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The Asian city obsessed with cats

Sitting in the taxi on my way into town from the Kuching airport, I could already see that I was going to get along fine in this Malaysian city. After all, I’m a cat person.


Everywhere I looked I saw felines. A giant white cat waved at me from a roundabout just outside Chinatown. A family of robot-like cats stared from the side of the road close to a mosque. Spray-painted alley cats slunk around the sides of buildings in the form of street art.


“The city’s cat obsession really stems from its name,” said Amir, who works at the city’s Cat Museum. “The word ‘kucing’ means ‘cat’ in the Malay language.”

"从古晋这个城市的名字来看,就可以知道古晋对猫有多么的痴迷。"在古晋猫博物馆工作的艾米尔(Amir)说。"在马来语中,"kucing" 一词就是指猫。"

Housed in the North Kuching City Hall, the Cat Museum is without a doubt the best place in the city to learn all about felines and their relationship with this city in Malaysian Borneo – a part of the world more commonly associated with orangutans.

马来西亚婆罗洲,很多时候人们会自然地将其与猩猩联系起来,猫博物馆位于古晋北部市政局(Kuching North City Hall),这里无疑是了解所有关于猫科动物及其与这座城市关系的最佳地点。

Standing among a medley of objects – from mummified Egyptian cat remains to contemporary paintings to porcelain figurines – that traced the history of cats back 5,000 years, Amir explained several theories behind why his city was named after the cat.

这里有木乃伊一样的埃及猫遗体,也有当代绘画以及瓷俑等,借以追溯 5000 年之前与猫有关的历史,艾米尔站在中间,解释了为何城市以猫命名背后的几种说法。

Some believe that when the first Rajah of Sarawak, an Englishman named James Brooke, arrived in Kuching around 1839, he pointed to the settlement and asked what it was called. A local, mistakenly thinking he was pointing at a passing cat, told him it was called ‘Kucing’.

位于古晋北部市政局的猫博物馆展示了 5000 年以来猫的历史
有些人认为,首位砂拉越拉者(Rajah of Sarawak),英国人詹姆斯·布鲁克(James Brooke)于 1839 年左右到达古晋时,他指着落脚点,问这是哪里。一位当地人错误地认为他指着一只路过的猫,于是告诉他这是"kucing"(猫)。

Others claim that the city was named after trees that once grew throughout the area, bearing small fruit called mata kuching, or ‘cat’s eye fruit’, that’s similar to lychee. The last theory is that the unusual name was chosen when residents discovered short-tailed cats living along the banks of the Sarawak River which flows through the city.


After visiting the museum, I was keen to discover more about the relationship between cats and the residents of Kuching.


I’d arranged to meet Harris, a local guide who could show me some more of the city’s more famous cat imagery. Kuching is home to a diverse population made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians, as well as local tribespeople such as the Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu and Melanau. As we walked, Harris explained that cats are significant to each group. To the Chinese, for example, they’re a symbol of good luck. And cats have been respected in Islam for hundreds of years. I even found out that the Prophet Muhammad had a cat named Muezza, whom he cared for greatly.


Meanwhile, Borneo residents have long valued cats because they help control pests. Harris told me that in the 1950s, authorities attempted to use chemicals to combat malaria-carrying mosquitos and rats. After the chemicals negatively impacted the region’s feline population, the British Royal Air Force parachuted 14,000 cats into rural Malaysian Borneo in a mission known as ‘Operation Cat Drop’.

同时,婆罗洲居民长期以来一直很重视猫,因为它们有助于控制老鼠及鼠疫。哈里斯告诉我,在二十世纪五十年代,当局曾试图用化学品来消灭携带疟疾的蚊虫和鼠类。化学品对这一地区的猫产生了负面影响。之后,英国皇家空军在一次任务中将 14,000 只猫伞投至马来西亚婆罗洲农村,这被称为"投猫行动"。

We walked past a family of giant polychrome cats standing on top of a fountain and some playful felines cast in bronze down by the waterfront. Harris explained that references to the animal are everywhere: students learn at I-CATS – the International College of Advanced Technology Sarawak – and the local radio station is Cats FM. He showed me the city’s crest on top of a tall pillar: a pair of justice scales and a golden cat, with four white cats flanking the bottom. “You see, the cat is deeply ingrained into the fabric of our city, from our history to our modern-day culture,” he said.

几只色彩斑斓的大猫立于喷水池顶部,我们走过它们的身边,海滨旁还有一些用青铜铸造的俏皮的猫。哈里斯解释说,随处可以见到猫的踪影:学生们在 I-CATS(砂拉越国际高等工艺学院)学习,当地广播电台是 Cats FM。他指着巨柱顶端的城市饰章:一对正义天平和一只金色的猫,下面还有四只白色的猫。"你看,从古至今,猫已深深地融入我们的城市。"他说。

At the end of our tour, I had amazingly yet to see a real cat, so Harris took me to meet his friends at the Meow Meow Cat Café, located just more than 5km south of the Cat Museum near the Sarawak River. The cafe’s owner and founder, Janet, felt that she had to open a cat cafe to pander to the residents who couldn’t keep one at home.

在我们游览结束时,我非常希望去看一些活生生的猫,所以哈里斯带我去喵喵猫咪咖啡馆(Meow Meow Cat Café)见他的朋友,喵喵猫咪咖啡馆位于沙捞越河附近的卡特彼勒博物馆以南 5 公里。这家咖啡馆的主人和创始人珍妮特认为,她必须开设一家猫咖啡馆,来慰藉那些无法在家里养猫的居民。

“We currently have six cats here of all different species,” she said.


I watched Janet’s other customers: A girl lounged on the sofa with Kiwi, a large white fluffy cat, stretched out beside her; a man sat on the floor playing with Suria, a regal-looking Bengal cat; and a young couple were waving a piece of string in front of Honey, a wide-eyed Persian.


I don’t believe felines bring me luck or have spiritual meaning. But as I sat there, a grey long-haired cat named April purring on my lap, I felt that I was getting along fine in Kuching.

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