For a city girl, when one mentioned the word Sabah, the image that would come to my mind would be a state with no skyscrapers. Public transportations would be difficult. It would not be easy to find good restaurants. No malls to shop. But the most frightening part would be the language barrier. How would I find my way if I am lost there? What about the people? Would they be helpful if I needed help? All these have been playing in my mind for the past few years, and were some of the reasons why I didn’t travel to Sabah. It may sound childish to some, but I must admit I am a coward at uncertainties.
However, all the uncertainties were shot down last weekend on 5th May 2016. A friend who worked in Sabah for a couple of years threw the idea of visiting the state for a weekend getaway. I jumped at the opportunity since I knew that he is well-verse in the language and knows the state well. Therefore, I was certain that I would not be lost and had solved the language issue. Without thinking twice (because most of the time when I think twice, I will always change my mind), I booked the ticket synchronizing the time and flight with him and three of our friends. Thus, five of us would be travelling together. I was feel much more ensured when three of them had been to Sabah.
Yes, I am a scaredy cat. When the date arrived, I was very excited and anxious at the same time. Anxious because I wanted this trip to be mind-blowing. I had read a lot about Sabah before the trip. The beauty of the islands, the nature, the majestic Mount Kinabalu. Yet, the one that touches me the most would be the Mount Kinabalu’s guides, how some of them selflessly helped others during the 2015’s quake. To me, that represented the people of Sabah or was I wrong? Was I expecting too much?
When I landed at the airport, to me it was just like any other ordinary airports. When we got into the rented car, and drove to the hotel for the night, I couldn’t see anything much. The hotel itself when we checked in didn’t impress me much. It was clean and comfortable though. However, while waiting for my friends to refresh themselves, Sabah started to show its beauty. The man behind the counter was very friendly and explained to us about the scenic pictures of Sabah which were on the wall. I couldn’t remember the name of the places (blame it on my age), but I do remember his patience for answering our questions about the location, how to go there, places that we need to avoid as travelers in Sabah. He spoke to us in a gentle soft voice. I was impressed.
Mind you that you have never travelled with a friend of mine who asks a lot of questions and most of the time, she asks the same questions. I always lose my patience with her, but for that man to tolerate her gently and explaining again and again, I had to admire him. Off we went to meet my friend’s IG friends. They had never met before only interacting via Instagram. This should be interesting. They met us outside the hotel, and immediately hit it off with my friend. I am sure some of you out there have the experience of meeting online friends, and they ended up to be 360 degrees different. But this was not the case.
The three of them chatted as if they were long-lost friends. I ended up looking at them in awe. If I wasn’t told by my friend, that those two were his IG’s friends, I would have thought that they have been friends for years. They completed each other thoughts and sentences. Amazing! These two were very concerned about us from the first time we met until we returned home. They kept in-touch by asking where we were and how was the travelling. Did we come across any difficulties? A friend of us fell and bruised his legs. It became a major concern to our two Sabahan friends. By this time, I was comforted by the hospitality of Sabahans.
The next morning, we travelled to Kundasang, making a stop at a school on our way there. By this time, I felt at home. The teachers were friendly and welcoming even though we came uninvited and informal. They brought us around the school and explained about the school system. Again, I was impressed by their friendliness to five strangers who came dressed sloppily. We were treated as 5-star guests.
We then drove off to the National Park, making another stop at Nabalu. I was greeted by row of shops selling souvenirs and the beauty of the mountains. The scenery along the uphill climbing was breathtaking. Lush greens everywhere along the journey and at times you could see glimpses of rooftops at the slopes of the hills. What I had read about Sabah so far hadn’t disappointed me. Like any other tourists (could be worse than them), I couldn’t stop taking pictures. I then decided to buy some souvenirs there, even though I know that I could get better bargains at Philippines Market in Kota Kinabalu. Colorful coin leather purses caught my eye. The seller, small and timid, greeted me. Tourists haggle and I do; yet, I was lost to this seller. She didn’t do much actually. It was just me who didn’t have the heart to haggle due to her gentleness. I did ask for a lower price, and she relented with a gentle smile. That smile won me over.
I browsed through many of the shirts that she was selling, and she, again, softly telling me the price that she could give. I didn’t have the heart to cause her the misery of haggling with me, I walked to my friends who were busy haggling to buy the various types of mountain rice sold. I stood in front of a stall just a stall away from my friends. While waiting, (I managed to eat slices of pineapple, guava and watermelon), I was attracted by the packets of rice at the stall. The young seller, explained to me about the types of rice and how to cook them. My curiosity was piqued. I told her that I had no interest in buying, but I had a lot of questions about the rice, like “beras bukit wangi pandan”, “beras bukit wangi keladi”, “beras barrio” and there was even one rice which looked like Korean rice, plump and round.
Upon hearing that, some sellers would definitely walk away, but she stood there explaining to me each rice as I pointed one by one; how to cook and better ways to eat the rice. She spent quite some time on me, and her explanation and gentleness and patient were enough to convinced me to buy two packets of rice. Here at Nabalu, I was convinced that Sabahans were gentle, friendly, and welcoming. I could go on and on telling about the people of Sabah that I met during my weekend getaway. You may think that I am just making up stories. The best way is for you to experience it yourself the gentleness, humility and hospitality of the Sabahans.
When I travel, the memorable things about the traveling would not be about the items that I could buy, the 5star hotels that I stay, the glittering cities, but the local people that I met. People makes the country, and to me, Sabah is a gentle state protected by the lush greeneries against the harshness of reality.
MIZA is a MUET (Malaysian University English Test) Teacher at SMK Seri Bandar Pontian, Johor Darul Ta’zim. She recently visited Sabah for the first time with her colleagues and is more than happy to share with us, her thoughts about Sabah and Sabahans. Thank you so much for the write-up Miza! We, the curisotraveller.com members love reading your post.