bviously, the City of Kuching, with a long history of religious tolerance and racial harmony, has gone through a transformation from a town of about 200,000 in the 70s to a city of about 800, 000 people now but maintain a unique feature of a modern city in the midst of history.
Undoubtedly, the ability of the people to embrace change brings about inevitable interactions among the races namely the Malays, Chinese, Bidayuhs, Ibans, Melanaus and Orang Ulus to keep the unique characteristic of the city of being friendly and colourful.
Arguably, Kuching reflects how the people have melt together to become friends or fellow workers and share skills to make them more useful and efficient in a growing modern economy; this has been happening not only in Kuching but the State as a whole.
The city of Kuching, through a shift of population from one place to another, will continue to grow and the people can enjoy almost the rural atmosphere. More importantly, they have opportunities to make friends across racial or religious lines. This will make the State culture to become part of a bigger culture, which the people can proudly call Sarawak Culture.
The people of Sarawak have grown up and been able to contribute towards better or dynamic changes in the characters of the people of Malaysia. Where ever they go they easier make friends across racial or religious lines. It is also easier for them to work together to build new opportunities for people to pursue greater progress and prosperity; that is happening in Sarawak now.
Thanks largely to efforts of Dewan Bandaraya Kuching Utara (City Hall of Kuching city North) and Majlis Bandaraya Kuching Selatan (Municipality of Kuching city south), which have been working tirelessly to provide a healthier environment for the city. Obviously, they are being guided by the philosophy that the city should not pursue progress at the expensive of its root, which has been part of the local history for centuries.
Generally, the State Government upholds the principle that the development of the city must take into consideration the unique features that should be preserved as its identity. The city, which has a long history of preserving its unique features including ancient architecture, designs and motifs, have been able to witness a lot development and changes in the process of development.
But the people remain happy and friendly not only among themselves but with the visitors too. Hence, Kuching city is being recognised as a friendly city internationally, which has earned it the title of the City of Unity.
Generally, Sarawak has been built on mutual respect and the value of human dignity among people, comprising diverse ethnic and religious groups and ideologies. Sarawakians are brought up and being disciplined to respect each other’s belief and tradition and upholds the value of human dignity as the basis of relationship with others.
Truly, there are not many places like Sarawak, where the people can celebrate their differences rather than making them, even political differences divide them. Admittedly, Sarawakians, like other people have differences in opinions but more often than not, they respect each other’s opinion and find ways to solve problems among them amicably.
The overriding issue is how to build a peaceful, progressive and united country for all. In this regard, Sarawak believes that if the people have problems to know where they stand in a valley, they should go up to a mountain to determine their position; that is what the people have been doing every five years. Every community holds cultural seminar to take a close look at the progress of members to ensure that they are on the right track in the common struggle for nation building.
The city is being dissected by a wide and long Sungai Sarawak (Sarawak River), which suggests that at one time the river must have been considered as the main river in Sarawak. Nevertheless, Sungai Sarawak was not appreciated as the unique feature of the city in the past. But in the modern day Kuching city, the river is considered as the asset of the city that must be preserved.
With the iconic State Legislative Assembly Complex towering Sungai Sarawak, it does not even seem to divide Kuching City North and Kuching City South. Both sides of the greater Kuching city have been brought closer by the newly completed Darul Hana Bridge.
Actually, both sides of the city, one side being considered the Malay area and the other the Chinese area, are being surrounded by river banks. Hence, the development in Malay Kampong and the town area cannot be separated from the feeling of being peaceful and in tranquillity because they are being surrounded by rivers and natural environment.
The development, being accelerated, must not ignore and eventually lose the river as the asset and the traditional Malay kampong, with their unique features that have been able to promote the close rapport and goodwill among the people.
The people may no longer bathe near the river banks or use the river for transportation like before but the river must remain as part of the environment of the kampong or the city as a whole.
The old architecture from the cultures of the Chinese and Malays, who had been living together harmoniously for hundreds of years, must be preserved, in order to preserve the aura that Kuching, no matter how much it is being modernized, still has its tradition and origin.
Obviously, the city has been growing because of business activities, which have become its nerve and lifeline for expansion. However, it will not be a healthy development if the city only depicts business activities as the main feature to such an extent that the people do not show the feeling of being close and friendly toward each other; they have the attitude of being indifferent towards each other.
Admittedly, Kuching city is not the best shopping centre in the world; in any case business and shopping is not what attract the people to the city but its overall pleasant environment. More importantly, it has the heritage and history that can be traced back to more than hundreds of years ago.
The city has a certain legacy, which is the people must endeavor to preserve and perpetuate for the future generations. Understandably, one of the reason the State government decided to upgrade Kuching to become a city was to provide the efficient administration for the preservation of its heritage and history.
Arguably, the thriving atmosphere of commerce could only be merged in areas within the jurisdication of Kuching city south, and not in the North, which has the relax and happy atmosphere. For this reason, Kuching city North and Kuching city South must work together in carrying out development without discarding historical, social elements and humanistic features in the greater Kuching city.
The Governor of Sarawak Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud, during a speech in launching DBKU agenda, believed the city had the potential to become the platform to promote unity and solidarity among the various ethnic groups in the State. The agenda reflected the commitment, the concerned and pledge of DBKU to penetrate the livelihood of the people, those who really need its servics in particular.
Understandably, DBKU has planned a number of programs to implement programs for the benefits of the people. In this connection, all levels of society, government agencies and the private sector must co-operate fully with DBKU towards realizing the goals of its development programs.
Basically, conscientious efforts must be made avoid making Kuching to become a city without the soul like other cities that develop very fast and with the emphasis on doing business only.
