Nostalgic…

Next stop, China Street…

CS1

…which I remember was once, South China Street though I did not know where North was.

I had a friend there, his family ran a charcoal business in one of the shops along this street and his friends called him hoi thua kia (charcoal kid), so bad! With friends like those, who needs enemies, eh? But he did not mind though and took it very well. I walked round the place but no, I could not find any charcoal shop there anymore.

There were these very nice artworks…

CS2

…on the walls…

CS3

…probably a tribute to the old school tin-smiths…

CS4

…who still have their shops…

CS5

…along this street to this very day.

I walked to Lao Ya Keng

Lao Ya Keng

…but it looked kind of sad with so few customers and only a few stalls operating at the time and a kueh chap stall based at the shop beside it. This place used to enjoy brisk business with so many stalls to pick and choose – I remember I used to enjoy the kolo mee at a stall further in but I hear that now, different stalls open at different times in a day – a favourite is the pork satay in the afternoon at around 1.00 p.m. onwards. That certainly sounds like a very strange arrangement – people in the old days would start at the break of dawn and toil all day till night.

I did not see anything there that tickled my fancy so I crossed over to this restaurant…

Ann Lee Restaurant

…on the other side of the road. It sure brings back a whole lot of fond memories and the many times I went there for dinner, upstairs.

I remember once, I was there with some friends and they asked me to order a drink but I did not want any…and they asked again, suggesting that I could order a 7Up…and later, they asked once more, the third time. As we were leaving, I slipped on the first step of the wooden staircase and tumbled down one-third of the way. I stood up and slipped again…and by the time I stood up and slipped again the third time, I was already on the ground floor. I could not sit for a week after that! LOL!!! This is what the Sarawak Malays and Melanaus and the other ethnic races here call poonek. I did blog about this incident before here.

Sadly, the wooden staircase is no longer there – it is now covered with Italian tiles…

Ann Lee staircase

…a far cry from what it used to be and to me, it was such a disappointment to see that and they no longer run the restaurant upstairs either. At least in Sibu, our old school restaurant has enough following to keep it going!

I also remember that in the 70’s, I used to drop by here for the chicken rice with steamed chicken, char siew and siew yoke drowned in curry gravy and much to my delight, they still have it on their menu, the Hainan curry rice…

Ann Lee menu

…they call it. I asked the lady and she said that her parents took over in the early 80’s and when I told her, I used to eat this here in the 70’s, she said that would be the time of her grandparents. Gee!!! Imagine going back three generations!

I was so very full from the breakfast I had but I simply had to order a plate…

Ann Lee Hainan curry rice

…to enjoy for old times’ sake. I don’t know if it was because I was already feeling so full but I did not think it was all that nice – I did not derive any of the delight I used to feel when I ate it before.

I left the place feeling kind of sad – I suppose I would just have to accept that, like it or not, nothing stays the same.

ANN LEE RESTAURANT 安利酒樓 (1.558135, 110.346121) is located at No. 28, Carpenter Street in Kuching.

Back in the past…

After my breakfast that morning, I embarked on a very long walk and headed to The Kuching Waterfront where I strolled along leisurely, enjoying the early morning peace and quiet and the lovely scenery of the river and beyond, watching the tambangs (wooden boats) on the Sarawak River and sitting on the benches here and there to relax. After all, I had all the time in the world and was not in any hurry to go anywhere.

It was already 9.00 a.m. when I got to this building, the Chinese History Museum…

CHM1

…opposite the Tua Pek Kong Temple at the junction of Main Bazaar, Temple Street and Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman (that heads towards Padungan where the hotel I was staying in is located). The building was originally the Chinese Court set up by Rajah Charles Brooke, the 2nd White Rajah of Sarawak, and declared open on July 1st, 1912.

My timing was perfect as it had just opened for the day…

CHM2

…so I went in through the entrance…

CHM3

…located at the back, not facing the main road. There was a sign by the door that stated that photography was not allowed except with permission but it was too dark to take any decently-nice photographs, anyway and I did not see anybody around at the time to ask if I could snap a shot of a thing or two.

