Kota Kinabalu is very famous for its beaches and mountains. My Malaysian friends and colleagues said I had to go there to see it myself so in 2010, I went there for a short trip. It happened that the week I was there, it was the national day of Singapore. I stayed in a supposedly secluded place but when I got there, it was quite full.
I remembered the time when I was in Fiji snorkeling at the beaches, I saw the crystal clear water. As I was standing in the shallow water, my legs were surrounded by schools of little fish that were so eager to get rid of the dirt of my skin. It felt a bit ticklish. I still have a vivid image of that. So, before I went to Sabah, I was expecting all that.
I spent my first full day on an island snorkeling. The sea was so blue and beautiful but when I dove in and as I snorkeled further away from the shore, I started to see plastic bags floating around. It was indeed quite disgusting. I could see some fish but the water was clearly not as clear as I expected. When will humans stop producing rubbish?
Usually, people climb Mt. Kinabalu too but I wasn’t ready for that. It would be too tiring. I just wanted to relax for this trip. No strenuous exercises. So, I spent the rest of my days in a not-so-famous place in a village. There are many villages in Malaysia and this one is very local.
Speaking of my accommodation, it was spotless. My aim was to let the waves put me to sleep and no doubt, it served that purpose. But the mosquitoes loved me and I got bitten so badly. There was no need for an air conditioner, hence, you could find none in the room which explained why I was severely bitten by the insects. The host gave me some incense to burn but it didn’t last for the whole night, so… anyway, …
It was nice to hear the waves before I closed my eyes in my bed.
I was actually quite impressed by the service of the lodging. The moment I checked into my room, a staff came to ask me if there was anything I wouldn’t and couldn’t eat. She also gave me a few options when she asked me what I liked to eat. Malaysia is an Islamic country but non-Malays are not necessarily Muslim so it’s pretty mixed in terms of religion. That’s why the staff were quite cautious about the diet of their guests. In fact, in its neighbouring country Singapore, when you organize an event, one of the mandatory questions you need to ask is the diet of your guests. I quite like this idea. I do think it’s important to be considerate in this sense. Let alone religion, some people may have food allergies and some may be vegetarians.
When I was in Cambodia, I helped to organize an event. During a meeting, when I asked about diet, I was mocked by the people in the meeting. I then explained – food allergies etc. They said, ‘look, we know you can’t eat red meat, then choose something else. There will be plenty of food.’ They then laughed. Some even called me ‘self-centered’. If I were self-centered, I wouldn’t have asked. Apparently, nobody was willing to ask that ‘stupid’ question but I asked the guests before they arrived anyway. Lucky that I did. Some guests were allergic to some food. I wasn’t the only one who had that problem. I hope the organizers learnt something. I don’t know what ‘allergy’ means to them (religion wasn’t the issue in that case because all guests had the same religion). Maybe for them, it’s very minor and maybe being hospitalized is nothing. But we shouldn’t wait till things happen and then regret it. I hope COVID-19 helps them understand how precious our health is and how important prevention is. Hence, think / ask before you eat or leap.
At night, I played the pool with other guests and the staff. I don’t really know how to play it. Once, I flew the ball to the floor. How did I do that? Don’t ask. The staff apparently had never seen this before. He laughed so cheerfully.
Before I booked the accommodation, I did some research. It said on their website that, the guests of the lodging could visit the village nearby and teach English for an afternoon in a school there so I enquired about it. The owners arranged a staff to show me around the village and the school. It was a huge primary school. I had learnt that most foreigners, when they visited a school in a foreign country for the first time, taught the students English alphabet. In the end, the students became very fluent in ‘English alphabet’ but they couldn’t speak much English. Bearing that in mind, I decided I should do something different. I really taught them English words. One of the kids in the class raised his hand and asked if he could go to the toilet. So, I used that opportunity to teach them various ways of saying ‘toilet’. They found it very interesting. Of course, I taught them many other things too. So, please, if you can only spend an hour or two in a school to teach, don’t teach the kids English alphabet. Teach them words instead.
The students were so happy to have me that after they finished school, they all rushed to me and held my hands with their little hands. Some of them taught me how to say ‘Welcome’ in Malay and explained to me they were preparing for Hari Raya so they were all fasting. One kid even invited me to her house! ‘Sure, I’d love to.’
When I went into the house of one of the students, she and her brother were getting dressed for their Koran class. After I sat down, she took my hand and put her forehead on my hand. I asked the staff what it meant. She explained it was a gesture to show respect. Wow! Thank you. The student then introduced her grandmother to me. So, I did the same to her grandmother to show my respect to her. The grandmother was thrilled! I was very surprised to see her reaction. The staff explained, ‘because they see you as a guest, they don’t really expect that.’
After that, I left the house and continued with the tour in the village.
We arrived at another house. I saw a guy fixing his motorbike at the garage. A lady came out of her house and chatted with the staff for a little while and then she invited us in and offered me some snacks.
‘Aren’t you supposed to fast?’ I asked when I was offered the food. The staff said, ‘it’s ok because you are a foreigner. Feel free to eat some.’
We chatted for a while and then gestured to leave. Before we left, the guy who was fixing the motorbike saw us so we chatted for a while too. The staff, as a young lady, whispered to me with excitement, ‘he’s actually a popular singer and he lives in KL. He seldom comes to this (his aunt’s) house… Isn’t he handsome? Look at his motorbike! So cool!’ I asked her if she wanted to take a photo with him but she said no. Then I said, ‘ok, could you help me take a photo with him then?’ The staff was elated and said, ‘take a photo with his motorbike!’ She was so funny. After that, he left me his Facebook and said, ‘we can connect on Facebook.’ which I did. After so many years, we have changed. He is not as slim as he was and he has a family too.
It must be an unforgettable day for the staff.
That also ended my trip to Malaysia. What a nice one!
29 August – 2 September 2010
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