Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The element of surprise

As I took that photo from the optimistically-named observation tower on Bukit Bendera ('observation tower' is Malay for 'small car park with view'), I had a brief, pleasant, nostalgic feeling that took me back to childhood.

I knew Kota Kinabalu was on the coast, but I hadn't expected to sea the see from here, and it made me realise that I really don't get as excited about the big blue wet thing as I used to.

This isn't due to some kind of travel apathy brought about by spending more than a year in Asia. I actually enjoy travelling more now than I did when I started, when I had a lot more stress trying to understand how things worked, had even less idea of where I wanted to be, and was trying to work out what I liked.

I think it's more to do with the element of surprise, which is pretty lacking in my orderly life, even when I give myself the freedom to change plans on a whim. Because I need boring things like Wi-Fi (how would I get by without writing these obsessive-compulsive blogs?) I always need to carefully research places I'm staying before I arrive, and while I'm at it, I arm myself with a basic knowledge of the local area and activities I can get up to on non-work days too. This responsible approach is useful for avoiding stress, but it can make the travel experience a little lifeless sometimes.

Sometimes, it feels like I've taken up a pointless challenge to take my own version of a photo that countless other people have already taken, albeit in worse weather conditions. I wasn't that impressed by the Mother Temple in Bali or the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, even though they were good, because I knew what I was in for. But I didn't expect to sea the see today, and that was nice.

Yeah, I know - it's only the sea. I've seen loads more interesting stuff than that. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate. I once saw a really big pencil. I've sean the see loads of times, swam in it and flown over it regularly. But seeing it occupy a space I expected to be filled with rubbish roads and buildings, I became briefly unstuck in time and space, and was catapulted back to a childhood holiday in the less tropical climes of the British Isles.

1992 A.D.

1992 might have been the last year I was genuinely excited by the prospect of a holiday. I remember sitting in the back-left of the car, heading vaguely towards the coast in any direction across England's motorways with nothing but a Buster holiday special for company (unless you count my parents and brothers), when my mother suddenly announced that she could sea the see.

I struggled to make out the murky water in the narrow space between the grey road, grey sky and grey buildings on either side, but sure enough, there was the sea. I imagined that I could smell it, and was overcome with a weird euphoria, like when I swam down too far in the deep end at Sandbach Leisure Centre. I think this was the first time I'd sean the see for a few years (a few years is half your life when you're seven), and in my naïve, isolationist, pre-Copernican perspective of the world, the idea of actually travelling to where the ground ended seemed unbelievably exotic.

The feeling is difficult to describe, and because no one's paying me to write this, I don't have to waste time and embarrass myself trying. It felt nice. We went on plenty more holidays around England's coast in the next couple of years, but I never felt that way again. My enthusiasm had peaked.

Some pointless stuff I felt I needed once
(Melaka Toy Museum)

This was probably the last year that Christmas felt genuinely exciting and magical too, before it simply became an exercise in greed and the time of year I was contractually obliged to receive gifts I hadn't earned or deserved. And my creative fiction was at its all-time best (it's all been downhill since Doctor Disguise Book 4).

I had shelves full of books, a cupboard full of jigsaws, Knightmare and Chucklevision seemed to be on constantly, and even my teacher, Mrs Jones, was one of the good ones (teachers at the Dingle C.P. School were either angels or demons with no grey area in-between - this was the 90s and things were less complicated).

I don't wish I could have been seven years old forever, mostly because my imagination has given way to harsh practicality in the years since and the ramifications of being condemned to a Peter Pan existence as I watch my friends and brothers grow old and spend my life in a laboratory being CAT scanned to work out what the hell I am doesn't sound too appealing.

Even if summer 1992 kept skipping on a loop but somehow events remained continuous, I'd still lose my enthusiasm for things eventually, and start pining for a new Buster to read... damn, I'm still thinking too literally. Alright, what if it's just magic and I'm seven forever but it's not weird... no, I can't do it. I'm too old for that nonsense.

I am twenty-six years old

It's a good job the afterlife doesn't exist, otherwise I'd petition for all parents to mercifully euthanise their progeny as soon as they started to show signs of dissatisfaction, thereby allowing their spirits to explore the netherworlds in a constant sense of awe forever. Instead, we try to keep ourselves occupied in a fruitless quest to rekindle childhood pleasure until Death finally has mercy and puts us out of our misery.

Maybe I just need a few more surprises in my life, more than the usual ones courtesy of HSBC or Google screwing something up. Because I'm flying to Korea next month it was practical to book my flight early, so I'm in the unusual and unenviable position of knowing more or less what I'm doing for the next few weeks - like a normal person or something. I don't like that very much.

Things will have to change in 2012. More adventure! More excitement! More danger! As long as I still have Wi-Fi, let's not go mental.

On that unrelated note, here's another tropical city:

Kota Kinabalu,

Atkinson Clock Tower (1902) at midday.

I've had an affinity for clock towers since I first saw
Back to the Future. I'm pretty sure that was in 1992 as well

Sabah State Mosque, almost aligned with the moon and thus almost a good photo

Signal Hill Observatory, focal point of the nostalgia time vortex

I thought the palace would be another tourist attraction and photo opportunity.
I thought wrong

City Hall during a UFO invasion

Seeing this critter reminded me - I never got a malaria shot before coming to Borneo. What was that I was saying about always being prepared? Even a nasty surprise is still a surprise

Another thing I didn't expect to see today


  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljVV6-TVwtg

  2. I saw those guys live in 1996. I am ace! I guess it was my first stand-up comedy experience, though there were more custard pies involved than the average Fringe show.

  3. That is ace!

    They once went to the social club in the village (~1500 people) I grew up in and there was a picture of them up there for decades. Apparently they're making a 3D spoof-horror film, set to be released next year.

  4. My memories of childhood are usually pretty clear, and I remember loads about the other things I did on that Great Yarmouth holiday, but for some reason the only part of the Super Chuckle Bros show I remember is Barry (wrinkly Chuckle) trapped in a wooden barrel and poking a cucumber through where his penis would be, so that Paul (domineering Chuckle) could chop it off. It seemed extraordinarily risque. Maybe the rest was even more disturbing and I've blocked it out for my own health.