I only took one of this rickshaw…

CHM4

…and this old school coffee shop marble top table and rattan chairs…

CHM5

There were not many exhibits but I was tickled by the recording of the Foochow dialect in the section on the various Chinese communities. You press the button and you will hear a couple talking about the high prices of things and one of them said it did not matter, they would just have to work hard and scrimp and save for their children’s education. I thought that was so Foochow, true and true.

After I had come out of the museum, I went down Main Bazaar – I had a lot of friends staying above their families’ shops there in the 70’s. I spotted my friends’ family’s Guan Ho Leong optical shop that used to be at No. 56, now at the corner at the junction of Main Bazaar and this street…

BG1

…where some friends of mine also lived before.

Going up the other stretch past the Carpenter Street and Ewe Hai Street junction, one would be able to see the gate…

BG2

This plaque by the side…

BG3

 …explains why the road was thus named.

All this while, I thought the whole stretch of road was Carpenter Street right up to the temple at the very end where the road meets Wayang Street. I did not know that from this junction with Bishopgate onwards, the stretch where Kim Joo is, it is actually Ewe Hai Street. I guess we get to learn new things every day.

Nearby…

When I woke up that first morning in Kuching, at around 7.00 a.m., I walked to this shop…

Choon Hui 1

…located nearby, right around the corner and I was shocked to see all the illegally parked cars along the road outside even though it was still so early in the morning.

The place was FULL and I had to sit at a table where there was a young guy enjoying his bowl of Sarawak/Kuching laksa but after asking him, of course, and he said that he did not mind, a very nice young man who even took his leave politely when he was done after which, I had the whole table to myself.

I cannot recall exactly when the last time I came here was but I do remember it was before I retired and I was staying at the hotel next door, either conducting a course for English teachers or attending a workshop or seminar and early one morning, my very dear friend, Jimmy, since deceased – he passed away in a tragic road accident, and I walked over for breakfast. I don’t think I ever went back to the shop…

Choon Hui 2

…since, not even after all that publicity when the late Anthony Bourdain dropped by and fell in love with the Sarawak/Kuching laksa from this stall…

Laksa stall

…there especially when there are locals who will tell you that this one is not the best in the city and there are other nicer ones around. I did not go for the laksa though – for one thing, it was way too early and for another, we do have one place here with pretty good laksa and I would not want to go for anything we can go for anytime in town.

I went for the kolo mee instead even though we may have some wannabes in Sibu that come pretty close but some do not even know for a fact that when it comes to kolo mee, one has to give this chili soaked in vinegar dip…

Kolo mee chili vinegar dip

…not that bottled chili sauce that one would get with kampua mee.

I remember having the kolo mee here before and it was good and that morning, I asked for the special (RM6.00)…

Kolo mee

…and even though I would not say it was the best in town, it was definitely kolo mee, not kampua mee in disguise.

I also remember enjoying the popiah here before and despite the fact that I had just made my own at home over the weekend before coming over to Kuching, I could not resist ordering two (RM3.30 each)…

Popiah

…and it was served with this sweet sauce with bits of chili in it.

Yes, it was very nice…

Popiah, cross-section

…and I made up my mind there and then that I would walk over early Sunday morning before my flight back to Sibu to buy some to take home.

CHOON HUI CAFE 春园茶室 (1.552768, 110.354468) is located at No. 34, Jalan Ban Hock in Kuching to the left of the Hotel Grand Continental there.

Invitation…

The news that I would be going to Kuching spread like wild fire, or within the family, at least as I was keeping a low profile. Normally, when I go some place, I would keep very quiet about it until I come back home.

One of my cousins contacted me to invite me out but I told her not to bother as at that point in time, I did not know what my ex-Kanowit students had planned but she said that her mum (my late maternal uncle’s wife, my late mum’s second brother) insisted that we must go out for dinner. Eventually, it turned out that there was nothing on that night the day when I arrived so I accepted their invitation.

They took me here

Ah Tou

…and good grief!!! The place was packed and we were placed in the 7.30 p.m. “shift”! Despite the crowd, the people were super efficient and the food was served very fast.

The deep fried pork marinated with tau joo (fermented bean curd)…

Pork

…was perfectly done, not dry and hard like at some places here in Sibu and it was served with sambal belacan – that certainly was a winner!!!

