I arrived in Tawau (ta-wow) today – down near the border with Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Being a port, handily located next to vast tracts of prime tropical forest, it has built itself on shifting timber through its docks, as well as various in-demand commodities – chief among them oil palm – which end up replacing natural habitat (whether this makes true economic sense, given the services forests provide, is currently a moot point, but one to which I will return). Today it sheltered below a dark, brooding sky, with its surrounding, still-forested, hills clothed in mist. It’s the kind of town where Chee Song’s Beauty Parlour has an open sewer gushing past its facade. Stranger still, the sewers here have large monitor lizards wallowing in them, flicking their forked tongues at each passer-by. Overhead, swifts feed on the mosquitoes, whilst packs of dogs roam the back streets. It has a Pizza Hut though.
It’s actually a National Holiday in Malaysia today, so the “hollow frontier” atmosphere of Tawau will no doubt be filled in a bit tomorrow.