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What About Kuching?

This post was written by Georgette Tan.

Like all great stories, ours started with a common small city problem: major entertainment events skip us and head straight to the big city, leaving us to mutter our disappointment.

I grew up with a broad interest in arts, culture, and lifestyle. Working for a local newspaper up to last year, I wrote about what Sarawakians were doing. I met people who would go on to start doing something because grumbling was not a fulfilling long-term plan.

The local creative scene had always been encouraging and wonderful, but it was also strangely detached. For a long time, the city felt as though it was holding its breath, as though everyone was waiting for someone else to make the first move.

As early as 2015, tour agency founders and avid travellers Donald and Marina Tan started putting out feelers into the community. Sarawak is full of talented individuals and groups that deserved more attention. Creating a festival and holding it in October would also help the Sarawak government and tourism stakeholders curtail the annual dip in visitor footfall.

In 2017, What About Kuching (WAK) made its debut supported by the Sarawak Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports. What set it apart was anyone with an idea and a plan is welcomed. And while there were major players who wanting to do something for their hometown, a lot of niche interest groups also started asking themselves, “Is this where we stick our heads out?”

It was. They did. We did.

October 2017 exploded with music and dance, talks and tours, theatre and fashion, exhibitions and art residencies. It was exciting and exhausting. I wrote many articles and attended events, in addition to managing my own. There was something happening every weekend all month. It was not perfect, but it was a start.

In 2018, armed with everything we learned in the first year, WAK came back improved and bigger. The WAK Music Portal saw familiar names such as Zee Avi, At Adau, Tuku Kame and Tempered Mental take the stage. Exhibitions became bolder – World Press put their photo exhibition on Padang Merdeka, while elsewhere anonymous participants penned their secret hurts for an exhibition on mental health. Theatre shows and a talk on publishing became surprise hits, while tattoos and tuak claimed their rightful places in the public sphere.

This year, the WAK’s music offerings including pioneers such as Nice Stupid Playground and OAG, and heroes of the yesteryears such as Rose Iwanaga. Other familiar names will be making the journey to Kuching – comedians Kavin Jay, Joanne Kam, Bibi K Poh and the members of the Malaysian Association of Chinese Comedians (MACC); life coach Asha Gill and artist and musician Alena Murang. Local collaborators have been seen switching hats to bring more variety to the programme.

The name ‘What About Kuching’ started as a joke, but it was also a real question and this festival was the answer. Driven by the community for the community, it is not just a successful partnership between the public and private sectors, but also a testament to what the local creative scene can do when you let them create what they want to see.

What About Kuching?

We want you ask this question and be reminded of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, knowing that there will not be a dull moment from start to finish. So if you are looking to break away this October – to enjoy the best of what Kuching has to offer, to surround yourself in the magic of this land and its people – just ask yourself this question: 

What About Kuching? 

Georgette Tan is a freelance writer and editor. She is WAK 2019’s Media Lead.

Images by Jee Photography.

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