KUCHING certainly has a lot going for it.
Most visitors are struck by its old-world charm and laid-back ambience, in contrast to the hectic pace of life in bigger cities.
It’s also been a Healthy City since 1994 and is generally acknowledged to be one of the cleanest cities in Malaysia. Indeed, Lonely Planet describes Kuching as having a “leisurely charm all its own, cultivating a sophisticated but relaxed atmosphere”.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the state capital exists in a time-frozen bubble, unchanged since the days of the White Rajah. It has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, evidence of which can be seen all over the city.
In the last couple of years alone, we’ve seen shiny new shopping malls coming up in the city. There’s The Spring, Boulevard and Green Heights Mall, bringing with them retailers from Peninsular Malaysia.
For Kuchingites, there’s suddenly a wealth of choice when it comes to shopping. No longer do we need to pop over to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore for a shopping fix - and in case we haven’t got enough retail therapy, there are yet more malls under construction from Jalan Song and Simpang Tiga all the way to Jalan Barrack downtown.
There are other signs of growing affluence around us. Remember when the only fast-food chain in town was SugarBun? And how exciting it was when KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s made their first appearance? Now we’re so used to them, we’re just as likely to pop into one of these fast-food outlets as into a coffeeshop for a bite.
Remember also when eating any kind of foreign cuisine was considered a novelty and even a brave experience? These days restaurants offering cuisines from Western to Middle Eastern and Japanese are readily available and sought out by city folk.
Other notable developments include the expansion of the Kuching International Airport, the opening of a new Cardiac Centre and flyovers where there were once roundabouts.
What I’m getting at is this: Does all this development mean a better quality of life for Kuchingites? In one way the answer would appear to be yes. Better infrastructure and amenities should mean higher standards of living, while more shopping and dining options would indicate that city folk are wealthier and have more sophisticated taste than in the past.
However, as Minister in the Chief Minister’s Department Datin Fatimah Abdullah said last week, quality of life means more than just better economic standards and amenities.
“There must also be security, safety, health, and less crime and social ills. These are some indicators of quality of life. For instance, ladies can walk with handbags on the street without fear of someone trying to snatch our bags, or there is no fear when our children walk to school that they will be kidnapped or molested,” she said.
I would add that quality of life also means a conducive living environment in which families and communities can thrive and daily life is as stress-free as possible.
Unfortunately, stress is encroaching on city life and nowhere is this more evident than on our roads. Traffic jams have become the norm rather than the exception during rush hour, leading to stressful driving experiences as motorists try to reach their destinations on time.
While we welcome progress, this shouldn’t be at the expense of our quality of life. Let’s not sacrifice the city’s green areas in the name of development, nor lose our sense of community which brings us together in unity and harmony. Let’s not lose the laid-back atmosphere which gives Kuching so much of its charm - I’m sure we wouldn’t like to live in a city where everyone is stressed, ultra-competitive and hasn’t got time to spare for others.
And while we can shop and eat out at more places, we may not necessarily be getting value for money as prices have been going up.
Sure, standards have risen but so has the cost of living. We need decent wages and equal wealth distribution to ensure no one is left out of enjoying better living standards.
Let’s also not forget the poor and needy in our midst, those who lack opportunities to find better jobs and are struggling to make ends meet.
The first line of the vision statement of the Kuching Healthy City project reads: “(It) is a well-planned, vibrant, landscaped garden city that is literate, cultured, safe and secure. It offers a standard of living that is affordable by all strata of its talented, responsible, disciplined and dedicated citizenry.”
This may sound idealistic and ambitious, but there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to high ideals for the benefit of everyone. Let’s all work towards achieving this vision and make Kuching the best place for us to live in.