Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Project H45W1E: A general report

My daughter, Pauline rolled her eyeballs skyward when I suggested making a trip to Sabah, knowing my constant penchant for what she term "futile musings" she would just leave it at that, little realising this time I meant business. Is this what they call under-promise and over-deliver? Whatever.

Anyway, this was my game plan: First I squeezed Tony Fernandez until I was able to slash the transportation bill to bare-bone level. Next, for accomodation, I pulled in my Mum, to ensure free lodging at her sister's (my aunt)house. Next my niece, Joanne, whose constant snail mail pen-pal contact with my aunt's grand daughter Daffodil, provided a valid excuse to "pay her a visit". Ingenious eh! Mind you, I only share this brilliant idea codename :H45W1E "Holiday For Five With One Excuse", with whoever reads this, and lucky you!

Tension mounted as the Boeing landed on the Kota Kinabalu International Airport. Finally at the exit of the arrival hall, the two pint-size pen-pals met for the first time. Shy glances, sheepish grins as the two girls shook hands. They did'nt even talk in the car on the way home. What a difference from the union of the crying North and South Korean siblings long separated, as seen on TV. But within five days these two girls were to bond like super-glue and inseparable like Siamese twins.

For the next 5 days, we were treated to the whole gamut of Sabah's culinary delights ranging from the legendary Yew Kee Bah Kut Teh, to the to-die-for sea food and exquisite dim sum. We were chauffered here and there to ogle at the sights of the city, which in nearly ten years since I left, had morphed into a thriving and lively city with many new places and high rise buildings.

We also took a choppy ride in a speed boat to Manukan island and the sight of the multicolour fishes simply blew us away! My daughter and the two little terrors (by now) just squealed and shriek their ponytails off. The weather was just perfect for getting a sunburn, so, not wanting to be roasted like a suckling piglet, I decided to join my sister (Joanne's mum) under the shade. Alas, it was not to be. My toothless Sabah niece thrushed a mass of uninflated rubber dinghy at me and smiled. Actually she wasnt toothless, at age seven, she was in the process of dropping off her milk teeth, and they were like the Great White's row of teeth, sharp, serrated and evilly tinged with black plaque or whatever. Damn, I should have taken a close-up of her smile and exhibit them here for posterity.

Anyway, back to the rubber dinghy. So I asked her whether she brought along an air pump. What air pump? Oh oh! I sized up the mass of crumpled rubber and reckoned it must have meant blowing up 30 - 50 good sized balloons, and she was impatient! I must have taken about 15 minutes to fully inflate it, by then I was so friggin' groggy I must have tottered out of the shade and was able to see stars even in the bright sunlight! With my head still spinning as a result of siphoning my body's oxygen to the rubber boat, the squealing threesome of Pauline, Joanne and Daffodil rushed headlong into the warm, South China Sea with their inflated dinghy.

We also drove all the way to the Kinabalu National Park. Mountains have always fascinate me and one of the unforgettable sights of Mount Kinabalu (even though I have been here several times, but not to the peak) is this massive massif looming up in front of you as you get nearer and nearer, four majestic kilometres high, of craggy blueish tinge, sometimes wisps of clouds sweeping by. There are also "waterfalls" running down its gullies, bare rocks and forested fringe. For a guy who spend two scores of his life in pancake-flat Sibu, the word to describe this sight is spelt A-W-E-S-O-M-E. Frankly I dont know how I'd feel if I were to stand atop Low's Peak, I'd probably freaking pass out.

We passed by Kundasang, a quiant little market town with stalls alongside the main road hawking vegetables, fruits and tourist trinkets. However the multitudes of flies there make their presence there in a most disgusting manner, landing atop all the food. There is a nice resort, The Kinabalu Pine Resort is worth an overnight stay. I stayed there once with a few buddies many years ago. I remember vividly, in the evening, as the sun set, you sit on the balcony in an easy chair with the massive forlorn face of Mt Kinabalu looking at you, quietly, mysteriously. I tell you, you suddenly feel you become a wiser man/woman (though only for an evening). Let me recap. Cost of petrol to Mt. Kinabalu RM55. Cost of a double room at Kinabalu Pine Resort RM150. Cost of becoming a wise man after a close-up look at Mt Kinabalu : Priceless.

