Bored in Borneo

February 03, 2014
Bored in Borneo. This has been my life since Day 1 of Chinese New Year. There are three vertical lines with one horizontal line slashed across them carved in the trunk of the tree that serves as my lookout post, indicating that I have been here for four days. There is next to no broadband here, I've been using an empty coconut shell to try and somehow amplify my iPhone 3G signal. It's not working. It's ironic that I'm staying right next to Signal Hill because there is practically no signal! To the left, the South China Sea. To the right, the rainforests of Borneo. Straight ahead, a sleepy coastal town---city is too generous a word for Kota Kinabalu---where everyone drives at an infuriatingly slow pace. A spider monkey just broke into the kitchen and stole my Tasmanian cherries that I hand carried all the way from Kuala Lumpur. Great.

Quite a few of my London friends are envious that I am in the exotic (relatively, I suppose when your closest encounter with nature was having your country house flooded by rain, spider monkeys and jungles don't look so bad), verdant, lush island of Borneo. But I assure you it's not nearly as glamorous as it seems. I'm only here in Sabah for a few days to visit my maternal grandparents because that is what one does during the first few days of Chinese New Year.

I'm not even sure if Sabah is still technically part of Borneo, but let's just say it is because 'Stranded in Sabah' doesn't quite have the same ring to it as 'Bored in Borneo'. Oh wait, a quick Google search indicates that Sabah is on the island of Borneo. Excellent. 

The highlight of this trip has been my visit to the local crafts market to buy these trinkets as presents for friends back in London. I've been avoiding getting 'slaughtered' by the vendors by making sure to speak in Malay (perfectly accented, naturally) to make it clear that I'm not a rich tourist waiting to be taken for a ride. I bonded with one of the kakak ('big sister', respectful way of addressing a lady)s by singing Belaian Jiwa to her, haha. 

Ten seashells on a keyring, five beaded bracelets (the blue one is spoken for),  six beaded necklaces, one beaded lizard keyring (for Sheena to help her overcome her fear of lizards), and ten 'turtles' made from seashells and googly eyes. It's all a bit kitsch and silly! It's funny how the souvenirs that locals consider naff are the sort of things foreigners find exciting and cute. But then again when I went to Paris I bought a little plastic Eiffel tower. 

Pig and tiger wishing you 恭喜发财,万事如意!Gong xi fa cai, wan shi ru yi! May your year ahead be full of good fortune and good luck. Here's hoping The Year Of The Horse is your biggest RUNaway success yet. 

As I have ranted in great detail on Dayre, my annual balik kampung trip has been especially painful, what with my horrific experience with Promenade Hotel. All the rooms at Le Meridien were fully booked half a year ahead and the only hotel left was Promenade. The rooms were beyond shabby; there was a hole in one of the cheap bedsheets, no toothbrush kit, a stain in the bathtub (shudder), and worse of all no wifi in the rooms, just cable internet. Oh wait it gets worse! My room reeked of cigarette smoke despite being on a non-smoking floor. It was like sleeping in an ashtray. I bet all my hongbao money that the previous guest was from Mainland China. Kota Kinabalu is full of tourists from Chinese, Hong Kong, and Taiwan (a lot of them buy property here as holiday homes, hence the tower blocks going up on the seafront). I checked the hell out of there the next morning, booked the suite at Le Meridien for next year (not taking chances), and moved into my grandparents'. 

I should have seen this coming when I was in the Golden Lounges (Domestic departures) before boarding my flight. The sofas were horrifically shoddy and scuffed, there were shoe prints all over from the headrest, armrests, and seats themselves. Oh and there was no Diet Coke, just Diet Pepsi. A sign if ever there was one.

Otherwise, the first few days of Chinese New Year have been boring. There is only so much binge eating, gambling, and snarking on/gossiping about or with your relatives you can do before you get cabin fever. Binge eating is out for me because I'm trying to lose 10kg (so far I've lost 2) by May. I've never been a fan of gambling. And I have no interest in family gossip or bickering, unlike older people who live to complain and reminisce about the good old days. The internet here is non-existent (this post is only happening, if it ever makes it) because of personal hotspot. 

In fact the only vaguely interesting to happen these last few days is someone harassing me on Instagram, leaving comments oscillating from unnecessarily aggressive (not to mention laughingly hypocritical), passive aggressive, and overly friendly on photos as recent as my latest all the way back to months ago. I can't even be bothered to delete all their comments nor engage in any negativity because I believe what you practise (and preach) is what manifests in your life and becomes you. Instead, everyday I've been writing in my gratitude book all the many things I am grateful for.

I am grateful for all the money I have been given and that I have never truly understood what it feels like to be wanting.
I am grateful for the kindness, patience, and love of the people around me.
I am grateful for my natural straight hair which although cannot hold a curl is always smootheven when air-dried.
I am grateful for my figure and my natural proportions even if it means I will never wear bandeaus or strapless tops.
I am grateful that I have always been well looked after. I truly believe I was born under a lucky star. Thank you.

