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Borneo Diaries: They Came from the Sea!

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry

MALAYSIA | Tuesday, 1 February 2011 | Views [708] | Scholarship Entry

Borneo Diaries: They Came from the Sea!

We find participatory democracy in strange places.

Our flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu was running late. We boarded, but waited on the runway. And waited. Eventually the airline attendant came onto the monitor and spoke in Bahasa Malay. Groans and elicitations followed her speech. She then repeated the speech in English: because the flight had arrived late, there was no food on board. So we could choose: wait for thirty minutes to be restocked, or take off with no food. It was quite late already and I shouted: “Go! Leave now!” Some agreement and clapping followed. She put it to a vote by popular demand, and those in favor of immediate departure won over the few reticent supporters of prepaid hot dogs, who were silent.

We joked for a while about what other choices they might give us: fuselage or wings? Pilot or co-pilot? And why was Air Asia’s new slogan “Now Everyone Can Fly?” We liked the idea that they drew pilots by lottery, picking a chair whose lucky occupant gets a free ticket but must fly the plane.

I slept through the rest of the flight, waking right before touchdown. It was pouring in KK on our arrival, and the border official provided a funny little stamp in our passports, merely noting that we had arrived in Sabah.

To recuperate from the past few days of intense travel, we decided to spend a day relaxing at Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, which consists of five islands just off the coast of KK. An amicable taxi driver took us to the dock at Jesselton Point, commenting along the way that “This is a big glass building” while pointing at a big glass building. At Jesselton we found a boat to take us out to Palau Manukan, on the way passing Palau Gaya where a stilt-slum was visible: a Filipino refugee village, home to the dispossessed.

The beach at Palau Manukan was busy, mainly with package tourists. Most bobbed up and down just offshore, trying to scuba but struggling to not float upright. As we walked to the changing station, Adam noticed a painting for a peculiar contrivance: a toilet with a scuba tank and space-suit like headset attached, accompanied inevitably by a bikini-clad woman. The proprietor of the shop called them “scooba-dos” or “mini-submarines.” Evidently you sat on them and sunk into the water. A head-mask contains an air bubble, continually fed through the tank. Briefly renting a scooba-do sets you back MR250 and we declined with lament. But we were lucky to see them in use. While we watched the beach, lethargic bubbles surfaced from under the waves. Then, slowly, they emerged: an ominous, stupid, strangely menacing coterie of six sea-toilets manifesting from the briny deep, each driven by a middle-aged woman. Their delight caused us pause to reconsider the rental, but only a pause.

Tags: #2011writing, travel writing scholarship 2011


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