Labuan Memories - Part One of Seven: A Hasty Decision

I was 24 years old back then. It was my first time to travel outside the country. I was not hesitant but I was a little scared of the unknown. At that time, I didn't worry too much about money. I had an ample budget to finance my wanderings. What was I worried about? I was more worried of my emotion. In other words, I was emotionally weak. But people came in my life during the course of my travel, though transient, kept up with my drawbacks. 

The Chinese-Malaysian guy whom I met during my first week in Kota Kinabalu texted me the moment we parted ways at the bus terminal. I already had series of escapades since we met. I had gone to Kinabalu Park, visited Penampang Museum and worked as a waitress in Rizqun Hotel. However, there was a moment where I felt homesick in Brunei. There was an extreme loneliness steaming in me. No matter how I tried diverting my attention and focusing on wonderful things, the black dog of depression once again tailing me. Something was missing. Something was wrong.
"At the port of The Federal Territory of Labuan"
The text message came in early that morning. The Chinese guy was asking me on how I was doing. I replied that I was missing home. I was just missing something which could only be found in my country. He opened up the idea about his place, The Federal Territory of Labuan. It is an exclave state of Malaysia near Brunei Darussalam. Two hours or three by ferry from Muara, Brunei brings you to Labuan.

I was ambivalent. I knew the consequences if I would travel from Brunei and back to Malaysia. I could no longer proceed to Indonesia. Well, I would take the risk. I had to find a way to lessen the sadness I was feeling.

The ferry ride was rough plus I wasn't so comfortable with the people around me. The odor in the ferry was different. It was a bit smelly. Good thing that I brought an inhaler to stop me from throwing out. I sent a message to my friend that I finally arrived but I was still lining up for the immigration.
"Getting ready to smell the kind of Labuan air"
When it was my turn, the immigration officer stopped me. He asked me questions which totally surprised me. "How old I was. If I were married. If I had enough money or if I was up to something..." I answered the officer the whole truth. Luckily, he was satisfied with my answers.

I was strolling around the ferry area while looking for a spot where he could easily find me. Later on, I found an open space with benches. I sat there for several minutes while waiting for him. He then arrived with a worried look on his face. He asked me if I was fine. I assured him that everything went well except a few interrogation from the immigration. He carried my things inside his car and I found myself seated comfortably beside him. The funny thing was, I didn't know that they were driving in the rights side. So, the first time I opened the car door, I was shocked that it was the driver's side. 
"Labuan Street is so clean..."
He asked me what I intended to do. I told him I wanted to tour around his island. He asked me if I wanted something to eat. Thinking that I hadn't had lunch, I answered him that I wanted to eat called, "pork". He laughed at me and asked if I didn't go to the store which he told me about while we were still in Kota Kinabalu.

I shook my head. As if sensing that I was totally hungry and needed to fill in my stomach, he brought me in a restaurant. He didn't bother asking me about the food again. He ordered something for me.

"Kway teow with pork..." he said. (I found out later that "Kway teow" is a rice noodle.) I didn't really mind him watching me eat the big bowl of noodles and slurp every strand on it because I was so hungry. After lunch, he volunteered to tour me around his island. 
"This satiated my hunger - Kway teow (Rice Noodle) with Pork"
I hoorayed with the idea. At first, I made a hasty decision but then, I was looking forward for the reward and besides, the sadness I felt when I was in Brunei was replaced with excitement and the thirst for another adventure.

The Chinese guy who was once a stranger before became my tourist guide. He showed me how Labuan Island gained its reputation as one of the "oil drilling areas" in Malaysia. During my span of travel.

We were speeding fast in our first destination. I found it euphoric. Alas! The kind of excitement I was looking for several days. During that travel, I remembered my mom and my dad calling up. They were monitoring how I was doing with my trip. I told them my story and allowed the Chinese guy to talk to them so they would fully understand that I was safe traveling. 

