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?
After holing up perched high on the side of the Mt Kinabatangan foothills where ears pop, chip bags swell, ancient mists swirl, cats howl and the cool air is a relief our kids have excreted every imaginable nastiness throughout the Bayu Homestay I think we’d overstayed our welcome. We hadn’t even left and Rumia was in our room stripping the mattresses desperate to decontaminate her lodgings and drag it back out of the third world into which we had sunk it.
I transported our gear to the bus shelter just down the end of the muddy gravel carpark past the rickety lean-to’s selling fruit and veg. Everyone is pretty vague about what times the bus comes but maybe the bus is pretty ad hoc about its own timetable. I leave Nani a two way and as I see the bus I radio her to bring out the dead and we climb aboard, each one sitting by ourselves. It’s not long and Oscar is spewing again and I’m starting to get real concerns about dehydration. He’s not even keeping water down now it seems because he has a constant gutfull of slimy boogers. I have some immodium but I checked back home and it’s not prescribed for kids. I pull out the map of Kota Kinabalu to see where the hospital is because if we can’t get him to drink and keep it down, he’ll be on a drip within 24hrs. The joys of travel with kids.
I have ended up sitting next to toilet. This seat is free because it’s evidently the worst place to sit because of the fumes that emanate every time it opens. I direct my air vent between me and the door settling back to watch The Last Air Bender for the short, uneventful 1.5 hr trip down to the hot lowlands of the coast.
Having tried the top five rated hostels according to Hostel Booker and Hostel World, and not finding anything available (most people seem to book the day before but because no deposits are taken, people over book and don’t turn up) we ended up finding a room of 4 bunk beds at Travelers Light located at (appropriately named) Australia Place. Our first overwhelming impressions are “hot” and “feet”. The first is the oppressive heat in the corridor upstairs due to the complete absence of any ventilation and the latter a result of three things; the enforced “shoes off” policy, a herd of teenage boys on a school trip from Brisbane and finally the stifling, immovable wall of hot humid air that allowed the tangy, musky toe jam smell to ferment mid-air.
Aside from that, the room and the showers are kept clean, the AC is effective (although they turn it off during the day) the staff are helpful and nice, and the location is good too. There are four or five backpackers just a few doors away from this one (some we jealously notice have Christmas decorations and air conditioned lounges).
The kids are still zombified and in desperate need of forced bed rest so Nani and I leave them in the room after twisting the staffers arm to turn our AC on (she says she might have to flick it off if her boss arrives and i think to myself, your tightarse boss will get a piece of my mind of it gets turned off) and we head out to the shopping complex Suria Sabah for some food and a look see.
Suria Sabah looks like a new complex with the kinds of shops you would find at Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne. It has four stories of shopping, three for parking and the top floor has eight cinemas and a huge entertainment area and proudly announces that it won the 1Malaysia National Clean Toilet Award Competition 2011 which is a big deal. Nani looks visibly relieved – she has reached civilization. She just doesn’t feel comfortable in remote places – there’s too much to stress about and there isn’t anywhere on planet earth that makes her feel more alive and safe than neon lights, crowds of Asian people, traffic, shops and restaurants and it is in massive complexes like Suria where her two greatest loves come together – shopping and eating.
I, on the other hand feel like I’ve sold out. Borneo is a place of adventure, jungles, rivers, mountains, rare wildlife, heat, rain, mist, trekking, climbing, rafting, night walks and sunsets and here I am in a glass, chrome, halogen, tiled jungle packed with shoppers on safari hunting down a bargain and bagging a plate of food hall chow. I hate consumerism and the way it creeps into ones soul and the little lie that it sells me that just buying that one more thing will make me happy. I must be looking whiney and muttering something about what happened to adventure and that shopping isn’t an adventure she says why don’t I just look at shopping as an experience? I say going to a brothel is an experience but not one I really want to have (what’s more it’s one that can keep on giving). My whine continues; this mall looks almost identical to Melbourne’s with maybe three or four less white people, so I could have this experience for the cost of a one hour flight from Tassie. Luckily we have promised the kids we’ll be back soon so we have a quick bite, see what’s on at the movies for them and head back.
Luckily we have some great friends in KL called Mark and Deb (that’s their English names – they are in fact real Kuala Lumpians) who have invited us to stay for the layover through to Kuching in Borneo tomorrow.
We breeze through immigration/customs/stamping documents and strangely the blokes in uniform don’t seem to have had their humor surgically removed like those in most countries. Mark had messaged his address and to take a taxi which should cost around 100 ringgit which I think is steep. I hoped to find an alternative. As we exited baggage claim there was a counter with shouting people. It was a bus ticket bazaar. I approached slowly wondering how to pick so I randomly went for the yelling Airbus counter and showed her the address. Bus to KL Sentral then taxi from there came the answer. Nani handed over 28 rm and the lady handed me the change. Patriarchal maybe or perhaps i look poor. We headed for platform 2 (in truth we just followed Nani who was walking flat out). We rushed out onto the street and I looked around but there were no signs to any platforms just huge car parks. Nani headed left – fast. I’m fully 2ft taller than her so my recon is pretty good and she’s never been to the bus station at LCCT airport in her life. She leads us directly to it. Possibly this ability is related to the one where she can always find a bargain in a shopping centre.
