Kuching – Day 2: October 22, 2012

The room was very cold. Turning up the thermostat did not make any difference. Victor had to wrap me up to keep me warm. I did not sleep very well. The unfamiliar mattress and pillows exacerbated the situation. The room also reeked of stale cigarette smoke odour. Why the hotel allowed guests to smoke in the room and stink it up is beyond my comprehension.

Toasts, butter, baked beans and sunny side up
My favourite breakfast.
Photo taken with Samsung Galaxy S III.

At first light, I got up to get ready for breakfast. I am not a breakfast person but I needed the energy and also to ensure that my blood glucose level is maintained. My favourite is a sandwich of toasted bread with a generous spread of butter, scrambled eggs and baked beans. The scrambled eggs did not look appetising. Victor recommended the sunny side up instead which was not a bad choice actually.

By the time I arrived at the seminar room, it was already teeming with participants. I went to check on my slides. Everything was in order. With half an hour more to go, I went back to my room which was on the same floor to catheterise and to put on a jacket. Good thing I decided to don a jacket for this event. Even with that many people, it was still freezing cold in the seminar room.

Peter Tan conducting a Disability Equality Training in Kuching, Sarawak
Peter Tan conducting Disability Equality Training (DET) at the Sarawak Supported Employment Seminar in Kuching.
Photo by Victor Chin.

The session went well with active involvement from the participants. The topic of “What is disability?” focused on the causes of disability, the difference between impairment and disability, the Medical Model of Disability and Social Model of Disability. The 150 participants were from Community-Based Rehabilitation centres and Non-Governmental Organisation all over Sarawak.

Peter Tan conducting a Disability Equality Training session in Kuching, Sarawak
View from the back of the seminar room.
Photo by Victor Chin.

When I was about to conclude, to my horror, the LCD projector lost video signal. My heart skipped several beats as the climax of the entire session hung on the few slides that I had yet to show. I did not realise that the laptop was being powered by battery. It was plugged back to the main power supply and rebooted. Fortunately, everything went on smoothly after that for me to wrap the session up.

Meeting Pierce for the first time
Pierce and I have known each other online for 9 years but this was the first time we met face to face.
Photo by Victor Chin.

The highlight of the day was meeting Pierce. We got acquainted from our blogging days about 9 years ago. He was very vocal in supporting disability rights that I was advocating for. Then Facebook came along and we got better connected via social media. When I had problems with Streamyx, he put me through to the proper channels to resolve those issues. He is one of those angels that is always looking out for me. Thank you, Pierce!

Joanna, who was there to cover the seminar, had a few more interview questions for me. Together with Pierce, we found a quieter spot in the Secretariat Room to continue with our conversation. After Joanna left to follow the other session of the seminar, Pierce and I continued with our conversations right through lunch. And then he offered to drop Victor and I off at the airport as we wanted to get there earlier than the pre-arranged time.

Cemetery along the way to the Kuching International Airport
There were several of such cemeteries along the way to the Kuching International Airport.

Pierce took a longer than usual route to the airport to avoid the traffic jam. It was scenic as it was macabre. There were several cemeteries by the road along the journey. The graves were well maintained though unlike those in Penang that were usually overgrown with lalang. We reached the airport with two hours to spare before boarding. While Pierce went to park the car, Victor and I went to check in my luggage.

We had problem using the the self check-in terminal as my ticket was tagged with special service request. A very helpful Malaysia Airlines counter staff helped check us in and put in a note for an aisle chair at the boarding gate.

With some time to kill still, Pierce, Victor and I lounged at Starbucks for a while. Pierce is a veritable tome of good Kuching food. I hope he will be our guide when I return to the city the next time. I appreciate the fact that he spent his entire day with us, from my early morning session at the seminar, then sending us to the airport and hanging out with us again until we had to get to the boarding lounge. That surely must be Sarawak hospitality at its best!

Waiting to board at the Kuching International Airport
Our ride home at the Kuching International Airport.

The journey back was uneventful. I tried to catch forty winks in the plane but the thought of being able to see Wuan and the cats again kept me awake. My fear of the wheelchair being mishandled was unfounded. The ground crew were very professional in managing it.

Victor must be credited for making this trip possible for me. Without his support, I would have to reject the invitation. He had made it easy for me to do what I was there for while he managed the rest.

I would also like to thank the team from JICA, especially Terumi for the travel arrangements, Swee Lan for the support during the seminar and the officers from the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Negeri Sarawak, namely Puan Hadiah, Penolong Pengarah Seksyen Orang Kurang Upaya, for the hospitality. I will definitely make a trip back to Kuching to enjoy the sights and sounds and savour the food that this city has to offer.

Kuching – Day 1 Part 2 of 2: October 21, 2012

Our flight landed at the Kuching International Airport 25 minutes late as it arrived late at KLIA from Changi earlier. A short while after the aircraft docked, I saw a ground crew lugging my wheelchair up the stairs into the aeroridge.