We first stopped at a brick-walled structure. He told me that it was "The Chimney". As I read the description, it has a height of approximately 32 meters that was built long ago when coal and some other minerals were discovered in the island. The Chimney is composed of 23,000 bricks with at least 12 layers of formation steps. Though it is called, "The Chimney", it did not serve its purpose because it was never used. 
"Inside 'The Chimney'"
Adjacent to "The Chimney" is a museum free of admission. I was curious about what was inside so, he guided me as well and took several photos and read a little of it.
"The cave where miners before dug for minerals..."
The Chinese guy kept on asking me if I were fine. I assured him with a smile accompanied with a nod. I was enjoying. The rich history of the island was something I appreciated. We talked about several topics. He taught me some Bahasa words which later on I was able to use. 


The next stop was the Labuan Bird Park. It was my first time to be inside a huge Aviary. A diversity of endemic birds in the area such as the different colored horn bills, peacocks, eagles, ostriches, owls, parrots were there. The entrance fee was just minimal so it was an affordable recreation center for locals especially on Saturday and Sunday. This bird park is mostly included during excursion trips and educational tours of foreigners and students, alike.
"I was totally scared getting near the ostrich"
Our third stop was the Labuan War Memorial. It was built to commemorate the number of soldiers and civilians who died during the 1945 war against the Japanese forces. I recalled that in the Philippine history, there were a lot of Filipinos who also fought and died during the World War II. That was the reason how I was able to connect with Malaysia. We were deeply rooted with our thirst for freedom and independence.

I continued reading the information encrypted in a certain wall. I found our that there were 3,000 burials whose most of their names were unidentified. This Memorial and Cemetery is constructed and are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It is as the largest cemetery in Malaysia. According to the information, there were 1,752 identified graves - 5 sailors, 1,523 soldiers, 220 airmen and 4 civilians and consists of 814 British, 858 Australian, 1 New Zealander, 43 Indians and 36 Malayans. In fact, a total of 3,905 graves were buried here. 
"Labuan War Memorial and some of the graves were unknown..."


Finally, I asked the Chinese guy if we could hang out in the beach before I would proceed in my hostel. We made it sure that before we went out for the trip, I was ready to find a place for me stay overnight. 
"There own version of halo-halo but its main ingredient is lychee..."
So, at round 4 in the afternoon, I found myself on the sands barefooted. I loved its texture. An idea came in my mind. A simple wade in the water wouldn't do me any harm; so, I swam a bit before the Chinese guy approached me. 

He asked me if I could wear a shirt if I was swimming. I gave him a startled look then asked him why. He said that since Labuan Island is a part of a Muslim area, some people were totally conservative and living within the context of the religion. I understood what he meant so, I willing abide with the rules.

After several minutes of swimming, I approached the Chinese guy and sat beside him. We basically talked almost everything. We found out that we both love traveling, and adventure. He does surfing and swimming which was also the same in my part. After a while, he invited me to stay for the weekend. For us to go surfing...

Again, with a hasty decision, I said the big, "yes!"

Before he guided me back to the hostel, we had our dinner at his Aunt's eatery store where they served "Pork Sinigang". And the big revelation was, his mom was a Filipina from Zamboanga so the Chinese-Malaysian guy definitely has a Filipino blood. That made me happy! At least...
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About Marie Angelique Villamor

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4 comments:

  1. After a long day, I think having a Filipino dish in a foreign land is very satisfying! At 24 now, I ahven't been outside the country yet on my own.

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    1. That was one of the greatest thing! And oh! I did try it the next day when the stranger invited me at his house. My! I had humba for dinner! So fantastic! Thanks for the comment Ram...Let's travel together someday!

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  2. That is an interesting blog you wrote..!! Awesome..! Love it actually!

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    1. The memories were interesting, Allan. And you were part of it. Thanks for making my stay in Labuan something that I couldn't forget. See you soon!

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