Discovering a Different Kind of Kuching Through the Cat Museum
I am finally happy. I have found the place where I am no longer ashamed of who I am, and where I am surrounded by the furry creatures that I love without the fear of being branded ‘the crazy cat lady’.
The attraction of Kuching for me was not so much its Malay culture and British heritage, its beautiful mosques and temples, its colorful street fare of Jalan India and the excellent fresh produce at the Sunday Market. No, the foundation of my visit is much more feline in nature.
I have been lured here by its Cat Museum.
Kuching and the its cats
The word ‘Kuching’ in Malay sounds like ‘kucing’, which translates to cat and, while the literal comparison is of novel origin, the city takes the species seriously. I find monuments to cats on every corner of the city center, statues as tall as those commemorating fallen heroes depict the body movements of cats in all situations. I take a bus toward the north of the city and find myself climbing a steep hill to reach the spaceship-like Kuching North City Hall; my destination is the Kuching Cat Museum.
The Cat Museum
Perched on top of a hill called Bukit Siol, reaching the museum required cat-like instincts of wanting to get higher and higher. On arrival, I am greeted by a giant, long fur head with its mouth wide open displaying pointy fangs. I smile, and walk straight into the tigers’ den.
Cats possess different social status and come with a wide range of positive and negative superstitions. A white plump cat waving its paws is a symbol of wealth in Japan, while a black cat is the symbol of witchery and bad luck in the general Western culture, and in the domestic world, one either loves or hates the feline pet. I ponder on what other animals provoke such diverse emotions as I step into the world of cats and I am soon lost among its 2000 exhibits.
The Cat Museum really is a cat’s museum, exhibiting a rich history of all things feline, from cat food varieties to usage of cat images in political posters, with the only missing display being actual live cats.
Picking my way through Whiskers and Friskies, a good selection of cat toys that make my fingernails tingle for a play, I come to a corridor lined with photographs of famous people and their cats. I see John Lennon cuddling up with a tabby and Judy Garland reading to a black cat and secretly smile at myself as I notice many great writers were cat lovers, and imagine myself to be among them.
A dose of cat heaven
It is as if someone had given me a dose of catnip. I exit the museum feeling high on feline exposure. I resist the urge to pounce onto the lap of a giant tortoise cat and follow the arrows to the first set of displays. If there is a way to express the giddiness I am feeling, it would have to be that gentle inner excitement of a cat’s purr.
Returning to the streets of Kuching, I enjoy lunch at the ‘Open Air Market’ near the glistening Kuching Mosque, where the best hawker style street foods are served under a tin-roof (despite its name). After the feed I waddle along the river front esplanade to admire antique housing of the Bazaar and stroll down Jalan India to bargain for exquisite textiles.
All this time, a curious thought lingers in my mind. There were no cats on the streets.
Unlike other cities and towns in Malaysia, where stray cats litter the grounds of every market and every temple/mosque, tolerated and unharmed but nevertheless homeless and unloved, here in Kuching, the city obviously loved cats, yet, the streets were free of stray cats’ activities.
I hope, unlike their wandering stray dog friends, Kuching has no homeless cats, and the lucky buggers are all curled up on a warm lap somewhere.
Written by Amy Huang
Based in Sydney, Australia, Amy Huang is a writer stuck in the corporate world. A Business Analyst by profession, she works her life around travelling and has managed to squeeze in postgraduate studies in writing somewhere in between. Amy met her husband in 2006 while working on a community development project in Peru, and the travel-holic pair celebrated their love by getting married in Vanuatu in 2010. Amy keeps a blog on various travel topics at www.footprintsandmemories.com