I left Kuching in 1995, on my father’s birthday, to be precise. I was incredibly sad and scared, and excited and exhilarated.
On one hand, I was leaving the safety net of my parents and the home I’d known for over two decades. But on the other hand, I couldn’t wait to go. I felt stifled, like a stranger in my own hometown, and in my heart, I knew that leaving was the best decision for me.
Twenty years later and it’s been quite a ride.
I’ve been fortunate to travel extensively for work throughout SEA and Europe, and experience life across continents. I’ve met people from all countries, all stations of life, shared meals with them, and exchanged stories. I’ve gotten married, had a child and gotten divorced. Hey, I did say it’s been quite a ride.
Today, I live in Houston with my soulmate, Pierluigi, and our combined three children aged 20, 17, 16. And while there are no white picket fences (ours are Cedar), I’m living my happily ever after. As expected, I’m often asked how different life is here compared with Kuching, and truth be told, it isn’t really all that different. I mean, I realise how ludicrous that might sound, but allow me to explain.
People here are friendly and kind, and genuinely want to hear your response when they ask, “How are you?”. The Kuching I recall was the same. True, temperatures were on the higher side, and languages spoken differed, but there was a real sense of warmth and sincerity that I have yet to come across elsewhere in the world save in the Southwest.
Life also moves at a slightly slower pace in Texas. Having lived in a cosmopolitan city for over 10 years where if one had a heart attack, passersby would merely step over your body while complaining you’re in their way, a slower pace is very much welcomed these days. I still have work deadlines and personal commitments but I no longer feel as though my life is a pressure cooker, which is a really lovely thing. The last time I experienced such calmness? Growing up in Kuching.
Back then, the slowness exasperated me. I recall being incredibly frustrated with the turtle-like speed of mall elevators and human traffic on the sidewalks. There were even moments when I was tempted to trip people who were slow. Try not to judge me too much. Everyone has an evil thought or three every now and again, yes?
On the flipside, differences aren’t necessarily bad either. In fact, the disparities between Houston and Kuching have only helped me appreciate many things. A fine example would be food. For instance, I don’t even like laksa but because it’s not something you can find in Houston, I’ve been coveting it for ages! Durians are available, yes, but they’re simply not the same, and let’s not even talk about native fare such as jungle ferns or belacan and bamboo snails, and the bounty of fresh seafood. You know, I haven’t had a fresh pomfret in years.
So, my point is this – it’s not really Kuching that I miss, because I don’t. I don’t miss the pollution nor the chaos, and I certainly don’t miss the weather. It is, however, the bits and pieces of what makes Kuching that I miss dearly because, quite simply, it’s the place I grew up, where my parents live, where some of my most treasured memories were made and no place in the world would ever be able to replace that.
Would I go back to live there? No.
Born and bred in Kuching, Sheela has been conceptualising brand strategies for the luxury fashion and lifestyle sectors for close to 20 years. When not poring obsessively over her work, she seeks out antique books and readily confesses to being an avid gym rat.