Saturday, October 18, 2008

Opinion - Sarikei Tourism Drive: Culture Vulture

The tourists waited with anticipation for dusk with their cameras. Suddenly the sky darkened with a massive swarm of barn swallows chirping in a high pitch sound as they sought their supper of insects attracted by the bright lights. After supper, the noise gradually diminished when they settled down on overhead electricity cables.

Sarikei Barn Swallow Swarm, 2006
Source: weltrekordreise

Sarikei is THE town in Sarawak to observe this phenomenon. However, the swallows have slowly stopped coming because their resting places in downtown have been replaced with underground cables. The authorities need to bring back the swallows with overhead cables and bright lights at the fringe of downtown for them. This will be a tourist draw to stay an extra day because this phenomenon only happens at night.

Sarikei Swiftlet Bird's Nest Farming, Nyelong River, 2008
Source: Lu Moi Chu

Another bird attraction is the recent swiftlet bird's nest farming craze. Instead of climbing dangerous caves to harvest the expensive bird nests, tourists can be shown how the farmers use loudspeakers to blast mating calls to attract the swiftlets to specially designed houses to build their love nest with saliva. The steps of bird's nest processing should also be explained.

Sarikei Pineapples at Nyelong River Market, 2007.
Find the cut version above (yellow)

Sarikei Kembar Pineapple (Nenas Kembar), 2007
Bank Road Bus Station Market.

OK, enough already. Did you cringe when the non-locals show their photo of the Sarikei pineapple statue at the Rejang River Terminal 1? There's not even a plaque to explain the significance of the statue.

Sarikei should ride on the brand of the Sarikei Pineapple. Tourists can be brought to the massive pineapple farms (at Bukit Huang along Rejang River), learn the traditional way to cut the eyes off the pineapple, eat them with salt the local way, make pineapple tarts, etc. In Hawaii, after the tour of the pineapple farm, tourists end up in the souvenir store to buy dried pineapples and its products. Of course, tourists coming during the Pineapple Festival (Pesta Nanas) will end up with a bonus feast for the eyes.

Sarikei Pepper vines, 2007
Petalit, across Sarikei River

Sarikei Pepper corn drying, 2006
Source: Sorry, will the reader please contact me.

An early Cantonese pioneer, Yu Bao 余保, was exporting "red wood" to Indonesia and saw the pepper cultivation there. He brought back 10 pepper plants but only 3 survived. From there, pepper planting boomed in Sare, Sarikei. Sarikei used to produce 80% of Sarawak's pepper and was the #1 producer in the world. The tedious process of pepper farming is an interesting tale for the tourists to bring home to their salt and pepper meals.

Sarikei kom pia making, 2006
Shop at Nyelong River Market
Source: Cybreed

One of Sarikei's specialties is the kom pia (光餅) brought in by the Foochow. According to legend, kom pia was the brainchild of a general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) who strung kom pias through a string that was worn across the chest of his soldiers. This was to replenish energy from the high carbohydrate content during long battles. Well, immerse the tourists in the process of making this Foochow "bagel" and they will remember this smell even after they have gone home.

Now what are the top tourist souvenirs to bring home (not in ranked order) ? Drum roll, please.

Sarikei Dried Shrimps

1) Dried seafood - Nature's bounty
Sarikei is very near the mouth of the Rejang River which flows into the massive South China Sea. There's abundant seafood and the excess is dried and salted. The most popular buy is dried shrimps (hay bee in Hokkien) which are used to stir fry vegetables or make Chinese buns and dumplings.

Handicrafts at Wharf Road Block 4, 2006

2) Local handicrafts - Master artisans
The most popular local handicraft is the intricately weaved Iban basket that can be used as a small haversack. It can be bought at Wharf Road Block 4 and Weng Nging (5 Repok Road)

Sarikei Eight Treasure Bak Cheng herbs.

3) Bak Cheng herbs - herbal life
Bak cheng is more suitable for Asian and Sarawak tourists because the herbal soup may not suit western palates. Buy this from traditional Chinese medicine shops. Dump it into a pressure cooker with chicken, duck or pork. Add garlic, onions, oyster sauce and salt. If I can cook this, so can you.

