Hornbill Unleashed

December 30, 2009

S’wak, Sabah – beautiful states wrecked by bad politics

By Sim Kwang Yang


46 years ago on 16 September, Sarawak and Sabah declared themselves a part of the new federation of Malaysia.

I should know; I was a scrappy 15-year-old young lad roaming the streets of Kuching.

Together with a bunch of equally scrappy boys in the neighbourhood, we sauntered down to the fort at the river side opposite the famous clock tower in the town centre on that fateful day near mid-night.

We watched in silence as the Union jack was lowered for the last time, and the new Malaysian flag was raised for the first time.

We walked home through the deserted streets of Kuching, as Stephen Kalong Ningkan, an Iban and the first Chief Minister of Sarawak, spoke about independence on the radio.

Television was still a distant reality then.

Looking back 46 years later, I am quite amazed at how Sarawak has indeed progressed.

Kuching has grown from a small town to a large city of half a million, with all the modern amenities that a city can offer.

Only an old timer like me can make that comparison and say how much we have gone forward materially since the time of colonial rule.

Only Sabahans and Sarawakians know the secret, that these two eastern states of Malaysia are the most liveable places on this good earth.

These two states are huge, and sparsely populated. They are covered by one of the world’s oldest primary forests which are reputed to be 100 million years old.

Half of the world’s living species are to be found in them.

God’s gift, man’s greed

Unfortunately, decades of indiscriminate logging has destroyed much of this most precious natural heritage handed by God to Sabahans and Sarawakians.

Socially and culturally, Sarawak and Sabah feel like a whole universe apart from the rest of Malaysia.

The Malays are slightly over 20 percent in both these state and they live mainly along the coastal areas.

sabah forest trees kinabatangan meliau reserve 240509 06They are worlds apart from the Malays in West Malaysia in their language, in their relationship with their ethnic neighbours, and in their political outlook.

Though very devout in their Islamic faith too, they have never embraced the kind of radical fundamentalism so rampant in West Malaysian states.

Most Sarawakians speak more than two or three languages. (I can speak four and a bunch of Chinese dialects.)

Daily social interaction between the races is the norm, in the market place, in the office, and in the homes.

30 percent of the marriages every year are inter-racial marriages.

Many friends of mine have mixed blood, and that improves their stock I think, because I still think Sarawak ladies are the most attractive Malaysian ladies in our land.

But then, I am hardly impartial!

This has remained a deep secret in Malaysia.

Most of my friends in West Malaysia have never visited Sarawak or Sabah.

Those who make brief visits on business cannot understand the subtle way of life of the locals.

The West Malaysian Chinese who visit Kuching will always look and sound like sore thumbs among the local Chinese.

Cantonese are the rare breed there.

Worlds’ apart in everything

I have known of many government officers posted from West Malaysia to Sarawak.

More than a few of them fall in love with the land, get married there, and stay on forever.

Even the food is very distinctive there in Sarawak.

The local hawker favourite is the Sarawak version of laksa, which is a world away from the laksa you find in Penang or elsewhere.

sabah forest trees kinabatangan meliau reserve 240509 03I think they put some kind of addictive drug inside, because some Sarawakians eat it everyday for breakfast.

I would.Then there is their version of kolo mee, which I can also eat everyday.

I have been a permanent resident of KL for 9 years, and I still have not gotten used to the Cantonese version of wanton mee.

Of course, the Foochow in Sibu will claim that their kampan mee is the best hawker fare in the world.

Be warned. Once you have eaten a plate of kampan mee, it will feel like a blob of mud sitting in your stomach.

The last I had one plate of this Foochow mee, it cost me only RM1.20!

Seafood is cheap and aplenty in those eastern states with very long coastlines and continental shelves.

Naturally, fishermen are suffering there because of bad government policies. But economically depressed Sarawakians and Sabahans can still enjoy cheap bountiful and fresh seafood the rich in the Klang valley can only dream of.

Abundance of diversity and variety

There are local food items in Sarawak that I cannot find in KL.

There is a wild fern there called midin.

sabah forest trees kinabatangan meliau reserve 240509 01Sarawakian housewives will just walk into the surrounding jungle after a heavy rainy season, and these ferns will grow wild in abundance on rotting tree trunks.

Fried with sambal belacan or just salt, it makes a heavenly dish.

I wonder why there has not been a Sarawakian entrepreneur in Sarawak who will start exporting this fern to the posh restaurants in Kuala Lumpur?

Sarawak and Sabah have a thriving eco-tourism industry that has attracted many film makers ranging from travel TV magazines and food channels.

Ian Wright was in an Iban longhouse and he looked like a complete alien there.

Sadly, Malaysian TV stations have given the Sarawakian and Sabahan natural beauty a wide berth and so tourists from West Malaysia prefer to visit China and Europe rather than the most beautiful places on earth in East Malaysia.

