Buzzing Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

June 7, 2017

I am not quite sure what I expected, but it was certainly not this! Kota Kinabalu, or KK as it is called maybe located near the northern edge of Borneo, but it is far from a collection of huts with the jungle murmuring behind. This is a sprawling concrete town with one or two newly-built glitzy malls, older buildings in various states of decay, a constant stream of traffic threading its streets and restaurants and shops that take over entire blocks. None of the buildings are more than five or six storeys and the hot, humid climate does not seem quite so bad with the constant sea breeze. Along with the breeze, one gets the occasional aroma of open sewers – a reminder that the development here is recent and not quite complete. But there is a lively buzz to this town that is refreshing and the friendliness of its residents makes it appealing. Seated at cafes, drinking the coffee that I seem to have become addicted to, more than once I have fallen into conversations with someone at the next table.

The waterfront lines the north end of town and is lined with docks where disreputable boats bob in the water. The wet market nearby is housed in an enormous warehouse-like structure with rickety stalls. Beneath glaring fluorescent lights and few dangling dim bulbs, the stalls sell fruits, vegetables, spices, banana leaves and herbs, some of which I do not even recognize. A separate section houses the meat – where chicken, mutton and beef are butchered to specifications and the floor is slick with stuff I would rather not know. Just past is another warehouse, this one of dried fish. Dried squids, shrimps, fish of all stripes are piled in their sealed packages along with sea cucumbers and other members of the marine species in a bewildering array. Yet more sit in plastic bags, waiting to be packaged.

Ramadan it might be, but the cafes and restaurants that line the streets are busy from early in the morning to late at night. There are some that even stay open twenty-four hours! And it is because of Ramadan that this town takes on an extra buzz. Tents pop up like mushrooms after rain and take up entire blocks of streets. Chicken in every form – grilled, fried, curried and barbequed are offered on a bed of rice it may be or kebabs rolled in a tortilla or pressed in a sandwich. But by far the liveliest restaurants are the ones that line the waterfront, tempting diners with their bins of fresh seafood. Tented stalls that serve as car parks during the day, morph into restaurants come sunset. Fish of every possible kind lie next to lobsters which lie next to prawns and clams. The crabs try to crawl away from hands reaching into the bin and business is brisk as potential diners line up.

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