Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo is a fascinating place, after a long journey and two flights I arrived, sleep deprived and bewildered at our fujitsu volunteer hotel. For those not in the know I will briefly summarise what I'm doing here -
Fujitsu sponsor and work closely with a local charity which regenerates the Borneo rainforest. 60 staff volunteers from around the world have self funded themselves to get here, representation of staff comes from Japan, Singapore, China, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and from further afield the UK and Germany.
So on that basis and with an early start the next day, I took a stroll in the early evening to find something to eat and then, by a strange quirk of global coincidence meet an old friend Tom, who happened to be staying in the block next door to my hotel. He'd seen my update on Facebook and announced that he too was in KK, but just for one night.
I took a walk along the wooden boarded promenade to the night market.
The smell is the first thing that hits you, fish and meat juices drain into the walkways between the tightly packed stalls. The chatter of sales and bargaining is incessant. I was fortunate to have trainers on, some people walked in flip flops and the slap slap slap in the entrails and liquids was rather unpleasant and residue kicked up onto clothes and legs.
However, the fish looked fresh, clear eyed not cloudy and bright in appearance.
Alongside the meat and fish were the other foods, uniformly shaped spuds were stacked in rows, indeterminable exotic fruit and vegetables and various packed herbs and spices.
Beyond that again, the food hawkers, stall upon stall, frying, steaming, grilling. Smells and smoke heavy in the air, cooked fish and meat ready to plate up, as well as the raw options for those who insist on choosing their option cooked from fresh.
polite young kids milled around, asking what you would like to eat. Unlike some other places in south East Asia a smile and a "maybe later" is met with a "no problem" and they enquire as to whether the next person would like a meal.
And beyond that again, stalls of various bric and brac and souvenirs or more prosaic things like lighters. In the midst of the market was a mosque, the doors flung wide open to send a sea breeze through the building and give relief to the worshippers from the humidity and heat.
The imam sang his prayers to god beautifully, it could easily have been part of Eastern Orthodox liturgy, the lilts and key changes so similar.
I then walked back through the market, back along the promenade looking out to the dark sea where not long previously I had witnessed a beautiful red sunset behind the islands in the bay.
The promenade ended abruptly, at a bar. I was tired, not just from the flight but from the sensory overload of the market. I didn't want to eat so I ordered a narkileh and smoked awhile. The water cooled fruit tobacco smoke soothing rather than harsh, even for a non smoker like me.
I then started to think, to think clearly. I started to relax. It's been a long year, long hours, this was my first proper break from the office. I smiled.
I thought of Lawrence Durrell and his book about Cyprus "bitter lemons", I wouldn't say it was a great book, his brother was a better writer, but something struck me, a memory from the book was plucked from a cobwebbed corner of my mind.
It's certainly not an accurate memory, more a memory of a feeling the book left me with, but he said something along the lines of how he enjoyed the company of Greek Cypriots but also the Turkish ones.
He wrote about restless industrious Greeks and serene Turks looking to the horizon, to take in the world before it passed us by.
All year I've let the world pass me by, so I stopped and watched. And listened. It made me think of who I am, what I am.
And I wrote, and the words came.
Kota Kinabalu ( mel melis (c) November 2014)
There's peace in the noise,
The construction workers drilling,
The chatter of families on their promenade,
The tinny music from waterside bars,
and the waves gently lapping,
A hawker's agitated tapping,
Of fingers against his purse,
The ethereal songs,
of the faithful,
From the market mosque,
I have the blood of Greeks,
of Sparta, of Turks,
of frightened concubines, from the far north,
Stolen and cruelly forced,
into the pasha's servitude,
I am a Jew,
a Phoenician trader,
From the Ptolemies of Egypt,
To an Arab raider,
Venetian, Lusignan and Frank,
And a crusader.
I watch the world, through apple scented smoke,
And I am at peace.