I was in Kuching City last November 27 to December 2 to participate in the International Youth Cultural Conference (IYCC) organized by Yayasan Perpaduan Sarawak, Sarawak Development Institute and Faradale Media. This article is a list of my ten best experiences while I was there.
First, here’s a little background about Kuching and the IYCC. Kuching is a Bahasa term for cat; hence, Kuching City literally means Cat City. It is the capital of the Sarawak region, one of the two Malaysian regions in Borneo Island (the other one being Sabah with Kota Kinabalu as its capital). Borneo island is shared by three countries, namely: Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam.
Sarawak alone has 16 (I might be wrong) different tribes or cultural groups. Despite this, however, the region remains peaceful and united. Thus, the IYCC was organized to promote unity amidst cultural diversity with the Sarawak region as an example. The conference in itself was very relaxing. The speakers presented very light yet practical talks.
Now, on to the list!
1. Danced native tribal Sarawakian dances
During the welcoming night of the conference, I was invited on stage to participate in one of the activities. I thought I’d be joining a game show type of activity. I was surprised when I was asked to copy the dance moves of one of the natives. Being the TNT that I am (only Ateneans can relate to this), I couldn’t help but get wild on stage. It was a fun experience (though I did not win).
The next morning, we had workshops to choose from. Since my friends signed up for the traditional dances, I decided to join them. We were taught the traditional Eagle dance portraying how a male and female eagle goes through courtship.
The dances were so similar to that of our tribal Igorot dances – a lot of arm and feet movements. Even the sounds that we were required to shout was familiar. Perhaps, even with diversity, our Southeast Asian cultures have a lot of similarities.
2. Used a traditional hunting weapon
One of the activities in the IYCC was on traditional Sarawakian games. There were different games but the one I liked most was the one using the blowpipe.
The blowpipe was traditionally used by the Orang Ulu tribe to hunt animals. For Sarawak Cultural Village, at least, it was turned into a game. Similar to archery, the goal is hit the target. The difference is that you have to do this by blowing the small arrow through a pipe.
I tried it three times and in all my attempts, I was successful.
3. Got chummy with the Chief Minister of Sarawak
During IYCC, I was given the privilege to be part of the closing ceremonies. I was tasked to represent all the delegates by personally handing the token of appreciation to the Chief Minister of Sarawak, Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib bin Mahmud.
It was the first time I was crowded with paparazzi and it was in Malaysia. Although the Pehin Sri, as I later found out, is a man who faces controversies of alleged corruption, it was still a proud moment to be in stage with him. It’s not everyday that you share the limelight with a foreign politician.
I was also asked to join some of the chosen delegates to have a one-on-one session with the Pehin Sri. Although I wasn’t able to ask any questions due to the limited time, it was still a wonderful experience that I shared with some of my close friends.
4. Joined a fashion show in my Barong Tagalog
For the last night of the conference, a cultural fashion show was held. Each country had the chance to show their traditional costumes and talk about their respective countries.
I was among the three Filipino delegates (my blockmate, Kim Luces, and Gina Laurenciano from UP Los Banos) and we came prepared. I brought my blue barong tagalog and added a sablay. I also wore an udong that I got from Bali just so I can have a headpiece.
As always, it was a pleasure to represent the Philippines. Plus points to our pride as Filipinos!
5. Shopped in Kuching Waterfront
Another part of the conference activities was the City Tour. And guess what the tour included? Yup! Shopping!
Aside from the cultural places, our tour guide brought us to the newly opened mall in Kuching. But since the prices there were a bit too expensive (at least for me), I asked him to bring me to the cheaper stores. He brought me to Kuching Waterfront beside the China Town.
It was a good place to shop for souvenirs. You can actually ask for half the price. Furthermore, Sarawakians are really welcoming people, especially if you look Malaysian. In almost all the stores I entered, the people always initially approached me in Bahasa. I had to say I was Filipino for them to speak English.
6. Got published in a newspaper
I’m a writer so when I get published, my name is usually in the by-line. I am rarely published as a source.
During the first day of the conference, I was approached by two journalists from the Borneo Post. They asked if they can interview me about the conference. Being a fellow journalist, I agreed. I didn’t know I got published until one of my friends told me so. Thankfully, I got a copy of the issue and brought it home.
7. Partied without alcohol
Being a formal function, alcohol wasn’t served during the entire conference. This, however, did not stop us from getting crazy in the dance floor. During the opening and closing nights, my ASEAN friends and I had a wild time partying when the DJ turned up the music.
One of the craziest moments during the parties was when a Malaysian girl touched my ass. When I turned to her and asked why, she said, “You have a nice butt for a guy. Can I touch it again?” It was a life-changing moment. Being the conservative guy that I am, I answered, “Sure!”
8. Bonded with Bruneians
You’ve probably met my Bruneian sister Zura in one of my articles. Well, she brought a lot of her friends in the conference and all of them were pretty friendly like her.
Throughout the duration of the conference, Kim and I stuck with our new found friends from Brunei. From the workshops to the parties and to the city tour, we bonded with the Brunei delegation.
We found out that we have a lot of things in common with them. For more, most of them are fans of Filipino culture. As a matter of fact, some of them even take Filipino language as an elective! I actually felt a bit guilty for taking Deutsch as a foreign language course.
Hopefully, Kim and I will see them again on August as we are set to visit them on Hari Raya.
9. Got drunk with new Malaysian friends
Of course, how can I miss the getting drunk part? Like all of my travels, I always look for the alcohol whenever I had time. It’s a good thing Kim and I booked our flights a day late.
What better way to go around a city but with its locals? Thankfully, we met four new Malaysian friends who agreed to tour us around Kuching on our last day. I call them the Kuching Boys (Darren, Anderson, Martin and Louis) and I’m going to write about them one of these days.
They were really friendly and welcoming. They also had a good (and green) sense of humor. They drove us around the different shopping and eating places in Kuching. After a day’s worth of traveling, we capped our friendship with beer. It was a great way to end my Kuching trip!
10. Wore Baju Melayu on the way home
I never travel light. Due to weather in Sarawak Cultural Village, however, I had to change clothes often. Hence, I ran out of clothes to wear by the time of my flight going back home.
Desperate, I wore the baju melayu Zura gave me as an exchange gift. Almost everyone I ran into thought that I was Malaysian as they would initially approach me in Bahasa.
On the way off from Kota Kinabalu Airport, one of the immigration officers asked if I was Muslim. Disarmed, I just answered, “Yes, in the Philippines” and went on my way.
I had a great time in Kuching and I learned a lot from the IYCC. Cultural diversity really is beautiful and, with the example of Sarawak, it can also make way for unity. With the new friends I made in Kuching, I know that culture is not a barrier but a bridge toward understanding each other and making connections with others.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!