Indah House is a bakery, a community gallery, and a homestay. It’s all heart.
Carpenter Street in Kuching is one of those places fast becoming an urban geographical lingua franca in Asia: the old Chinatown district where traditional old businesses, the eponymous carpenters and furniture shops, co-mingle with backpacker hostels and gentrifying RM10-coffee cafes and gelato shops. Kuching’s not a big place for art and creativity on anyone’s map, either. So Kuchingites have got to start somewhere.
Along a narrow road just off Carpenter Street is Indah House. Started by Trudy and Colin Ong in July 2014, the cafe spans two shoplots. There is your everyday cafe counter and cake chiller, showing off their self-made cakes. There are the coconuts and the carefully handwritten chalk menu on a wall. But inside there’s a cornucopia of artwork, ranging from postcard-sized photographs and hand-designed stickers, to oil paintings. Local zines, magazines and a card game were also for sale. They were all for sale.
Trudy Ong (above) greets me with a smile as bright as headlights. She tells me that her husband, Colin, has gone to pick up the kids.
She sits me down at a table and tells me her story. Colin is local to Kuching, while Trudy was born KLite. They originally were managing several properties in KL, but they’ve decided to start a business here for the freedom a smaller town provides. The cafe closes at 5pm—that can never happen in a larger city like KL. Trudy also introduces me to their camera-shy shop assistants, Fatimah and Syuhada, who bring in fresh coconuts from their kampung further up the river. Trudy’s really proud of Fatimah—she couldn’t speak English when she started, and now she speaks enough to conduct part of their cooking classes.
“When we first opened, it was with the tourists in mind. We felt Kuching lacked a place that promotes local arts and crafts, and there wasn’t a platform to promote Sarawakian talent,” Trudy tells me.
She shows me a set of oil paintings being displayed. “This is from one of our neighbours. She’s in her 70s now, but had started painting early in the 1980s. She’s been going around with her set of oils to paint. She came here initially to send her daughter to one of her art classes.“
Another set of photographs was of rare local fauna, captured by a researcher passing through. Looking around, it seemed to me that every one of the works had a personal connection with Trudy, Colin and the cafe.
Their second floor houses an event space for classes and workshops. They have hosted poetry workshops, art classes for children with special needs, batik jamming, and even a knitting group. They used to organise an art market, but that fizzled out. Replacing it is a simple display along their shelves and counters. They channel the profits from the sales back to their respective artists.
To keep supporting their artistic endeavours, their business is diverse. Indah House supplies cakes to the neighbouring cafes, holds cooking classes, and gives catering services. But Trudy worries about the future. “I was just told by my supplier that they will increase prices of their goods by 20% across the board!” she said. Gentrification is also taking root. Newer places have opened up along Carpenter Street, while some old, traditional businesses are moving out, which means that rental rates are also going up.
At five o’clock, the shop was closing. Fatimah and Syuhada were going through the rituals of cleaning up, and I packed up to leave. As the chairs were being stacked, Colin rolled up with the children, and hugged his wife. It’s one kind of bliss.
Indah House Kuching
Number 38, Upper China Street
Off Carpenter Street