Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Kuching Festival

It is 5pm and still the oppressive heat of the day has still not subsided, but stall owners are already arriving with their wares and food arranging them in partitioned off stalls lined up in an open space beside the Council building. This almost two football field size ground is gaily decorated with about 200 food stalls selling all manners of food that this city is famous for. Welcome to the Kuching Festival!

For three weeks, this colourful fair will open its gate to thousands of visitors from 6.30 pm onward to avoid the steaming heat of the day. By dusk, the weather will be sufficiently cool down to entice people to browse the numerous cubicles selling mostly food like laksa, satay, fried noodle, dim sum and many others. The main theme of the festival seems to be: Food , and more food!

By 7pm the crowd starts to arrive. Adults with children shouting with glee at baloon venders, wide eye, up- country teenagers in town for a day purposely to attend this event, Grandpa and grandmas accompanied by their middle aged shildren and grandchildren. Cooing courting couples sharing a cone of ice cream, a bunch of giggling schoolgirls, even a lone vagrant whom everybody give a wide berth. There is a stage erected at one corner where a crowd converged to watch a slap stick comedy sketch, to be followed by a singing competition later. The din compounded by the stage loudspeakers has now reach its peak and conversation has to be raised a notch to be intelligible.

The partition off stalls are arranged in a straight line along the perimeter of the ground facing the open space where hundred of table and chairs are provided for al fresco dining/eating. Shoppers only need to browse the food, get their order on the spot and carry their own food to an empty table, plonk thier food down and tuck in! Its simple as that. But you have to elbow your way to get at the food as there aare others who are as hungry as you are! And be ready for strangers ogling at your food and some admirers might even have the temerity to ask you which stall you bought your fare!

Baring in mind the whole fair is swarming with people thus getting an empty table often become a real hassle, thus you may have to appoint among your mates who to be the maitre d', so you saunter around and spot a table where the occupants seem to have almost finished eating, then you have to stand nonchalantly next to the table, and jump into a seat like playing musical chair once they got up to leave! That way you "claim" the table for your use even though your friend are still taking their pick with the food. Now come the hard part, triumphantly telling them you've succeed in getting a table but where, as the whole ground is almost a melee. Luckily cell phones come to the rescue and you tell them youre near the big neon sign of Carlberg Beer or the Coca cola soft drink stand. While you sit alone guarding your territory, others with food packet in their hands glare at you in envy. Some cheeky ones might even grap a seat despite you telling him the table is taken, grumbling that your mates wouldnt even return by the time he finishes his chicken wings, while you wait helplessly for what seem like eternity for them to come back with the food.

Finally, they appear grinning, sweating profusely hands full of glorious food. Now comes the enjoyment part. Good friends, great food, gaity atmostphere, and plenty of sweating, what more could one ask for. Unfortunately the crowd is getting denser by now and you may have a few "nonchalant" bystanders with shifty eyes but you try to ignore them, sometimes they give up, but a few may persisit with the tenacity of a vulture. And when all good food have come to an end, after dinner conversation have to give way to civic mindedness as you all got up to surrender your turf.

As you get to leave the ground, you may want to give it a last look around in case you miss something worth buying. Its like last minute shopping at the duty free airport shop before the loudspeaker announce the plane's departure! Finally after squeezing through the crowd with tousled hair and sweat smelling clothes you emerged from the exit. But your sigh of relief was shortlived as you watch in dismay as you have to wade you way thru the surging crowd to your car in the crammed car park, and you and your friends groan in unison at the propect of driving in gridlocked road back home. But, what the heck, it's just once a year and your love your tummy so much you'd sacrifiy anything to keep it happy!
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