As the city appeared in front of my eyes, I could see why Tim kept telling me Malaysia was very different and more civilized.. High rises, industry, and a clean port. The immigration queue was long, and people kept jumping in front of us, until the port master realized what was happening and tried to put some order. It was still not moving very fast, but after about 30 minutes someone from the other side of the fence spotted us, and gave us ‘white people treatment’, asking us to push our way through and skip to the front. The Malaysian immigration officer had a quick look at our passports and stamped them without any fuss, without asking for an outgoing ticket or anything at all. Welcome to a country that actually likes and encourages tourism!
My initial impression from the boat was only exacerbated as I emerged into the streets. There were things like… Sidewalks! Clean streets! Orderly traffic! People that seemed to be actually working! What the shit just happened? Did we go into a time space tunnel and emerged far away? No, we arrived in rich, bustling Malaysia. Only the heat reminded me I was just over the border… We found an ATM to get some local currency, and a taxi to take us to our CS home. I had luckily found this super interesting English gentleman, that lived in what he described as a multicultural madhouse. Reason he calls it that, is that he lives with a Chinese/Catholic friend, and his two adoptive sons, who are Buggis/Muslim, when he is as agnostic like the two of us. He also has another adoptive son, Chinese/Buddhist, who currently lives in Taiwan, so we’d hopefully get to meet him when we got there.
We arrived at his place, and felt like home almost immediately. After a long time, we were sharing our house, time and meals with another western person, and it was comforting and peaceful. Daniel (our host) had travelled a LOT, and he had plenty of awesome stories to share. We talked for a few hours, until our stomachs started grumbling. When that came to be, we walked to get some lunch and then to the supermarket to get food to make dinner. After much searching and discussing possibilities, we settled for as western a meal as we could come up with: hot dogs, salad and chips. We thought it was only fair, after six weeks of Asian! We returned, relaxed for a while, and then cooked for the whole family. It was simple and yummy, and a reminder of how white we really are :P. Later on, we all settled in front of the couch and watched a movie called “Beginners”. Reading the summary, I thought it would be light-hearted.. I could not have been more wrong, it was anything BUT light-hearted. It was deep, dramatic and beautifully filmed. Highly recommended for sure. It did mean I did not get to sleep until about 3.30am…
The next day, Dan’s flatmate, Anthony, who is a lovely Chinese descendant man that lived in England for 16 years, took us to town to enjoy local coffee and check out the market. This huge trading venue is located right outside the port, and is 5 floors tall. The first floor sells incredibly fresh fruit and veggies, the second has clothes, and third and fourth food. He took us straight to his favourite place, but we decided to walk around and check out the others. After asking for vegetarian food, we were directed to a particular stand that specialized in veggie curries, so we got one of them, and went back to Anthony and got some Tempe and rice at his preferred stand. While we were enjoying the delicious food, it started raining cats and dogs. We had not seen rain this heavy in a long time, so I quite enjoyed the sight, but it meant our outdoor plans had to be cancelled. Therefore, we decided to hang out there until it abated a bit, and then climbed into the car and back home.
Daniel had asked us for help with dinner, as he was in a lot of pain to cook by himself. We gladly accepted, and helped prepare the Italian/Chinese dish we would have for dinner: prawns, scallops, mushrooms, cashew nuts, garlic, onion and noodles, accompanied by garlic bread (with real butter, a delicacy we had not eaten since NZ). Needless is to say, the final product was wonderful. We left everything ready to go, and went to Daniel’s English institute, just a block away. Anthony had asked me to look at his laptop, as it was running very slow. It took me over 3 hours to finally get it to run at a decent speed.. Among other things,it had 5 different antivirus software installed, programs and toolbars he had no idea about, and everything starting when the computer did… In summary, typical end user bullshit. He was very happy with the outcome, but I missed the English class.
That night, we stayed up until 12pm to celebrate my birthday with a few drinks. Nonetheless, we wanted to sleep early so we could go out to a nearby hill early next morning. Reason being, there is a quarry underneath, and after 10am the dynamite starts, and you don’t want to hang around and wait for rocks to fly around and land on you… The ascend was somewhat challenging, considering our physical skills have drastically diminished without 4-5 days a week of sports like we used to do in NZ. The whole hill is covered in palm oil trees, stretching as far as the eye can see (and then some). We also saw a few pineapples on the side of the road. The view from the top was quite impressive, but there was no shade at the top to hide beneath, and the sun was already very bright and burning through our skin and clothes. The way down was really fast in comparison, and we were glad to climb inside the car and enjoy the AC.
Anthony then drove us to Giant, were I needed his help to purchase my b’day present – a smart phone. Mom had asked us to get one at the start of our journey, but Indonesia import tax was too high for it to be convenient/reasonable. In contrast, I found a Lenovo A316 phone on a promotion, that was very affordable. However, a Malay ID card was required to purchase, therefore I needed a local’s assistance, that Anthony was happy to provide. While I was getting that sorted, the men were browsing the supermarket gathering the ingredients for my birthday dinner: a whole chicken, potatoes, onion, pumpkin, garlic, carrots and the ingredients for chimichurri.
For lunch we were taken to this local market, where you can purchase curries for 1RM each. We found the best looking ones, and proceeded to get an eggplant curry, and a coconut mystery veggie one (I’d say in the melon family). We complemented that with what we thought (and the lady selling it confirmed) was tofu, but when we started eating we realized was fish cakes.
Later on, we aimed to get the food ready in preparation for dinner, had a few relaxing hours and went to English class. This time around I got to sit in and freshen up my future tense knowledge. Daniel is a great teacher, engaging and funny, so we both enjoyed the class. It had also been a long time since I found myself in that sort of an environment, and it reminded me how much I enjoy it.
We had given the boys instructions to turn the oven on so that dinner would be almost ready when we returned, and after some struggling they successfully accomplished the task. The smell of chicken had invaded the house when we entered, making our mouths water. Another friend of the family, Seng Seng joined us as well, and everyone around the table was utterly satisfied with the meal and the chimi. As planned, the chicken had been cooked very slowly, making the meet separate from the bone and making the outside crispy. All the juice (aka fat) had dripped onto the veggies, exacerbating the taste. The chimichurri was very flavoursome as well, and complemented the meal perfectly. All in all, it was a perfect birthday dinner, shared with wonderful people and with great talk and laughs. Once full, we went into the lounge and shared some beers and grape spirit mixed with grape juice (yummy). They even got me a delicious creamy cake and we stayed up talking until past 3am.
Tim woke me up the next morning, reminding me he had set up a date for me to Skype with my family. It was rather hard for me to get out of bed, as I had not slept for very long, but the thought of the familiar faces was enough to get me going. After a few hours of amiable chattering we said goodbye and got ready to leave Tawau. Anthony drove us to the bus stop, where he asked a friend of his to take us in his mini van. Unfortunately, he was not the one driving that particular one, and the driver and Ant got on a heated argument as he wanted to charge us 5RM more than the locals, as our backpacks were big. I left them to fight while I roamed around the terminal checking our options to Semporna. I quickly found a big AC bus that left two hours later and would take us for 10RM (the price we were told to pay originally) so I bought some tickets and returned to the original spot to stop the fight and get on our way.
Our time in Tawau was made splendid by the amazing people we met. Once more, CS proved to be the best way to travel 🙂