2046 = 708, Minus Zang Ziyi and Maggie

Posted on Monday, September 19, 2005

Yeah, I love picking titles for these things. Another oblique reference that very, very few people will get.
This weekend, I finally made the break out to Kota Kinabalu (KK). Something I have been meaning to do from the day I found out I was going to Brunei. I found out last Wednesday that Laura had other plans for the weekend, which was fine by me, as it meant I could take my time and do the KK trip over 4 days instead of 2.
Friday was another fun trip early in the mooring with the clinical waste to RIPAS hospital in Bandar. I caught up with Tim, the Kiwi student, and Gemma. Gemma and Zoey had just returned from their trip to KK the previous night, and the boys were still there. I was a bit jealous actually, listening to Gemma talk about their trip to Sandakan and Mount Kinabalu. They had taken a week off, and first thing they did in KK was book a trip to climb Mt Kinabalu. The earliest they could do it was in 5 days time, so they went to do a jungle camp out at Sandakan. The bit about the tarantula the size of a dinner plate was particularly sobering.
Gemma also made the Mt Kinabalu climb sound very cool, in a depriving sort of way. 2day, freezing cold, un-heated huts with facilities so grotty only one of the group was willing to risk them, with a dash of altitude sickness. As you could imagine, I was pumped.
Unfortunately, I had not booked ahead, and only had the weekend, so I missed out on the climb itself. If i were to go back and do things differently, it would definitely be to book ahead, right at the start of the rotation, and to have packed some warm clothes.
I said my farewells to Gemma, and Tim and I caught a water taxi into greater Bandar. After more of the usual tourist stuff with Tim, like taking photos of him in front of the mosque, we went our separate ways; him to the royal regalia museum, and me to the bus station.
While waiting for the bus, I had a brush with Brunei celebrity. In all the current Lonely planets with a chapter on Brunei, a mention is made of a friendly, bald, smiling local who goes by the name of Danny, who hangs around the bus station handing out free tourist advice. In all my previous trips to the bus station I had seen no sign of him, and was beginning to wonder if he existed at all.
That Friday morning however, a bald, smiling, friendly local in one of the loudest Hawaiian shirts on creation, came up to me and asked me if I had a lonely planet.
"You must be Danny" was my reply.
Yes, he was, and to emphasize that, he started pulling out endless magazines and travel guides from his bag, with articles about him. Unfortunately for Danny, things weren't going to his internal script as I had been in Brunei for 6 weeks by that point. I had already seen almost all the local tourist attractions; I knew where I was going and how to go about it. After he chased after a group of German backpacker girls who didn't read lonely planet and had never heard of him, we got to chatting about life in Brunei, his girlfriend in Japan and tourists.
Danny really loves his country, and is quite realistic about it. He enjoys meeting people and showing off the few things Brunei has to offer. He was telling me about how he found it a bit upsetting that a particular American writer had hammered BSB for it's pollution. In all fairness, yes, there is a lot of rubbish in the water here. But in Brunei's defense, compared to neighboring Malaysia, it is a hermetically sealed very sterile thing. Now that my views on Malaysia and pollution are public, I'll also say how grateful I am not to have been to Indonesia. The rubbish in Sabah really got to me for some reason.
The 'express' bus (buses and vehicles with trays are limited to 50kmh) was like most other bus trips here; A test of one's nerves and self control, in not going up to the driver and giving him a thwack around the back of the head for ignoring the incessant beeping of the speed warning device. In the driver's defense though, it seems like the beeps kick in at just over walking pace.
I am really starting to hate immigration checks by this point. What could be a relatively innocuous little boat trip, turns into a hour long stand in the sun fest waiting to have your passport indifferently 'chopped'.
On the ferry, I was a bad boy, and inadvertently snuck into first class on my quest for a spare seat. The division of classes on the ferries though, must be based on how much you like swaying (more) and how loud you want you Eminem played (much more).
Thank god for ear plugs. If there is one bit of advice that I feel compelled to extol when it comes to using public transport in Borneo, it is take ear plugs. The boats/buses/planes are loud, the people on them are loud, and the *cough* music is very loud.
Lubuan Island, the intermediate destination from Brunei to Sabah via ferry, was immigration all over again.
I hate border checks.
I hate them,
I hate them,
I hate them!
Another hour of immigration, five minute dash to buy a ticket for the next ferry to KK due to leave in - five minutes.
It's so hard to not develop an us and them mentality at times.
We do things very differently to them. We are richer than them. They know that. They want our money. They're touting us, not to help but to rip us off. etc etc etc.
