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Full Circle

Day 108: Kuching, Sarawak

Kuching, Malaysia 
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Kuching, Sarawak. Memorial to the second White Rajah.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThe Jalal India, traditional street of the Indian merchants is, for me, the liveliest place in Kuching. A blind band playing Jim Reeves' hits weaves its way through the throng of shoppers, traders and other street performers. The biggest crowd is around a wild-eyed, lithe man with matted hair and bloody weals across his chest, naked apart from a pair of torn jeans. He is selling his patent medicine pills and, in order to show how effective they can be, he crushes up anti-mosquito coils in a half-pint mug and drinks the contents.

Once he has done this, and while the gasps are still being uttered, he reaches down and pulls open the lid of a small suitcase to reveal a coiled python lurking within. He reaches for the snake and, to the horror and delight of the audience, pulls open the waistband of his jeans and stuffs the snake inside headfirst. Then, choosing his moment with well-practised skill, he gyrates his stomach lasciviously, allowing the python to emerge slowly from the top of his trousers. Heads shake, women turn their heads away, and the crowd swells.

Philip takes us out in the evening to the River Café, a renovated wrought iron pavilion set in a small garden a short way back from the esplanade. We eat laksa - a local speciality of curried prawn stew with noodles. The rain holds off long enough for a tremendous firework display lasting almost an hour. This celebration coincides with my daughter's twenty-first birthday and the news that Malaysia's first satellite has been successfully launched into space by the Americans. And Steve's wife is expecting a baby any moment. Starbursts fill the warm night sky, each one wider than the last. If life were a movie then this is when his baby would be born.
Kuching, Malaysia 
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Kuching, Sarawak. In the Jalal India.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 108
  • Country/sea: Malaysia
  • Place: Kuching
  • Book page no: 152

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