For this reason, the State government has decided to gazette an area as a legacy square of Kuching city in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Merdeka celebration.The permanent vision was based on the development achievement along the waterfront whether in the South or North of the city.
Tun Abdul Taib said the Legacy square is a way to remind the people there is something precious about the city that can be found in trees, buildings, roads, public facilities, whether shopping malls or bazaars; they are somehing much more subtle without too much mundane of commercial reference or busy lifestyle of the people.
He said the legacy square concept is not only trying to show the beautiful and charm of Kuching but also to generate activities right in the middle of the city. It will also generate greenery and lots of surrounding activities that can attract interests of the people from all walks of life.
The 10-year plan to develop the Legacy Square will give time on how Kuching is being developed from a slow going, gentle and friendly place to become a city with thriving and happy environment.
Then the people will flock together in business centre that is more personal than material in nature. Undoubtedly, the development of the city has succeeded in transforming Sungei Sarawak to become an importantly feature of the city.
There is a beautiful river, a large span of green land, lots of beautiful buildings, old shop houses and many landmarks, which date back at least 100 years. This is what Kuching is like. It is old but growing forever young in another way.
Meanwhile Tun Abdul Taib, in his speech during the Goodwill night organised by the Community Association of India Street, said Kuching has grown from a small town, combining traditional Malay kampong with Chinese shop houses with lots of boats in the river. Now it is consisting of the same population but the changing physical environment.
For example, the city from the old style of physical growth now has shopping centres as good as in other cities in Malaysia. The environment like Padang Merdeka, roads and bridges, flyovers, mosques, churches, temples all get renewal while preserving the aura of the multi -racial city with friendly residents from both sides of the river.
Head of State Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud said the population, which used to comprise of Chinese and Malays only, now also has more and more Ibans, Bidayuhs, Orang Ulus and other ethnic groups that are coming to the city to share the responsibility of running the government and manning the business and industries, which are reflecting the co-operation of all races in the society.
He believes Kuching city, no matter how much it is being modernized, should keep the feelings among the people that it has the tradition and origin to bring them to the midst of history, which is quite enlightening.
Tun Pehin Sri Taib said he had often been asked how did Sarawak, at one time, had got a white Rajah? His answer was it came about because of the pirates. When the pirates became too many along the coasts of Sarawak, one adventurous British sailor came and fought them.
His efforts to restore peace to the coastal people made him to be elevated to become the White Rajah. That was the day and time Sarawak did not have sufficient power to defend itself from the marauding pirates.
But today, Sarawak, as a big part of the nation Malaysia, is fully equipped to look after its air space and territorial waters. Besides, history can still be seen in the way that the State is being developed; for example, the people work hand in hand to beautify the towns and cities throughout the State.
A very good example is the Datuk Bandar of City hall of Kuching North is the mayor of Chinese as well as Malay areas. He is being assisted by qualified Non Bumiputra officers to administer the city that has got multi – facetted identity.
He is responsible to look after Chinese town surrounded by Malay kampong. It is not easy to find such a situation elsewhere in Malaysia. It is God’s creation for the people comprising of various ethnics and religious groups to come together as can be reflected on what Kuching city is to the people, visitors in particular.
Tun Pehin Sri Taib believed that Kuching, in spite of its massive development, will be able to retain the centre, which will be rich in history and vibrant in commercial and modern activities. The people will be tied to the history and the past of Kuching. This is something seldom seen in any cities that are progressive all over the world.
A lot of them have lost their past because they are becoming too crowded and their activities become too fast with the dominant of commerce without giving the security of the people.
He said the city must provide security to the people to enable them to amble around in the luxury of elective environment so that they can see each other in the shopping area and along the water fronts, which are getting more pleasant and beautiful for the local people and visitors to enjoy.
Tun Pehin Sri Taib said the social and cultural activities are still lacking from Hilton hotel at Bukit Mata Kuching to Ban Hock wharf, which are as good as any places in cities, which have riverfronts; they are clean and beautiful.
He believed that the people in India Street could play active roles in getting the activities to come up in keeping with the glamour and mixture of people doing their shopping in the street.
Tun Pehin Sri Taib believed the people along Gambier road would become recipients of benefits of changes that would come up. They should study the tastes of new shoppers, who will probably buy more sophisticated things like hand bags or shoes or any other things.
Basically, they must recognize changes taking place in their midst and adjust themselves accordingly. Eventually, the local people will start to congregate all over the centre of Kuching and improve the identity of Gambier Street. Unavoidably, they improve the way they do business as a way to enhance the beauty of the city and reflect their pride in its progress and advancement.
Tun Pehin Sri Taib called on the people, regardless of their ethnic and religious groups to continue to play their roles in a pleasant way to ensure that material progress will bring about spiritual and social changes in a more generous degree from what has been inherited from the past.
For example, the change of Kuching from the old conservative town, with all its tradition, to become the mixture of the old and the new city, could start from India Street, the friendly place, to become a bustling shopping area.
He believed the people of India Street and surrounding areas could precipitate this evolution to transform Kuching to become the mixture of the old and new city of modern Sarawak. Their initiatives and efforts could be considered their contributions like the rippling of waves from a falling stone in a pond in the common task of shaping a society.
Basically, the transformation of a society must get maximum participation of the people and not only from one generation of people, who were brought up during the time when Sarawak achieved independence through the formation of Malaysia. They were very loyal and ready to put their shoulders to whatever areas they could take within their capabilities.
The transformation needs, as the society grows to become more sophisticated, the contribution from younger generation, who understands the stakes much more than the generation that started the process of development 50 years ago. In any case, the young people must be prepared to play bigger roles in developing a society as sooner or later they will take the lead in the task of nation-building.