A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December
Its our last morning in Bako so I head out at 6.30am for a walk to try and find the proboscis one more time. They’re not around.
Nani is packing flat out looking keen to go. Really keen. She can’t relax in a place where she is a constant risk of being predated on, that is hot, AC free, and she is on constant high pathogen alert.
I negotiate an extra hour and a half and twist her arm to go with me up the Pacu trail where I hear rumor of a troupe of a dozen or so were spotted. She takes off at a great pace along the boardwalk across the mangroves flats but the rocky sandstone tangled tree roots slow her down when we enter the hilly jungle proper.
I know the spot where they were but after arriving they’re not to be found. A guide tells me they moved inland. I’m disappointed and Nani wants to do a quick U turn and is reaching for her phone to try and get the ferrymen to come even earlier. She is a woman on a mission. I beg her to slow down and just take it in. I tell her all she can think about is the next thing and she’s missing the moment. She relaxes slightly and says she can imagine how magical it would be to stand right here in the sun dappled thick jungle and watch proboscis monkeys feeding. Eventually we turn back only to get held up by a tour group on the narrow trail so I turn off to a beach lookout and we sit for a bit. This is what I really enjoy. To sit and savor the moment and just be. Nani has sweat pouring off her. She is a very patient woman.
After a much calmer boat ride back and a tasty hawker meal down a back alley in run down shanty style Bako Kampung where I toss fish bones to stray cats with half tails we catch a mini bus to the 5 star Pullman Hotel.
Booked by one of Nani’s very kind aunts, the contrast couldn’t have been greater. The fully air conditioned huge foyer with Christmas decorations (smurfs in a massive ginger bread house) had white polished tiles, where cleaners hover with mops and sweepers. A Chinese girl in a santas elf costume sits behind a desk with the banner Festive Activities overhead. We collapse in the lounge while our room is readied. The kids are grateful and start rolling on the carpet saying “Oh carpet! Carpet!” I do my stern voice and tell them that they’re not animals and that now we are in civilization to behave accordingly.
On the ninth floor we have a huge king sized bed with white linen, and central air con. The bathroom has a fully glass shower and a separate bath. We dump our packs and I’m keen to ditch my sneakers which by now smell like a fish died in each of them. I hit the shower and it’s instant relief.
I guess no one like being hot, dirty, sweaty and mosquito bitten or living in a run down grimy room where toilets and sinks don’t work and the water cuts off periodically. I think I just have a higher tolerance level than Nani but even the kids are relieved though they had a blast at Bako. They take turns to wallow in the bath while I catch up on sleep.
Just around the corner at the Hilton is our main reason for being in Kuching – Robert and Mandy’s opulent wedding reception. They married earlier in the week in Sibu and had 2000 guests there. Now in Kuching it is much smaller affair with only a few hundred attending. There is an ice sculpture with two entangled swans, and small chocolates and wafers with wrappers that say “Robert and Mandy 12.2011”.
Hors De Oeuvres are served in a waiting room and slender Chinese girls wearing mini skirt/Barbie doll style Tiger Beer dresses serve Heineken on tap. I say to Nani that I assume it wouldn’t be a good look to take a photo of them, she says no, but later on when everyone is dining I paparazzi a couple just for posterity. I explain to her that you don’t see bar wenches like that down under. She says “Hooters?” but I don’t think we have that in Australia.
Robert is a big boy with a round face and a couple of chins. His suit is buttoned too tightly across his swelling midriff but he seems a really warm, smiling, sweet guy. By contrast Mandy (Nani’s cousin once removed) is stunning. Slim, beautiful with long hair and almond eyes, she enters in a traditional white long ruffled gown but finishes the night in a dark red ruby number. Later Robert puts his girth to good use and belts out a song for his bride and another for his new parents in law and does a pretty good job of it. Smart guy. To me, Robert is a guy who flies the flag for nice guys everywhere because Mandy is a beautiful bride and it just goes to show nice guys don’t always come last.
The drinks are constantly refilled at our table. I can’t get a third of my beer down before its refilled which is frightening because i have no idea how much is going down. The poor kids have never experienced this and are just pouring it down their necks so much so that by the time Oscar gets to the mens toilet he hasn’t been able to get control of the waterworks and pees all over both pant legs. Nani sends me in to look for him after he’s been gone awhile and I find him trying to dry off with the hand dryer. I say not to worry mate and to come back in. He’s worried that people will see but I tell him to walk behind me closely and no one will notice.
The menu was thus:
Four seasons hot and cold combination.
Braised shark fin soup crabmeat and enoki mushroom.
Steamed seabass Cantonese style.
Hong Kong boneless duck with flower bun.
Deep fried prawn mayonnaise and orange sauce.
Wok fried mixed vegetable cashew nut yam ring.
Steamed glutinous rice lotus leaf Hong Kong style.
Chilled Logan honey sea coconut and white fungus syrup.
Wedding singers are the same all over the earth. The guy sounded like a public announcement system and at one stage after a smattering of polite golf applause he said “it’s so nice that you notice what’s happening on stage”. Give me a break dude! It was pretty hard not to notice given his overwhelming volume and incessant chatter.
People line us up for photos. My retinas are scarred. We are the missing link from Australia. Not many Foo Chow from Sibu marry outside their culture and despite her mothers warnings prior to immigrating to Australia Nani married me. I think on balance Nani is probably considered by her relos to have been wasted in marrying an ang moh given her love and fierce loyalty to her culture and people.
Robert and Mandy disappear with no fanfare. We’re exhausted but the kids collect as many party favors on each table and bag them up and somehow score some UK sterling ang pow. My stomach is in pain from overeating. I hate wasting food but we didn’t even get through half of most of the courses before they where whisked away and replaced by the next. I drank too much beer too and perhaps combined with a little dehydration was a bit off balance.
In the past I had been resistant to Chinese culture having been teased constantly as a child in country Australia but tonight I wished I had been more neutral to begin with.
Relatives had flown in from all over Malaysia and the world who had never even met the bride or groom – us included having been invited by the newly weds parents who are footing the bill. But it affirms family relations and reinforces the bond between all of us. It is an opportunity to celebrate blood being thicker than water.
Back at the Pullman (Nani accidentally called it the Pooman because sometimes she doesn’t like the letter “L”) we collapse in bed. Nani and I share the king size with Abbey while the boys top and tail on a single that we get housekeeping to sneak in. Mid way through the night Abbey whacks me in the face with a swift backhander. I wake up with the crazy I-just-woke-up look and saw she was fast asleep. I learn she rolls over violently wriggling in her sleep and decide to face the other way for self preservation. Later still sleeping her little paw dives into my armpit and her fingers are wriggling. She was born in the year of the monkey and I realize that we may have left Bako but the macaque mafia lives on in our Abbey.