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Kota Kinabalu

November 27, 2011

Try saying that three times fast. Once you perform that task, try saying this… “Diosdado Macapagal.”  If you are like most people you’ve never heard of Kota Kinabalu, a city I decided to visit inMalaysia. The Philippine immigration law states that I may stay in the country for 16 months as a tourist and then, I must leave it. At this time, leaving for only one day satisfies the law. That may change in the future. Once I come back, I get another 16 months. Because the fare was supposed to be cheap, I chose Kota Kinabalu. It turned out to be much more expensive than I ever imagined. The fare started out as over $400 including taxes. However, I had to add what is called a throwaway ticket. More on that some other day.  Diosdado Macapagal is the name of a deceased president of the Philippines and the government named the airport I departed from after him. All was going according to plan until I found out that the taxes were not included. When I got to the airport, I was told that I have to pay a whopping 1,620 pesos ($33) for a Philippine travel tax. If that wasn’t enough, another window at the airport took 600 pesos ($14) for an airport tax. That is on top of a fee for police clearance that I had to get at another immigration office. As you can see, all the taxes were not included. I had not counted on any more fees and was close to being flat busted. At first, it appeared that I was left with not enough money for a taxi to a hotel in Kota Kinabalu. I had already paid for the tickets and all the taxes, so I had to get on the plane. No need to panic. The steward for Air Asia told me there would be a money changer on duty when we landed. I still had 1000 pesos in Philippine money and I thought that was enough to keep me from sleeping at the airport in Malaysia. Boarding the plane was reminiscent of the 1950s. The passengers had to walk out on the tarmac and climb the rollaway stairs to gain entrance. On board the plane, I took pictures of the interior and the safety demonstration in the aisle. After it was over, the young stewardess told me not to take pictures. Upon landing, I stepped out on the tarmac and started to take pictures of the exterior of the plane and was again cautioned not to take pictures. I took these warnings as an inauspicious welcome. After passing through Malaysian immigration, I found the money changer, got a taxi that took me through a clean and modern city, then walked into the first hotel I saw, the Hotel Kinabalu. The room was tiny but clean. The bathroom had the requisite toilet and sink and I was surprised to see a shower head in the wall between them. When I took a shower everything got wet. The TV had a four channels. Three of them were Malaysian and the other was HBO, Asian version with Malaysian subtitles. In the morning, HBO didn’t start until seven and at around 830, I had enough of the room, so I hit the streets with my camera. I was astounded at the differences between the Philippines and Malaysia, definitely not a Third World country. English is spoken, at least among the people I met.  Kota Kinabalu is Muslim territory and many females wore headscarves.  Also, not the slightest glimpse of leg can be shown. That alone crosses Malaysia off my list of approved countries. None of the men or women I saw on the streets were in shorts while they abound in thePhilippines. Cars drive on the wrong side of the road and drivers seemed to be courteous and followed the rules. Parks were in abundance on many streets and while there was no shortage of foliage, I saw not one palm tree. Filipinos will see a camera and jump over each other to get in my pictures, but as far as I could see, Malaysian people ignore cameras. The trip back was uneventful though I was super hungry due to not eating for two days. I think I lost 2 kilos and I would rather cut it off than lose it that way. Maybe if I had more time and money, I would have enjoyed the city, but it was probably the worst Thanksgiving I ever experienced.

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