It’s not often that you meet a modern-day American journalist exploring in Borneo, given its former reputation as being a land of the head hunters. So it was a pleasant surprise when I was introduced to American writer and adventurer David Hunter Bishop.
David had heard about Sarawak and the White Rajahs and I briefed him on our 170-year-old history — 100 years under a white Rajah, the 2nd world War, 17 years as a Crown Colony and the last 60 years as a member of Malaysian Federation.
There were no more Brookes, but the locals still hero-worshipped the likes of white people. No wonder, when I introduced him to some Iban mates of mine they likened him to a “Tuan” or Rajah and he was appalled that some of us were still living in the past!
Over a bottle of local moonshine, we hit it off and before long were all equals. We met through a Lun Bawang lady friend in Kota Kinabalu, whom I had once written about during a visit to Lawas. She gave him my contact and he looked me up in Kuching.
David the “News Hunter”, as I would endear him, had only four days — and what can you do with so little time in Sarawak which can still be considered as an inaccessible massive-jungle even though we have been independent since 1963.
So with the little time we had on our hands, I took David on quick tour of my favourite haunts — a visit to USA, or Ulu Sungei Apong — in the Pending enclave where General Yamamoto signed the document of surrender on September 11, 1945. Interestingly, the brutal four-year War had started with the bombing of Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, where David had spent most of his working life.
I thought that Sungei Apong where two cultures thrive — the Chinese village of Sungei Apong on one riverbank and a Malay village on the other, would make a good choice.
We went by ‘perahu tambang’ ferry boat 50 yards across the river from the Chinese quarter to the ramshackle Tabuan Melayu village. Here many children in their underpants often swim in muddy waters amongst floating plastics and other waste and the occasion reptile.
It was no shock to be taken to such an environment where some people live in squalid conditions and refuse to pay for rubbish bins when after all the river is at their disposal!
But seasoned journalists like both of us who have travelled to some of the poorest countries and quite frankly have ‘seen it all’, it was part like. David said he would rather visit places off the beaten track to sample the tastes and smells of the ordinary folk, rather than visit the Cat statues of Kuching for a selfie.
It was late in the afternoon before we called it a day; black clouds were gathering and the Kuching traffic jam was about to begin. David had planned a two-day familiarisation tour to get a feel of the country — the remaining two was for rest and recuperation, given the fact Kuching’s laid-back atmosphere.
Fortunately for my new-found friend, day two of his visit happened to be the last day of Chinese New Year — Chap Goh Mei! As Siniawan was celebrating the annual festival that morning, we took a car ride to attend this elaborate and colourful event.
Dragon and lion dance troupes performed as the various deities in chariots were paraded along the narrow one-street Siniawan bazaar — now a heritage site. There was hardly any room to push through the crowds who came as worshippers or tourists, but it was worth it given Siniawan’s history which I related to my new-found friend.
Not far from here were the foothills of the Serembu mountain complex where the Malay leader Datu Patinggi Ali swore his loyalty to the first White “Rajah” in 1841. Also here, a Chinese Insurrection was violently fought and lost, I told him. Subsequently, the Siniawan-Serembu enclave became a famous world-famous resort for European personalities.
After visiting the Siniawan Temple, we then headed to Pending Seafood open air market with another acquaintance. After the meal, it was time to call it a day and for David to get down to working on some material he had put aside before his Sarawak visit.
Having written thousands of articles over the best part of four decades as a newsman in the United States, this was the kind place David was looking for. Now basking in his retirement, he still travels to the far reaches of the world looking for new friends and fresh tales to tell.
“I’m a traveler, not a tourist,” said the gregarious writer who spent 27 years in Hawaii as a journalist including a short stint in the Mayor’s office. “It’s not so much about where I go or the sights that I see, it’s all about the people I meet and the new friends I make.”
The 67-year-old scribe, always on the prowl for new adventure, has been trekking solo through Central and South America, and now Asia, since he retired from his profession more than three years ago.
Before coming to Kuching he had been in Sabah looking for orangutan and exploring deforestation. “I love being where I’m the only foreigner around,” he said, “and that was the best Chinese New Year celebration I ever saw. I stay alive by not staying still,” says this super senior adventurer.
“I’ve hiked and biked in the Peruvian Andes, jumped over waterfalls in the Guatemalan jungle, explored the swampy depths of the Mekong Delta, travelled by cargo boat through the Amazon jungles… those are just some of the things I’ve done, at least some of the ones I can talk about,” he laughed.
“But seriously, I’ve found Borneo a wonderful place to be, not just for its obvious beauty, but for the friendliness of its people,” he said. “Soon I’ll be moving on to Thailand for a while, and will be visiting some other places I want to see. Laos, Myanmar and some others, but I know I’ll miss Borneo. I’ll be back.”
“My best adventure is always the next one,” he added. “Life is good that way.”
You can follow his travels and contact him at www.davidhunterbishop.com.