Early memories of suspension bridges

Sometimes, if you aren’t sure about something, you just have to jump off the bridge and grow your wings on the way down.

– Danielle Steel, American writer

The Satok suspension bridge in Kuching is nearing completion. It is certainly good news during this challenging pandemic.

For those coming from the remote areas of the state, suspension bridges are a common sight. We have one just in front of our Kedap longhouse in Saratok.

It connects to our rubber gardens, farms and the croc-free Kedap stream about 1km away through jungle path.

The bridge saves everyone the risk of going down to the Melupa River where the reptiles are said to be abundant as are prawns and fish.

Hunters coming back from their night or day trips need not worry too despite coming home empty-handed. There are five or six other such bridges connecting longhouses to our local primary school in Nanga Assam.

Some are now redundant as there are new feeder roads that make the school and main road easily accessible.

One of the well-known, and at times, swaying suspension bridge in Saratok is the one across the Krian River at Kaki Wong, formerly a bazaar and the final point reachable by any motor launch. The last time I used the bridge was in June 2014.  

In Betong, there is one suspension bridge across the Layar River connecting various longhouses in the area, especially Bebangai Kiba and Bebangai Kanan.

Built before the accessibility by roads for all types of vehicles, the bridge now is almost a white elephant as it sways a lot and is deemed unsafe, apart from being redundant.  Most longhouses are now connected by tarred roads. I last used the bridge in 1993.

Back to the Kuching’s iconic landmark, I have a slightly blurred memory of the suspension bridge during my first time crossing it in 1959.

As a four-year-old then, I only knew it as ‘jematan gantung’ (in Iban) and thereafter remembered it as such until, perhaps, decades later when I revisited Kuching.

My parents and I were brought to the bridge from then Kuching town’s side by my late uncle Gerunsin Lembat (later Tan Sri Datuk) in his white Volkswagen. Uncle Gerunsin was staying in a Batu Lintang government quarters as he was attached to Radio Sarawak; he recorded my father, his second cousin, doing the first ‘sampi’ chant on Radio Iban in 1955.

In the car, I was asked to squat behind the front passenger’s seat for fear of being caught by the police as I was the fifth person inside the car. No wonder Uncle Gerunsin was made State Secretary later for his strict observance of the law.

The three of us were sent to the bridge because my mom’s cousin Lipat and her husband Uncle Jaar @ Jimbai were said to be staying at one of the rubber plantations across river.

From the other end, we were brought to our destination by a pushcart operated by a big man, if I recall correctly.

In about five to 10 minutes, we’d reach their hovel among the rubber trees. They were both there and were surprised and happy to see us.

I cannot remember how long our visit was but definitely it wasn’t that long because our distinguished driver was the one who brought us back if my memory does not fail me.

Now that we are here in Matang’s Metrocity, it may be possible my auntie and uncle were tapping rubber at this very location 62 years ago as this office is about the distance we were brought by the cart from the bridge. 

It was a very fond memory and one that has lingered in my mind since the very first time I drove through the concrete Satok Bridge circa 1986 or earlier.

Nonetheless, it saddens me that my parents and the couple that we visited then have now joined our forefathers in the afterworld.

Apart from the 1959 episode, I was reminded about the special existence of the suspension bridge in 1989. I was serving in an outstation school when ‘Ngap Sayot’ legendary coach Awang Mahyan, whom I met some years earlier, jumped from the bridge at 11am.

Joined by his state players and a number of supporters, the deed was witnessed by about 4,000 spectators. They were fulfilling their promise to Sarawak football fans after making the quarter-finals of the Malaysia Cup that year.

I have no confirmation whether my brother-in-law David Usop, one of the players, who later went on to coach the state team, was among those jumping into Sungai Sarawak at that time.

Now, it may not be safe to jump for various reasons.