Thursday, February 28, 2008

Life in the Orchard

My friend from way back when (would you believe 1968?), Vivienne, wrote from London asking me where Kudat is located.

Kudat's a small, rather delightful town in the far north of Borneo, which we first sailed into by yacht more than 20 years ago. The boat theme continues ... Jean-Francois is now working on a boat project here for a few months, so we've rented a second house almost 7 km out of town.

Kudat district is the heartland of the Rungus, Sabah's most traditional tribe, some of whom still live in longhouses and make great baskets and weavings. It was the first capital of British North Borneo in 1881, and is where the earliest boatloads of Chinese immigrant labourers (Hakka Christians from southern China) landed.

Today the town is a mixture of Chinese (very laid back and friendly they are, too), local Muslims, Rungus and (unavoidably, given our proximity to the Philippines), a number of Filipinos. Kudat is astonishingly orderly for Sabah. People park correctly (and there's actually plenty of parking, unlike the nightmare that Kota Kinabalu has become), there aren't any traffic jams, and the public toilet by the market is spotless and decorated with pot plants and plastic flowers (yeah, I know, but it's better than wodged-up wet tissues and other unmentionables).

We're living in the semi-rural area of Sin San, where the Chinese were given a few tools, seedlings etc and told to go forth and plant. And plant they did — mostly coconuts, which are still everywhere. It's really lush and green, masses of fruit trees (and birds, especially nasty Glossy Starlings that attack the papayas. In a small road going up a hill not far from our house, and where I like to do a late-afternoon walk if it's not raining, people are still growing crops to sell. "Our" garden here is full of old fruit trees — see the jackfruit I picked yesterday, alongside my pot of Italian basil brought up from KK.

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