Perhaps West Malaysian tourists are more interested in shopping than in nature.

I have grown old with Malaysia.

The bluest sky ever

I do not have many dreams left. One of my last few dreams is to live in the Sarawak jungle somewhere, with friendly native neighbours, with trees, birds and sprawling vegetation all around me.

It will be nice to keep some pets, rear some chicken and ducks, and grow some vegetables and flowers.

If there is enough land, then I can plant some teak trees for profit.

sabah forest trees kinabatangan meliau reserve 240509 05But like hundreds of thousands of Sarawakians, I have to come to KL to ‘cari makan’, because the wealth of Sarawak has been sucked dry by a handful of politicians and their crony capitalist friends.

So I just dream about returning to the land of my birth, the Bumi Kenyalang that nourished me, and the land dearest to me heart.

I am returning for a visit at the end of this month. I shall see many old friends, especially the 86 year old Tua Kampong Ahmad Sahari at Kampong Pandan near Lundu.

I cannot wait to see him in his small wooden house by the Pandan Beach, facing the rolling salty South China Sea.

The sky over his house must be the most beautiful corner of the entire universe.

Sarawak and Sabah are the most beautiful countries (meaning landscapes, not political entities) in the world that have been ravaged by bad primitive and corrupt politics.

That is why I stay away from talking about politics to-day so as not to spoil my good mood for the personal memory of 46 years ago.


  1. I delight in, result in I found just what I was looking for.

    You’ve ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man.
    Have a nice day. Bye

    Comment by penang map — January 10, 2014 @ 6:52 PM | Reply

  2. It’s with regret and sadness that I write this from a land far,far, away from my country of birth,Sarawak.
    I too have fond memories of what it was like to have friends of all races in an almost idyllic setting in Kucing in the 50’s and 60’s.

    We had no inkling of what was to come;all created by UMNO and its crazy ideology of Ketuanan melayu and Bumiputraism, discriminating against non-Malay/bumi,non-Muslim minorities!

    I had felt compelled to pull my family out of KL and it was no mean feat even if I were to say so myself;the greatest achievement of my life , to be able to remove them from a stifling and almost Nazi-like atmosphere in KL to the safe and free civil society in an alien land whose peoples have welcomed us as one of their own, without batting an eyelid of our racial or religious background.We had never felt so free and equal in every respect!

    Sky was my Head Prefect at SJS,Kch, a full 5 years ahead and yes, I was also cari-ing makanan in KL. We never met up but 30 yrs ago I was on the opposite side of the political divide due to fate…..there was high hopes for a young and emerging ‘country’; why even Leo Moggie had high hopes for the Iban ‘nationalists’.But alas, despite the laksa,midin and kolo or kampua mee, we have been bamboozled by corrupt and evil and greedy politicians who have robbed the citizenry blind!

    God Bless SKY,and God Bless Sarawak,may the future be a good one for you all.

    Comment by Patrick — October 30, 2010 @ 1:58 PM | Reply

  3. I have not ventured to Hornbill Unleashed for almost 6 months for personal reasons, but I was saden to read from a forwarded email that SKY has suffered a stroke and will not be able to contribute any more writings to the blog. I wish to take this write up to wish him all the best and speedy recovery from his unfortunate mishap.
    from Hope

    Comment by Lawence Lee — August 29, 2010 @ 2:20 PM | Reply

    • Dear Lawence Lee,

      Thank for your concern, SKY is recovering well and will start writing soon. but it will be slow and not so frequent. Thank for visiting HU again.

      Comment by Hornbill Unleashed — August 29, 2010 @ 3:44 PM | Reply

  4. One of my last few dreams is to live in the Sarawak jungle somewhere, with friendly native neighbours, with trees, birds and sprawling vegetation all around me.

    Funny you should that SKY!

    I had thought of that a couple of years ago. Anywhere, where there’s kampung and woods. It would be nice to bring the world to them though in a kind of light that’s different. I guess we should be able to get connected everywhere from wherever in the next 5 to 10 years.

    There are other kampungs, too, across the world, and we might not feel as strangers even elsewhere.

    Stay well, Man! ūüėÄ

    Comment by Watch — August 17, 2010 @ 11:33 PM | Reply

  5. Yeah, SKY is right. We need to do something right about Sarawak’s wealth – i.e. at the coming state election.

    Compared to other cities & towns in Malaysia, Kuching is still cleaner and tidier, but that is beginning to wear away. KL City Hall does a terrible job at making KL more pleasant – just look at the dirty food stalls all over from Cheras to Ampang to Setapak to Damansara. Lets hope Kuching don’t grow dirty roadside food stalls all over.

    But whatever Kuching and Sarawak become, it’s all in our hands.