The fried bihun (rice vermicelli)…

Bihun

…looked somewhat plain but much to my surprise, when I tried it, it was really very nice. I wonder what went into the cooking.

Their own-made tofu with minced pork on a hot sizzling plate…

Tofu

…was so good that I kept helping myself to it. It was their special tofu that appealled to me, great taste and nice smooth and soft texture. I think I did hear somebody say that this is one of their 招牌菜 (zhāopái cài), a signature dish of theirs.

The creamy prawns…

Prawns

…were very good as well and the midin (wild jungle fern)…

Midin

…was…like midin, nicely done, nothing to complain about.

By the time the curry fish…

Curry fish

…was served, I was really way too full to eat much of it and I guess everybody else was filling that same way too. I think in the end, most of it was packed for them to take home.

That certainly was a splendid and most delightful dinner on my first night in Kuching and I do think that it does live up to its name – according to one of my cousins, it is one of the Top 5 seafood restaurants in Kuching, thank you so much, Auntie Grace and family for the treat.

AH TOU SEAFOOD 阿頭海鮮 (1.50351, 110.35043) is located at 48, 900B, SEDC Woodhouse in what is called the BDC RH Plaza area of shops at Jalan Song.

Ember…

When I reached Kuching that day, a cousin of mine picked me up at the airport and after picking up her sister at her place of work as well, we made our way to visit a maternal uncle of mine, my late mum’s youngest brother, and his family. We stayed there briefly and chatted for a while before we went for lunch here…

Ember 1

a place recommended by a friend of ours on Facebook. In his Google review, he gave it four stars and commented, “Really excellent bbq’ed roast pork and char sio. Very good otak otak too!

The rice…

Ember 2

…was decent and I must say the meat platter…

Ember 3

…that we shared was really good.

The char siew

Ember 4

…was very much to my liking especially when we can’t get decently good ones in Sibu but it fell short of the much higher expectations of my two cousins. I guess they know of other places where they can get something nicer. I would prefer it sliced thinly though like what they put on top of their kolo mee.

The siew yoke

Ember 5

…however, got their nod of approval and yes, I thought it was really good too.

This certainly took us by surprise, their otak otak

Ember 6

…because they certainly looked bigger in the photos that we saw. These were finger size, so very small but only RM2.50 each and yes, I loved them a lot, something like a cross between the Muar and the Penang ones, not exactly like one or the other and definitely not the same as the out-of-this-world Payung ones here in Sibu.

They were out of organic chicken so their steamed chicken was not available that day. I had a plate of rice all to myself while the two sisters shared another plate but one of the empty plates given for them to use was chipped and my cousin got them to change it. It is good that many places do not use those hideous plastic or melamine plates but I do wish they would be more careful with their ceramic ones and if they are chipped, they should get rid of them. Some of those in this line of business do not seem to realise that such things do give a place a bad name.

After our lunch – the bill came up to a little over RM40.00 – we made our way to visit my cousins’ mum, my late maternal uncle’s (my late mum’s eldest brother) wife before they took me to the hotel.

EMBER TRADITIONAL CHARCOAL COOKING (1.517652, 110.366673) is located at Jalan Song, Tabuan Heights in Kuching.

If only for a while…

On Wednesday last week, I flew over to Kuching for a few days to attend my ex-Kanowit student’s daughter’s wedding. Do stick around for all the subsequent posts on this trip.

I took the World’s No. 1 low-cost airline – they will not miss telling you, their captive audience, when you’re on their flights. I booked my “tickets” online and the airfare to Kuching was only over RM70.00 and the return, over RM90.00 but after clicking here and there and doing this and that, the total with some charges thrown in came up to over RM280.00. That was perfectly all right with me as I had hardly travelled anywhere for quite sometime now and besides, I had not seen my ex-student and some of the others for 40 years – I sure was looking forward to seeing them again.

I bought the value pack which would entitle me to certain privileges including insurance and a free meal…

AA FM1

…even though, it was going to be such a short flight and I would not need to eat anything en route. They passed me everything in a bag and I took it to the hotel with me. This was one very rare occasion when I ate anything vegetarian…

AA FM 1b

…and it was rather nice, something like sweet and sour meat. I had expected those chunks to be pumpkin and soft but the texture turned out to be something like tofu and yes, I did enjoy it when I finally got down to eating it much later.

