Monday, October 18, 2010

Family trip to Borneo, written in third person (extended remix version)

They go to Malaysian Borneo/Sabah to look for the Orangutans in the wild. The man and the woman think the boy and the girl will like that.

In Sabah, wooden houses stand on stilts to let the elements pass through and prevent early deterioration. Family finances allowing, the space below is bricked in later, creating an extra floor. On one such floor, they sleep at the Dutchman’s house, tiled from floor to wall.

The man found the Dutchman on the internet, just in time to book the trip. That is what the Dutchman does. He organizes trips in Borneo and lets people stay at his house. He moved to Kota Kinabalu ten years ago, when he wanted to start anew. He fell in love with a Muslim woman.

He had to become Muslim to marry her, which he saw as a bureaucratic necessity, with the added advantage of allowing him to take four wives, should he so desire. The catch, he says, is that a man has to provide for each wife equally. They all are entitled to a house and children.

The Dutchman makes so many jokes about taking a second wife that the man asks if he is serious. He is not.

The Dutchman’s wife covers her hair when she goes out, but he has never seen her pray, the Dutchman says. She was Catholic for a while, before becoming Muslim. The decision was economically motivated.

The Dutchman’s wife draws pictures of princesses and castles for the girl and the girl plays with the daughter, the smattering of Dutch on both sides not hindering communication.

The boy and the man play darts on the covered balcony, as the trees sweep from side to side on the riverbank, under a grey, wet sky. It rains a lot in Borneo while they are there, but not continually. They will never have to put on their poncho’s.

They are taken to a water village. The woman thinks the boy and girl will like the children, who run out to greet them on the walking planks above the water, shouting, what’s your name, but the boy and girl are shy. They speak later of the five white puppies near the school and the old toothless ladies, chewing, red in their mouth. Is that blood, they ask.

In the multi-storied shopping mall, with light strings cascading down the center and a head-covered young woman in jeans, singing karaoke on a stage below, the girl has an accident in the hole-in-the-ground toilet, which means her clothes are wet and odorous. The woman walks into an Asian clothing store with the girl, hello-kitty-style, the woman calls it, and buys a dress and a pair of kinckers for 7 dollars.

The girl chooses the dress with conviction: pink/ black plaid pinafore style, with sewn in T-shirt, drop-waist and patent belt detail, silver writing across the front and a bow. Underpants: Mickey Mouse with golden flower.

The girl cannot stop smiling and keeps the dress clean for three days and washes the kinckers by herself in the sink.

They eat pancakes with sugar and peanuts.

The first day in the rainforest, they see pygmy elephants and red-tailed monkeys. A good taster for the days to come, the man and woman think. But spotting wildlife in the rainforest is not easy. That first day is their best.

The man and the woman call out and point with enthusiasm with each spotting. Can you see it, they say. The boy and the girl say, come on, let’s go, after one minute of craning their necks towards the treetops.

The boy and the girl dance around the extended buffet for lunch and dinner. I like it when we don’t have to choose from a menu, the girl says.

The man makes videos with voiceover, of the elephants and the canopy walk, which, the woman thinks, verges on the unacceptable. She has associations with holiday slide shows being forced upon her, although she is not quite sure that ever happened, it could have been a movie, or why that should be such a bad thing, now that she tries to formulate the argument in her mind. Still, the feeling cannot be shaken.

In the same train of thought, the woman wonders why she brings her camera for the night safari. What is this urge to capture. Who wants to see a blurry picture of an animal sweeping through the grass. She sits at peace with her camera by her side, until the spotter spots a giant porcupine right next to the truck and she rushes to the other side, her camera lifted to her eye, in a reflex.

She takes pictures like she used to smoke, she thinks. Only one or two taste really good, the others merely provide a pleasant pastime.

What all the other tourists, with their big cameras, clicking away, don’t know, she thinks, is that SHE is going to edit carefully, telling the story with only the strictly necessary. She is not like them.

The days are measured by the quality of the buffets, the colors of the bedspreads and the amount of privacy afforded by the toilets, wet on the tiled or cement floor mostly, flip-flops provided at the door.

Borneo rainforest is not as they expected, the man and woman say to each other, but they cannot really remember what they expected now that reality has taken over. But sometimes the well-trodden paths of the Rainforest Lodge remind them of European woodlands. The woman likes the ferns and the overhanging vines.

The man and the woman teach table manners to the boy and the girl at dinner. It is time they think. The man mimes the right way to do it and then the wrong way to do it. The boy and the girl laugh and try and copy him. The man does it again, just to be sure, fast forward and in slow motion. The boy giggles uncontrollably for some time. It is a game. When they stop playing, the boy and the girl fall back into fingers and mouths.

The girl asks the woman to draw her a princess. With long straight hair and a beautiful dress. And then another. And then two big princesses and two small princesses, and then a boy and a girl kissing in wedding dress and then two girls kissing in wedding dresses, and then four friends with their pets. Then the woman says, now is enough.

The woman thinks the boy and the girl are like cats. When she most wants to read alone for a while, they are drawn to her, rubbing against her legs, and wanting to sit on the pages.

At night, if possible without waking the boy and the girl, they watch episodes of the first season of Glee.

On Turtle island, they wait, after dinner, in the neon-lit dining room to be called. The turtle comes on land to lay her eggs at night and they can watch. But first the turtle must come. They are called after 11 p.m. The girl has long since fallen asleep, draped across three chairs. The woman teaches the boy to play patience, the card-game. The boy is excited about this night, naturally more inclined towards reptiles.

The turtle is grand. Isn’t it, the man says. Its 114 eggs are buried in the nursery. They watch the release of newly hatched turtles, making the dash to the sea. The girl squeals as she helps a lost turtle find its way. They all agree this is special, before retiring long past midnight to their rooms resembling ships cabins.

On the boat safari on the Kinabatangan river, the man and the woman, the boy and the girl sit in their colorful mix and match, now joined by others in kahki green zip pants and macro lenses and binoculars. The river looks like a Tintin adventure. The boy and girl look they were pulled through a hedge backwards, old family cliche intended, after one week without a brush.

They see an Orangutan in the wild. On their way out by boat, just before it is too late. One red furry ball in the treetop, its face hidden from view.

The last hotel in Sandakan has three restaurants and a slide in the pool. It is the best ever the boy says and the girl says too, it is the best ever. The boy and the girl watch Stop or my mom will shoot on HBO in the adjoining room, while the man and the woman get to episode 10.

The woman can’t help sharing the relief of the boy and the girl, that they will not be eating ricegreenvegetableschicken that night.

The man gets bitten by a mosquito and then again, at the poolside, and on the way up to the room, he is passing anyway, he checks one more time, everyone has confirmed so far, at the reception. There is no malaria in this area, is there, he asks. The lady looks at him with non-understanding. No, no malaria in this area, she finally says.


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