Once Upon A Miao: Stories From the Other Side of Malaysia by Jian Goh

190 Pages
Published in Malaysia by Goh Kheng Swee (2015)

The writer has got me! In the first part of this comic, the writer tells about the origin of the name of his hometown, Kuching. Although the city – the capital for the Malaysian state of Sarawak – is called Kuching, which literally means cat, how the name came about had nothing to do with cats at all. Due to the writer’s love for cats (I love cats too!), he actually joked about the city in its past had had giant cats roaming around and that all those cats had been petrified into statues due to a curse from an evil witch. I almost fell for it, haha! I initially thought that story was another version of the legend of Kuching which I had never heard of before.

Once Upon A Miao is a collection of comic strips about a cat (with human attributes) named Miao, which represents the writer’s self. It tells various stories from the writer’s childhood and teenaged days growing up in Kuching, Sarawak. Other characters representing his family members and close friends also assumed the form of animals, such as a dog, horse, tiger, chicken, and an alligator, amongst others.

As Miao grew up in the city, much of his childhood life was quite similar to mine (I grew up mostly in a city in Selangor, a state on the other extreme of Malaysia). I had plenty of good laughs, especially when the experiences are amusingly similar to mine: getting whipped with a feather duster, being presented with a game console, tales of sibling rivalries, playing with mother’s make-up set, sneaking into houses under construction, having a school exercise book turned into a comic book, being punished in school through the means of having to stand outside the classroom, and cooking instant noodles inside the electric kettle. Jokes in the book are Malaysian-flavoured; all true Malaysians will certainly get it.

Despite much similarities, some of Miao’s experiences were unique, as Sarawak is a state with its own unique characteristics cannot be found in any other parts of Malaysia. Thus I learnt here and there about life in Sarawak, for instance, having a python-eating neighbour, eating a different kind of mooncake (I have never seen those before too), and learning about some (probably uniquely Sarawakian) superstitions. Miao also mentioned about his indigenous friends, and warned readers against using the term “Lakia” to describe them – because it is actually derogative in nature.

Miao also loves his mee kolok very much – the final page of the book is dedicated especially for the local Sarawak cuisine. Mee kolok is basically a bowl of springy dry noodles tossed with several condiments such as fish sauce, pork lard, and light soya sauce, and then topped with minced meat, spring onions and char siew. There are several variants of the mee kolok, and Miao listed some of the popular ones on the last page.


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