Unsurprisingly, Sibu proves to be a very functional city with little to interest us beyond it’s night market where we continue our experimentation with local cuisine by eating various fried delicacies whilst skilfully avoiding any oral ingestion of chicken bum holes.
The next day we make our way by ramshackle bus
to the town of Mukah, or more specifically, the nearby waterside village of Kampung Tellian.
Mukah has a visibly different ethnic make-up from our previous stops in Sarawak. Whereas the major cities are heavily influenced by the Hokkien Chinese community, Mukah and the surrounding areas are primarily populated by the Melanau people which is reflected in both the local faces and the cuisine.
Closely related to the Malay people, the Melanau have a tradition of seafaring and sago growing and have local speciality dishes such as Umai, a raw-fish dish marinated in lemon juice in a similar process to the South American ceviche. The dish is a very tasty appetizer, zesty and with a distinct shallot, chilli and ginger flavouring. I was however disappointed not to encounter the other Melanau speciality of sago worms, a form of beetle larvae harvested from the trunks of sago trees.
The Melanau people also turn out to be big fans of “The Boy” whereas the chinese want to pinch his cheeks for good luck at any opportunity, these guys want to have a photo with him.
He really is a little superstar around these parts and you can tell how he loves being the centre of attention from the rapid development of his flirting skills.
I could have learned a trick or two from him even at this tender age.
Our home for the evening is to be the Lamin Dana Tall house, a cultural centre hidden amongst the labyrinth wooden walkways of Kampung Tellian and nestled alongside a narrow but active waterway. Built in the traditional style of the Melanau, the tall house afforded protection against both piracy and rising water levels, built as they are upon raised stilts.
The Tall House as per their Iban and Bedayuh relative, the Long House, is basically a terraced street of dwellings under a single roof. Each family lives in separate apartments or “biliks’ with communal activities taking placer upon the substantially sized verandah.
As we have arrived during the run up to the Hari Raya celebrations, the Tall House is pretty quiet and we effectively have the run of a living museum with an extensive playground for “The Boy” to clamber, crawl, and chase his ball around the verandah.
We take a walk around the village, observing its colourful stilt raised houses, meandering over walkways, bridges and paths where as ever, the presence of “The Boy” affords us a lingua franca with the local community and we end up having a long chat with some villagers who themselves have a similarly aged child.
We ask about transport into the Town and discover that without a taxi ride arranged, we face a 3km hike in the heat of the afternoon. Buses are apparently infrequent and unreliable but we have no option but to wait at the intersection and hope that either one happens to be scheduled for now, or an empty taxi passes our way.
It must be 32 degrees in the limited amount of shade available, and the wind is no more than a whisper. This is not ideal.
After a five-minute debate about what we should do, we are aborted mid-conversation as a small car pulls up besides us. “Mukah? You go Mukah?” A voice calls from inside. It is the father of the baby we befriended a few minutes earlier. A small and meek looking gentleman, bespectacled and goofy mouthed, I read the 0.5’s mind and realise she is seriously considering that he could be a serial killer of hitch-hikers and lost tourists, but decide the offer is too good a chance to pass up and suggest we get into the vehicle.
It’s an incredibly tight squeeze for someone of my height, but after five minutes with my knees almost touching my progressively hirsute chin, we make it to the town centre without any blood being shed nor hostages being taken.
After lunching and taking in the day market where we buy chicken biriani and curry puffs for our dinner, whilst someoney practices his pulling techniques, we decide to make the most of our temporary abode and head back to the tall house where we let “The Boy” run loose once more as the sun sets on the kampung.
Today was a good day.