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Semporna Wheeling

Our stroll around Semporna with David McKenna Miller was successful in a number of ways.  First, we were able to procure functional activated SIM cards with the help of two enterprising Chinese shopkeepers.

Among these successes, was the discovery of a delightful point-and-eat restaurant (which we were finding to be a common genre so far on the trip).

It brought us strolling past Semporna’s Mosque…

And the accompanying souq selling fried bananas…



Refreshing beverages…

and, of course, chilies and fish.

But no souq would be complete without a recharge station for lead-acid battery backups.

At the small port, construction raged above the ubiquitous piles of waste found in this city.

Also fascinating was an exploration of a sprawling neighborhood that consisted solely of houses and walkways on stilts (this too we were finding to be surprisingly common), and a fascinating conversation about anthropology, ecology, waste disposal, and AsiaWheeling’s mission.

Of particular interest, was a section of the stilted neighborhood that had recently suffered a fire. Underneath it, the mudflats that underlay the entire development sprawled forth. And as we peered down into the muck, we could see thousands and thousands of crabs, making a living for themselves in the black goo. Many parts of this neighborhood sported large landfills that mingled with the sea, underneath the houses. Even in the watery landfills, we could see critters making do in the rubbish. We also spotted giant monitor lizards, making homes for themselves in the more unsavory corners of the city.

In many ways, these sights brought the idea of a fundamental conflict between human expansion and the development and the health of other species. In such a lush and bio-diverse region, it seemed, at least some species were finding a way to coexist, perhaps even thrive off the presence of humans. Please don’t infer from this, dear reader, that AsiaWheeling is condoning the use of the ocean as a landfill, merely that we  have found it to be more complicated and interesting philosophically that expected.

A thirst in need of quenching brought us to the local supermarket.

There we found products to consume of curious origin and unfortunate destiny into the very waste stream  we scorned in discussion.

Another relevant occurrence on what we might call that day’s wheel (albeit a wheel completely devoid of rolling) was our encounter of a curious fellow by the name of Hassan. We were strolling near a large stilted complex, containing among other things a variety of restaurants, an aquarium, which was really just a bunch of fish in nets, visible below us, in the crystal clear water, and a hotel called The Dragon Inn. Put off by the previous day’s gerrymandering with our room, we had been interested in investigating other accommodation. It was no sooner that we had found the Dragon Inn to be full and without WiFi, that Hassan maneuvered into our life.

He was a thin and weathered man, driving a puttering wooden longboat, in a pair of blue and black velvet pants. Inside the longboat was another very tan man, who from the fact that Hassan referred to him as “Italy”, we would assume to be Italian. Hassan somewhat expertly slid his boat into a nook among the stilts and unloaded his passenger. When questioned, the Italian proved to be a man of few words, seemingly quite exhausted from his day in the sun, and remarked only that “for me, this island is the perfect paradise.” Somewhat haggardly, he  made his way back toward his room.

We then began to talk more with Hassan, discovered that he was a boatman (his card proudly proclaimed his 20 years of service), and that he had just taken Italy for a ride out to a place called Mantabuan, where he had spent the day snorkeling in the surrounding coral, and devouring a locally prepared fish lunch. We were intrigued, and decided to keep the man’s card.

Breaking for a quick refreshment, we debated the course of action for the following days.

That evening it was unanimously decided that for the remainder of AsiaWheeling, I would indulge in snorkeling as opposed to SCUBA diving. After the ghastly occurrences of the previous day, I was relieved, and once again excited to engage the underwater world, albeit with much more frequent re-visits to the surface.

Finishing the evening with some delicious soy sauce fried fish, we settled in for an evening of rest before heading to Pulau Mabul the next morning.

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  1. Mark/Dad | February 20th, 2010 | 12:32 am

    What a bizarre world, where a beverage is named after Al Capp’s euphemism for moonshine whiskey in the Li’l Abner comic strip from the 1940’s and apparently develops a very strong presence throughout Asia (http://www.kickapoojoy.com.my/worldwide.html).

  2. Woody | February 20th, 2010 | 9:48 am

    @ Mark/Dad

    Great bit of detective work. Thanks!

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