 back to China!’ I gasped.
This taxi driver was apparently keen to share his trade secret with his long-lost ex-MP friend, and more revelations were coming forth.
He said, “These girls may look glamorous and all that. But they all have husbands and children back in China. They sit at the back of my cab and discuss how their husbands and children are doing back home in the Chinese village.”
“Some of them have very rich “Chai Tao” (vegetable head), meaning “sugar daddy”. They would sit in my cab and call their man, and said, “Lao Gung (meaning “Abang” or “husband”, I have no clothes to wear. My fridge is empty.” Then the man would send her a few hundred Ringgit.”
“Sometimes the rich sugar daddy would fly in from Miri or Sibu, and spend a night or two with this China doll, and return to his regular life again.”
I asked, “Has any family been wrecked by these China dolls?”
“Of course,” he replied, “but you know how it is. Many of the Chinese men who patronise these China dolls know how to wipe their mouth after curi makan.”
We did not discuss why the police and immigration people in Sarawak are so blind to this obvious social anomaly in Sarawak. We are Sarawakians, and we know Sarawak well. By that time, my cab had arrived at the Kuching International Airport anyway. The fare was RM25.
I went to the Immigration counter, where a young Malay lady in a tudung asked for my immigration slip. I told her I was an Anak Sarawak. She looked at my IC again, and with the sweetest smile and the best Mandarin that you can find in Malaysia. She said sorry and wished me a good journey.”
That is Sarawak for you, unique, pleasant, quaint, and yet ambiguous always.