Up to the mountains, down to the sea. (Part 1)

My family and I took a trip to Sabah, Malaysia for the New Years. We stayed at a number of places such as Magellan Hotel, Kapalai and Mt. Kinabalu. First we stayed at Magellan Hotel, near Sutra Harbour. The first night, I met my friend Daryl, a true sabahan, and his two brothers and his friend. It was so much fun, we ate craploads of durian and real Sabah food. Normally, my parents’ friends always bring us to tourist spots or air-conditioned restaurants and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for this time, I was out in a unknown country with my friends and I was eating durian under a bridge and trying to find rats! It was definitely much more exciting. Hahahahaha

The next day, we took a plane out to Tawau which is near the Southeastern tip of Sabah and connects to the Celebes Sea between Malaysia and Philippines. We then took an hour bus and another hour boat ride to the MIDDLE of the ocean where our resort was and. WOW. There’s no other way to describe this place. Everywhere around you is just water, corals and fishes. Everything is brought to this place by boat from the mainland. It’s both exhilarating and frightening at the exact same time. You get there and you are astounded by its beauty and then it hits you….the amount of danger you are constantly in. I kept on thinking I would fall overboard (I would, being as clumsy as I am) or that I would drop things into the sea. This was further emphasised when I went snorkeling there. You see, at this resort, you could go snorkeling and diving all the time! And its really for people who love the sea. I thought I love the sea. But man oh man, when I went into that ocean with nothing but my swimsuit and snorkeling mask and pipe (I don’t know what that’s called), it finally hit me how scary the ocean is. It engulfs you and submerges you in its world. And there’s nothing you can do. It’s like you’re powerless to the sea. I tell you, when I realised that I just wanted to get out of there. I never felt more out of control. It was scary man. I kept on fogging my stupid goggles because I couldn’t breathe properly. That first day, I was scared of everything. All the fishes scared me, all the corals scared me, even other people scared me. We were only there 3 days but I told everyone that I would never snorkel again.

The next day, my dad convinced me to go snorkeling again. I have no idea why I did, the initial shock probably wore off. Still the same emotions I felt when I went under water. Which is weird because I swim fine, I’m not a fantastic swimmer but I’m pretty decent. It’s the idea of the vastness and the power of the ocean that scared me. Luckily this time, I brought a waterproof digital camera which I rented at the place. The camera gave me a lens to look through, literally and figuratively. I like taking photos, it gives that distance between you and that subject. That camera became my shield because it gave me an objective eye that let me sort of compartmentalise my emotions during the swim. I guess I started to enjoy it much more.

Also! during this morning swim, I was also stung by a jellyfish!! Now I don’t know what kinda jellyfish it was but by the size of the tentacle, it was pretty big! The weird thing is, I didn’t see anything and the pain wasn’t that great. It was really cool to get my first jellyfish sting though. Something I was hoping for!

That day we went to Mabul Island where extends out into a resort. The island itself is inhabited by the locals who have their own language, different from malay. It was very interesting because the resort people didn’t seem to have any relationship with the natives and what they did was they brought people from their resort into the village where like a path was demarcated for us. The people were friendly and the kids were having so much fun but as the “outsiders” approached, a kid would extend his hand for money. You see, I do a large amount of social work in Thailand and I believe strongly in building relationships. So it pained me to see the resorts/companies meddling in these people’s lives and creating a whole different culture than what was before. I don’t know, change can be bad and good. For example, those plastic that wraps food is probably good because it’s waterproof and it lasts longer as opposed to food which are perishable. But the amount of litter and the damage to the environment is irreparable. But this is something I still have to recouncile with myself. How much change is good? Should change occur? Who is to decide what to change? Can you imagine, just declaring that Mabul island should be untouched and all the native people left alone to fend for themselves but in the end to preserve their culture? I don’t know, it’s a hard question.

Next, we went snorkeling again! This time, I was starting to get better and appreciate the corals and the nature around me. I had to focus and concentrate on my breathing at times but it was still much better than before. I saw something interesting though, I saw these beautiful red corals that had indentations in them like footprints. I realised that people probably stepped on them when the tide was low. It made me really sad to see nature just being destroyed by someone so careless. It also reminded me of the age old argument of the preservation of natural spots in the world from a humanities class in school. I actually believe places of importance (biological) should be completely closed off to the public to preserve the environment. Perhaps scientists or biologists should be allowed to conduct research but to fully preserve the environment, it should be cordoned off. Those are my thoughts because I believe humans are always going to be careless or they are bound to make mistakes. I just don’t want to compromise an environment for the carelessness of one human being.

Finally, on the last day, my family and I got special permits to snorkel in Siphidan Island. If you have time, seriously, go look it up. It is amazing. We got to snorkel there and I saw so many things, like bump fish, sharks, nemo, jackfish. It was incredible. There was this one time, the jackfish was surrounding everyone and my dad was so scared, he frantically swam on board. It was the funniest thing ever. It was really scary! It was like vortex of 50cm (20inches) silver fish that sucked you in. It made me realise that these animals have all the power to kill us and to hurt us. They all just need to attack us all at once, they could cause mayhem and terror. It’s funny how humans are at the top of the food chain. We don’t have that much physical power if you compare us to the flying fish or shark or a school of fish. It’s crazy. (also, on a side note, we saw flying fish!!! It was amazing!)

On the last day, all the staff whom we made friends with came to say goodbye. They were fantastic staff. They all seem to love what they do and the place that they work. Another interesting fact, they all live there! on this artificial island made of stilts! I think that really fostered a sense of community and love. My dad assumed that because they stay there, the job retention must be very low but surprisingly, I met people like Rose who have been living and working there for 5-6 years. They were all just so nice and so welcoming. We also met a snorkeling instructor named Jack who had a tattoo of a heart with like words that said “Babe, Rose” so I think he and Rose have something going on, or it could be a tragic love story and they don’t even know they live beside one another…. but that’s my imagination getting away from me.

In the end, I got so many allergic reactions, it was crazy. Every day I had a new spot or rash on my body. It was pretty funny to try and find new reactions everyday. Then again, my body is overly sensitive to anything that I get hives from just walking.

The only other exciting experience was the boat back to the mainland when this HUGE torrent of rain that came upon us. It was crazy heavy and everyone was getting wet even after they put down the blinds. But it was so much fun at the same time! I was listening to my thumping bass music (as it was appropriate of course) and just enjoying the bumpy boat ride back. It made me think of that quote, something about how nature isn’t vindictive or angry, it is merely indifferent. All we can do is try to huddle under a towel while nature decides it’s a good time to rain.

Thank you,

Ng Meizhi

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