The closer I got to Tawau in the east of Sabah, Malaysia, the more stunning the road scenery became. One lift I got was memorable. Sweeping views over jungle canopy-clad hillocks and undulations under heavy grey storm cloudbanks were relaxing to take in as the brand new SAAB sped eastbound at 110km/h. That vehicle dropped me at a junction, at 8pm, by then far too late for me to hitchhike. I stepped out onto the gravel amidst the usual Asian state T-junction mess: shacks and lean-tos drowning in beat-filled cheap pop music, arranged in no particular order and selling anything that’d turn a profit, and turning trucks powering ahead loudly.
Streaks of lightning threatened as I walked toward the only accommodation anywhere nearby: the JS Resort at Mile 32 Checkpoint, Sandakan. I had too little Malaysian money to stay, and they’d not accept the Bruneian banknotes I was carrying. I didn’t feel like burrowing away into the oil palm plantations for the night in drenching rain so I went to search for a cheaper option, which there wasn’t. To my surprise, the understanding ladies at the breezy and cheap Seri Sentosa Restaurant – across the road – listened to my story and very kindly handed me the shortfall in cash with which I returned to JS Resort.
I explained that I’d been given the balance, but JS Resort staff wanted more money as a “deposit in case you ruin your room”. The lady asked for my passport but I said it’d be much easier for me to write the details. She insisted I hand over my passport and then filled in the form as such: my first name as my surname, no surname and several misspellings. Wow, how’s that for security. I wasn’t allowed to touch the remote control for the air conditioner, my passport was withheld as some kind of surety (I stuck out my hand and took it back though), and I was refused a room key until I’d brought more money.