Padungan: A street frozen in time

Padungan Street. Not much is known of these row of shophouses that lay etched in the middle of Kuching city. But there are numerous reasons Kuchingites return to the area from time to time, despite the limited number of parking spots.

For example, each Chinese New Year, Kuchingites will visit the place to get goodies, decorations and smoked dried meat. Whereas during the mooncake festival, the  delicacy is easily spotted at every stone’s throw away. However, another main reason Padungan Street is still filled with people till this day is because of the variety of food it has to offer. Since the street is known as a tourist spot, most of the best kolo mee, laksa can be found in this part of town.

The Arch of Padungan – entry point. PHOTO CREDIT : CONNIE JEE

The Padungan Fire Station. PHOTO CREDIT : CONNIE JEE

The Sarawak War Memorial when first launched. PHOTO CREDIT : HO AH CHON

While there are many attributions to the street, its historical facts and landmarks are the most important ones to note. Padungan till this day still maintains the element of its old architectural built. Each carving, pillars and walls hold the proof of the past.

The four cat statue that marks the end of Padungan Street. PHOTO CREDIT : CONNIE JEE

Apart from the buildings, the modern-day Padungan looks quite different compared to the olden days. However, there are still several landmarks that remind the future of the past. The street, which stretches from the four cats statue up to the Jubilee Recreational Ground, comprises of landmarks that possess historical facts even from before Sarawak’s Independence Day, and many with the touch of  the previous British colonisation based on the historical collections by Ho Ah Chon.

Back in the late 18th century, Padungan used to be called Kampong Padungan, the largest Malay village in Kuching. However, in the early 19th century, as road constructions began to take place, and shophouses were built, the villagers moved to a nearby village called Lumba Kuda.

The first shophouse built in Padungan is where the present-day Poh Sen Foh Medical Hall is standing. That building which had been emblazoned by the number 1928, that marks the year it was built, is the beginning of the expansion of Padungan.

On November 11, 1951, the Sarawak War memorial located behind the Arch of Padungan was launched to dedicate the memory of C.D. Le Gros Clark, Officer Administering the Government, and to those who had lost their lives during World War II. The ceremony was unveiled by the then-Sarawak Governor, Sir Anthony Foster Abell where he had also placed wreaths on the memorial to commemorate.

Quoting November 12, 1951, Sarawak Tribune regarding the ceremony :

“Union Jacks and Sarawak Flags were the only decoration around the Memorial Clock Tower which was surrounded by guards of honour formed by the Sarawak Constabulary, Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts; officials, invited guests and a large congregation made up of members of the public. His Excellency the governor, accompanied by A.D.C. Abang Othman arrived at 9.30am and proceeded to the base of the Memorial where His Excellency took the Royal Salute.

Before unveiling the Memorial His Excellency said: “I have received a message for you from His Highness the Rajah; it was given to me by Mr Alpin who is representing His Highness at this morning’s service of dedication. The message reads as follows: “On this solemn occasion, the Ranee and I would like you to convey our heartfelt sympathy to the relatives of all those who lost their lives so courageously for Sarawak and for the cause of freedom in World War II. I would also like to express my appreciation to those who arranged this lasting memorial to those gallant men and women who will always be remembered as friends of myself and my family”.

Bird-eye view of olden day Padungan Street. PHOTO CREDIT : HO AH CHON

An old photo of the Padungan Fire Station. PHOTO CREDIT : HO AH CHON

The Sarawak War Memorial in modern day Padungan. PHOTO CREDIT : CONNIE JEE

The Arch of Padungan when first launched in 1952. PHOTO CREDIT : HO AH CHON

‘This clock tower which I am about to unveil commemorates the men and women of every race and of every creed who gave their lives for Sarawak in the war against the Japanese. We who were spared, in humility and gratitude pay this tribute to their fortitude and sacrifice and dedicate this memorial to their undying memory. On us falls the heavy responsibility to make sure, as far as lies within our power, that their sacrifice was not in vain. We pray that future generations of Sarawak citizens will pass this place in peace and security, and staying a while to read the inscriptions hereon, may feel something of our pride and gratitude for the heavy price that was paid for their freedom and happiness. Today we remember and honour Cyril Drummond Le Gros Clark, Officer Administering the Government, and his comrades in every walk of life who served this country and died for her.”

While the memorial was erected a year before, the Arch of Padungan was only constructed to commemorate the coming of Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, and her son, His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent on October 14, 1952.

The arch with the elements of pompuous and noble used to have Western-style motifs. However, decades have passed and it was reconstructed to one with a Chinese element. To accompany the modern day arch, the famous Padungan Cat was launched on August 1, 1988, in conjunction with City Day.

The Padungan Fire Station and the Kuching Municipal Council Flat were also notable landmarks constructed in 1957 and the area was once a mosquito and crocodile-infested swampy land. The new Fire Station and the Flats at the junction of Central Road East and Padungan Road were launched on April 13, 1957, by the Kuching Council President, William Tan.

A little further from the fire station stood the Jubilee Recreation Ground that was launched in the early 60s by the then-Sarawak Governor, Sir Alexander Wadell. The grounds which included a swimming pool, was built according to the then Olympic standards.

The purpose to construct the Jubilee Ground swimming pool was provide the public with a much-needed sports facility, according to former Mayor Ong Kee Hui. Back then, besides the river, another swimming pool facility available was the small Sarawak Club pool. Hence, the Jubilee Ground swimming pool can be considered as Kuching’s first Olympic-standard swimming pool that was opened to the public.

After many years, the streets of Padungan remains as one of Kuching’s identity with its architecture, culture and people. Although Padungan is moving forward with developments, there are still aspects of Padungan Street that reminds us of the stories before, and hopefully will not be lost in time.