Silence, beauty and sparkle
Published on: Tuesday, May 26, 2020
By: Sylvia Howe
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Sylvia Howe

We seem to be getting back to almost normal frighteningly quickly. Gone is the blissful silence of the roads, and the birds have to sing much more loudly to be heard over the traffic. The air seems clearer, and last weekend I went out into the bay on a boat. I have never seen water so clear, so turquoise and blue, so clean – not a plastic bottle or dirty nappy in sight. It won't last, of course, but it was heaven. 

Living with change – for a better planet

I know that the tourist industry is licking its wounds, and needs more people and more bookings. But is there a way we can really really enforce no litter, no plastic, and can we all work to create less of a disposable consumerist society? I am not here to argue for or against profit or capitalism or innovation, but we need to be careful. The past months have been proof that nature repairs itself if man doesn’t make it more difficult to do so, and so can society be restructured to take that into account?

There won’t be fewer cars, and there needs to be a return to Grab in Sabah for users and drivers when possible, but is it also possible to check all cars to see if they meet environmental standards? This of course costs money, so that needs to be considered also, but without some supervision, things will go back to what they were, and we all agree, I think, that that was messing up this place we live on.

Business and the economy is suffering. That is not good at all for anyone, but again, can it be looked at again from the point of view of doing things well and cleanly? Differently, if you like?

Use imagination to attract sales

When I first arrived in Sabah, I visited the Philippino Market, and was amazed to find so many stalls. At first it looked like shopping delight, but soon enough I realised that most of the stalls sold more or less the same things. Surely this cannot be a profitable (relatively speaking) business model? There must be a limit to the demand for mass-produced nylon bags with Sabah woven into them. Or sarongs with a very limited choice of prints.  Isn’t there?  What do tourists want? Something to remember Sabah by, which isn’t the same as all the other people on their tour? Or maybe they don’t care? There is a handicrafts centre in Keningau, with some original and lovely things. Not well frequented, I would hazard, but worth a visit if you are in the vicinity, although some things are expensive.

Kedaiku is a shop that has a selection of gifts from all around the country, and also there are a couple of shops in Wisma Merdeka and Centrepoint that have buyers with a dash of imagination.  Also the ground floor shop in the Chief Minister’s building on the way to One Borneo. I put it to shop owners and stall holders – can you not stock goods that are well-made, local (thus giving income to the makers) and not the same as everyone else’s? When I take my many pre-Covid visitors around, I take them to see pearls and other jewellery, hand made baskets and bags, some shirts and T-shirts (can't get away from those), sarongs that are slightly different, silk shirts, books about Sabah, that sort of thing. They don't want to buy what they can get at home, and they want to spend their money on stuff they will use and enjoy when they have left Sabah, don't they? I could be wrong. I was once.

Out at last

I had a dinner out last Friday, at Meet and Wine, and it was almost as before. We were only four at a table, which is all that is allowed, and the tables were well spaced out. Masks for the waiters and as usual, good food. I had a drink at the beach at Tanjung Aru, at the Yacht Club, where there are only three people allowed at widely spaced tables by the sand. 

On a trip to Suria, I ate a nice lunch at Grazie – same rules, different food. Suria is taking this distancing business seriously, and I am sure many other places are too. Only so many people allowed in shops at a time, temperature taken, hands sanitized. It was slowed things down, but it was reassuring. We must all be careful.

Vigilance

This virus is not going anywhere anytime soon, until a vaccination is found – and that has its issues too. And it is said that it will return – there will be peaks. We need to keep washing our hands and keeping our distance. We do not need to inject ourselves with bleach, and it is by no means proven that chloroquine is effective.

Boris Johnson’s government in the UK says ‘keep alert’, which is a pretty feeble slogan (what for?) but if it is applied to other people’s needs, it works better. Does your neighbour need their shopping done? Is their garden becoming unmanageable? Perhaps a cake could be delivered to cheer them up? And a chat at a suitable distance or on the telephone (we are all Zoomers now) can work wonders, especially if people are living alone, and their family is not local – fewer in Sabah than UK, but they do exist. I am sure I am preaching to the converted, but a friend in England is starting the Folding Chair project. If someone needs company, open your folding chair a couple of metres away, and have a chat.

I am glad there are two of us (and I haven’t become like so many women who have embraced Dolly Parton’s Jolene, changing the words from ‘please don't take my man’ to ‘please do take my man!’). It has kept me from sinking when another day looms without a prospect of improvement. It’s not so bad now, and it will improve. This too will pass. It’s up to us not to let it pass without learning from it. We can use the lessons to make things better still.

To cheer

Here’s a photo of my balcony – the rain has made the plants a lot happier and we enjoy our evening beer looking out over city and sea. My cat loves it and so do I – I have taken to sitting out for ten minutes during the day, well sunblocked to protect my pale and fragile orang putih skin, to absorb some Vitamin D. I return to the cool inside dripping with sweat like someone who has just changed a tyre, but I think it does me good. I misjudged the blocking recently, and my nose has a charming red blob on it, and watch anxiously for signs of peeling.  I am keeping alert, you see, Boris.





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