A Taste of Hell (THE BRUNEI-MALAYSIA EXPERIENCE, PART 12)

Labuan is a small town and 2 hours of layover is already enough. Anthony and I entered the ferry… which I now call the HELL FERRY.

I have no idea that its monsoon season in Borneo during February. If only I have known it earlier, I should have taken the bus from Brunei to Kota Kinabalu. The ride to Kota Kinabalu takes 3 hours but because of the terrible waves, it took us 4 hours to travel.

The first 30 minutes is ok. I had a good sleep until it…

BOOOM.

I woke up. It’s the sound of the ferry’s resistance to the waves. Everything is shaky in our place. Anthony and I were seated in front of the ferry where we felt exaggerated motions. I checked the middle section and some of them were still sleeping as if nothing is happening in the ferry. I told Anthony that I will transfer in the middle section because I cannot take the front seats anymore. I left my bag and transferred in the middle. I am afraid of two things during the trip: fear of sinking and fear of vomiting. I am perspiring cold sweat. I can’t hear a thing except my heartbeat.

Then it got worse. Boom! Boom! Boom! The people in the middle section finally felt it. Most of them were standing and looking outside to see what’s happening. Everyone is bothered. Boom! Boom! Boom!

Nearly half of the passengers vomited because of the motions. It feels like we are in a roller coaster less the water. I can hardly feel my body. My hands are numbing. My ears are red.

I closed my eyes, tried to think happy thoughts.

“Recent happy thoughts? Angel. Amir. Brunei. Chris. Kampung Ayer. I need to fight this fear. I need to divert my attention. Think of your family and friends. Mom. Dad. Yenko, that cute nephew of yours. Jogs. Shan. Carizza. Home. Pizza. Anything! I need to smile. Old Happy Thoughts? Vietnam? Nam. The staff of Hanoi Advisor Hotel. Prabhu. Hare Krishna. Jesus… Jesus! I need your help. I can’t take this anymore!”

Then I had enough. I went in the CR and just let it all out there! My mom used to say that next to puking is relief. But there’s no relief. I still feel dizzy. Am I in hell that even laws of Science are not applicable? I went back to my seat and continued experiencing hell, the fear, the motion sickness. Boom! Boom! Boom! Roller Coaster!

1st hour…

2nd hour…

1st movie over..

2nd movie started..

3rd hour..

4th hour….

Dry Land!

I survived hell. My host in Kota Kinabalu is already waiting for me. In fact I missed his calls during my hell ride.

“I’m sorry Adam, I wasn’t able to answer your call. I almost fainted inside the ferry.” I texted him.

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Anthony (THE BRUNEI-MALAYSIA EXPERIENCE, PART 10)

I am alone again after bidding farewell to the beautiful people of Brunei. I bought my ferry ticket to Labuan, Malaysia and took a seat. On my right are a couple of French-looking backpackers. The Korean tourists arrived in their usual bus. It was packed with retiring couples. That moment, I promised myself not to wait for my retirement to travel the world.

After a couple of minutes, I saw this mid-30 guy wearing a brown shirt and a shorts. He is Filipino looking but still having second thoughts because Malaysians and Brueneians look like Filipinos. But I would love to meet another Filipino in my journey in Kota Kinabalu.

When the gates to the immigration opened, the guy walked towards the queue to the Foreign Passport Counter. He walks really fast as if he’s rushing on something.  He handed his passport to the officer and I saw the gold Filipino seal. I grinned. “I must meet this guy”

After passing the usual hostility of immigration officers, I stalked the guy and finally found a seat next to him in the ferry.

“Hi there. Are you a Filipino?”, I double checked.

“Yes, I am”, he answered while gasping. As I’ve said, he walks really fast.

I introduced myself, my travel plans, couchsurfing, and the usual introduction stuff.

“I am Anthony. I am working in Kota Kinabalu. I’ve been working  there for 3 years now. I am originally from Manila”. Anthony is a soft-spoken man and a man of mystery, but his humility and his willingness to help is very evident. I forgot to ask about his work in Kota Kinabalu since he failed to mention it in his stories.

After an hour of relaxing ferry ride, we docked in Labuan, Malaysia. I told Anthony to help me find a simcard in order for me to contact my couchsurfing host in Kota Kinabalu. He told me that it is easier to acquire a simcard in Malaysia than in Brunei. He took me to this corner store and I bought the Hotlink sim card which is a sister company of our very own Globe Telecoms.

At lunch time, Anthony brought me to a hole in the wall serving local cuisines. When we were about to pay, Anthony insisted on treating me. That’s my first meal in Malaysia. And I am just happy that I gained another friend in the form of a Filipino stranger.

Last Moments in Brunei (THE BRUNEI-MALAYSIA EXPERIENCE, PART 9)

Evening of the 21st February, My 2nd and last night in Brunei.

6pm-10pm: It was a dinner party in Kampung Ayer. The weather is good. The water is calm. The village people are friendly. It was a night to remember but not the last for this trip. Angel, my lovely host is the life of the party. She’s funny as ever. Amir was there with all his wit and intelligence. Chris, my German host was also there together with Georgie and Vicky. The conversation we had was amazing and the food…heavenly.

