Tourism vs reality in Kota Kinabalu Malaysia
It took me a while to figure something out I walked the streets of Kota Kinabalu. The tourist office denied the existence of the homeless anywhere in the city.
It’s not in their training to deal with some asking about this. They only point out touristy thing they were trained to memorize. So, when I started asking about illegal immigrants in Kota Kinabalu, they completely froze up. Yea, I need a better information source for these entries …
The homeless in Kota Kinabalu
The fact is there are plenty of homeless on the streets in Kota Kinabalu’s clean streets. I took a photo of a homeless person along a busy main street, much to the shock and horror of a local person walking by. But, they watched from a distance as I photographed the man, then shared a bag of dried Chinese beef with him.
“Whatever happened, it moved the local Malaysian to smile and then drop something in his cup”
The homeless & poor in Kota Kinabalu were not something I particularly noticed at first I must admit. Not until I has in my room at the hostel and staring at my bloated backpack. I was carrying too much again.
Reflecting on your own needs, to realize your surroundings
Two unread books. A heavy medical bag, and chargers. A weeks worth of clothes and not much else. Well, apart from a jacket and a jacket vest. Both were remnants from my overland journey that had kept me warm on cold icy nights in Pakistan, Nepal and Tibet. I’d hung on to them more for sentimental value than anything else.
But I was now in South East Asia. What use was my pocket filled jacket. I was sweating like a preverbal walking sprinkler system and was wishing for lighter “everything“.
In search of the homeless in Kota Kinabalu
Some time ago I took a mornings walk and finally found a man in need. Sitting on a footpath hand outstretched.
People passed by and took swerves to stay clear like they do in so many countries around the world. But still he’d always look up and raise his hand in a plea for help.
He saw me coming and naturally enough raised his hand. I waved at him and couldn’t help but smile as he waved back. It was then that I saw the tell tale signs of leprosy from his fingerless hand.
I’d visited leprosy clinics in Africa and wondered if there was also a paranoia about it in Asia? Maybe that’s why no one approached him.
“I am in need, but so is he”
He looked up at me and smiled again while waving his good hand. I knelt down as he mentioned the word dollar. Giving him a pat on the shoulder I handed my jacket to him.
“The man’s eyes widened as if in skeptical disbelief.”
I stood up and nodded confirmation. With that he let loose a childlike “Yahoo!”
Before breaking into the biggest toothless grin I’d seen in long time.
I stood back and was touched by this man’s overwhelming joy at receiving my jacket. He held it open and examined it with such pride of happiness it was almost as if he was holding a new born baby for the first time.
Then once I had stepped back he waved more thank you’s at me and started to call out to various passerby’s. I couldn’t work out what he was saying but he was making sure everyone heard about it.
It’s not all about Mount Kinabalu you know?
Some people slowed down and looked at him, before looking over at me as he continued to shout the praises of something. A few people smiled in return. Moreover a few people looked to the ground and then turned back to place a few coins on his lap.
I smiled again at both the old man and people passing by.
With hunger biting at me I walked to a local waffle store before leaving the street. One last wave at the old man and before I knew it I was also sharing my chocolate waffle with him.
Looking into the cold mirror of homelessness
Then sitting there with him, I began to realize why I’ve been having this fascination with immigrants and the homeless. I am one too.
In fact in my increasing failure to find a place call home I think I can easily envisage myself like that old man one day. Though I am fighting not to be …
Maybe, I did not give something to him. But am subconsciously hoping in vain that if my journey fails. That someday someone will give me something; just to make things a little bit better for a day.
Not a sympathy vote, but a reality vote
Maybe I am feeling sorry for myself. Maybe it’s my subconscious. But, I actually think it’s a part of me that’s very firmly fixed on the ground. A good part.
It’s not a kick in the butt, but a slap in the face of reality. Not a time for panic, but a time for stepping up to the plate.
If you don’t feel this slap, then something is wrong. Travel does this. It holds a sense of “non- responsibility” so many enjoy. I must shake free of this feeling.
My jacket was full of sentimental value to me. Maybe it’s worth even more now
Meanwhile, if you are traveling with something that’s weighing you down, my suggestion is simple. Instead of throwing it in a hotel bin. Give it as a gift directly into the hands of person with a lot less than you.
It might just become something far more valuable to you both!
A girl called Emma, a street market and a place called home?
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