Sarawak and Sabah share a long land border with Indonesia that runs mostly through remote areas of rugged mountains and deep forests. From Kuching though, there are several easy border crossings within an hour or two’s drive. I recently had cause to head down to one of them, to the small village of Sirikin just on the Malaysian side of the border, about an hour from here. There, Indonesian traders take advantage of the easy crossing and the proximity to Kuching to set up a small but bustling market on the weekends. They hawk every imaginable thing that they can turn a profit on, from vegetables to handicrafts to grey market brand name jeans and perfumes, marble carved houseware, hats and bags, all displayed on rickety wooden stalls under corrugated tin roofs or plastic tarps.
Locals flock there for the bargains, and even West Malaysians on package tours will show up. A friend of mine remarked it’s a bit like cruising down to Tijuana for cheap thrlls. Being a Detroiter, I was more likely to cruise to Windsor, which isn’t at all the same, but you get the idea. Maybe on account of its ephemeral nature, what with all the hawkers swarming across the border only to vanish by Monday, it has a slightly lawless feel. On previous trips, I was even offered turtle eggs on the sly, unfortunate since the turtle in question is a protected species. I didn’t see any sign of that this time though, and even saw a harried-looking trade enforcement officer walking down the line, book and pen in hand for ticketing infractions. The standard Malaysian pasar malam is already a wild, raucus thing, but this is more so. The hawkers have a leaner, hungrier look to them, none of the prices are marked, and they take the haggling much more seriously. For example, you can’t bargain in a loud voice where other customers might hear. The shopkeepers resent that and are unlikely to go down to their best price. You have to take them aside and haggle softly.
Some of the products that are worth the long drive are the silver sunnah rings with semi-precious stones of every shape and size. The rings themselves are generally poor to average quality, but the stones are gorgeous. People will often buy the stones here and bring them back to town to have them reset. The woven rattan mats are another big draw, and they do a brisk business. My enterprising mother-in-law was able to cover the cost of her plane ticket by buying three mats in Sirikin and reselling them to acquaintances back in West Malaysia at a tidy margin.[And then we came across the following scene, which I present as a dramatic reenactment:]
But my friends, the single most important reason you must come down to Sirikin is for the Leech Oil. That’s right folks! Where else can you get pure, fresh squeezed leech oil, from the choicest hand-fed mountain leeches? These are no ordinary, garden-variety padi leeches. They are not even like unto the jungle leeches that I become well acquainted with on my trip to Mulu National Park many years ago. No, these leeches are humongous. But that’s not all! These special leeches hold within them important medicinal properties. They will cure what ails you. Specifically, they can bring life to that which is dead, if you know what I mean.
Since it is just us gentlemen here, gather around a bit closer so I can explain more clearly. Take a look at this scientific diagram. There is science involved here, folks. Have a look at this snazzy display.
Now, don’t be shy, I’m not telling you this for your sake, but perhaps a friend of yours might benefit. You explain to your friend, you simply take the oil and apply it to the intended portion of your anatomy in the following manner, and the result will be visible immediately.
[Thus ends our dramatic reenactment. Anyone interested in purchasing Sirikin leech oil may contact me via email. Absolute discretion and excellent prices gauranteed.]
[Flickr Set of two trips to Sirikin]
That’s not all these leeches can do. They can also be applied therapeutically live and direct. I told you this is a bit of a cowboy town, and we have here a real live cowboy who has elected to experience the effects of leech therapy himself. The leeches are applied to key points on the body, similar to the Prophetic practice of cupping, where they draw out bad blood and toxins from the body.
What advantage is there in using leeches rather than cups? Step right up, try for yourself and see. To the young man who asked about purchasing the live leeches themselves, kindly step to the back and discuss with me quietly and I’ll be happy to give you a very good deal.