Dining in Kota Kinabalu can be a very intimate experience. I know because I was working here for one and a half years. I have came to love what the local call "kon-low meen", Sabah's answer to Sarawak's kolo mee, the kaya roti kahwin, the dim sum at Luyang (esp the chee cheong fun), Wei Ya Chicken rice (near Wisma Merdeka) and Gaya Street's Bah Kut Teh, my perrenial favourite. Kuching's laksa is also sold here, and I've tasted it too, but sorry, I have to reserve that compliment to good ol' Kuching. We ate at air con restaurants and open air sea food restaurants and despite the myth about costly eating out in Sabah, it was actually quite cheap. For slightly over a hundred ringgit, our entourage of 10 were burping and happy like Dagwood Bumpstead, granted half our group are kiddies. Of course there are time when it cost more. We almost tried the famous Saturday/Sunday brunch buffet at the Promenade (RM45.00), but it was solidly booked out even though we call out a day earlier to book.

The Damai area Roti Kawin needs a special mention here. We were coasting around the area at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon. Daffodil's dad, Jackie said, if do not try the roti there, its like not visiting KK at all!!! Wow, strong words indeed. What's so kick-ass delicious about this outlet's roti kawin. I worked in KK for so long and never heard of this place. Jackie told me it was only famous just about nine years ago, mmmm....that explained how it escape my tastebuds. Anyway, when we arrived at the place, my jaw dropped (again). It was total mayhem, the sea of humanity jostling to get a piece of the action. We had to stand next to a table with a couple who were munching their bread nonchalantly, oblivious to the shouting of the waiters and our glances. There was only standing room and not much place to move about. Hey, I've heard of coffee shop with good business, but this is ridiculous! Having to stand and waiting to pounce on a just-vacated table like playing musical chair. Boy, this roti kahwin better be good or I'm going to ask for refund. I dont know whether I was hungry that afternoon, but I found myself wolfing down several "sets" of the roti (one set is a rectangle of two pieces cut diagonally, swiped with sinfully sweet and flagrant kaya, and two thick slabs of frozen butter). As you sink your teeth into its soft and springy textured bread, muuuuunch sloooowly, and take a sip of your glass of teh-c (EVERYBODY order teh-c here, the best there is by far), all distractions and noise just disappeared. Which explained why patrons here have this out-of-the-world look on their face and lost all civility and courtesy in giving their seats to those waiting even though they'd finished eating. By the way if you do pass by this way, order the plain untoasted roti kahwin, not the toasted ones. As for the rest of the culinary stories, like the bah kut teh, please remind me to relate it another time, as this manner of describing food make me a bit giddy.

All good things must come to an end. So it was that day Sunday, as we packed and set off for our last breakfast together with my aunt, her daughter (my cousin), her hubby and three kids, and we five Kuching tourists (sort that out yourself). It was a cloudy morning and cool as we ate breakfast. How lucky we were, while my wife and my elder daughter were languishing in the miserable wet weather of London, swallowing mash potato and fish and chips, we were having a gastronomical feast here. Hahaha! Actually my wife was accompanying my elder daughter to "shop" for a suitable university for her Master's Degree. Like we in the phone business are so used to hear customers say, "survey dulu".

At the departure lounge, the Siamese twins had to be separated at last, and strangely they were quiet again, like when they first met, while Pauline looked on bemused as she was not a party to this kiddie bonhomie, being of different age group. Anyway it really amazed me that kids too can have such intense love for each other when they choose to. But separate they must, and this time the long lost Korean siblings analogy gets played again, except the kids are quiet and quite controlled of their emotion. My mum hugged her sister, there was no tears but I felt they wept in their heart. Orientals are not suppose to display affection publicly.