Sabah … Malaysia … Borneo … too many names: first impressions

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ January 17th, 2011. Published in: Travel blog » Uncategorized.

With Philippines travel still in my blood, and white foreigners abound on every corner I find myself uneasy with how easy everything is in Sabah, Malaysia. Also known as Borneo or …  my new destination.

Clean road of Kota Kinabalu

I've not seen roads this clean and well kept for a long time!

Travel is easy in Kota Kinabalu

Taxis, don’t overcharge. Hostel, booking ready, room ready. Still the annoying shoe removal thing. And clean, everything is so clean. The big coastal city is spotless.

My choice of Sabah, Malaysia before Australia is turning out to be a good one. Why? I am in tourist shock. I’ve not seen so many young white people with money for a long time!

Kota Kinabalu’s clean streets:

Bins line the paved sidewalks, the roads are sealed in tarmacadam. And, the traffic lights work. Cars even stop at them. What’s more, I’ve yet to hear a car horn. Neither have I been asked for money, nor eyed at. Why? Because there’s 100′s more like me roaming the city’s streets.

I think back to a man I knew who used to work flying in cargo to Sabah (Borneo) in the 1960′s. Wild tales of jungle tribesmen, rainforest and some final frontiers. While I am not naive enough to know that has all changed now. I am still uncomfortable with how easy everything is in this place once called Borneo. No longer the wild jungle frontier.

Communication in Kota Kinabalu:

For a country that my guidebook print outs tells me only the basics of English are known, I’ve yet to be misunderstood.

Public Bus in Kota Kinabalu

Even the buses are clean, and so easy to get around

“The bus stop here?”

“Where do you want to go?” comes the reply from a local waiting at a bus stop.

“The Api-Api center.”

The lady nods, “Yes, just wait a little.”

Sure enough along come an aircon bus to take me for 1 Ringet. All too easy. No over crowding, no stares. Just some smiles. The journey is smooth, and still not a car horn.

My jump from travel in undeveloped to developed

Indeed if it was not for the humidity, and faces, I could mistake parts of Kota Kinabalu city for a modern Spanish town. The buildings are well kept, and have a block house Spanish apartment look in places. They even have English signs offering rentals. Open shop fronts, shopping centers, and pedestrian crossings included.

If I could fault the city on anything it would be that there are not enough pedestrian bridges to cross some of the large main roads that ply through the town. And, maybe a sign or two to direct the lost tourist. But then again, I am being really nit picky here. It’s far from the jumble that a lot of large Filipino cities are.The whole place is walkable, at least the city center.

First impressions of Sabah, Malaysia vs The Philippines

A one city perspective. No hanging wires from lamp posts either! That’s something I now notice. In the Philippines nearly every lamp post has hundreds of black cables wrapped around it.

Lizard in Kota Kinabalu

Not exactly the wild jungle island of old anymore. Lizard (Monitor? correct me if I am wrong)

The tourist office in Kota Kinabalu is also helpful, and the 4 staff seem to work. In the Philippines I noticed in one office 8 or so staff, all shuffling papers. My questions going largely unanswered. The difference is quite blatant. And yet, I still feel uncomfortable with the ease of it all.

Learning from the past:

I spent over 2 years in West Africa. Upon arriving back in Portugal I was surrounded by white people, things that work, water, flushing toilets, varieties of food, and cleanliness.

It took a while in getting used to this. I would turn a tap on and off several times. Water flowed on command in front of me for the first time in years.

Now, albeit not so dramatically, I am experiencing this once more. The challenges are there to be over come. It’s a new culture. New language. But these are easy.

What I find most difficult is seeing and interacting with foreigners again.

As I revel in a hot shower followed by a noodle dinner with many, many side dish choices;  I must adjust once more to not just a new place, but a new mental attitude.

To quote a friend of mine from Africa:

” I feel like a F*#@ing  bushman at a White House dinner”

With that said, I am taking some chill out time for myself.

Coming Soon:

Visiting a very beautiful mosque my style …

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