*Tawau – humbling a citizen of the world

For someone who is not into deep sea fishing, logging or plantation, to do a business trip to Tawau would have raised suspicion with the spouse. I did just that. The objective was genuinely for networking and off course travel.

The trip taught me, citizen of the world, about me, about my malayness, my home port, about the archipelago, about the very basic things that I have not touched base with, about life.

When the pilot did his usual “good morning this is your captain” brief, I had my first lesson in geography that Malaysia is such a vast country. Tawau is 2400 km away from KL. The flight is going to take 2 hrs 40 minutes. Wow!! Taa-Wau!! Compare that to Jakarta or Bangkok. This is like going to Surabaya!!

Little Surabaya

That was what I found in Tawau when I did my evening stroll, Little Surabaya. I went to the Pasar Gantung which is not Babylon but a china market selling china made goods hung out for displays. At the food stall next to it I met Mas Parjo, selling a new innovation called Murtabak Jawa. It is basic murtabak with cabbage, egg and sprinkling of meat filling. They did that to Hindustani music and called it dangdut and now it is murtabak. Enterprising Javanese.

Mas Parjo was not unique. Ninety percent of the stalls sell Gado-gado, bakso, murtabak Jawa, lele buntut.and tempe.That explains, the Javanese sounding names of many Umno representative from Sabah. The Jainab, the Parjo. The names tell that they are fairly recent citizens of Sabah.

To the land hungry Javanese, Sabah must be paradise. At the Fish market I saw giant anchovies, giant cockles, oversized semilang.

The nusantara is the malay archipelago. DEBUNKING USMAN AWANG

I met a variety of people of different ethnic Malay background: bugis, sulu, Filipina, Timorese and off course kadazans.

At the port, I discovered that there is a ferry service to Nunukan. The Bugis taxi driver told me that it is only 30 minutes to the border. He could still explain what a penisir is while my bugis partner could not. And Penisir is the symbol of the bugis soul.

From the aircraft I saw a big colony of houses protruding out to sea not unlike the Kampong Air in Bandar sri Begawan but bigger. I later found out that this is the Filipino” illegals”.

Aren’t they victims of regional politics? Prior to statehood, this is their archiplelago with the mobility, the freedom to escape poverty, warlords, intermarry and define what malay is.

All in all, these are hardworking, enterprising people. How I wish Usman Awang is still alive. I would like him to recite his Malay Sajak , then let him loose and let this malay mob go after him and ceremoniously stripped him of the Sastrawan Negara title.


I decided to take the Air Asia Flight back to Kuala Lumpur. Now everyone can fly.

I have not felt the sadness of departure for a long time. With the mobility I am enjoying now, I have in fact forgotten that departing is a sad occasion. At the Airport in Tawau I had a refresher course of the meaning of relationship and how sad departing is. Hello. it is only KL. Am I becoming plastic?

I saw families and friends hugging and crying. Somehow I could share the sadness. A few drops rolled down my cheek, I was missing my loved ones.

I later found out a few families from the 7th Batallion , the Royal Malay Regiment, are being posted out to other batallions. Why is the battalion not moved? Isn’t that a basic capability of a fighting force, mobility? I asked

Tawau that I knew has always been associated with the Navy, Army and Air Force. Tawau has always seen action. It was the Confrontation, communist insurgency, Sipadan, piracy. Tawau has seen all

The visit although short has been an eye opener and soul enriching. Before leaving the hotel, I sent out an SMS to my host “ Please convey my appreciation to Yang Ariff, for sharing a piece of Tawau”. A special mention on Hotel Marco Polo, the best in town. It is a 3 star which try hard at delivering 5 star service. Well done!



3 Responses to *Tawau – humbling a citizen of the world

  1. Richard Ker says:

    Esham, this is a very well written article about Tawau. I was wondering if we can feature this on http://www.discovertawau.com and also feature you as the guest blogger? Thanks!

  2. inspigoblog says:

    Richard, permission granted. my next trip to tawau buy me kopi o.

  3. Richard Ker says:

    Esham, as long as I’m around no problem, I’ll buy you nasi kuning as well. :) On behalf of all Tawau people, thank you!!

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