I just returned from 5 days in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, located on the island of Borneo. The purpose of the visit was to attend our regional education administrators conference, so most of my time was spent in workshops and meetings. We stayed at the Sutera Harbor Resort, which was really nice. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much time to visit the city and get out into the incredible nature the region has to offer. We did manage to leave the resort a couple times and get into the city and I talked to a bunch of locals.
Malaysia is split into two regions, east peninsula Malaysia, with 24 million people, and in the west, it takes up the northern part of Borneo, with around 6 million people. Kota Kinabalu, in the state of Sabah, is the capital and the largest Malaysian city on Borneo. Unlike the main peninsula, the local indigenous people are not Malays or Islamic. There are 32 different ethnic groups and I met a few of them. You can see variations in the dress and facial features of the locals. Most of the women wore headdresses, but a significant portion did not. I asked taxi drivers, waitresses, hotel employees what ethnic group they belonged to. That resulted in me meeting Kadazan-Dusun, Brunei-Malay, Bajau, Chinese, Malay, and a mix of the above. They were not offended by my questions and seemed pleased to explain to me a bit about their group. All of them were happy to be part of Malaysia and everyone was quick to give us a smile, a laugh, and easy conversation. I felt very welcomed to the city.
I did speak with the head pool guy at the hotel and he mentioned the issue of Philippine immigrants. They have come to Sabah in recent years, seeking economic opportunity mostly, but also because Malaysia is an Islamic country, and that region of the Philippines is Muslim. I read an article, blaming water quality on these immigrants, many illegal or unsupported. There was garbage floating in the ocean and the harbor and canals in the city stunk of raw sewage. The city desperately needs a waste water treatment system. It reminded me of Latin America a bit, and all that comes from a poorer country in the tropics.
It was nice to be back in the tropics. It was my first time to swim in the South China Sea and the water was very warm. Diving and beach holidays are popular in the nearby islands.
I really want to go back with my family and go back as a tourist. The island of Borneo is one of my dream destinations as a biologist and lover of nature. I really want to go hiking in the Kinabalu National Park to see the Titan Arum, the worlds largest flower, the thousands of orchids and birds, and to climb Mount Kinabalu. There are also preserves for orangutans and the proboscis monkey. Maybe in the future.