A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December
It was a 5.30 start this morning and a huge day of fishing getting home around 9.30pm but I can’t sleep. Together with Christmas presents and Nani’s relentless shopping she will be flying Tiger Airways to KL where we will rejoin and fly through to Melbourne on AirAsia. There are two things I’m panicking about. One is that I’d asked Nani to call Tiger and book a check-in bag for Abbey (Tiger don’t allow this to be done online whereas AirAsia does) for all the extra stuff we’ve accumulated. I find out she hasn’t done it and she wants me to sort it out. She says she couldn’t get to a phone all day today. Hmmm. The second thing I’m really worried about is that I discover that there are in fact two airports in Kuala Lumpur about twenty kilometers apart and I heard that Tiger flies into KLIA whereas AirAsia will depart from LCCT. This means Nani will have to virtually run through KLIA customs (people hurrying through customs is not a good look), get a taxi and whip over to LCCT to catch our international flight out, with no time to spare.
I call a friend in Singapore who works for Tiger and he’s going to see if he can fix something with the baggage, but given that their call centre doesn’t open til 9am tomorrow, and Nani’s flight is 10, it looks slim. On the plus side, he assures me Tiger does fly into LCCT. I’m relieved. I can sleep now, but the taxing day hasn’t done any favors to my chest infection and I double over whenever I cough.
We eat a huge breakfast before saying farewell to Mark and Deb and their wonderful family. Jonathan doesn’t come down to stay goodbye to the boys because he’s a bit teary. I tell Ong Jia Chen the miniature whirlwind that if he eats and sleeps well, I’ll see him again one day when he’s bigger (time doesn’t mean much to four year olds). I tell him that he doesn’t need his mum to feed him anymore.
At KL Sentral buses seem to leave every two to three minutes (basically as soon as they’re full) and only costs some paltry 6RM for adults and half that for kids for the 75 minute trip to LCCT. On the way we pass the Malaysian Sepang Moto GP circuit. We bump into a flustered Nani at the airport after first spotting Abbey. She has had a drama trying to check in her luggage at the wrong terminal. Thinking she could save time by scanning her bags (an operation performed before baggage check-in) while waiting for us she has had an altercation with a bunch of what she describes as Arab men. Apparently they accused her of cutting the queue and made her get to the back, whilst ushering their mates in front of her. The irony is, she was at domestic, and we were flying international and there’s no need to scan bags prior to check in. I find out that an announcement was made on the Tiger flight to wish Abbey a happy 7th birthday and the captain personally met her.
On AirAsia, Abbey lets the flight attendants know it’s her birthday following on from the success she had on the Tiger flight from Singapore. A group of the flight attendants come down and sing happy birthday to her, and one re-sings it in Korean. They present her with a cute little AirAsia bear. Abbey of course is delighted.
Ahead of where I sit, I notice some beautiful marketing from tourism Malaysia on the bulkhead. It’s a huge poster covering most of the space available. A gorgeous looking Asian couple runs down a white tropical beach. Her yellow sun dress flies in the breeze with a full head of jet black flowing hair behind. He is in a white cotton shirt and knee length khaki shorts. Laughing with gay abandonment they run bare footed, hand in hand toward… the camera I suppose. In the corner written in white script, are the words;
Tranquil Nature. With her tranquil waters and clear blue skies, it is the perfect place for that getaway you deserve. Watch the sun rise and set with your loved one, or spend the day frolicking on the beach with your family and friends. It’s not what you do, it’s where you do it. Malaysia. Truly Asia.
I like the award winning Truly Asia campaign and will really miss Malaysia, but there should have been a postscript saying PS – the sun is friggen hot and will sneak up on you and belt the life out of you if you don’t hide in the middle of the day. Sweat will pour off you and you will dehydrate. Any frolicking in the midday sun without a hat or umbrella will be punished by severe sunstroke and heat rash culminating in a visit to hospital involving a drip.
As you can guess, I still feel hot after yesterday’s fishing adventure.
Later, on touch down just after midnight Disney’s Happy Birthday Princess plays over the PA and Abbey proudly and loudly announces that she’s in fact the birthday girl, just in case anyone around us had forgotten. Whilst taxiing toward the terminal, an announcement regarding Australian border security makes no mention of drugs and the death penalty that we’re used to hearing, instead the message is all about animals and plants. I love that about Australia. Let’s protect the great outdoors – our native flora, fauna, agriculture and aquaculture. We don’t give a shit about druggies and we’re definitely too laid back to kill people anyway. I recall that India recently sentenced someone to the death penalty but all their hangmen had gotten old and given up, and they had to track one down and resurrect him from his retirement to bump off a particularly nasty criminal.
We reflect on our travels as we exit Melbourne airport. It’s 1.15am and the air is beautiful and cool. There’s a three hour drive ahead to dad’s farm in western Victoria but no-one is bothered. We consider making up a bunch of Borneo 2011 t-shirts for the Ongs and ourselves as a memento of an epic adventure. We decide we wouldn’t have changed much about our holiday but after backpacking for a month with my family I have wondered a few things though ;
Why is it that when kids take the last biscuit they hand you back the empty packet?
