James Ritchie

Basically, I believe the world is a jungle, and if it’s not a bit of a jungle in the home, a child cannot possibly be fit to enter the outside world.  

– Bette Davis, American actress

Few people realise that Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding suburbs have become a concrete jungle.

I realised this when travelling around the city by rail two weeks ago and found that the KL I knew like the back of my hand has become a crazy maze of network of roads and paths crisscrossing each other.

As a crime reporter in the 1970s I could cover KL properly on my 250cc Suzuki bike within an hour. On this trip I found I was lost in the city teeming with hundreds of thousands of pedestrians and perennial traffic jams.

After 40 years in Sarawak I realised that I have become a jungle wallah.

I fell in love with Kuching one day during the Landas monsoon when I swam from a Marine police boat to the Satubong village only to be welcome by a painful jellyfish sting.

And when the family moved into the haunted commissioner’s residence behind Fort Margherita, it was here that I swam across crocodile-infested Sarawak River thrice.

It was the Kuching experience as an athletic “tough nut” that prepared me for Kuala Lumpur where I rose to become a renowned crime reporter.

When I returned to Kuching as New Straits Times’ (NST) first Sarawak correspondent in 1981, I broke ties with KL.

After adopting the ways of the locals; scouring the jungles while seeking the likes of a Swiss environmental activist and befriending the Penan tribe, I became a Sarawak native.

I remember that sometime in the mid-1980s Kapit Member of Parliament Datuk Justine Jinggut arranged for a meeting between the semi-nomadic Penan of Belaga and Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Our jungle folk who were instructed to wear long pants and long-sleeve batik shirts – albeit some with slippers – crossed the city centre with great trepidation.

I led the pack who tagged behind me like ducklings behind its mother; I had to tell our semi-nomadic brothers to keep their eyes on the road and speeding cars and stop gazing at the skyline with its buildings as tall as tapang trees.

While the Penan have progressed since and today boast of at least 30 graduates, I have remained a 70-year-old ignoramus kampung boy who often found himself uncomfortable in large Cities.

Needless to say, owning an old model Nokia cellphone and barely understanding how smartphones work, I have found difficulty manoeuvring around concrete jungles.

On my latest trip in KL I lost my LRT chip and was unable to leave the premises at the exit point. And so the jungle man scrambled over the gate like an overgrown Orang Utan.

Sympathising with this lost soul, I asked my friend Pascual Dino Herera – a former vice president of the Commonwealth Club – to take me for a Sarawak laksa breakfast.

Lo and behold, we ended up at Paramount Garden not far from the old Ritchie residence or ‘Rumah Sarawak’ at Lorong 14/47 which was home to many visiting Sarawakians.

At Paramount Garden I learnt that the owner of Christina’s Sarawak Laksa stall was originally from Palm Road where they were among the first to establish their Kuching food outlet in 1960.

Christina said that as Kuching grew, more laksa stalls began to mushroom around the town, and so she decided to move to the federal capital in 1985.

Since then Christina’s laksa stall has been recognised as one of the top exotic food outlets by PJ Town council.

“Our Sarawak laksa is original and our prices fair and reasonable. But depending on the garnishing it can cost as much as RM10 for a bowl with two large udang galah (giant river prawns),” said Christina.

Still interested in KL’s Sarawak laksa business, I ventured to the shop lots opposite PJ Hilton and found another laksa outlet which is popular with the East Malaysian police crowd at the adjacent PJ police station.

It was in PJ that I played for the Selangor rugby team that beat the Malaysian Police 3-0 in the MRU Cup final at in 1976.

And it was in the federal capital that I was top crime reporter – covering the likes of Botak Chin and the Luku Gang who shot my dear friend S. Kulasingam on two different occasions – once at Jalan Ampang and the other at Paramount Garden, not far from our PJ home.

Kula who was a well-loved Police Field Force commander in Sarawak, survived to tell his tale.

Also not far away from the Cobra rugby pitch in PJ was the location where Malaysian beauty queen Jean Sinnappa, the wife of my rugby mate S. Sinnappa, was brutally murdered.

I was the first reporter to see the victim and write the infamous NST front page story and become a Crown witness.

So many memories.

As I began to reminisce I realised it was time to return to Kuching because my episode in Kuala Lumpur 50 years ago seemed like is a jaded dream.

And now back in Kuching it’s time to plan my next adventure into the wilds of Borneo.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.