10pm: The gang visited Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque.

11pm: We arrived at the flat and there I saw Angel’s Film Making team again. Too bad I am really tired that night. Since the team will be working til 3am in the couch, Amir opened his room for me. He even played some How I Met Your Mother episodes to keep me company.

Morning of the 22nd, Saturday.

5am: I woke up. I went out of Amir’s room and I saw Angel sleeping on the couch. I woke her up because she told me that she’ll be driving me to the ferry terminal. I am a bit shy to wake her up but I have no choice since Public Transportation is never easy in Brunei. But Angel woke up with a smile and greeted me Good Morning. That’s unconditional kindness.

6am: It’s about time to leave the flat. Unfortunately Chris and Amir were asleep. I folded Chris’ pants and placed a thank you note.  I felt really sad that morning because I have to leave the guys without saying goodbye.

7am: Hugged Angel really tight and bid my goodbyes.

That’s the end of my trip in Brunei and the start of another adventure in Malaysia. I will never forget the people I met throughout the journey. I promised myself to write in details because I don’t want to forget their goodness and the lessons I have learned from them.

Georgie and Vicky (THE BRUNEI-MALAYSIA EXPERIENCE, PART 7)

Earlier this day, Chris asked Amir to help him pick his 2 friends in the airport. After exploring the university, we went back to the flat and fetched Chris, who is having his afternoon coffee.

“So where did you meet the girls, Chris?”, I asked.

“Oh, I was with Vicky when I volunteered in the Philippines. Georgie is Vicky’s friend”, Chris answered.

“Are they also going to stay in the flat with us?”

“No. They are not couchsurfers. They already booked a hotel in the town proper.”

“I see”

It was 5pm when we arrived at the Brunei International Airport. Amir went to the nearby ATM while Chris and I bonded for a while over Tagalog songs. Chris is a great linguist. He speaks really good Tagalog without the accent. He can sing a couple of Tagalog songs perfectly. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take a video of it when I was there.

At around 5:30pm, the 2 girls arrived. Vicky and Georgie are a couple of tall girls. They were both carrying two giant bags probably twice my bag’s size. Vicky is boyish and looks like she have traveled a lot. Georgie is a bit reserved. She told me that she’s new to traveling.

Chris hugged the girls and welcomed them to Brunei. Amir and I did the same thing to them. It feels like I am already a local because I myself welcomed them to a country I just met a night a ago (now that’s poetic). So after some short chats and after having their currencies exchanged, we went back to Amir’s car and dropped the girls in their hotel. Chris told them that we will pick them up again in a while for our dinner in Kampung Ayer–the Venice of the East.

Mimi (THE BRUNEI-MALAYSIA EXPERIENCE, PART 6)

After touring the mosque, Amir told me that we need to go back to the flat since the prayer hour will begin in a short while. So as planned, Amir and I took a 2-hour rest. This is Brunei’s typical Friday. In the Philippines, Friday is the best day since its nearing weekend and everyone is chilling out (and probably is the least productive day of the week). The difference is that there’s no weekend in Brunei. Friday is usually a day off for a typical Bruneian. Saturday is a work day while Sunday is another day off. I thought that it is something good except if you are planning for a travel. Long weekends usually give us those Monday Blues and weekend hangovers.

At 3pm, Amir woke up and told me that one university is having an open campus to attract potential students in the area. He told me that he can drive me there to be a “one day student” in Brunei. That’s a perfect thing for me because I really want to “be a local” when I travel.

Amir works for the media so his ID is a VIP ticket to practically anywhere. We entered the campus and suddenly felt the college air which I’ve been missing for almost 5 years now. They are having an organization fair and a mini-selling fair. It was a chaos but hey, its college! There’s also a band and they are playing Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop.. It is funny because I expected that Brunei is a bit conservative with their music since the entertainment industry is controlled by the government. Starving artists in Brunei are everywhere and not difficult to find. In fact, the people in the flat where I am staying are artists. Angel is a scriptwriter and taking up film as a minor. Amir is a writer. Artists cannot stop being artists. What the government resists will eventually persist.

While exploring the campus, Amir saw a friend. Her name is Mimi and she’s really charming especially with her modern hijab. She is wearing a white shirt with “Dance Club” written on it.

“We are going to dance in a while”, Mimi told us.

“Wow. I am excited”, I said.

“I am a bit nervous. We are going to dance a 90s remix”, she said.

“Oh, Backstreet boys huh?”

“Yes!”

I looked at Amir and smiled at him and said “We are 90s kids! We will surely love this!”

Then the host called the dance club and I wished Mimi some luck. She smiled at us.

…then, the dance started…

All the girls are charming. I think most of the Bruneians are. They really danced gracefully with the tune of Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and NSYNC. Not to mention that they were all wearing their Hijabs. The things happening around me that time made me smile. I had some paradigm shifts with our Muslim brothers and sisters. It was a good shift because I realized that we all have our own tastes and styles without compromising anything about our faith and beliefs. We are very much alike. We have so much in common.