Wheelchair being delivered to the boarding gate after landing
Malaysia Airlines ground crew delivering my wheelchair to the boarding gate at Kuching International Airport.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

I got off the plane in less than 10 minutes after the last passenger stepped off. It was faster than I had expected. As soon as I transferred to my wheelchair, I checked to see if all parts were intact. I ran my fingers over each and every of the fibre spokes. None were broken. I leaned forward to see if the casters fluttered as I was being pushed to the baggage claim area. They rolled smoothly. Fluttering casters indicate a bent fork or worse, a damaged frame. I breathed a sigh of relief.

We were greeted by the officers from the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat Negeri Sarawak outside the arrival hall. They were there to take us to the Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites, the venue of the seminar and also our place of accommodation. In the same vehicle with Victor and I were Katsura Oikawa, Chief Advisor on Project to Support Participation of Persons with Disabilities (Phase II) to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and Terumi Shikata, JKM-JICA Project Coordinator. We were in the same flight from Kuala Lumpur just now.

Somewhere near Kuching International Airport
First view of Kuching somewhere near the Kuching International Airport.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

When we got to our room in the hotel I discovered that my wheelchair could barely fit through the bathroom door. I could go in as far as the basin counter only. The toilet bowl blocked the way to the shower area. As I catheterised, I wondered how I could get past the toilet bowl to take a shower. Obviously, that was not an accessible room.

Meeting Phyllis and Joanna for the first time
Joanna Yap, Phyllis Wong, Victor Chin and Peter Tan at Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites, Kuching, Sarawak.

First order of the day in Kuching was a meet up with Phyllis for lunch at the hotel and a press interview at the same time with her colleague Joanna from the Borneo Post. Phyllis got this lovely gift for Wuan, a traditional ceramic bead necklace made by a famous craftswoman of the Lun Bawang tribe in Sarawak. Thank you, Yan!

Handmade bead necklace made by craftswoman of the Lun Bawang tribe in Sarawak
Lun Bawang bead necklace – a lovely gift from Phyllis to Wuan.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Friends have insisted that I must at least eat laksa and kolo mee while there. The Aurora Court only had the former albeit at an exceptionally inflated price. The Sarawak laksa looked somewhat similar to Penang curry me. Joanna told me that Sarawakians take exception to their laksa being equated with curry mee. The gravy did not taste the same though. The other difference is that the chilli by the side came with calamansi lime.

First taste of Sarawak laksa
Sarawak laksa at the Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites, Kuching, Sarawak.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

We adjourned to the Seattle Coffee & Tea at the other end of the lobby to continue with our conversation and the interview after lunch. I enjoyed the conversations that the four of us had. We not only talked about disability issue but also the heritage buildings in Malaysia and the people of Kuching and their food.

Victor suggested that we go on a short city tour by car for me to see the sights in Kuching as it would be difficult to move around by wheelchair due to the poor accessibility of the street environment. The concierge hailed a taxi for us, a Toyota Innova, that I struggled to get into due to its high seats.

Promenade along Santubong River at Kuching
Kuching Waterfront.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Joanna played tourist guide as she narrated the significance and history of the various buildings and landmarks along the way. I thought the Kuching Waterfront is an interesting place to hangout for watching boats traverse the meandering Santubong River and people going about their activities along both sides of the riverbanks.

The Great Cat of Kuching
This cat statue at Jalan Padungan will be dressed according to the various festival celebrated.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

It was said that one has not really visited Kuching if one has not seen the cat statues located at several intersections of main roads in the city. The cat statue at Jalan Padungan, we were told, would be garbed in different ethnic costumes according the the festival of the day. It was just plain white when we visited.

The half-hour tour around Kuching, while enjoyable, revealed that moving around in a wheelchair would be very difficult and dangerous. I was glad we took the easy way by cab. If not, it would have been one struggle after another moving from place to place. Nevertheless, I certainly would like to visit this city again to savour the old world charms and for the food that I did not get the opportunity to savour. Thank you again, Yan, for arranging this wonderful tour at the spur of the moment and for insisting to pay for everything.

Kueh chap
Kueh chap in Kuching – pork, innards, coagulated and tau kua braised in soy sauce gravy.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Back at the hotel, after a short rest, Victor got dinner from a popular kuey chap shop nearby. It was different from the kueh chap that I used to eat in Penang. Meat, innards and coagulated blood were braised in a soy sauce gravy. It tasted very similar to tau eu bak. The belly pork I had was tender. I liked it very much, and truth be told, I exceeded my protein quota for the day.

Backdrop for the Sarawak State Supported Employment Seminar 2012 at the Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites.
Photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S III.

There was a meeting of speakers later in the evening. It was to ensure that our presentations and the equipment would be running smoothly during the seminar. Good thing we did a trial run as the first laptop we used could run stream the videos. The videos running in second laptop did not have sound. After fiddling with the settings for some time, we got everything to run perfectly. I went back to my room and hoped it would work during the seminar as I would be the first speaker for the day. But Murphy’s Law struck when I least expected it the next day.