In most places in Sarawak you cannot really tell who is Chinese or who is Iban or who is Melanau because all of us look quite Sarawakian if we have some mixed ancestry. One student called "Siti" is every inch a Chinese (grandma is Chinese) but she is Iban and speaks BM and Iban only. Another is totally Indian looking but only his grandfather is Indian. You will be surprised he speaks Iban or Chinese to you. In Sarawak you might find the Biblical Tower of Babel but you may be able to at least communicate in Bahasa Sarawak or Bahasa Malaysia. You will be surprised that today you have Bangladeshis who speak good Mandarin in Miri.!
I had this nice conversation with one of my coffee shop towkay neo friends. She told me that she often made embarrassing mistakes when she spoke Chinese to a customer who turned out to be Iban or Bahasa Malaysia to another customer who turned out to be Chinese!
We really must not take offence because it is really difficult to tell who is what from all my experiences.
Even I have been mistaken for a Malay whenever I wear Baju Kurong and Bahasa Malaysia would be our language of interchange. But the best communication faux pas was when a Chinese man spoke Iban to me and I replied in Iban knowing fully well that he was a Chinese. We would do this for a while until I allowed him to find out that I was a Chinese. On another occasion an Iban friend of mine was driving a Mercedes up to a petrol pump when the assistant asked in a friendly way how long he had been a driver in Bahasa Sarawak. The pump assistant was Iban! But my friend was very sporting as he said he had been a driver since he was 18 in excellent Iban with Bahasa Sarawak accent!!
Yong Huo is a lovely little shop located to the left of the Park Hotel. It serves nice Taiwan Toufoo Milk and Taiwanese Biscuits. It specialises in Yew Tiau with cucumber salad dressed with mayonnaise. Whenever I bring a friend for some accupressure with Mr. Hii Kah Ang and his assistant Madam Hii I would stop by for a coffee and/or bowl of kampua mee ( a connoisseur had some time ago told me that it is NOT kampua mee but Cantonese mee).
The towkay neo who is the daughter-in-law of Madam Hii is very honest when she told me that their mee was more kolo mee than kampua mee but it is made in the same way. But it does not really matter as I have found that the two are totally different over the years. The difference is Sibu Kampua and Miri Kampua! Confusing isn't it? So when in Sibu order Sibu Kampua Mee. In Miri..just any dry mee kolo or Cantonese. There cannot be a conclusion to this debate...:) :) :P
While waiting I would read all the Chinese newspapers available in the coffee shop even "old newspapers"! In times of recession this is a good way of saving some ringgit on newspapers. Parking is also expensive here as it is 50 sen for the first half hour. You cannot win can you? But the towkay neo will give you extra portion of noodles because you are waiting....(whisper : you can pack more than half of the bowl of noodles to take home (ta pau). :)
When you meet these two you will think that they are Chinese. Inda on the left is an Iban from Kanowit and Moi on the right is Indonesian who may just reply you in Chinese!! Being ever so cheerful and friendly they will never take offence.
These two waitresses always put their customers at ease .
Yong Huo is a very multi-racial coffee shop and is not the domain of only one race. You can see civil servants having their break here and early morning bus communters coming down from Niah having their breakfast. Some of the Senior Citizens of Chinese descent also patronise this shop. I like to see some old Chinese ladies coming to the pasar for their marketing and stopping by for their kolo mee and kopi-o. Some Foochow men will have a good conversation about the economy for a good hour or two even under the swirling fan. A cup of kopi-o can go a long long way for them. As for me I love this "waiting room". It is very much a social centre!
Customers should just enjoy the linguistic confusion which comes along with living in a multi-racial country.
Enjoy the cup of kopi and the kampua/kolo mee that come along with all the diverse mix! That's very Sarawak.