Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Sarawak Hotel

The Sarawak Hotel has been owned by the Wong family from the very beginning. Being the first fine hotel, with air conditioning it created a lot of interest. And I am sure there are lots of fantastic stories involved. It was indeed a very pleasant hotel and was run in a nice colonial way without a lot of the modern amenities of today.

However, I am writing about it because I have never stopped loving the idea of a rooftop dance floor, which made the hotel very unique in Sarawak and perhaps in Malaysia!!

When the hotel first opened, I was just a dreamy eyed young girl with lots of imagination. And of course my friends and I dreamed dreams of Prince Charming coming to sweep us off our feet, and the dance floor on the roof top was the perfect setting for such romantic dreams.

Mr. Wong's sisters went to school with me, and I am still in touch with one of them, after more than 40 years!!

Several significant facts must be clarified here.

First of all, Mr. Wong's father has the best step mother Sibu has ever known.

Secondly, Mr. Wong's family also planted the first orchid garden in Sibu.

Thirdly, Mr. Wong's family home in Sibu was situated in Sg. Merah where the Foochows first landed in1901.

Mr. Wong has maintained a strong love for Sibu and his hotel business. A pillar of the business world, Mr. Wong has always maintained a certain dignity. And I believe that the Foochows should accord him a lot of respect for his courage and loyalty to the Sibu community.

Here are the juicy bits about the roof top dance floor from the gossips I gathered from older relatives who hanged out on Saturdays with their business friends. In the 50's and 60's there were still some remnants of the colonial government officers, some British naval and army officers, and of course the usual bank managers. Some would bring their wives to dance on a Saturday night and there were many ladies of the night who were available for picking up in the various coffee shops.

The British ladies would be wearing their white high heeled shoes and carrying their white hand bags. The local ladies would have their gold or silver strappy sandals and extremely tight waisted clothes. Some would be wearing their wide biased cut skirts, with stiff underskits. When they danced they would shriek and shout, twist and shake their bums to the gay and lively tunes coming from the local band playing at the eastern end of the roof top. I was told that one of the Malay saxophonists was really but unfortunately he was not discovered by any talent scout and never made it to cut an EMI record.

But the British ladies would demurely dance away to cha cha numbers. They would do a few foxtrots and waltzes.

While writing this up, I can still hear the very politically incorrect song in my head, "Rose, Rose, I love you...." about a sailor leaving behind his Malayan girl friend because east is east and west is west.....


For old times' sake here's the address for friends and relatives who might like to stay in this old nostalgic place: Or go and see the first lift in Sibu.

Sarawak Hotel
34, Jalan Lintang /Cross Road, 96000 Sibu, Sarawak, Malaysia.
Tel: 60-84-333455

7 memories:

FrancisN said...

The Sarawak Hotel, the "plush" hotel in Sibu when it was first opened and it had no competition for many years.

I remember going to a lunch the Hotel put on for the business community, not long after it opened.

I was lucky enough that my uncle, who ran a business along Channel Road, took me with him.

I was very excited and when we got to the Hotel through the front entrance, there were no stairs.

My uncle told me that we have to go up the building using the lift. We were taken into the lift, the man shut the lift doors and up we went towards the roof floor.

I have never seen or taken a ride in a lift before and I was over the moon. I have just taken a ride in the first lift in Sibu. Did I brag to my friends for a long time.

The lunch was something else. I was expecting the usual hawker style food, like mee, rice etc. Instead there were sandwiches, salad and western style cakes. Nonetheless, I was hungry and I totally enjoyed this "new food".

Attending dances at the roof top brought many good memories. How I like to be 17 years old again.

What a song, "Rose, Rose, I love you....". It gets my feet quick stepping into a dance everytime I hear the song. Love the lyrics too.

I have not heard the song for a long while until I stumbled across an old version on Youtube the other day. What memories and my quick steps are a bit rusty!

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Ah, the usual Sacred Heart Old Boy who can dance and sing!!

I enjoyed the desserts in the Hotel whenever my family could go there.

Yes I forgot to mention the first lift in Sibu. Perhaps another time. In march when I go back to Sibu I will take a ride on that lift again. Hope it is still there.

There are a lot of ghosts in the lift and on the roof top.

Ever heard of the girl who jumped to her death?

FrancisN said...

You guessed right, Sacred Heart old scholar through from primary to secondary school and spent my first and last year at the "new school then" at Oya Road in 1967. I still remmember we had a moving day helping with the furniture and riding at the back of lorries. I shuttered to think now what would have happened, if we had an accident.

Hey, I am sure Methodist boys are just as capable with the dancing and singing too. Actually, my eldest sister did all her schooling at Methodist School before she went to the Batu Lingtang Teachers' College in Kuching.

I have not heard of the girl who jumped to her death or ghosts in that lift. You must write about that too. I love ghost stories and how they stir one's senses of fear and the dark.

Unknown said...

Perhaps you should also write about another Sibu landmark; the Sarawak House, once the tallest in Sarawak. I remembered it has the first escalator and the building must be grand even by 2day standard: a cinema, muli-storey carpark, hotel, shopping centre, restaurant, all in one. Remember those story of ghost and the cinema was burnt down a few time, etc

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Thank you writing.

I will think about the stories of Sarawak House - Yes, I heard about the fires burning down the cinema. I was visited my cousin's shoe shop when the Sarawak House was first buit very often.

The Mission Road of course provided us with lots of things to talk about.

Would you comment on the Ka Ko House (HOuse of the Wharf Labourers in Ek Tek Road? There was one art teacher, Mr. Wong, living there. I somehow lost some of my memories about Ek Tek Road. Some missing links there.

FrancisN said...

Being a Sacred Heart old scholar, I spent many happy teenage years at the old school in Mission Road.

I can remember many wonderful stories there but one has always stuck in my mind. One late afternoon in 1963, while playing a game of basketball at the school, we saw a battalion of soldiers with guns and backpacks matching towards the school and taking up residence at the school hall.

Curiosity had the better of us; we started to talk to some of the soldiers. They told us they were Gurhkas, sent here to protect Sibu from the Indonesians. It was later I found out that it was because of the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation, a result of Indonesia’s objection to Sarawak and Sabah joining Malaya to form Malaysia. We found the soldiers very friendly and they showed us how they cooked their dinners from their rations. It was intriguing. I believe you have written a post on the Gurhkas in Sibu.

I have always wondered, what would have happened, if the British didn’t send the Gurhkas to Sarawak. Maybe we would have become part of Indonesia instead of Malaysia. Only in an alternate world, if there is one, would we know whether Sarawak and Sabah would have been better off with Indonesia or better still be like Singapore and become an independent state. If only there was another Lee Kuan Yew at the time in Sarawak.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Yes there have been too many questions regarding the confrontation and many theories propounded. A few books if ever could be written by thinks like you would have explained a lot of our history then. But unfortunately many leaders did not come out to explain. Look at the film Rashomon by Akira Kurosowa...there are too many facets in life and we cannot really understand every facet well....


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