Don’t you love how your kids hand you back your iPhone and the screen looks like they used it to eat takeaway food off of?
Should there be a word for when your spouse takes your iPhone and doesn’t hand it back until the battery is in the red?
We are leaving KK and once again suffering the ignominy of the dehumanizing process that precedes air travel. Somehow queuing for the boarding pass machine, the baggage scanner, the baggage check-in, security scanning, and once more at the gate shuffling in long lines with fellow queue shufflers as we herd from one process to the next making me feel like I’m part of some digestion process like a great colon. We are ingested at departures and endure this colonic process until we are shat out the other end at our destination in arrivals. It’s no wonder it’s called cattle class.
I’m tired and coming down with the kid’s virus so I’ve swallowed a couple of Claratyne containing pseudo ephedrine (clandestine speed labs can’t get enough of this stuff) which is making me drowsy. At one point Nani wakes me up because she can’t find Abbey. I had told the kids they could do whatever they liked as long as it wasn’t near me – which obviously Abbey took literally because after a search she was found in duty free putting an arm lock on a sales assistant and telling her to tap out. She was also offering to guillotine the obliging assistant who politely declined. The mixed martial arts training via TV is really paying off.
Nani has visited the toilet at the airport and comes back devastated. The lady in the cubicle next door to hers has things get out of control with the bum hose and sprays under the partition wetting Nani’s legs. She imagines a deadly fecal spray has infected her and she is aghast.
Meanwhile I sleep until my subconscious hears the words “Singapore” after the mandatory “tuan tuan dan puan puan” blah blah blah. Nani hasn’t heard the announcement and I drift off again while the shufflers queue once more. By the time I come to again boarding is over and the doors are closed. I say to Nani “that’s our flight – the doors just shut!” she propels into action, rounds up the kids and we are the last to board (it wouldn’t have mattered because AirAsia couldn’t close the door and had to get the engineer to fix it meaning we sat on the tarmac for forty minutes before takeoff).
I haven’t quite figured out what’s up with AirAsia’s seating arrangements. We checked in days beforehand (on my AirAsia app) but for some reason when it comes to printing our boarding passes we are all five sitting separately – four of us around rows 7 to 9 and Abbey down at 30. Nani takes Abbey’s seat and I try and keep an eye on the kids. Oscar hits the jackpot though because the person next to him must have taken pity and bought him a hot Milo and chicken wrap. I’m not so lucky because I’m in the kiddy section (which is normally down the back of the plane) with a five month old beside, an ear-splitting shrieking toddler behind and another kid looking over my shoulder to see what’s on my iPhone eating with his mouth open in my ear.
I’m a bit apprehensive about going to Singapore known as the cash register of Asia. Being more of an outdoorsy wide-open-spaces kind of peace-and-quiet type of guy, big cities don’t exactly light my fire. I am looking forward to catching up with family here though as both Nani and I have relatives to visit. An announcement on the plane says that drug use is penalised by the death penalty. Do they mention this casually so the drug laden tourist has time to shit themselves, break into a sweat and turn white before reaching customs? The feeling of Big Brother, Police State and the myriad of fines here makes me want to read some porn, chew some gum, spit it on the footpath, tag a wall and pee in a lift. (Hopefully Singaporeans will know I’m kidding).
When I was thirteen I made my first international trip here. At the time my grandfather bore the prestigious figurehead-of-state title of President of Singapore. As such, his daughter and her children were afforded VIP treatment as we were whisked through arrivals and customs and out of the airport with a valet parked driver to take us to our accommodation. I still remember the wall of hot humid air that I walked into exiting the building and gasping as it felt there was not enough oxygen in it. It was the first time I’d experienced tropical heat.
Today, with my fondly remembered grandfather long passed away we arrive just like regular people, although the comparative opulence of the new Changi Airport does make the weary traveler feel slightly VIP just passing through. Nani metamorphosises from shedding the husk of her weary-traveler three-week sanitation vigilance and is visibly relieved, her backpacking ordeal over. She all but kisses the polished, mopped, swept, white tiles of world class Changi airport excited at the clean auto flush, auto soap, auto tap, auto dry, auto door toilets. She says she is home now and claims that Singapore is clean, ordered, and safe thanks to the fact that Chinese pay attention to detail. East Malaysia on the other hand may be a little too freewheeling for her.
I probe a little bit and while she, her brothers and her father were born in Malaysia she feels no affinity for the place. She says she feels home in Singapore, Taiwan and even Hong Kong but not Malaysia. Then it clicks. She feels comfortable wherever Chinese is the dominant language and culture and for her she felt the culture shock of finding it difficult in the predominantly Malay-speaking East Malaysia. She also feels that Chinese cultures are cleaner and more efficient. Oddly enough after barely seeing so much as a cockroach in all of Borneo we find two the size of small mice just after arriving – one of which we put on her shoe for a little entertainment.
