Malaysia: Where Air is Water


The threat from kidnapping remains, according to a travel advisory. Foreign travellers have been kidnapped in the past in Malaysia, and so did locals. On February 10, 2010 two Malaysian seaweed farmers were abducted from Sebangkat Island, off Semporia in Sabah. “You should exercise caution; attacks could be indiscriminate,” said the advisory. Sure, we were discouraged. But it wasn’t because the article dissuaded us (clearly so) from going to our destination in Lahad Datu to meet up relatives; cautioning us that there is particular evidence that criminal groups usually target remote and isolated parts of Eastern Sabah (from Kudat eastwards to Tawau), no. It was particularly because of the dreaded task of packing!

We made a list, to make sure we packed light for the 7-day trip around Sabah, Malaysia (March 21 – 28). But naturally, Kuya Dondee and I dropped the deed and only started stuffing our Racini and Hawk schoolbags (no Northface for us, thank you) the day before the trip. Crammers. And we were so good at being buzzer beaters that the airline personnel even had to call out our names (with much difficulty at our unique surname, I should say) to hurry up and  board the plane! The last men on board, literally.

Touchdown. Beginning June 1, 2011, the Malaysian Immigration Department has introduced a new system where all foreigners entering Malaysia by land, air and sea will have biometric fingerprints taken at the immigration entry point. That pleasant nervous feeling of getting scanned and verified like we were special agents entering the secret service headquarters. LOL. The aptly called Kota Kinabalu International Airport Low Cost Carrier (KKIA LCC) Terminal 2 is only 10 minutes away by taxi. It cost us RM30 (approx Php420) by airport taxi.

Hyatt Regency Kinabalu is quaint yet classy. We crashed, not at the Hyatt (I was just saying how pretty the hotel looked), at our cousin’s place right in front of the hotel in Segama St. Conveniently, it’s within walking distance from clubs, restaurants, and shopping centers. We bought our pasalubongs (keychains, sweets, chili sauce, etc) from the seaside market nearby. I bought a proboscis monkey ref magnet (what unique nose this monkey has!) to pin on the fridge. It’s so nice to see the fridge filled with magnets from every place you’ve travelled to. But, Kuya Dondee had a different yet clever idea for a memorabilia for us. He used one from the pack of apples we’ve bought, I, from a Malaysian coffee bag. Then we fastened them into our vinyl passport covers. The cheapest and rarest souvenir really is a tiny sticker pricetag from a merchandise you’ve bought from the place you’ve visited. Saves you a lot of money!

Cheapest souvenir

The close-by Jesselton Point Waterfront, KK’s main jetty where dozens of boats dock, is a menu of bars and restaurants. Even the beach is just minutes away from the city! Tanjung Aru beach is wonderful. Sun, sand and surf. And it’s free! No entrance fees. Watch the gorgeous sunset either from the sandy shore or a bistro by the beachfront.

Tanjung Aru Beach

Tanjung Aru Beach

Tanjung Aru Beach

We got our tan on at Lahad Datu, a town in Eastern Malaysia, island of Borneo, frolicking on the beach.

Lahad Datu, Malaysia

Everyday, we were treated to seafoods by our ferry boat (lantsa) builder uncle. From his fishermen children’s catch to our lips. Our well-deserved reward for the 9hr bus ride to get there.

Lahad Datu, Malaysia

ABC Jagung, Sup Ayam, Mi Goreng, Jus Epal. The choices are endless, but also hardly comprehensible even to malaysian-goods-exposed tourists like ourselves. And it’s almost always worth a good laugh, because the words would mean differently to different people. Epal, for example, refers to awful scene-stealers in Filipino slang but merely means the fruit Apple in Bahasa Malayo. You won’t know what to order.

Malaysian Roti Canai

We tried Roti Canai, a crepe-like flatbread served with curry, at Sri Rahmat Restaurant for breakfast complimented with sweet Kopi-O (black coffee, or Kahawa to us in Tawi-Tawi).

Being surrounded by relatives from our paternal side, my language of communication shifted to the vernacular Sinama (from Tawi-Tawi), our papa’s lengua franca. Kuyakuy can speak it fluently, I fumbled with my words but I understood the dialect. It’s a pleasant and welcome change. It’s full circle. Tracing our roots.

Malaysia is a multicultural country like the Philippines, but predominantly Islamic. We siblings were born and raised in Mindanao and proudly have had a Muslim for a father (RIP). But even though we were accustomed to the Islam religion and its traditions, customs, and laws, at all times we still practiced care. We ensured our actions do not offend other cultural or religious beliefs in this land of the Wismas and SDNs; where ketchup (kicap) is soy sauce; where air (pronounced a-yir) is water; where there is no reliable wifi connection.

Ketchup (Kicap)

This is ketchup in Malaysia. It’s Toyo to us in Pinas.

So, back to our packing dilemma. Kuyakuy and I came up with a solution, because we’re so ingenius. Or not. We just didn’t have a choice, or we’d be fashion criminals. We shared the clothes and chucks we brought so you’d not see us wearing the same shirt twice, read: borrowed each other’s and mixed/matched them. Talk about packing light!


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