Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sunday morning at the market in Kota Kinabalu

By John Tiong

Don't miss the Sunday morning market in Gaya Street in Kota Kinabalu when you are in the Sabah capital. It is in the busiest part of the city and is fringed by pre-war shophouses and the city's financial centre.

Gaya Street is named after Gaya Island, the largest island in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, a popular eco-tourist destination with a marine research centre, just 20 minutes by boat from the city's jetty.

You may not get all that you want at the Sunday market, but you will find a macro view of Sabah's racial fabric and the enterprising spirit of its people. Even if you don't intend to buy anything, a walk here will be enjoyable as there are so many things to see and learn.

You may find Kadazan-Dusun women helping their Chinese spouses at their fruit and vegetable stalls, or Bajau youths scooping ice-cool fruit juices and herbal teas from huge containers. I chanced upon an indigenous man happily massaging a Chinese trader but when asked to be pictured, he shied away instead.

Brunei Malay, Bajau and Kadazan-Dusun salesmen can be found peddling their sarongs, batik and religious CDs, while a few Chinese stall owners amaze shoppers with their brilliant orchid hybrids from as far as South America.

Pearl lovers will find the place a haven. Cultured pearls from Semporna are sold as necklaces, bracelets and other accessories.

The stall owners all look similar but scrape the surface and you may find that they come from about 30 indigenous groups basically divided into Kadazan-Dusuns, Bajaus, Muruts, Lundayehs (Kelabits) and Brunei Malays. A cacophony of languages can be heard like the thousands of merchandise seen here.

The market offers lots of surprises. Top of these are corals and the large shells for sale. They are beautiful but I have always thought corals were protected. Maybe the authorities should check on this.

Then there are all kinds of traditional medicines -- both local and those from as far as China -- offered here. Whether these work or not, or pass the approval of the health authorities is one big question mark.

Those inquisitive enough may even learn a thing or two about the various local medicines. One woman claimed that a large cactus, when boiled, made a relaxing drink and was also a treatment for cancer. Another who sold whole groundnut plants said they were ideal for making a soup for the well-being of children.

The other staples found here are Tongkat Ali (lot of it), pokok halau nyamuk (mosquito-repelling plant), lingzhi (said to be good for jaundice) mengkudu (for high blood pressure), Rumput Fatimah and Buah Tunjuk Langit (for back ache, among others).

For tourists who believe in the health effects of reflexology, there is a whole row of "reflexologists" eager to offer their services.

Gardening buffs will find the Gaya Sunday market their pot of tea. There are stalls selling bonsai and flowering plants like the common bougainvillea, anthurium and highly priced orchids. The orchids from South America are large, multi-hued and curled with a grace that make them irresistible.

High quality clones of exotic fruit and flowers are also available. One horticulturist even claimed to have cloned a seedless lemon and a variety of Taiwan and Iban temum sweet melons.

Another little surprise is a stall with antiques as well as old and new brass gamelan brass gongs spread out on the floor. Antique porcelain, celadon and ceramic wares are displayed together with new ones. A large ceramic plate with beautiful Quranic verses running over the centre is one of the centre pieces. There are also krises on display.

The celadon bowls were salvaged from shipwrecks, their colours a little faded from the many years underwater. Many had barnacles stuck on them.

Do look out for Sabah homegrown items like coffee from Ranau, Tenom durians, Tuaran pottery, tribal basketry and lovely paintings of Mount Kinabalu, orang utan and women in tribal costumes.

The best part of the Sunday market is that it is sandwiched between two rows of shophouses with coffee shops, jewellery shops and hardware shops. After all the shopping, one can go into a coffee shop and sit down for a drink to relax or people-watch.

At one end of the market is the Jesselton Boutique Hotel, the only boutique hotel in town built in 1954. It was refurbished in the 90s but the doormen here still dress in colonial style.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday

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