Having been invited to have an exclusive lunch with a diplomat from the United States of America on Friday 6 October was a privilege. Our lunch at Lepau Restaurant in Ban Hock road shadowed accordingly from the morning or afternoon sun by the six-storey Grand Supreme just a few yards away, was hosted by Bradley A. Hurst, the Counsellor For Public Affairs, Embassy of the United States of America in Kuala Lumpur.
Bradley, in his mid 40s, was accompanied by a Malaysian officer at the embassy Gerald George. This trip was Bradley’s first to Sarawak though he was in Sabah very much earlier but I forgot to ask whether it was also the first Sarawak trip for Gerald who had contacted me a week earlier to arrange for his boss to have a lunch rendezvous with senior editors of the local media.
It was certainly an exclusive gathering as eight local media members were at the lunch representing RTM, New Sarawak Tribune/Utusan Sarawak and The Borneo Post/Utusan Borneo. Alice Wee, Brownie Nayoi and another official were representatives from RTM whereas I came in for New Sarawak Tribune/Utusan Sarawak while my three good friends and former colleagues Francis Chan, Stephanie Siaw and Jacqueline Radoi David Impi from The Borneo Post/Utusan Borneo added up to the merriment of our meal gathering.
Lepau is well-known for its local, especially Dayak/Orang Ulu cuisines and our handsome attendant obligingly recommended ‘Bungai Durian’ – nothing to do with the thorny king of fruits – as a must, and certainly we made a point to include it in our array of dishes. Our soup was of ‘salai ikan jan’ mixed with the ‘terung asam’ (always referred as the sour apples of Borneo).
‘Miding fern’ (or its scientific name stenochlaena palustris) cooked with garlic was a popular choice and disappeared after few minutes of serving but the ‘Bungai Durian’ was certainly special as was the ‘umai’ of tenggiri and prawn. We were introduced to the famous ‘manuk pansuh’ (chicken cooked in bamboo) and three-taste fish of Lepau not to mention the typical conventional fried chicken whereas the brown hill paddy rice cooked in special ‘daun kering’ (durable local leaf ) from the Iban community put extra exoticism to our selection of dishes.
Bradley, who is from California, said he enjoyed our selected dishes, especially the ‘manuk pansuh’, to the delights of three Dayak editors present at the lunch gathering. Arriving at night on Thursday, he had not seen Kuching much yet but intended to go around for the rest of the afternoon as they were to leave for Kuala Lumpur in the evening.
I recommended them to pass by the Kuching Waterfront, saying it to be arguably the best in the country, especially its night scene that reminded me of Bandar Seri Begawan except ours is very much better with the DUN building to match the B$30 million Istana Nurul Iman with its golden dome and an alleged ‘golden merc’ beneath the palace’s atrium. As the counsellor for public affairs, Bradley’s visit was to get familiar with the media members and to obtain some information pertaining to the affairs of the state with its multi-ethnic facet.
We impressed upon him that Sarawak had practised ‘One Malaysia’ since the beginning of modern time, namely from as far our grandparents could remember. Most of us at the gathering agreed that the state’s history started to be recorded in writing from the time when James Brooke came in 1839 – he was made Rajah in 1841 and as they say, the rest is history. During those days the Malays and Dayak who were on side of Brooke lived side by side like brothers, a phenomenon that has been maintained hitherto. Another matter put into discussion was the Oktoberfest, an item that did not go well with a lot of people from the other shores of Malaysia. For Sarawak this has been going on for such a long time and an attraction for tourists especially Germans, whose country is the origin of this celebration.
It was noted that, even our present Chief Minister DP Abang Johari Tun Openg was actively promoting the event when he was state’s Tourism Minister some years ago. The American diplomat and his Malaysian colleague who put up at the Pullman left Lepau contentedly and after a photo call and a subsequent ‘this-is-my card’ session, we parted ways and carried on with the day as for us editors any day starts at the time when government or private sector offices are usually closing. Apart from the good food and Lepau’s relaxing atmosphere we really enjoyed each other’s company.
I parted ways with Utusan Borneo’s pullout Berita Iban in 2009 and was taken as news editor with The Borneo Post. Berita Iban which I pioneered single-handedly starting from 26 March 2006 became the first Iban language newspaper in Malaysia with its inaugural two-page publication starting on 27 March 2006.
I felt privileged to be its pioneering editor. Jacqueline became its first reporter a few months later. She is very versatile as she can do reports in BM and English too. I’m not surprised if she has become part of The BP’s editing team by now. By 2009, Berita Iban appeared daily in four pages. Francis and Stephanie were my colleagues in The BP up to the time when I left to join New Sarawak Tribune in 2011. So last Friday’s lunch was a reunion of sort for the four of us.