    Comment by Peen Keening — January 1, 2010 @ 3:34 PM | Reply

  6. Kuching is not the whole of Sarawak. Sarawak is not only Kuching. Rural Sarawak used to be a Mini Paradise. But not anymore after those monitor lizards in Kuching bulldozed the ancient forest and plundered the rich land and rivers. Hospitality is second to none. Racial intergration is the envy of the Semenanjung folks.

    Comment by uko da — January 1, 2010 @ 4:03 AM | Reply

  7. Sarawak truly is God’s gift and sadly man’s greed has destroyed the land of the hornbill.

    Yet fear not, the end days of the Power-that-be is at hand. The power of beloved ‘rakyat’ of Sarawak and Sabah will soon be unleashed during the next GE. Show your power, oh beloved sons and daughters of the land of the Hornbill and the land below the wind.

    Comment by PH Chin — December 31, 2009 @ 12:41 PM | Reply

  8. oh midin! tried it 1st time with spicy belacan & fell in love with it straight away! not too fancy with that version with red wine bcos i prefer spicy food. good idea if someone starts to xport midin out of sarawak … dun fancy kolo mee, too oily for me. kucing laksa tastes a lot of curry powder, not my idea of lemak laksa with c-hum + taupok + chicken or prawns. this probably an acquired taste … for seafood, i still think the west peninsula still has better & cheaper options. life in kucing is pretty slow-pace, as kopitiam closes way b4 2 pm *made enuf for the day* … & wow, no nid to pay toll during VVIP’s birthday *never happened here* *grin*.

    Comment by pinsysu — December 30, 2009 @ 4:15 PM | Reply

  9. Yes, I visited both this state in Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. My visitation was working duties and I love traveling to smaller town/cities, East M’sia. Bring me memories back when I was young, this feeling have been lost inside me when I am back to West M’sia. We are divided by the sea of S.C.S (South China Sea) and there plenty of places I have not visited, so much more to discover about Sabah and Sarawak. I look forward to visit/meet/see the place, people, buildings, wow… and also I want to taste the food in Sabah and Sarawak offer, so much to write of…… etc.
    I love Malaysia it’s my home, but only if….. changes come…..

    Comment by Felix Wang — December 30, 2009 @ 2:55 PM | Reply

  10. […] to the “wolves in sheep skins in the party. As former MP Sim Kwang Yang who not only pens for Hornbill Unleashed but also the internet portal¬† Malaysiakini¬†I quote this especially from his current article,’ We witness how men and women in political […]

    Pingback by Wolves…”Gracious After Defeat” « Audie61’s Weblog — December 30, 2009 @ 12:49 PM | Reply

  11. SKY,
    Your previous post “I can eat with you” touched me that only a ‘far away from home’ Sarawakian can felt.
    Please have a follow up post after your visit with Tua Kampong Ahmad Sahari.
    Thanks again for the memories.

    Comment by Faraway Sarawakian — December 30, 2009 @ 12:24 PM | Reply

  12. SKY,
    Midin need to be ultra fresh – they turn dark pretty quickly, hence it might be difficult to airlift for sale in KL. Indeed Sarawak is God’s own country (borrowing the phrase from New Zealand), there have been development but the proper wealth of Sarawak have been hijacked for so long. I too am transplanted in KL out of the cari makan necessity. Have a great new year, SKY and shalom to you.

    Comment by vincent — December 30, 2009 @ 8:02 AM | Reply

    • There are midin in WM as well. They are just not acknowledged as food here but weeds. I saw them growing along the way to Penang and Mersing…

      Comment by dee — December 31, 2009 @ 12:26 AM | Reply

  13. Yes, we can eat Laksa everyday, i suspect addictive added as well :D. What a beautiful land my beloved Sarawak.

    Comment by Another Sarawakian — December 30, 2009 @ 12:40 AM | Reply

    • We will never find out if Sarawak is better off if the late termengong Jugah,Ling beng siew,Stephen Yong,Ong kee Hui had not signed their agreement in London to join Malaya.
      Yes we can identify food like Laksa and Kolo mee with kuching.Thats about it really.Kuching urban is not what it used to be.The city is dirty,congested with cars.kuchingities are getting obnoxious,unfriendly.Those beautiful trees are long chopped down by Tua Pek Kong.People lost patient while driving.A few murder cases suggested that kuching is no long a safe dwellving place.Inflations are everywhere.A laksa cost you RM4.50 and Kolo mee is as high as RM3 per plate.It is a cultural dessert,Not a single decent bookstore,concert hall or art gallery.All you have is ugly onion shaped buildings like DUN and much talked about Borneo convention centre which is hidden far away,somewhere near the palace.
      Stay away from kuching city by all means.It is a dead city for dead souls.It kills ones intellectual abilibty and stimulations.Perhaps too much of laksa nad kolo mee kills the brain cells.Or kuching dirty air shrunk their brains.

      Comment by Akai — December 30, 2009 @ 3:28 PM | Reply

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