For those who had watched the memoir-based 2010 movie starring Julia Roberts, Eat, Pray, Love, would have a good inkling of what I meant by Pray, Eat, Rest, at “Ching San Yen” (Green Hill Temple), also referred to as “Cheh Sua” in the Hokkien dialect, located at Muara Tebas, Kuching, Sarawak. It is of course not the same sequence or scenario, but pretty near to it, as experienced within a day’s journey to a Malay fishing village, situated on the estuary or mouth of the Sarawak River, and called Kampung Muara Tebas in Kuching, Sarawak.
The praying is done at Green Hill Temple, Kuching if you are a Buddhist or into praying to the host deity of the temple, Buddha Shakyamuni, and other Chinese deities such as the Sea Goddess Macho. If you are not, do not be dismayed as paying a visit to this 200-year old Chinese Temple was in itself a special occasion because of its history, design, panoramic view and the intriguing incongruity of a thriving Chinese temple set amidst a Malay fishing village.
Occupying an ancient site of 2.5 acres on a hilltop, 120 feet above sea level, Green Hill Temple Kuching stood like a silent yet vigilant sentry, overlooking the Malay fishing village below and the distant South China Sea. In centuries past, sea travellers would pay respects and gave thanks at the temple for a safe crossing of the South China Sea to and from the then prosperous trading port at Muara Tebas. They would also obtain blessings for good health and good fortune.
My family and I set off for Green Hill Temple Kuching or Cheh Sua around mid morning, and it was a quiet peaceful ride to Kampung Muara Tebas, about 35 kilometres distance and 30 minutes drive from Kuching City, Sarawak. As we went on a normal weekend, not when it was the 1st or 15th day of the lunar month or during Chinese New Year, where hundreds or even thousands of worshippers and devotees would flock to Green Hill Temple. There was enough parking spaces; and no parking or entry fee were imposed. Otherwise, a nominal fee of RM2 to RM3 local fee would be charged by the local boys at the village to help look after your car.
At the foot of Green Hill Temple Kuching, you must be prepared to climb a long flight and series of steps to reach the main entrance, guarded by fierce-looking lion statues and commanding figures of heavenly deities. I was quite out of breath by the time I arrived at the top, but the view was stunning and would take your breath away. Green hills and blue sea surrounded by a natural tranquil environment. It was great feng shui indeed!
The temple, which underwent major renovations and improvements from 1994 to 2000, sparkled bright and attractively under the sun. It was an impressive sight to see: the white walls, columns and structures contrasted with colourful patterns, images and artefacts of dragons, fishes, flowers painted in red, green, blue, yellow and every hue of the rainbow. Green Hill Temple covered a floor area of nearly 10,000 square feet, encompassing the main hall with a middle chamber and two wings, left and right; a vegetarian dining hall; two public washrooms; a decorative fencing wall; beautifully landscaped garden; a fountain; and the pair of huge Buddha footprints or Buddhapada, inscribed with 108 golden auspicious marks or symbols on them.
After climbing those steps and walking around Green Hill Temple admiring the temple, I was ready for food at the foot of the temple. One gets to taste the fresh seafood, which Muara Tebas is known for until today.
The eating took place at Lim Yong Seng Seafood Restaurant, one of the two seafood restaurants at Kampung Muara Tebas, Kuching. The other is Sin Soon Lee Seafood Restaurant, which I have yet to try. What a gastronomic lunch we had with the catches of the day: steamed drunken prawns, steamed crabs, steamed fish head, steamed oysters, lobster sashimi, stir-fry jungle ferns with belacan (spicy prawn paste), stir-fried cangkok manis (local vegetables) with eggs, accompanied with steamed white rice, and all washed down with pandan coconut drinks. Fresh seafood should be enjoyed steamed, without too much heavy seasonings or deep-frying, to actually taste its innate sweetness and freshness. Although the lunch was not cheap, considering the seafood dishes we ordered and consumed, it was worth spending the money.
The resting was necessary, after the delicious meal and we continued to sit and relax in the rustic ambience, looking at the bobbing boats anchored near the shoreline and jetty area, listening to the lapping tides, and appreciating the sea breeze wafting in to cool the interiors of the restaurant, but the rotating fans around the outlet did help with the cooling effect as well. We left Green Hill Temple and Kampung Muara Tebas most satisfied, and the resting continued on the drive back to Kuching City, and for the remainder of the afternoon with a nap, for me at least after such a hearty meal.