We loved the bus trip. Primarily because it had psychedelic carpet – on the ceiling – and golden tassly curtains.
50km later as we neared KL Sentral the thought struck me “what if it still costs 100rm for a taxi from here?” after all the shouting people at the ticket bazaar were there to sell bus tickets not dole out public transport information.
We descend the bus and are set upon by people asking where we want to go. Taxi touts. No taxis in sight. This is a bus depot not a taxi depot I realise. I explain we are going to Petaling Jaya and there are 5 of us thinking we need a mini bus. Tout 1 goes and gets Tout 2 who says he can take us. I say there are 5 of us. He looks concerned. T1 says not to worry some of us are really small. I figure they will cram us into a sedan. I ask T2 how much and he says 34 rm. “34rm?” i confirm. He replies “35rm”. Either I’m a really bad negotiator or my hearing is going. He takes off to get his car. Eventually we find our destination. He really didn’t know where we were going but drove round for long enough to find it. He didn’t seem to have a map but I had already agreed on the price so it didn’t matter. We put it down to the scenic route and he was a friendly guy despite being told by Abbey that her dad was bigger than he.
Mark wasn’t home when we arrived but his parents were (they live at their parents house) and Deb was too and a lot of other people. They have four children and Marks sister was over with her boy then there were two maids and a boy that might have been one of the maids sons maybe.
The hospitality was fantastic. We were told to rest prior to tea – who gets to have a lie down while dinner is prepared?!
As we lay under the fans a small boy with a #1 clipper job sneaked in. Being the uber parent I strike up a conversation leading with the trusty “what’s your name?” with my play school presenter voice. “Ong Chai Chen” he announced loudly. It sounded oddly like the mandarin for “thank you”. It was a mouthful so I persevered. “yeah but what do people call you?” “Ong Chai Chen!” He reiterated. Probably thinks I’m so old I’m hard of hearing. Nani chimed in “what does your teacher call you?” same answer. I ask if I can just call him Chai or Chen. Charlie maybe? He says he can do the work of a five year old at school. Nani asks how old is he. He says “five”.
His grandma knocked and offered us a pile of towels. The small one dived behind the door. I recall Mark telling me on a recent trip down under that she was the no nonsense one. Apparently she sleeps at 16deg so it seems she is to the kids what the ice queen was to Narnia. He emerges when it’s safe and shows us some karate moves. Either he’s really fast because he’s small or he’s really fast because he’s really fast. I decide the latter. He reminds me of Dash from The Incredibles. He says he’s got a machine gun. When I enquire further he says he also has a bazooka. Ahhh a kindred spirit. I like talking munitions. Then he discloses that he has not one but two bombs. I caution him that bombs can tend to explode and to let me know before he sets them off so I can get out onto the street because I don’t want to be trapped in the rubble of his grandparents former house.
The dinner is amazing. It’s a spread of roast duck, bak kut teh which is pork bones in a garlic star anise broth, fried chicken, chicken feet soup with mushroom and fish maw (I think that’s something in fish guts), tofu, barbecued pork (char skew) and on it went. We were besides ourselves.
Eventually whilst peeling and stuffing our faces with tiny thumb sized Goreng Susu bananas and Rambutan, mark called to say he was on the way home from his part in the closing ceremony of the inaugural Asian Shotgun Championship where a new Asian record and equal world record in skeet shooting had been set.
There’s talk at the table of dogs being locked up before he arrives and a reminder a few minutes later. My interest is piqued. I wonder if they don’t like mark maybe? Then I figure maybe they’re a bit feral and could take off when the automatic gate opens. It’s the latter. Then deb adds that she’s worried they could take off down the street and attack and kill someone so they lock them up when someone arrives home and let them back out when the gate closes. Presumably a game of fetch is out question then. I stayed at the home of a magistrate in Singapore once that had three dobermans, one of which bailed me up on a foray to the dunny one night so I ask what kind of dogs are Debs? The dad replies “just normal ones”. He represented Malaya in shotgun shooting at the ’54 Rome Olympics so I don’t press him about the dogs.
As I squat in the plugless bath pouring a little bucket of hot water over myself and wondering what the ceramic thing with the hole and tap next to the toilet is, I feel that I really like KL. First impressions count for something and I decided that while it wasn’t slick like say Singapore or as developed as Melbourne I felt at home here. It’s a work in progress with the odd abandoned apartment block being reclaimed by moss and ferns amidst the sprawling brand new cookie cutter identical terraces overshadowed by the sparkling twin towers in the distance.
T2 had said the traffic was jammed due to UMNO (the ruling political party) holding their annual convention but having just plowed through Melbourne peak hour in drizzle this morning theirs was a breeze.
Malaysians strike me as being really laid back. In the toilets at the airport a couple of the cleaners were having a bit of a kip possibly figuring the boss couldn’t see them back there. It strikes a chord in my laid back Aussie heart. Combine that with talk of deer shooting and the Cameron Highland Rusa stag head hanging in the foyer its no wonder I’m feeling at home.