Add to that, Being a tall, noticeable white guy, I get preferential treatment. Whether they're aware that they are doing so, like waving me through before them, and maybe this adds to tensions. I don't know. Maybe I am being too hypersensitive. I'll get back to this though.
The ferry trip into KK from Labuan was fun. 3 hours watching dodgy VCDs, Kung Fu Marghong, and some German dubbed to English speed racer 2 type movie. Kung fu Marghong was actually quite enjoyable, if somewhat split personality in nature. The first half was very slap stick, the middle quite somber, and the crescendo a mixture of the two. The best scene was the rip off of Kill Bill, from the fight scene in the restaurant with a cross dresser as the school girl with the mace. Very funny.
Danny had warned me about not eating any oily food before taking the KK ferry, and in all fairness it was a bit lumpy.
I arrived just after 6pm as it was starting to get dark. Coming into KK from the water, it looks like my kind of city, with hills in the background and buildings hanging off them. I was thinking, 'yeah, this is pretty cool, I could live in a town like this'.
Until I stepped off the boat and the smell hit me. I have been thinking about this a lot, what with the book I am reading at the moment, The Singapore Story by Lee Kwan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore. The Singapore he describes from the 50s and 60s, sounds a lot like the larger cities of Sabah and Sarawak.
Smell is a very strong emotional drive, and I can unequivocally say that my experience is that the smell of SE Asia is raw sewerage. From Singapore to Kinabalu National Park, you're never more than a faint whiff away from the sweet smell of sullage. The wharf area of KK has to be the strongest yet that I've come across. This is probably due to all the paths being placed directly over the drains into the ocean, and at low tide they back up a bit.
Away from the wharves, things change a bit, and you're in a town composed of mostly old buildings that have seen their best days long past, with new buildings reminiscent of the HDB flats of Singapore shooting up.
The lonely planet advises against walking along the water front areas at night alone. I of course am stupid, and don't think about these things until they area bit pressing. I think however, the writers of Lonely Planet take on a default nanny setting when advising people of their actions. The waterfront of KK is no worse than any other town with too many teenagers with too much time on their hands. I was in no real danger, and any discomfort I felt was due more to obviously being the first white guy silly enough to go down there in 6 years. Punk kids are punk kids the world over.
after walking around looking for a good place to eat some local food, I chickened out, and went to Shananigians instead. Shananigans is an Irish pub attached to the KK Hyatt. I ordered the Chicken cannelloni, and at 18RM, it was undoubtedly both the finest and cheapest cannelloni I have ever tasted. I also had my first Carlsberg ever, and had a rosy glow when I left an hour later. I had previously been warned off going to Shananigans in Miri by one of the Australian patients (The only Aussie I've seen here, and a dead ringer for Crocodile Dundee) because of the Lady boys. It was too early in the night for me to see if the warning extended to KK though, as the only other people there were a group of English tourists.
I went to bed early that night, having decided to get up early to go to Mt Kinabalu on the first bus and ring Jasmine to wish her happy birthday.
The buses to anywhere outside KK all leave from the same 500m long strip, and seemingly at the same time. Walking down early in the morning, I was still a black from the station before the first tout latched onto me and pleasantly enough directed me to the bus that I wanted, arranged the ticket that I wanted (eventually, there was a mix up as the whether I wanted the morning or afternoon bus, they caught on when I got on the bus and waited for it to leave), with the company that I had been advised by Danny were the best. Seeing as I was early though, I got to witness the joy that is the street theatre of the KK long distance bus station. it was barely 7am and the place was already a seething mixture of people. One thing that stood out to me between Miri and KK is that there was a much larger degree of tribal variation in the people. That and the people seemed a hell of a lot poorer in KK. Kiri is an oil town first, then a trade and tourist town. KK has traditionally been an administration town, and only recently a tourism town. That day there were bugger all tourists. Just me, a weird looking skinny white guy in a narcissus T-shirt and his unimpressed Japanese girlfriend. The touts took them to a different bus, and I beat them up the mountain by an hour :D
The hawkers were like flies, humming around the people, setting on a target, then humming off when brushed off, hovering then settling on a new target. Usually me because I was overtly watching them. One skinny girl, who by my estimates would barely be 12, but could be 5 years either way as I am very crap at guessing peoples ages here, saw me watching her trying to sell fruit and came up onto the bus and tried to get me to buy some right up until the driver started the bus and the ticket guy chased her off.
