Saturday, August 04, 2012

Carpenter Street, Kuching, Sarawak

images by Veronica Ng

In the old days, Carpenter Street was called "attap street" because of the thatch houses on both sides. This was where carpenters set up their workshop, earning the street its name.

A facelift took place in 1884, by courtesy of a big fire that razed all the wooden houses along the street. Charles Brooke, the then White Rajah of Sarawak, issued a decree that henceforth the houses to be rebuilt with non inflammable material. This necessitated the construction of the more permanent brick shop houses along Carpenter Street, a few of them surviving till today.

During those days, Carpenter Street was a lower working class neighborhood filled with opium dens, gambling joints, brothels and other clandestine activities. These were eventually cleaned up by the British.

The whole area oozes charm and character. Off Leboh China there is a row of perfectly preserved 19th century Chinese houses. Kuching's oldest streets dating back to 1864 is a row of 2 storey shop houses. Today it is considered as an 'antique arcade' because of its old-fashioned facade and for the variety of antiques and handicrafts sold here. Souvenir-hunters can seek out an assortment of traditional brassware, pottery, ceramics, tribal arts and many unique souvenirs of Asia.

The main entrance is at the eastern end of Carpenter Street opposite the Old Courthouse compound. Otherwise, you can find the Chinatown in the Main Bazaar area along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman opposite the Kuching Waterfront and Leboh Cina (Upper China Street).

Kuching Chinatown is marked with a grandiose Chinese-inspired red archway that certainly indicates the entry point of this popular shopping and eating place. The refurbished old shophouses sport brightly painted walls and windows, garbage-free streets. Kuching is a clean city.

Most of the shops along Carpenter Street are selling mostly non-touristy stuff. You will find bicycle shops, book stores, hardware stores, antique furniture stores and quaint kopitiams, although there are a number of establishments that cater to tourists, namely the Carpenter Guesthouse which seems like a decent backpacking place, Century Café which provides a great cocktail bar, and the exquisite looking Chinese restaurant.

There are also many Chinese temples in the precinct. Along Carpenter Street alone, there are two of them, with delicate stone carvings and pagodas. The most popular temple has to be the Tua Pek Kong temple along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman which is the oldest Tokong Cina in the city.

The temple is believed to be built back in 1843 although the city's official records show its came into existence only in 1876. Opposite the old temple is the Chinese History Museum which displays the history of the Chinese community in Kuching and Sarawak in general, tracing their heritage from various migration origins in mainland China. The museum is opened every day except on Fridays.

The temple is built back in 1843 opposite the old temple is the Chinese History Museum (Muzium Sejarah Cina). The museum displays some history of the Chinese community in Kuching and Sarawak in general, tracing their heritage from various migration origins in mainland China.

Main Bazaar along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman is a must-visit in many travel itineraries. Main Bazaar showcases almost similar characteristics of the old shop houses on Carpenter Street and Leboh Cina, with fancy souvenir outlets as the norm rather than an exception. 

We went to the famous open air ( Lau Ya Keng) opposite the Temple where Pork satay and fishball beehoon are some of the specialties. Main Bazaar, opposite the Waterfront, is the oldest street and the heart of old Kuching. It has some superb examples of Chinese shop house architecture, many of which have been occupied by the same family for generations. These families still pursue traditional occupations such as tin-smiting, carpentry and petty trading.

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