City has become ghostly and eerie in places

Kuching Waterfront

Photo essay of Kuching under MCO

The gloomy scene reminded me of the horror movie, ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ which shows lots of gloomy places and monsters terrorising good innocent people.

STORY BY HARRY HENRY JULIN

The idea for this article came from looking at photos of a few places in Kuching taken a few days earlier by our photographer, Ramidi Subari. Those images plus my own irrepressible curiosity pushed me to drive around and see if what I saw in the photos really happened and then make a photo essay out of the whole experience.

Like most people, I have observed how the coronavirus pandemic has forced many people in Kuching to confine themselves indoors either at home or their workplaces, while students and teachers have transitioned to online teaching-learning pending further instructions from the authorities.

The Cat City (Kuching’s nickname) has been in a sort of fitful slumber ever since the pandemic struck in March last year. While certain places, such as those around supermarkets and coffee shots, still attract people, some streets have become eerily quiet. Businesses have closed their doors. Public places that were usually packed are now virtually empty.

Oddly, some people have found it easier to walk the streets due to lighter traffic, something that they wouldn’t or couldn’t have done months ago.

The weirdest thing about the deserted parts of the city is not the physical emptiness; it’s the way that city folk are forced to walk at a safe distance from each other along the sidewalks.

Another peculiar behaviour that I noticed was the general reluctance of the normally friendly Kuchingites to talk to strangers except, of course, when there is an absolute need to ask somebody something.


Padungan Bazaar. Photo: Ramidi Subari

Padungan Bazaar

“I’ve lived in Kuching my whole life and have never seen it so desolate,” said a stranger that I almost bumped into as he emerged from a half-closed shop in Padungan Bazaar. He was speaking in broken street Malay to someone I couldn’t see inside the shop.

When he noticed that I was paying attention to what he said, he addressed me, saying: “Betul, kawan! I tell you true!”

I nodded and he continued: “Ini tempat ah, at night I scared tau, like banyak hantu, aiyo! Last time many people, now banyak hantu!”

I smiled both at him and what he said although he could not see my smile because I was wearing a face mask. Anyway, he seemed happy that I took the time to listen to him.


Demak Laut Commercial Centre Petra Jaya. Photo: Ramidi Subari

Demak Laut Commercial Centre Petra Jaya

A person does not have to drive long distances before noticing that almost all businesses are closed and many people have left the city. Whenever the weather is bad (particularly when it rains hard), the streets are devoid of people. This is not lost on a worker at a coffee shop at Demak Laut Commercial Centre.

“I don’t go around the city often because I am always working, but yesterday the streets were way quieter than usual. It made me realize that this is going to be a long battle,” he said.

When I nodded at him he seemed relieved and gave me the thumbs-up. What a friendly fellow, I thought. I wanted to know his name and was about to ask him, but the empty place was so depressing that I changed my mind and went back to my car. I had seen what I wanted to see.


Main Bazaar. Photo: Ramidi Subari

Main Bazaar

At the Main Bazaar, I stopped my car just to get a good look at the actual street and compare it with a photo of it in my hand. Except for minor differences such as the positions of cars and the presence of a few persons going about their activities, the place looked desolate. Forcing myself to be a proper newspaper reporter I actually accosted a rather elderly man who happened to be walking by.

“I got tired of being indoor and watching TV so I just get out for a short walk,” he said. I nodded to show that I agreed.

“But now that I am out here my mood is no better because the streets are empty. In fact, I feel rather anxious. I better go home.”


Kuching Waterfront

Then from inside my parked car at the Main Bazaar I watched Kuching Waterfront for a while, but quickly decided to go elsewhere because nothing interesting happened. Except for a few forlorn-looking pedestrians, the gloomy scene reminded me of the horror movie, ‘From Dusk Till Dawn’ which shows lots of gloomy places and monsters terrorising good innocent people.


Quiet Gambier Street. Photo: Ramidi Subari
Quiet Gambier Street

In its glory days, Gambier Street was the place to visit when shopping for things to eat and to cook. A number of the shops have a mind-blowing array of herbs and spices, but now not much is happening in this part of Kuching. The MCO has definitely taken its toll.