Kuching Day 5 – India street and beyond

I was so absorbed with writing this morning I barely noticed the rain falling on my feet as I typed on the balcony at dawn overlooking the river. I think I’ve found my retirement place.

 I managed to finish documenting yesterdays’ activities before Simon and Laura woke, while dining on my version of High Tea – six morsels of different sticky rice cakes and fresh papaya. Laura surfaced and we had a good old gossip on the balcony staring out at the water, while waiting for Simon to stir. The Sarawak river changes directions with the tide and it’s mesmerizing to watch the little dinghies and fishing boats coming and going from 10 floors up.

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During our travels, yesterday we’d chatted to some locals outside a roti stall and promised we’d back some time for breakfast. Today was the day and we marched down there once everyone was up and ready. Small problem – it was raining and there was only one brolly in the house. Having purchased them a few days early Simon and Laura donned their very cheap and flimsy ponchos and we stopped at the nearest mixed business store to buy three umbrellas. Mission accomplished and onwards to the roti stall, although there was jostling of colours to suit outfits and a broken brolly before we’d even reached our destination.

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Hanging our rain gear on the security shutters of the café we sat down to egg and onion roti with chicken curry gravy for dunking, mine was eaten plain sans gravy. Black coffee and condensed milk roti to share followed just to top us up for the journey ahead. A great simple breakfast in a very friendly café.

The plan for this morning was to check out the India street area. Splashing in puddles and playing chicken crossing the roads full of busy weekend traffic we took a scenic route to get there poking about in back alleyways and admiring old buildings. India street has covered walkway so it’s more like a pedestrian mall and stalls, mostly selling clothing and trinkets, set up outside the shops. The whole thing is a bit tacky, the quality of clothing pretty ordinary and I wouldn’t touch the offerings on the food stalls. The whole area is a bit of a dud – in my opinion, so that part of the morning was a fizzer. However, the laneways behind, away from the river are much more interesting. Fruit and veg sellers set up on the pavement, $2 shops galore, and plenty of dried stinky fish on sale to create that unforgettable aroma as you walk by.    

It was getting close to lunch time and I was keen to try Warung Nusantara that we’d seen yesterday so we chose streets we hadn’t traversed previously, zig-zagging our way across that part of the neighbourhood. Seated at an outdoor table and surrounded by the beady eyes of local cats sitting under parked cars we prepared to make the most of this serve yourself café. Some in our group served themselves more than others! Lining up at the sales counter, our plates piled high with curries, the sales girl just laughed when trying to add up how many different dishes on Simon’s plate so she could charge the correct amount. She eventually guesses 10 on his and around 6 on mine and Laura’s. Still the whole lot only came to R23 ($6.50). Even with plates groaning Simon rushed off to the roti stand to order two onion roti as accompaniments. Needless to say, it was a very long lunch and for the first time in ages Simon did not clear his plate! Laura tried to lighten his embarrassment of leaving food by feeding chicken to the cats under our table and secreting a slab of fish in her handbag for other cats later.

From our lunch table, we could see a shopping complex across the street with a large sign in the 2nd floor window “Mr D.I.Y.” It was still a bit wet and we needed to digest before the walk home so a potter round an indoor mall seemed like a good idea. The mall looked brand new with many shops yet to be filled and it was freezing inside – the aircon up full blast. However, we made our way up to Mr DIY and spent a good hour looking at every shelf, picking things up saying isn’t this great, then putting them back saying we really didn’t need it. Homewares on steroids it was. Every conceivable thing for kitchens, bathrooms, pets, back to school, sports and of course tools for those DIY jobs. We retreated with only a plastic apron, some hair-ties, and very nearly, two pairs (4 to a pair) of dog socks for Simon and Laura’s mutts. Our retail therapy came to a total of $2!

 Feet sore and stomachs still groaning we decided to head home via our favourite Chinatown streets. Spotting a cat on a street corner Laura decided it was time to release the curried fish from her handbag. We quietly stepped past an old man lighting incense on the street and saying his prayers, crossing to the other side of the footpath before launching the fish at the cat. As the cat happily grabbed a chunk it was only then we realised the cat and precious fish were in the middle of the entrance into a carpark and someone wanted to drive in. We were laughing, the old man saying his prayers was trying not to laugh and the cat wasn’t budging. Luckily the driver also saw the funny side and carefully negotiated his was round a feasting cat and hysterical Australian tourists.

Most afternoons we’ve been resting, reading, snoozing, and chatting in the flat during the hottest part of the day. This afternoon Laura and I decided to look up flats for sale in the Riverine Sapphire complex where we are staying. We love our place so much here the thought of staying or returning to live seemed idyllic. A 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom unit on the 17th floor with river views exactly like ours on the 10th floor is selling for R800,000 (approx. AUD $250,000), We agreed to go halves then looked up the rules of Australian’s owning property in Malaysia. Still an ongoing investigation for us and a wonderful holiday day-dream.

The late afternoon snores abated from the main bedroom so I suggested a beer next door at the market. “Absolutely no food though – just beer”, Simon says. Laura and I hadn’t over indulged quite so much at lunchtime and were keen to try the things on sticks called Lok Lok meaning dip dip. A cold cabinet filled with morsels on sticks slides open for you to choose your own ingredients to cook. Meats, fish, bean curd, mushrooms and vegetables are all skewered like satays and you can choose steamed (boiled) or fried.

With Simon still determined not to eat, Laura and I mounted the platform to choose our sticks from the fridge. Not knowing what most of them were was half the fun but we got assistance with veg vs non-veg. The very kind but very busy proprietor made sure we were OK and talked us through it, making two piles of our choices – one for steaming and one for frying. Soon our cooked plate was delivered with two sauces for dipping, satay, and ketchup manis. Meanwhile Simon was re-visiting the grandma running the beer stall. She sits at a table outside her stall and struggles to her feet to retrieve and deliver drinks to patrons. “Sit, sit” he says and he helps himself to the beer fridge bring the money to her. She laughed and indicated she wished more people would do that so she didn’t have to get up from her chair.

Of course, the thieving fingers of Mr Pender couldn’t keep themselves away from our plate of nibbles but we did dine lightly, comparing it to an evening of cheese and bickies and a glass of wine around Mum and Dads’ kitchen table at Eltham. Bidding farewell to the man who’d fed us the last three nights and by-passing the sticky cake stall tonight we toddled off into the night back across the full carpark to our flat in the Riverine Sapphire apartment complex. We were already choosing what we’d have from his menu board tomorrow night.

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