Little things like that which one takes for granted. Whenever one feels low, instead of wallowing in self-pity make a list of all the things one is grateful for. After all you can't change something that's already happened but you can change your attitude toward it and that makes all the difference in taking the next step to changing the situation.

Like how the food in Kota Kinabalu has been disappointing this time around. I say 'I am grateful that I have no reason to overeat and sabotage the progress I've been making with learning how to control my portions'. Hahaha.

Incident 1:

My family had dinner at this supposedly popular new restaurant 'Brass Monkey'. I don't get the hype. The food was awful, amateur, and overpriced. A meal for 10 came to RM800 (£160, not expensive by London standards but way pricey for a tiny coastal town like K.K) but tasted like the amateurish efforts of a Kemahiran Hidup (Home Ec) student who just discovered the novelty factor of mayonnaise & adding chilli to sweet sauces. I had the squid salad, mussels, Bomb Alaska, & mango Suzette...but I wish I hadn't. The squid salad was drowning in this awful sauce that was so overwhelmingly spicy that I couldn't taste anything, which was probably just as well because the lettuce was as limp as the way I hold my wrist when talking to fashion industry types. The mussels baked in cheese were overcooked and rubbery, chewing it made me feel dirty. The mangos in the suzette were sour. As for Bomb bombed.

Incident 2:

Every trip to K.K we visit Gayang, a wonderful seafood restaurant about half an hour drive from the city. We take the SUV and drive through winding roads and hills. Gayang restaurant used to perch on an (illegal) wooden structure built like a platform over the estuary looking out to the sea. You would walk on a long, wooden bridge wobbling precariously over the swamp until you reach a large, wooden hut smack in the middle of the estuary. Surrounded by mangrove jungles on either side and the nothing but water as far as the eye can see, it's terribly scenic and beautifl. But now they've been forced to move onto land. The view isn't quite the same.

The quality of the lobster has dropped. I think at this rate the butter lobster at Oceanview (spared from  being pulled down by overzealous developers, yay!) is better. The sweet prawns, farmed on location, may be smaller but they are so sweet and so fresh that I didn't care that I had to peel more of them than usual. Of course I peel prawns not with my fingers but with my utensils. Peeling prawns with chopsticks is one of my prouder achievements.

Crabs have the worst return when it comes to satisfaction for effort involved...all that peeling, cracking, and risking shattering a porcelain veneered tooth. Give me my grandmother's sweet chilli crab anytime. Po po's are especially good because they've been peeled by the time they reach the dining table. I am so spoilt.

It was especially windy, and those with long hair found strands of hair flying into their mouths making it impossible to eat. I assigned myself the role of my mum's hair holder and kept her hair out of her face while she eats because I am a filial daughter. I take my job very seriously so that my mum can eat chilli crabs in peace. But look at all my hair trying to climb all over my face. Who will watch the watchmen? And who will hold the hair-holder's hair?

Incident 3:

I've been so tired out from my sinus attacks (thank you, horrible ashtray room at Promenade Hotel) that I fell asleep and missed dinner. Apparently when I was woken up and asked if I was coming I mumbled noooooo. No chilli crab for me. Dinner is Chinese New Year cookies and a nice big mug of regret.

Oh well, back to Kuala Lumpur tonight, where I will probably complain that the pace of life is too hectic and that the variety is overwhelming to the point of befuddlement.

Despite all of that I am happy. And grateful. For my many blessings; including my increasing self-awareness, my willingness to adapt and learn (too many people are set in their ways), the love and support of my family, and the kindness of strangers who reach out to me on social media and on my blog. I am truly blessed. 

Happy Chinese New Year, prosperity, fortune, luck, and happiness to all.



  1. Happy Chinese New Year!

    I'm so jealous, I've always wanted to go to Borneo! Can't wait to hear about all your stories when you return to London - I've missed you! x

    1. Gong Xi Fa Cai! Come to Borneo in April, I'll be there again!
      I miss you more. I have so much to tell you it's unreal. Hold on to your seats, when you get back from Australia it'll be a hell of a catch up brunch ;)

  2. 新年快乐,节细民 yip. happy happy huatness.

    1. Gong Xi Fa Cai Jaemy! All the huatness and ONG in the world to you! xx

  3. I grew up in Borneo and we always went back to my mom's village in Kuching every Gawai, so I can absolutely empathise - KK is a bustling metropolis in comparison! And as a Eurasian, the looks I would get when my 'orang putih' dad and I would order in Malay at the kopitiam were always comedic. But for all my gripes re the lack of entertainment, I currently type this in shitty-weathered UK and would gladly give up certain key players of my wardrobe to be back there.

    1. KK, a bustling metropolis?! How quiet is your mother's village? :O
      I would love to read stories about yours and your dad's comedic encounters with the locals. Do you have a blog? Shaaaare! x

  4. I hated Gayang when it moved! :( Try checking out Rasa Ria, Shangri-la- lovely beach! 40 minutes from town but its an awesome place. Or Shangri-la Tj Aru ain't too bad either. ;)

    1. I love Tanjung Aru! I spent half my childhood at the Shangri-La there! Will definitely check out Rasa Ria next time, thanks for the recommendation. x