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facing asia



Areas Explored:
Kota Kinabalu
Photos Taken:

Open air fish and produce markets. Muslim mosques. Locals setting up tents each rainy evening to sell their cheap merchandise. Generous and genuinely curious people and a country that seemed to be desperately trying to become something more modern while holding on to its heritage. These are the things about Malaysia that I remember foremost. That and a most vile fruit called durian. Eating it on the side of the road, it was every bit as bad as the miserable name it has made for itself from all the signs we saw telling us we couldn't bring it on the subway.

"This country definitely felt the poorest, but only if one is measuring in financial terms." We hired a driver to take us all over downtown Kota Kinabalu and then deep into the countryside during our stay there. Downtown Kota Kinabalu was as it was in all other areas of the Southeast Asia trip: a dense mix of ethnicities and religions. Some went about their regular business while others looked to the western wallets and other tourists in hopes of surviving. I could not say I felt complete guilt for the various things I possess in my life which many there did not, but I was very close to feeling it. This country definitely felt the poorest, but only if one is measuring in financial terms. I saw many people who were without, but also with. They had curiosity and determination that I thought was very admirable.

While driving out in the countryside, we came across many different bridges suspended by nothing more than some wiring and wood. While it was the middle of rainy season during the visit, the incredible amount of water obviously necessitated such structures even when rain was not in season. Both elderly and youthful used the bridges to cross, and of course had no problem jumping up and down to scare the hell out of the rare occurrence of westerners so far inland. Two or three people stacked on motorbikes would fly by as you walked across, coolly steering it by without fear. It was unmistakably obvious they had made the trip a thousand times before as they avoided the gaps and leaned with the sway of the bridge.

"For a few seconds I thought my weird face (literally) might have scared her." Seeing a pagoda in the distance, but not knowing what it was at the time, we asked our driver to stop and made our way over to it on foot. There was a giant Buddha outside the temple and this was where the locals gathered for ceremonies, dinners and spiritual communion. At the time of our arrival, a man saw us wandering around the pagoda and began to inquire where we were from. He was one of the first people we met on our trip and also easily one of the kindest and most genuine. Sincerely inquisitive of others without agenda. He invited us to come back to the temple later that night, as they had just slaughtered a pig and were preparing it for a feast for the town. The grounds around the pagoda had lush green landscaping and were peppered with vibrant sculptures. Local children were playing with one-another. I heard a noise in the grass nearby and as I turned to look, a little girl in a pink dress popped up yelled "RAWR!!!" with a ridiculously large grin on her face and arms raised. I conjured up the actor in me to give her my best frightened expression, to which she replied by mimicking my scared face. For a few seconds I thought my weird face (literally) might have scared her. So I threw out another; my best attempt at being cross-eyed. For a brief second she tried to copy me again and then immediately gave up into laughter. I took a quick photo of her as she covered her mouth to hide her smile.

Malaysia seemed to me to be a country of great contrast. Poor but rich. Confused but curious. I would like to go back some day and see more of it, including the western side where the capitol is located.

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