The next morning, we woke up at a decent hour, and headed out for brunch. I dashed out to a little traffic junction nearby, just to take a photo of another cat monument (“Kuching” means “cat” in English). There is a cat monument right in front of the hotel, and just two streets down was the other cat monument (left and right pics below respectively). We just mooched around leisurely for the rest of the mid-morning until it was time for us to take a bus down to the Semenggok Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.
Kuching is actually a very organised city. The Tourist Information Centre down by the Main Bazaar had wonderful little maps of the city and outskirts, with tables and bus schedules. The city has also provided a free hop-on/hop-off bus within the city to tourist destinations.
We had planned to take the bus out to Semenggok. On the way to the bus stop, we walked through Jalan Tun Abang Haji Openg, passing by the entire length of the Courthouse, passing the Little Lebanon restaurant (pic above). Right after that was the Round Tower. The reason for its construction is apparently a “mystery” (according to the tourist information pamphlet). The pamphlet suggests that perhaps it was built as a fortress, due to its design. On the other hand, I suppose it could have been constructed just to juxtapose the Square Tower. It was used as a dispensary, but now houses the a section of the Judicial Department. I managed to get a picture of the Round Tower later on in the evening (right pic).
We passed the General Post Office, which has a pretty impressive facade, with its Corinthian columns (pic above). Right opposite it is the Pavillion, which was used as a hospital until 1947. It is quite an anomalous structure (pic below), a cross between colonial structure and late English renaissance like some houses found in the southern states of the USA. It is intriguing though, and I like it.
We soon found the bus stop. It then hit me that we were supposed to take a public bus out of town to the forest reserve. For some strange reason, I had assumed it was a special bus meant just for tourists (and probably free-of-charge, like the city tourist ‘tram’). RFD said he would have thought the same. I didn’t mind so much, thinking I would get an opportunity to see the suburbs. However, because the bus was packed, I found I only had a view of the cars passing right next to the bus. I got a place eventually, and got into conversation with a nice man, who comes from Petaling Jaya originally, but is now settled in Kuching (with PR and work permit and all).
We reached the Semenggok Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (left pic) in about an hour, with the sky a deep angry grey-blue. This put us off balance, since it was swelteringly hot when we left the city, with our shirts sticking to our backs. A large building was being built at the entrance to the rehab centre, what I would hope to be some large tourist information place, with a cafe for tourists to rest a bit after the bus journey, and before the 1km (or so) trek into the orangutan feeding area. We paid the nominal entrance fee, and made our way into the forest reserve.
The tarred path cut through virgin rainforest, with some specially cultivated areas for particular fauna and flora (and signs indicating what they were – pic above). Another great thing about Kuching is the signage. Much like Singapore, almost everything is in English, with the occassional few signs in Malay. This makes so much sense to the tourist, most of whom did not have Malay 101 as an option at school (sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, I am aware, and for that – I apologise).
It began to drizzle, and RFD and I were running up and down the path (for it was slopey). Soon, the rain came down in torrents, which caused us to take refuge under the staff quarters, literally, since they were houses on stilts (pics above – that’s me in the right pic, fyi). We mulled around for slightly more than half an hour before the rain abated. We then made a quick dash to the animal sanctuary, finding the place quite crowded with people (we had seen a number of vans and cars driving in as we crouched under the staff quarters). It wasn’t yet orangutan feeding time, so we mooched around soggily, but there didn’t seem to be much else to see, or anyone to show us around (or any place to tell us what there was to see aside from the orangutans). So we ended up standing patiently for the gate to be open.
We didn’t have to wait long, the keeper (dressed in a long yellow raincoat, with big yellow galoshes) opened the gate, carrying a huge sack, and everyone made a beeline for the trail leading into the forest. The walk was muddy and slippery and the foliage was dripping wet, but we gamely soldiered on for about five minutes. Another surprise for me that day was that we didn’t get to sit and feed the orangutans (which I have seen on so many documentaries), but instead, we were led to a shelter with a platform in a distance. The keeper made his way to the platform, over a slippery looking log (left pic above), and laid out the fruit (mostly bananas and mangoes, I think) on the platform (right pic above). He then called out (I couldn’t make out what he was shouting), and left the platform.
In a few minutes, we could see the top of the trees in the distance moving. Soon, we saw a shape moving on top of the trees. He peeked curiously down, then very gracefully moved down to the platform (pic above). This guy was huge! I was to later discover that his name was Ritchie, and was the dominant male in the pack. For a dominant male, he had a humble beginning, having been captured and abducted from the wild, and kept in a box for about eight years (I think). He was named after his rescuer.
Anyway, Ritchie glanced nonchalantly towards the crowd of cheering and jeering humans, and then promptly sat down with his back towards the crowd. People are weird animals. Despite signs saying “keep quiet” etc, most of the crowd of calling and shouting, as if it were a tame dog’s attention they were trying to attract. One bright lady was even clapping her hands loudly in a concerted effort to get to see Ritchie’s face.
Soon, Ritchie’s mate (and child) came swinging from the trees). She was much smaller than him, and the baby was barely discernable because of the distance. She was a very respectful spouse, holding on to the vine (or possibly rope) with one foot on the platform for awhile, before getting comfortable. Another orangutan was hovering over the treetops. The keeper passed him a banana, and he scuttled up the tree quickly (probably scared off by the clapping lady). Apparently this fella was waiting for Ritchie and his mate to finish up before chowing down.
Eventually, Ritchie’s mate left with her baby and four bananas in her mouth. Ritchie left about a minute or two after his mate left. Soon, the shy guy hovering above made his way down, as gracefully as Ritchie, to the platform. He stood with one leg on the platform, and one arm holding on to the vine (or rope), listening for awhile, before he began eating. His behaviour was really quite charming. He never let go of the vine, and his attitude was like “just one more, then I’ll go”, but he just kept on eating for a very long time. He was also pretty skilled at opening bananas with just one hand, quite amazing to watch.
By this time, the throngs of people had left, and RFD and I decided to go as well. Instead of taking the bus home, we took the easy route and called a cab. The caretaker was really quite kind and called us a cab, seeing how wet we were (and dirty too, due to the mud, and the dust gathered on us from the bus). We reached our hotel in about fifteen minutes, and just had a break.
While reading the newspaper, there was a write-up on Little Lebanon, and we decided to have dinner there. We walked along the river walkway down to the Courthouse. Kuching at night is really quite charming, the lights along the river bank, and the lighted old buildings really lent a quiet peaceful atmosphere to the place. We passed by the Square Tower (pic above) and Courthouse and finally reached Little Lebanon.
The restaurant itself was on the first floor of an annexe to the courthouse (I think – whatever it is, it is inbetween the Courthouse and the Round Tower). Sitting there on the balcony, looking down Lebuh Carpenter, I felt really quite relaxed. If only service had been better, and the food had suited my palate…
On the way back from dinner, I showed RFD Bishopsgate, and we discovered even more quaint and beautifully refurbished shoplots along Lebuh Carpenter; some were little cafes, and also a tea house with a huge tea pot outside. Kuching just seems to have so many secrets to discover…