Combing the streets of Kuching with my sister

Adeline Liong

I had a whale of a time this past week. My younger sister, the youngest of my siblings, is back in Kuching for a short break and I have been revisiting certain parts of old Kuching City. Places we re-explored together are Gambier Street, India Street and the Open Air Market.

We were at Gambier Street to buy anchovies, shallots and dried chillies as well as textiles. I thought it was high time I made some “Nasi Lemak Sambal” and hence the trip to the sundry shops at Gambier Street. Anchovies, once the food of the poor, are now very expensive in supermarkets, especially the one in my neighbourhood. The best quality ones in my neighbourhood supermarket cost RM69.90 per kg. At Gambier Street, I bought reasonably good anchovies for RM30 per kg.

If you are thinking of sewing your own bolster and pillow cases, the textile shops at Gambier Street are worth visiting. They sell many cartoon printed cotton fabrics that children love at affordable prices.

At one of the textile shops at Gambier Street, my sister bought two pieces of Minney Mouse cotton fabrics to make pillow cases for her only daughter. My niece, who is now 23 years old, loves anything with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse on it.

At another textile shop, my sister also bought five packets of leftover fabrics for RM2 a packet. When we opened the packets at home, we found varying sizes of materials in them. Some pieces were big enough to be made into table cloths and sewn into cushion covers.

Ever creative and innovative, that day, my sister managed to make at least three cushion covers from the time I left for work and the time I came home. Later, she complained about back pains but I could see how pleased she was with her handiwork. Although she was on holiday, my sister also managed to sew fabrics I bought long before this year’s Chinese New Year into additional cushion covers. I wanted to send the materials to a neighbourhood tailor but my intentions remained, well, just intentions.

I see this sister mostly once a year. Sometimes, I don’t get to see her for two years because she lives and works in Johor Bahru. She came home recently on emergency leave after our mother, an Alzheimer’s patient, cut her head when she fell outside the house. Now, my sister is back to check on the old lady and spend time with her again. Like me, my sister is aware that one day, the old lady will not be with us anymore. I have altogether five other siblings but one, a brother, has died.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since my childhood. But all these years, I remember one advice my mother gave to my brothers and sisters.

Siblings have fun at beach.

“Don’t fight with each other. Enjoy your time together. One day, you will be separated and live far from each other. You will not be able to see each other unless you have money.”

Yes, when I was growing up, there was intense sibling rivalry between my two younger brothers and my two younger sisters. Being the second of six siblings, I had to act as referee almost every day.

How true my mother’s words of advice were! My elder sister is in Bintulu and I don’t get to see her sometimes for one or two years. She does not even call me on the handphone. I have a younger brother in Tatau. I also get to see him maybe once in a blue moon. He rarely calls me on the handphone and the place I get to see him often is on Facebook, thanks to regular postings by his children.

I have another younger sister who lives in Kuching but I don’t get to see her anymore. In life, I think we have to give and take and this sister seems to take only.

Earning a living far from one’s hometown and relatives is not easy. I come from Sibu and most of my mother’s close relatives live in Kanowit. If I were living in Sibu, I would have visited my aunties, uncles, cousins, etc, in Kanowit every public holiday or on my day off. But it has been years since I visited Kanowit. I hear that there have been many changes in my mother’s birthplace.

Some of my former classmates are now working and living in foreign countries. I wonder whether they miss their hometowns, especially when their husbands have died and their children have left home to start their own families.

When you have lived as long as I have, you will realise that life is short and that you must enjoy every moment of every day. When I look at my younger sister who is now with me in Kuching on a short break, it seems that it was only yesterday that she was a small cute lovable little girl that I used to feed. Now, she is the mother of a 23-year-old girl.

So, my friends, if you are young and still living with your brothers and sisters, don’t fight with them. One day, you will live far from each other and miss them dearly. Then, you will realise you can only see each other if you have money.

I’d like to end my column today with a lovely quote by Karen White: “They say that no matter how old you become, when you are with your siblings, you revert back to childhood.”

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