DIARY OF OUR 2003 PILGRIMAGE TO BORNEO
DAY ONE - Friday 18th April 2003
My wife, Jean, and I were up at 4.30am and after finishing our packing, we departed our home at 5.45am for the airport. Our daughter, Kirsty, drove us there. At the airport we met others from our tour group in the coffee lounge. There were ten of us with others from Victoria to meet us in Kuching. Then at 7.40am we departed on Malaysia Airlines for a five hour direct flight to Kuching in Sarawak. It was a very smooth flight and without incident.
At the Kuching Airport all staff had masks on because of the SARS virus threat. A few of the Malay and Chinese on our flight were also wearing masks. Whilst clearing Customs and Immigration we were subjected to a body temperature test by an instrument placed in our ear. Here we were coming from Perth Australia into a potential SARS area and we are the ones subject to a test - very strange!
We were met by our tour guide, Jerome, who is a resident of Sabah but born in the Philippines. The POW story has been a passion and project of his, with his expertise directed mainly on the Sandakan - Ranau Marches. Jerome has many contacts, associates and helpers all over Borneo. We were driven on bus tour of Kuching then to the Holiday Inn Hotel to offload our luggage. The hotel was excellent with fantastic views of the Sarawak River and the hotel swimming pool, from our bedroom window. After offloading our gear we were back on the bus for a full tour of the city. We were now joined by the Victorian component of our group.
At the 'Heroes Grave' we were met by Mr Lim (Lim Kian Hock) who is the Heritage Development Chairman of the Sarawak Tourism Federation, Mr Quek and many members of the newspapers and television media. We held a dedication ceremony then placed poppies on the grave. The media interviewed many from our group including Jean. A very moving ceremony. Weather fine but very hot and steamy.
Mr Lim said he would arrange a visit to the former POW site at Kuching (Batu Lintang Barracks) which is now a teachers college, for tomorrow afternoon. He is of chinese descent and a volunteer worker for the cause of the civilians involved in assisting the POWs. Many civilians were bashed, imprisoned and some executed for helping the POWs at Sandakan, Kuching and elsewhere in Borneo.
Mr Lim was particularly interested that Jean's Uncle Don was an active participant in the escape movement at Sandakan, and that he was convicted at Kuching along with many other POWs and local people for being part of that movement.
We then travelled to a tall building which had panoramic views of Kuching and on the top floor we had afternoon tea. Kuching is a large busy city and we were impressed with the layout and the beautiful tropical gardens everywhere. Then onto the Kuching Museum where many fine displays of artifacts and the early days of Sarawak. A walk to the outdoor aquariums and to the Heroes Monument and Gardens.
On arrival back at the hotel we settled in and then changed for the evening meal at the restaurant. A beautiful meal then back to our room to watch the 9.00pm television showing of our Heroes Grave Dedication Service. Both of us on TV but Jean's interview was not shown.
Ryan rang and invited us back to his room for a few drinks with him and his wife, Tricia. Ended up a great chatty evening with a few wines consumed. To bed at 11.30pm........a great day with so much achieved.
Kuching is a very nice city with a beautiful river flowing through the centre and with boats plying up and down all day. The Victorian Group people are all very nice as are all members of the tour. Jerome is excellent and he talks to all the drivers, waiters, porters and other staff in Malay - and things do seem to get done. Mr Lim was so nice and so committed to the spirit of the war events in Borneo. Kuching people are very friendly and it is so multicultural with a mix of Malay, Chinese and indigenous races. Very few westerners around. People are looking at us - especially Jean. It is either her height (5ft 10in) or perhaps her shoe size that makes people stare. Nearly all females in Kuching are so tiny and petite.
All excited over the plans for tomorrow and we slept very poorly - up at 4.30am - very tired!
|BACK TO PILGRIMAGE INDEX PAGE|