Thursday, February 03, 2011

Arriving in Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is one of those airports where they x-ray your luggage when you arrive, to catch you smuggling things in (or perhaps you've transported an enormous weapon of mass destruction along with your underpants).  However, they only x-ray large suitcases, not hand baggage, which makes me suspect they're only looking for objects of a certain size.  Have people been sneaking fairground midgets into Malaysia through Kota Kinabalu in the past?  I'm not sure why a fairground midget would be different to a small person in any other occupation, but then I'm not a smuggler.

The taxi from airport to our hotel took ten minutes, and cost thirty ringgit (about ten pounds).  The roads of Malaysia are filled with small cars with ludicrous logos all over them: at one point we were sat next to a tiny Proton car with a very large man inside it, with 'GENUINE' in huge white vinyl letters down the side of the car.  There was also a picture of either a hair dryer or a turbo charger on the driver's door, although I'm not sure if that was any more genuine than the rest of the decoration, because the car seemed to bumble off no faster than our knackered old taxi.  (Our taxi was a battered Proton, which was something I'm unaccustomed to: I'm used to taxis in every country where you go on holiday being clapped-out old Mercedes diesels, running for ever.  Perhaps it's national pride that makes them choose a Malaysia car here.)  But almost all the cars are decorated as if they're driven by 16 year old boy racers, who are also obsessed with Manchester United, as evidenced by seat covers, window stickers, seat belts, cup holders, gear stick knobs, etc etc ad infinitum.

Having dropped off our bags in the hotel room (a serviceable three-star room a couple of blocks from the sea) we went for a walk, ending up at an Indian restaurant next to our hotel.  The waiter was rather reluctant to sell us anything: we had to go through a process of elimination where my fiancee would ask if she could have something, and he'd tell her they'd run out, and then she'd ask if she could have something else, and that had run out too, and so on for three quarters of the menu, until I was wondering if it wouldn't have been simpler for him to just tell us that the only thing that was available was the curried fish head, and then he could have got back to watching Spiderman 3 in peace, and nobody would have wasted their time.  Still, I can't complain: I got a nasi goreng, and a garlic naan that seemed to have been made by leaving a pita bread out until it got stale, and then sticking some cloves of garlic on top.  Yum yum yum.  Plus, it was the bit in Spiderman 3 where Venom and Sandman have a fight with the Green Goblin and Spiderman, so there was always that in compensation.

This morning we enjoyed the free breakfast the hotel made available.  Well, I really enjoy having a couple of slices of toast and then some small chunks of melon, but that wasn't quite enjoyment enough, so we went over the road and had migraine-inducingly strong coffee at The Coffee Bean (a Malaysian attempt to replicate Starbucks) and then went for a walk, trying to locate Signal Hill.

It shouldn't be too hard to find the largest hill in the vicinity, but we got very lost (thanks, Lonely Planet, for your maps that apparently were drawn by a cartographer who was once told about Kota Kinabalu by a guy he met in a bar in Bali after a few too many Red Bull and vodkas).  After we'd walked up one road and been barked at by dogs, and walked along another road and been barked at by dogs, and then climbed up a steep set of stairs and discovered a gently rusting water tank, we walked all the way back down the hill, went back to our hotel room, consulted a different map, and realised we'd been nowhere near where we'd meant to go.  Hey ho.

After all that excitement, it was time to go to the mall so I could waste lots of money on a new lens for my camera, but with most of the shops being closed for Chinese New Year, there was nowhere to buy anything, apart from the book shop and the sporting goods store, where I purchased a Malaysian national badminton shirt.  Or some kind of team shirt, with a flag and everything on it.  I certainly know how to adjust to the local customs.  (The main local custom seems to be for every man in Kota Kinabalu to look my girlfriend up and down, and then raise one eyebrow while staring at her boobs.  I tried to do this too, but then I've spent many a happy hour staring at her boobs in the past, so perhaps that's not really an adjustment to local mores.)

An uncommon and gobsmacking sight in KK, apparently

There is a paintball arena on the eighth floor of the shopping mall, next to a cinema and a videogame arcade.  Beneath that is four floors of car parking (wow) and then four levels of shops that aren't open, except for Kenny Rogers and his foray into roast chicken (how did he parlay musical success into a second career as a roast chicken salesman?), a hotpot restaurant and a doughnut shop.  Since we were close to fainting from our exertions at this point, we ate at the hotpot first (with a disarmingly friendly waitress who kept asking me to hide her tip under the table, which was a little presumptuous because I hadn't decided if she was getting a tip at the start of the meal, but which she probably deserved because she located the only vegetarian food in the whole place), and then went next door to the doughnut shop.  The doughnut shop (Big Apple Doughnuts And Coffee) has a series of ridiculously named doughnuts (the John Lemon, the Randy Dandy, the Presidential Sweet to name but a few) and also a durian doughnut, which is just plain ridiculous.  Apparently these are 'the food that angels eat' which means while we can argue forever about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, we do know that they're morbidly obese and their mouths are perpetually gummed up with sweet, sweet chocolatey goo.  Which seems nice, although is hardly ambrosia.

After lunch, we thought we should do something energetic, make the most of being in a foreign country, so we'd take a boat to an island and sit on the beach, reading books that we bought in Canada.  But alas!  There were no boats to our chosen island until tomorrow morning, and after some time in the sun when men kept offering us taxis, calling me sir and ignoring my fiancee, we gave up and went back to the hotel room to nap.  Adjusting to the superior temperatures in Malaysia (it's warm!  properly warm, not having to wear trousers and socks weather like in Hong Kong at the moment) has been a little tiring, and so perhaps tomorrow we'll have the energy to travel to another island and sleep on the beach there instead.

Or I'll spend all day at the cinema and the doughnut shop.  It is a holiday, after all.


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