The Borneo Express
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be somewhere else. In all of my childhood day dreams, of which I had many, daily, and often, I imagined being an explorer out at sea. Being a pilot about to set off for yonder. Even the short stories I scribbled all had to do with stowing away, seeing new lands, discovering curious and wondrous foods.
Reading about Robinson Crusoe made me wonder what the natives ate, and why he never tried to just fit in (rescue seemed like a horrible ending, I hated it); Gulliver’s Travels only made me wonder how the Lillputians lived with their neighbours before he came around. In my imagination, if I shipwrecked, stowed away, or was kidnapped to a foreign land, I would quite enjoy the adventure.
My parents travel in ways few other Asian parents do: cheaply and adventurously. The first time I ever left Singapore, we went to Sarawak. It wasn’t a ‘cool’ story to tell your friends in primary school - no, you didn’t go to Disneyland in Hong Kong, you didn’t even live in a real hotel, you went to… Borneo.
Every day we walked for miles and miles. We never took taxis or cars, only buses, trains and boats. No matter how much you sweat, my parents don’t care: they’ve got a backpack full of iced water so you have no reason to be sad! Just keep walking.
I don’t remember much else about those times. Just that they were fun. That they made me. That when my parents wanted to take a bus four hours into the interiors, you learn to sleep anywhere. That when they want you to stop complaining about the hygiene of the food you’re eating, even when insects of all kinds have landed on your food, you shut up and eat it and discover the best food in the world, or you go hungry.
There’s a funny picture of me from this era, age 7. I had just showered. My mum had combed my hair in the way she always has: like a nerd. I’m sitting at the table of our ‘hotel’, looking straight at the camera like the little nerd that I was. I was writing. Writing about the blowpipe I just had the chance to blow! About the shaky tooth that fell out of my mouth on the four hour bus ride out from the interiors. About how my parents calmly put my tooth into their pocket, said nothing, alighted and fed me the most delicious noodles I’d ever had.
How much of my life is still exactly like that, and how lucky I am to be able to still have these adventures with the two people who taught me adventure and love.
I’m glad we never went to Disneyland!