During the 70s Spanish TV showed a series called “Sandokan” based on the Emilio Salgari classic. The handsome pirate nicknamed the tiger of Malaysia who fights the British colonial empire and can’t help falling in love with the governor’s beautiful niece Mariana in the process. Every week, I and the rest of the country would eagerly sit for the next instalment full of adventure, sword fights, stolen kisses and even once a cholera outbreak.
Few people travelled long distance in those days. The cost of living meant going anywhere beyond Europe was very expensive for us and the world had yet to become globalised like it is today. To the teenager in me who wished to be nothing short of Marco Polo, the places that appeared in that TV series like Labuan, Sabah and Sarawak seemed exotic and mysterious. Such is the power of childhood memories that as the world has gotten smaller those places have not diminished their appeal and they have remained as evocative and full of promise as they once were.
The saddest words in the English language have to be what if. They talk about missed opportunities and regret. Some what ifs that stand firmly rooted sprouted out of a small decision, a fork on the road and now loom like a petrified forest of what can never be, but has inexorably changed your life. But this particular what if is only a small sapling and I can make it grow as big or tiny as I wish it to be. I can control its destiny.
I arrived in Sarawak apprehensive, unsure of what to expect and concerned I was bound to be disappointed. I was not. Malaysia is 80% Muslim, though curiously Sarawak’s majority is Christian. I was struck by how accepting everyone seems to be. One woman is totally covered up, the next is wearing shorts and a tank top. And nobody seems to mind.
It is a new experience to be somewhere where there are no tourists and in fact, I can count with one hand the number of tourists I have seen while here. And not once have I felt I was an outsider. Everyone is really kind and total strangers will smile and say hello.
I look back to the last few days while I sip my tea staring at the jungle and think of the beautiful mangroves, the deserted beaches, the mother orangutan with her baby, the elusive prosbocis monkeys that were close enough to touch, the huge crocodiles, the sweet dolphins and the fairy-like fireflies. And I am reminded of youth and enthusiasm and the sweet anticipation of what lays ahead. And I can’t help but smile, not a shy, tentative smile, but a big Cheshire cat grin.
Yes, it is true. Sweet dreams are made of this.