My favorite bit was when a screeching, middle aged, chunky Chinese woman got on the bus and started whining about having to sit next to a 'boulay' (I don't know how to spell it, go with the phonetics), got off the bus and refused to get back on. I sneered at her as we pulled away as I know what boulay means, and I was the only one of them on the bus. Anna was good at teaching me the derogatory and complementary words in bahasa and mandarin.
The bus trip to Kinabalu national park was another exercise in white knuckle fear. I fear I may be getting soft in my older age. But then, I don't exactly want to die or be maimed either. i don't recommend the bus trip to the weak of heart. The diver took the 'ekpress' label on the bus to heart, and tried ever so diligently not to lose any corner speed, and accelerated at every opportunity. The road however, is very twisty, very slippery, and has many edges that drop off, seemingly for ever. The one time where someone almost did doe however, was surprisingly not the bus driver's fault, but the idiot that pulled out to overtake on a blind corner, to find us oncoming. To my utter astonishment, the bus driver sacrificed out momentum and braked hard, only scraping the oncoming car as it veered out of our way. Only after finishing their overtaking maneuver however.
Mt Kinabalu is stunning. Having never left Australia, the tallest mountain I had seen previously is barely half it's height, and quite flat. Mt Kinabalu seems to rise out of nothing, beyond the clouds, which seem to stick to the peak and smear across it as they pass. If you manage to tear your eyes from the mountain, you are rewarded with stunning views that I never expected to see in SE Asia, and in my mind belonged more in Nepal or Switzerland. Tiny villages far below, and roads snaking around the ridges, taking 20km to travel 5 in a straight line. Truly stunning, it made me glad that this was what I had decided to do on a whim. Seeing the orangutans would have been my first choice in coming to Borneo, but having gone to Mt Kinabalu instead, I feel in no way cheated.
The trip took only 2 hours instead of the predicted 3 in the good old Lonely Planet, and the air was quite crisp. Just walking up the hill to the entrance gate I found myself getting out of breath, and the headquarters are only at 1600m. I had intended to buy a phone card and ring Jasmine once I got to the park, and I walked about for an hour before I found the gift shop, where they had no phone cards, so I bought her a birthday present instead and kept walking. An hour later, it sort of twigged on me it had been a while since I had seen any guesthouses so I turned around. When I got back to entrance and looked at the map, I realized I had made it half way to the first base camp. That was naughty because you're supposed to buy a climbing permit (100RM) and hire a guide before starting the climb. Oops.
Once I was completely buggered from walking around in the thin air, I ducked across the road from the park to the restaurant come convenience store which was advertising phone cards. I bought a large bottle of water and when asked about the phone cards found out the phone was broken. Then the bus back to KK pulled up outside so I ran out yelling thanks in Malay over my shoulder, and up the road, banging on the bus as it pulled off. Thankfully they stopped, and I was treated to King Kong on the TV, and a quick 1 1/2 hour trip back to KK.
On the trip back it started to dawn on me how little work I have done this rotation (none) and how much I had to do (all of it) in the next 2 weeks, so I decided to head back to Labuan that day. The weather conspired against me though, and halfway down the mountain I saw the storm clouds. My stomach sank, and all I could think was "Oh shit..."
Amazingly we made it off the mountain via the road instead off sliding off, but I wasn't as happy at the ticket office for the ferry.
"I want a ticket for the next ferry to Labaun please"
"It's cancelled lah"
"Cancelled? when's the next one?"
"There is no next one, come back tomorrow"
"8am lah"
I found a hotel room for half what I had paid the previous night, and as I watched the light display of the storm as it spread across KK from the 7th floor, I realized it was a good thing.
That afternoon I spent a frustrating hour repeatedly dialing my parents to get Jasmine's number as I had forgot my phone (It's been turned off for 7 weeks now...). Another hour later I finally got through to her. Admittedly, Dad had given me the wrong number, and her mobile was turned off in the afternoon, but half of the hassle was still with the phone. Malaysia telecom is plainly just crap. if it's not the company, then certainly it is their public phones at the Milimewah shopping center in downtown KK. I finally got through to Jasmine after her movie had finished and turned her phone back on, and we chatted until the card ran out. You better like you present Jasmine :P
Next day I was up bright and early, as the perfume of KK was getting to me, and I wanted out. From there it was a leisurely 8 1/2 hours, involving 2 ferries, and two buses to get home. Same movies and bad music on both ferries too.
Praise be to ear plugs.


At 12:35 am, Anonymous jason said...

didnt even realise it was sooo long till i read ur email afterwards. what a read! m so jealous, u rock.


Post a Comment

<< Home