Sibu

After a week in Kuching, I wanted to start making my way through Sarawak then into Sabah. Particularly so, because the haze was becoming bad in Kuching and I heard it was less bad in East Borneo. On my last night in Kuching, I walked into my hotel. I asked the hostel owner where the boat leaves from and how to get there. As I was asking, the two gentlemen sat at the bar said they were from Sibu. They suggested taking the boat. They told me where it leaves from and when I’d arrive and all of that. One of the gentlemen, Henry, was returning back to Sibu the following day. Henry gave me his business card and said if I’d still be around when he arrives that he’d show me around.

The following morning I hopped onto the ferry which leaves only once a day and costs 55 Ringgit. The boat journey wasn’t special – the haze masked the surrounding jungles.

A few hours later I pulled into the small city. It certainly lacked the charm of Kuching by a long shot. The buildings looked older and scruffier. Architecturally it lacked character. And it was particularly dirty.

Sibu lays off the beaten backpacker trail in Borneo so lacks any cheap hostels. Fortunately, there’s a cheapish hotel close to the pier. Coming off the boat onto the main road, turning left, then walking straight down got me to the hotel.

I picked up a city map from reception and went straight back out to walk around the city. Whilst exploring, Sibu remained remarkably unremarkable.

I did a bit of sightseeing…

They grow Rambutan pretty much within a few kilometres of Sibu

The night market

The night market in Sibu is really good and one of Sibu’s redeeming features.

 

Henry

The following day Henry picked me up from the hotel. He had a ‘working from home day’, but kept his phone nearby in case anything went wrong at work.

The Sarawakian hospitality was evident from the start. Knowing of my Indian heritage, he drove us to an Indian restaurant for breakfast where there were a few choices – Roti Canai, Naan, Tosai’s. Pretty much all forms of Indian bread-y breakfast. The Tosai was awesome.

He proceeded to drive around to the local towns – explaining the backgrounds of the towns, which ethnic groups live there and how their lifestyles have changed over time. The satellite towns were a lot more pleasant than Sibu itself – they were kept really clean. During his explanations, he threw in a lot of his own opinions, noting of how people live to gather these days, “We don’t care about religion, we’re just one community”. For the most part, that’s fairly true of Sarawak. The peace among communities can be credited to the work of James Brooke (see history lesson)

As we drove along Henry opined on a number of topics from politics to the relationship between men and women, his attitude towards family and inheritance. He was certainly wise to all the issues that faced him. Some of my favourite Henry quotes:

  • “You know Rosh, ideas make people rich. I think Bill Gates said it. Don’t make money from your time, make money from the ideas”
  • “Property causes problems in families. I’m spending all my money and have saved enough just for my funeral”
  • “Having sex and making love to your wife is different. Sex is sex. But when you’re making love to your wife it’s different”

He continued to drive me around and introduced me to his family. We went and saw his sister at the school she works at. The school placed a big emphasis on teaching English, something the headmistress was particularly proud of.

We drove for an hour or so to his eldest brother’s house. His eldest brother is retired. Henry remarked that it’s nice for him when people to come to visit because he’s so far away from the rest of the family.

Henry had told me in the car his brother didn’t like to drink. Even during Christmas or family events his brother would abstain. But, I’ve mentioned Sarawakian hospitality before. He went upstairs and came down with 5 bottles of Tuac that he collected over the years. I was surprised. I was even more surprised when he put down two glasses and suggest we drink together. It was only 1 pm in the afternoon, I was a guest with incredibly kind hosts – so I had to drink up.

We tried each Tuac in turn. Each bottle had a different type of Tuac (rice wine) in it. Some were sweeter. Some were a lot more bitter. After trying each of them, his brother suggested that we make a shot with all of them in it. By the time I called a time out on it, we had had a shot of each Tuac, and two shots of all the Tuac’s combined. Not bad work considering it wasn’t even 2 pm yet.

We started heading back towards Sibu. We stopped along the way at a restaurant. Keen to be a good host and satiate my vegetarian appetite, he took me to one of his favourite restaurants for a particular dish of tofu and pickled cucumber.

 

Having mentioned before that I liked Rambutan, he then stopped and bought me 0.5kg of Rambutan. He really went above and beyond to try and make guests feel welcomed and comfortable.

Later that evening we met two of his friends for dinner. Of course, all the way through the day I wasn’t allowed to pay for anything and nothing changed at dinner. He asked the chef to whip up a vegetarian hot plate of tofu, aubergines and egg. I had tried this once before in Ipoh and loved it.

The next few hours passed by with lots of beer, all paid for by my hosts – Henry and his friends. The conversation quickly digressed into gutter conversation. One of the old guys that was sat on the nearby table was a serial gambler.

He was on his tablet device for 4 hours straight, gambling away. He talked the big talk. Saying how he knows how to play the system and how he makes loads of money. He said, “Yeah it’s really simple. I used to be an engineer that designed these games so I know how they work”. We were all quite skeptical, but none-the-less entertained the gentleman. He opined on a number of matters before spending half an hour talking about his tried and tested ways of satisfying women…details of which aren’t necessary to publish on the blog.

The following day Henry dropped me at the bus terminal. One of his former employees worked at the ticket counter there. He gave a friendly hello to her and introduced me as his traveller friend from London. He said a few words to her, and she started writing out my ticket and wrote me in for a good seat on the bus: a window seat, in the middle of the bus, on the left hand side – Henry’s logic was that the right-hand side of the bus is the most likely to crash because the oncoming traffic passes on the right-hand side.

I bid a farewell to my host who had turned a rather dull city into a very enjoyable experience.

I began my 400km journey to Miri.

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