Published in The Saturday Paper, April 2017

Photo credit: Ricky French

Kuching is the sound of one ringgit landing in a sampan driver’s money pouch on the languid banks of the Sarawak River. The largest city in the Malaysian chunk of Borneo, Kuching is a word with a colour of its own: Christmas bauble gold. It’s the tint of the water when the sun reflects off glass, and the glow of misty rain backlit by neon shop signs. Every evening the blood-orange sun dissolves into tropical haze above the roofs of river shacks and the word means glowing lanterns on the promenade, and air so sticky it leaves a residue of fried chicken and wok-burnt peanut oil on your skin.Kuching is the sound of your head in a bell; the reverberating clang of a colonial hangover as it rings out the familiar toll of British bureaucracy. Booking accommodation at Bako National Park means taking a number at the visitor centre and having a solemn interview with an official who fills in a form documenting your request, faxes it to head office, receives back confirmation which is then photocopied and signed in triplicate, authorised by a superior, stamped and handed back. All so you can spend two days holed up in a wooden hut in the jungle while mobs of macaque monkeys launch sustained and fearless raids on your ice cream…

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