A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December

Sandakan Serendipity

Random things happen in Sandakan because it’s a bit of a random place. I put these things down to serendipty.

Because we’re not really up to speed on Malay food and usually eat Chinese hawker food (Nani being chinese can’t get enough chinese food) but it’s a bit harder to find in Sandakan downtown so we wing it. My grandmother is a Nonya who fused chinese and malay food and is an amazing cook (her recipe book was recently published) so I at least know some dishes.

We order our lunch:
Nasi Lalap is a crispy skin chicken and rice dish served with cucumber and a delicious chilli, ginger, lime and what tastes like laksa leaf dipping sauce.
Mee rojak is a cold yellow noodle dish with loads of spicy satay sauce with crunchy cucumber, fried bean curd and prawn crackers sprinkled on top.
Bakso is a bee hoon style noodle soup with beef balls.
Char Kway Teow (we eat this a lot) is a flat rice noodle stir fried with a slight charred flavor with chicken and prawns and a silky gravy.

After our first night eating at the waterfront we find a shopping center three stories high called Genting Mas. Nani switches straight into shopping mode and she’s going to cover this sucker from top to bottom. I drag my carcass as far as the second floor but am overwhelmed by the sheer amount and variety of merchandise on the shelves leaving very little room to move around other shoppers. I go all sensory overload. All I want is some hair bands for Abbey. I notice a sign near the escalator that said “No Spitting” with a great demonstration on how not to do it. Next to this is a photocopies sign saying “No Photograph” so I take a sneaky pic – for posterity.

Finding a bench to sit on with the little one, I sit while the boys free range and the mother who is a shopping machine goes to work. Presently we are surrounded by a group of urchins- two girls (around five) and a little boy of maybe four. The girls are really pretty, one with dimples and long silky hair, the other with curly hair. We all start high fiving and asking names. The little boy had a nasty habit of driving his index finger into the girls crutches so I warned Abbey about this. They follow downstairs and help carry our groceries, passing through the check out with us and into the street. We walk a little ways and they follow. We aren’t really sure where they belong, or to whom.

The next night back at the waterfront, we’re ordering our food and the girls come round the corner, this time with a new friend. They stop for only long enough to introduce her to us and keep moving down to a hawker stall where loud pop music is playing and start dancing. Our kids are fascinated giving us updates – “they’re dancing with a pot plant now Dad!” We still have no idea who they belong to.

After a diet of noodles and rice, Lachie, sorely lacking in fibre, has returned from the toilet at WinHo to announce that he couldn’t flush it down. He’s basically given birth to a foot long brown sea cucumber that lurks menacingly in the bowl stubbornly refusing all efforts to get him down . The hideous monster survived 24 hours the flushing of our family of five before it gave up it’s foothold and retreated presumably back out to sea to where it belonged.

The stores in town close (reminds me of home) pretty early but a market thrives at the bus station amidst the chaos and diesel fumes selling all kinds of things. I feel the  need for more mangoes, rambutan, durian and bananas. On the way to get some durian I had asked the taxi driver if he eats it and he nods enthusiastically. I ask how much do they cost – berapa? He says he doesn’t know. Go figure?!

It’s not easy to engage people and ask for directions. English is pretty scarce here so my wonderful, resourceful (and talented) wife gives up on English and picking out Chinese from Malays she chats to them in Mandarin or Cantonese to find where to eat or shop. This works pretty well. I’m guessing that because it’s a bit off the beaten track, there isn’t much need to speak to foreigners or use English – but the fact that it is off the beaten track (lonely planet trail) I think is what makes it attractive to me.

I’m starting to wonder why foreigners are charged double prices? I’m not talking about being ripped off, I mean admission fees and the like. There’s a price for foreigners and a price for locals. I wonder if Malaysians would like it if they traveled abroad and had to pay double or triple to get in places.

I missed having a bum hose at WinHo and realise I’m pretty much sold on them. They really get into there and make it spotless. A little dab with dunny paper to dry off is icing on the cake (or cellulose on the coit if you like). You just have to watch the high pressure ones and clench up a little, unless you want a colonic irrigation. I’m confident I can rig something up back home.

Sandakan is a pretty laid back place. It seems a bit of a port town to me. It’s easy to walk the length and breadth of downtown and The Heritage trail is a great walk and well put together. Nani reckoned that she was stared at too much which unnerved her and Lachie said the random blokes who squat on every street corner smoking and following us with their eyes didn’t make him feel safe, but I felt fine. At one point a young bloke actually laughed at me. When I raised my eyebrows, he said “so tall!” Apparently being 6’2″ is funny?

Lachie confided in me the little Genting Mas boy got him in the bum.


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