Sarikei Dragon Eyes (longan)

4) Seasonal local fruits - No forbidden fruits
Sarawak has unique fruits like the wild durians, longan, dabai, keranji, pineapples, etc and other rarely seen wild jungle fruits brought in by the natives. Your task is to roam the local markets. The winner is the one that finds the most unique local fruits.

Sarawak pepper, 2007

5) Sarawak pepper - Spice up your life
Pepper from the former #1 producer in the world is not something to be sneezed at. Black or white? Grounded or whole grain?

Sarawak Iban Tattoo

6) Iban Tattoo - Sarawak Ink
The art of tattooing is an integral part of the well known Iban culture and a ritual expression. Tribal tattoo is trendy. You can get your tattoo from the shop next to Hung Kiew Kee restaurant at Berjaya Road. You can select an exotic tattoo to brag to friends back home or you can have a tattoo on a hidden part of your body.

Are you a culture vulture?


jingpengboy said...

yeah, we just plant pineapples and sell directly. it should be exploited more, there should be factories producing pineapple jam, tarts, canned pineapples, or king pies with pineapples from skei etc. only then we can provide more employment and earn more income rather than just selling all raw pineapples like how malaysia exports cocoa and imports Lindts.

sarawakiana said...

Great post and photos!!

Sarikei is really doing well agriculturally.

ront said...

emmm....i know a few westerners who likes those bak cheng soup the first time they tried it.

Nelson said...

Eastern Times
Sarikei blamed for migration of sea birds to Sibu
By Andy Chua

SIBU: The birds’ dropping issue here has become more complicated. With no proper solution in sight, operators of night joints here last Monday fired the first salvo at the local authority in Sarikei for ‘chasing’ the birds here.
Speaking at a press conference after an extra-ordinary meeting at Beijing Restaurant here, the two associations representing the operators, the Sibu Karaoke Lounge, and Night Club Association and the Sarawak United Entertainment Centre Association, said the local authority in Sarikei was responsible for the large migration of the sea birds to this town.
The two associations were represented by their chairman, Lau Siew Kwong and deputy chairman Tang Yew Sien respectively who said that as the local authority in Sarikei had “purposely” planted short trees in the town centre including changing to underground cables from overhead ones, these birds had no place to roost.
Thus, they migrated to this town and worsened the situation.
The two chairmen in their joint press conference also wanted the Sibu Municipal Council to take drastic measure to solve this perennial problem and not offer any more excuse.
They strongly believed ‘whenever there is a problem, there is a solution.’
“Is this the way the Sibu Municipal Council wants to attract tourists to the town by not implementing drastic measures to solve the birds’ dropping problem here?
“The council wants to upgrade Sibu to a city but how is it going to do that if the birds’ dropping issue becomes a chronic problem?” they asked.

Not the ideal solution
Last week, the council’s deputy chairman, Daniel Ngieng said chopping down trees or planting short trees was not the ideal solution. Destroying the birds had never been the right solution, he added.
He said the most probable solution was to strike a balance between the ecological system and the control of the birds’ population.
The two associations, however, said that due to the problem, their business had been greatly affected. Fewer people are now patronising their centres as their cars will be splashed with birds’ dropping.
The entrance of their centres are also inundated with the droppings.
They said that the birds were not swiftlets but sea birds which had no commercial value as they could not be bred for their nests. They claimed that these birds were a nuisance and health hazards.
The associations wanted the council to chop down trees planted at the car parking areas or at least to trim them once a while so that these birds would not roost there.
On the spraying of water to clean up the mess each morning, they said the council should reschedule such work from around 9.00 am to before 5.00 am.
“Most coffee shops here start their business at around 5.00 am. So the spraying time is not appropriate. It should be done before these coffee shops open,” they said.
The two associations have a total of 62 members.

Daniel Yiek said...

Thanks for the news article. Sibu businessmen complaining about swallows from Sarikei... :)

Sarikei should turn this "Weakness" into "Strength and Opportunity". Bring back OUR swallows but lure them to just outside the fringe of town (ie outside downtown away from the shops and cars). Maybe a designated area across Nyelong River and blast the mating calls of the swallows as they come in from the South China Sea. It's like tourists going to Mulu Caves to watch the bats coming out of the caves in the evening.

Anonymous said...

i intend to buy raw bird nest from sarikei, sibu. Kindly call me at 0166659468. thanks

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