It was a very pleasant flight – I managed to check in and drop my baggage off even though I had to do it all by myself now at the kiosk and at the counter. They no longer ask passengers to line up in groups according to their seats but boarding was all very smooth and orderly and we arrived in Kuching…

Kuching 1

…10 minutes ahead of schedule. Ain’t that great?

I put up at this hotel that I do like a lot and I had stayed there many times before. I asked for a deluxe queen room, RM88.00 per night, and I specially requested for Room 303 because I liked the arrangement of the room plus it was near the lift, no need to walk too far…and yes, when I checked in, I was given that very room! Other than that, they still have my particulars in their record so when I called them to make the booking, it was such a breeze and it was done in no time at all.

This is new…

360 Xpress City Centre award

– it looked like they just won an award from Traveloka. and this time around, there is free wifi in the privacy of your own room, no need to go online on their PC’s in the lobby.

My flight back from Kuching was even faster – it landed in Sibu 25 minutes ahead of schedule. Unlike in Sibu, we were asked to line up in groups there but we had to use the stairs whereas that day, in Sibu, we had the convenience of using the aerobridge.

This time around, I was given this…

AA FM 2

…and my girl loved it! It had the fragrances of all those lovely Indian spices…

AA FM 2b

…but personally, I liked the previous one more. Unfortunately, they will not let you pick your complimentary meal when you opt for their value pack but you are allowed to change if you are willing to pay for it.

I had a most delightful 4-night stay in Kuching…

Tambang

…and I sure am looking forward to the next opportunity when I can hop over again even if it’s only for a while.

360 Xpress City Center Hotel (1.554731, 110.352754)  is conveniently located in the Padungan area of Kuching city centre at Wisma Phoenix, Jalan Song Thian Chiok.

It doesn’t matter anymore…

In the late 70’s, I was posted to teach in a school in Kanowit. I stayed in a small rented room above one of the shops with nothing else other than a bed and a writing table…and a small table fan. I was literally living out of a suitcase and no, I did not have a tv.

Those were the days of black and white tv and being musically-inclined, there was a weekly programme that I particularly liked at around 5.30 p.m. on Sundays, Ready To Roll, a top hits chart show from New Zealand, if I am not wrong, and I do recall that this song, the cover by some girly singer, was Number 1 for a few weeks.

In order that I could watch the show, I had to go to a coffee shop in that little town to join many others there and because this song was not the favourite of everybody else except me and it was very long, they would all moan and groan and declare that when the song came on, it would be a good time to go to the washroom.

Anyway, the title of the song that I have used for this post makes me think of what we had to go through week after week after week picking my girl from her school in the jungle and bringing her home on Fridays and sending her back on Sundays and to say that driving on the still-under-construction Pan-Borneo Highway, otherwise known as the Pain-Borneo Hellway, was a nightmare would be an understatement. Well, the good news is, as the song goes, it doesn’t matter anymore!

The official letter was released on Tuesday, 11th June, 2019 and my girl was supposed to report in her new school on that day itself. However, it so happened that even though a copy of the letter had arrived at the office in Selangau, there was nobody dropping by that day to collect the mail so she could not leave her station just yet.

That was why on Wednesday, 12th June, 2019, my missus and I made our way to the school, stopping by the office along the way to get the official copy of the letter, duly endorsed by the officer…and before school was dismissed that very day, there was a special assembly to bid farewell to their teacher and she would be walking along that wooden bridge from her quarters…

SK Sg Sepiring

…to the car one last time after over 6 years since the day she reported for duty in March 2013.

I did notice when we sent her back to her school on Monday, after the two-week mid-year break, that the road had greatly improved…

PBH 1

…unlike the horrendous conditions in the first half of the year and it was getting worse by the day.

Now, many parts have been completed…

PBH 2

…and are open for use…

PBH 3

…already and even though there are still those sections that are in a rather deplorable state, these good stretches…

PBH 4

…are indeed a welcome relief.

I don’t know if these are going to be part of THE highway eventually or only temporary but whatever it is, I will no longer be going that way again, praise the Lord, and I’ve said it already and I’ll say it again – it doesn’t matter anymore!