I will grant her this though; Singapore is pretty. The drive along the smoothly flowing roads with manicured plantings and whipper-snipped lawns all the way into the city is a delight. The cities’ buildings that are eminently serviceable, much like the cells in a human body constantly renewing themselves – are being torn down and replaced by bigger, better, higher and newer. All this though is at the risk of making the city sterile, clinical and soulless – a place organized purely around making the most money with the least hassle. But I stand to be proven wrong and hope I will be.
Nani’s brother John drives us in his new Mercedes to a famous Bak Kut Teh place Ya Hua and it’s delicious. I wallop the tender pork rib in spicy garlic soup, seaweed and fishball soup, pork liver, pork kidney, rice and vegies until I can’t move. I wish that we could doggy back the soy sauce pork hock, but Nani says it isn’t the done thing.
John and Ik Hui have kindly lined up a room with a relo on the 14th floor of the Pearl’s Centre near the Ottram Park MRT train station. We’ve teed up to catch up with our mate Johnno who lives the expat “high life” in Singapore (although he still refuses to pay $80 per kg for Cold Storage grapes). He has a midnight flight down under for Christmas and only has time for a quick beer before heading to Changi.
Nani decides she better go downstairs to find him and asks if i can go with her. I ask why? She says one of her friends (hello Esther) says its a bit of a dangerous and seedy area. What?!?! We’ve wandered around Sarawak and Sabah for three weeks and finally make the safe haven that is Singapore and she needs protection to go downstairs?! I refuse to go down saying that she just told me Singapore was totally safe, death penalty, blah blah blah and make her go down alone. Ten minutes later she predictably comes back with Jonno all in one piece.
Short arms and long pockets. That would be me! If I can save a buck, I will. And cheap flights are always great to just pounce on if you know what you’re doing and have time to wait.
When I booked our international legs via AirAsia, I didn’t book our domestic legs to get to Melbourne for the flight to KL because I thought I might hold out for a sale. The advice I got was the $69 fare from Tasmania was probably as low as it was going to get for that time of year, so I was somewhat resigned to paying it – until today.
Today, I got an email from my friends at Travel Zoo which I subscribe to (free). They send out a weekly deals email, where they scan airfares, accommodation and packages to see what’s cheap and send it out. On the second line, the words screamed “$30 & up — Ends Tonight: Fares Cut Around Australia“. I hastily clicked the link, and selected Jetstar and Virgin to compare, and lo and behold, fares came down from $69 to $39 available for November. So I booked our flights out of Tasmania, but not back because the January ones aren’t on sale and remember I’m cheap and I’m going to hold out to see if I can get a similar sale.
I nearly got stung on payment when I selected to pay with Visa. Some tiny tiny fine print materialized (no pop up box) to add $28 to the booking. Horrified, I looked at the other options, and hit PayPal. Using that, there was no charge so I just saved even more. I feel so happy. All up that’s nearly a $180 saving just by holding out, waiting for a sale, and subscribing to a good free weekly newsletter.
Oh and by the way, I subscribe to Jetstar’s newsletters and there was no peep from them about this sale.
Also a bit a trivia for you. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are the cheapest days to fly. The cheapest tickets can be bought at 3pm on Tuesdays, and the optimum window for booking tickets is between 3 months to 14 days out from travel when the heaviest discounting takes place. I found that out by subscribing to the free newsletter from FareCompare.com
And just in case you think cheap flights are a myth, this might actually confirm it. And it’s hilarious.
So Nani gets invited by a couple of relatives to this wedding in East Malaysia in December and my inbox announces that AirAsia has a sale. The stars align and we pull the trigger. Now the AirAsia sale is like half price and begins at 3pm. It’s one of those sales, that you know as soon as it begins, the site is going to lock up. But I’ve been doing my research.
I pre-register as a customer the day before. I quit work early and arrive home at 2.45 pm. I’ve pulled up the site and by 2.59pm I’m hitting refresh trying to find those lucky seats. I feel like Charlie and the Chocolate factory stripping wrappers off Wonka bars.
Then my worst fears become reality – the site locks up. It’s not refreshing, my wonka bars aren’t shelling.
But then, a lightbulb moment. What if I try the mobile site? I quickly download the iPhone app, and start over. Amazingly, it works. I find out later that the mobile site, is a different site. No hitches, no glitches. We’re booked to arrive in Kuching via KL on Thursday December 1st – plenty of time to settle in, dust off the jetlag and get ready for the wedding.
Nani comes home to celebratory noises, flips open her netbook and says “Oh SHIT! The wedding is ON the Thursday! And the wedding is in Sibu NOT Kuching!”
This is the part where my brain goes into overload (so many questions and comments to make, all are unhelpful) and I decide to withdraw and do some cave-time. It’s like algebra and calculus had a love child which has just done a number on me. Doesn’t compute. Oh well, it’s her problem. For me and the kids, we’re headed for Kuching!