I just came back from a 10-day trip to my home town of Kota Kinabalu, capital of the State of Sabah (formerly North Borneo) in East Malaysia. It was a wonderful vacation.
The purpose of the trip was to attend my high-school class of 1969 40th reunion. In addition to meeting up with classmates who stayed and made their lives in Malaysia, I met up with classmates from Canada, Australia, Singapore and the U.S. A few of us made our way (45 min. flight, 5 hr. drive and 45 min. up river by boat) to the interior of Borneo and spend a few nights in the Kinabatangan valley to see for ourselves what was left of the virgin primary forest – and communed with orangutans, horn bills, proboscis monkeys and even a pygmy Borneo elephant.
This is the area where Alfred Russell Wallace spent two years (1854-56) collecting specimens, many of which were sent to Charles Darwin. His book “The Malay Archipelago” (dedicated to Charles Darwin) was prominently on display and for sale in many local craft shops and book stores. I had to get a copy and ended up reading it on the plane on the way home. (Ok, he was a collector of specimens not a conservationist so he shot 17 orangutans within a month of getting there and sent skin samples and skeletons to England! Yikes!)
One of our classmates Robert Chong owns and operates the Kinabatangan Jungle Camp which has been written up in many eco-travel guides as the place to go for a taste of the real jungle. In addition to a generous classmate discount, he threw in all the beer and wine we can drink in the 3 days and 2 nights. I hope we didn’t scare away too many orangutans with our giggling and howling all night! Robert has served as the expert guide for many naturalists and birdwatchers who came from all over the world to this forest still teaming with wild life, so to be reintroduced to the wilds of our old Borneo by one of our own was an especially moving experience.
Kota Kinabalu (KK) has changed a lot since I left in 1970. Its claim to fame of course was from the TV Reality Show “Survivor.” The first season in 2000 was filmed on Pulau Tiga, just off the coast of KK. Except for Season 1, Survivor Borneo, the show has not been shown on local TV since then – but local tourism officials still recall fondly the time when the American TV crews bought up all the rooms in the only 5-star resorts in town! When I left KK (1970 pop. – 30,000), there was not even television broadcast yet! Today, this city of half a million is a striving modern metropolis with direct flight from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Manila, and Taipei, four 5-star resorts, wall-to-wall malls and with Starbucks, KFC’s, Pizza Huts and McDonalds in every other block!
While all the malls are very modern and quite similar to any malls you will find in Anytown, U.S., there is one significant difference – the ubiquitous “health centres” on every level. Woo is alive and well in KK shopping malls. Every floor of every mall has their share of “health centres” which are actually facial and reflexology businesses.
“Facial” is not just for the face – it’s “skin care” woos of every description. Name any skin care and “youth restoration” product you ever saw on late night infomercial in the U.S. and they have it – and more. Other than the usual hype of different concoctions for different types of skin, they have specialties for different blood types, skin and facial treatments for different “time of the month” and time of the year (even though KK has no seasons and has average temp of 81 deg. and 90% humidity all year round.) For many of my female classmates, anecdotal evidence that their weekly visits to these parlors for their herbal/placenta wrap and botox/collagen cream treatment works was unfortunately reinforce by comparison with a few returnees’ foreign (read “white”) wives with their prematurely wrinkled and sun blotched skin (from over-enthusiastic sun tanning in their youth before SP30 sunscreen was deemed necessary!) True believers that they are, my suggestion that their good complexion may not be all due to their treatments at these facial salons devoid of any dermatological expertise was heresy. I suggested that they have such good complexion in their late 50’s should probably be credited to their Asiatic ancestor who endowed them with good genes and cultural taboo against being darken by the sun when they were young (every school girl walked under an umbrella when we were growing up.)
Reflexology centers are all adorned with anatomy posters on the wall with well-annotated “chi” lines and acupressure points. But in reality, what is offered in these mall stores is nothing more than just hard pressure massage, and is offered for every combination and permutation of body parts. All my classmates, male and female, local to KK swear by them – a quick stop at one of these mall heath centers
on the way home after a hard days work is a must to be “rejuvenated” for the evening! Many of the health and facial centers like to attach the word “homeopathy” to their names. Upon questioning the “health professionals” in these centers, it became quite obvious that they have absolutely no idea what the term
“homeopath” really refers to. I think they confused “natural” or even “organic” with “homeopathy.” So, a “homeopathy reflexology centre” will use only organic oils and creams. Ear-Candling is big too – and European imported ear candles are all the rage. Ear-Candling is included in most “package” deals you get from one of these health centers. My wife had to try the reflexology massage but definitely passed on the ear candling.
One of the Facial Rejuvenation centers advertise a “Breast Firming and Hot Mask” treatment which sounded very intriguing. In the interest of science and research, I tried to persuade my wife to find out what it was all about – I was going to pay for the RM$40 (about US$11.) But she was quite offended that the thought that her breasts needed firming would even crossed my mind. So, on that front, I have nothing to report!