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Full Circle

Day 108: Kuching, Sarawak

Michael Palin - Full CircleA brilliant morning. The first let-up in the rain since we arrived in Borneo. Which is ironic considering I'm in Kuching, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, which has more rainfall in a month than London has in a year. And this is the month.

Kuching is a small, attractive, prosperous city much of which was laid out under the largely benevolent despotism of the Brooke family - the White Rajahs - who came from Bath to rule a quarter of Borneo for over a hundred years.

In the museum there is a chart headed A Chronology Of Sarawak. It lists one thousand important events that happened in Sarawak between 1292 and 1981. Only twenty-two of these take place before the 24 of September 1841 when 'Rajah Muda Hassim hands over the government of Sarawak to James Brooke'.

The initials J.B. are curiously apt, for Brooke was a sort of Victorian James Bond, attractive, independently wealthy, and very English. He was also single-minded and effective and, having restored law and order to the pirate-ridden shores and the inhospitable interior of Sarawak, he passed on a stable, efficient and reasonably tolerant state to his nephew Charles, who ran it for fifty years from the end of the Crimean War to the end of the First World War, neither of which interrupted the administration of his fiefdom one bit.

Though Sarawak is now firmly part of Malaysia, our arrival has coincided with a three day regatta, which, with the sun shining on white tents and striped awnings, does lend the riverside a distinctly 'Brooke-ish' air. It's not a rowing regatta, but a paddling regatta with up to thirty oarsmen, and women, in each longboat. It's crowded and noisy with crews in vivid colours and supporters yelling on their boats. Walk on into the town, which has some good looking colonial buildings and a modest bust of Charles Brooke, the second rajah - long hair, high collar, confident moustache - a paradigm of Victorian respectability.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 108
  • Country/sea: Malaysia
  • Place: Kuching
  • Book page no: 151

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