The next chapter in our life together

Welcome Back

Can’t remember exactly the last time I was in Borneo. Think it was with my friends Warren and Jody from Berkeley CA after meeting up with them in Bali at the start of my nearly 2 year post Peace Corps journey thru SE , South and SW Asia in 1973-75. Pretty different this time with my sleepy new wife at 3 am body time

and one more flight to go to arrive in Kota Kinabalu the capital city of Sabah, the eastern most state of Malaysia, and home to Mt Kinabalu the highest peak in SE Asia (13,455ft) which we’ll be climbing next week.

Our day began at 3 am in Auckland to catch our early morning flight to Melbourne Australia for our only significant lay over and hopeful tour in the city for 5-6 hours. However we only learned last week the need to have a transit visa to leave the airport and after 3 hours of filling out forms and sending in documents to the Aussie Govt. we receive a message that we also needed to have a personal visit with an Aussie rep…no can lah!! So the busy American couple got to enjoy the lovely Melbourne airport, playing cribbage, napping and feeling guilty about not blogging and wondering about what it was going to be like in Sabah….next time lah!

From the sky coming in and leaving the local landscape was very dry and brown and the locals we spoke to in the airport clearly pointed to the dramatic temperature increases in Australia…….the heat for us was yet to come.

The flight to Brunei and it’s capital Bandar Seri Bagawan was 6 hours, 3 time zones and one hemisphere away and getting off the plane (even though we were in the protected runway) there was that old familiar feeling of encompassing moist heat followed by the relieving cold of the “where is my sweater” terminal. Don’t get me started on air conditioning. Our 12:30am flight to KK (Kota Kinabalu) was delayed a bit by some passengers coming in from the Philippines so the 25 minute up and down flight arrived in the capital of Sabah at some blearly eyed time after a long and mostly fun day of travel.

The coolest thing about our flights was meeting Brenden from Auckland the liquor salesman who travels a lot.


On his way to Atlanta GA to visit his daughter and then take the bus up to NYC for 5 days, opps he counted and realized that it was only 4 so together with his maps, guide books and Mindy and my “vast experience” (not) of the Big Apple helped to map out his time. Reminded me of Chris and my 5 days in the city in 2001; Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Chinatown and night time atop the World Trade Center outside looking down on fireworks in the harbor. Little did we know that 3 months later those same buildings would come crashing down on 9/11. The next day a game at Yankee stadium and the surprise “Welcome to Christopher and Paul Thompson from Minnesota” in giant letters on the stadium scoreboard. Sweet memories of a dear boy.

Plan made Brenden say he wanted to come to Minnesota to experience winter and I said “you better come soon” as we agreed on the acceleration of our weather patterns. He asked about the best times and we said the end of January, beginning of February…perfect for the City of Lakes Loppet and the World Cup Cross Country Skiing Championships coming to the Twin Cities……welcome Brenden and other travelers we’ve met on this amazing journey across the seas.

Bring on the heat!!


Walking out of the airport at KK with our shuttle driver from the C’haya Hotel near the airport (bagus tempat – good place).

The view from our 9th floor window of LaSalle school and the South China Sea in the background.

We started our month in Sabah by sleeping until we got up at 9 am and headed out to find a new local phone place and SIM card and a safety razor cuz the NZ TSA pointed out that my old school injector blades were potential lethal weapons (my ancient razor handle was saved luckily) how exciting. The highlite here was finding a local kedai makan (food café) at getting Mindy’s first copi susu (coffee with sweetened condensed milk) and pisang roti goring (banana fried bread like a crepe) and OMG was that good!!

New phone in hand with the usual cell phone hard to understand plan that sounded way better than it is I called Kok Yin my former student and unbelievable driver, tour guide and today taking us to Kota Belud where another contingent of former students and friends from 48-46 years ago are waiting our arrival. Kok Yin’s family are on a trip to Korea but he said to them “I must stay to be with Mr. Paul and his wife.”

With Kok Yin is Lim Suat Hong my initial friend on Facebook and constant source of energy and encouragement for us to make the journey to Sabah, She is also very involved in KK Basketball and a nurse and midwife.

We are constantly amazed at the kindness and support coming our way from this wonderful community of folks that have been touched not just by me but a lineage of volunteers from Canada, UK, NZ, and the USA. Thanks here goes to our former senator “the happy warrior” Hubert Humphrey who pitched the idea of young Americans making a difference serving overseas to JFK who got all the credit.

As is often the case, the volunteers who serve often receive way more than the people they serve but here the two way street of giving and receiving is clearly evident. Last night at our reunion party of about 30

Mindy shared about her experience of the impact Kota Belud had on my life (and amazement that 3 years of 70 could be so significant) and how it has shaped much of who I have become to what I do. Last night’s gathering was so sweet with hugs, 60 year old men and woman asking if I remembered them and telling me of the things they remember about Mr Paul and our times in Kota Belud 48 years ago.

Mr Eng and Kok Yin asked me to say a few words which often ended in tears and sniffles but I started by apologizing for the long absence in returning to Sabah and giving them a sense of how my experience here shaped my life from my career as a teacher to my interest in policy work and love of travel and adventure. Farida (holding her before photo, our English teacher and local author)

asked me how did my Sabah experience help to shape my life. That really opened up the emotions that sometimes are hard to express but in a loving community of people who clearly loved me it felt very safe and welcome as I shared about my life and the global awareness that living in Sabah had given me.

I joined their “WhatsApp” group, they all showed support for viewing our film “Saving Snow” on May 12 when we return to KK and enough folks said they could help to find a location and invite others (“please bring the youth” was their homework assignment) to make me feel like yes it will happen.

Following our speaking and them presenting Mindy with a “Sabah” necklace and me with a handmade keyholder with miniature native artifacts and personalized name plates then at the end of the evening they handed us a red chinese envelope with way too much RM (Malaysia Ringgit) which is so appreciated given that his trip will perhaps find Mr Paul joining the teacher ranks upon our return to Edina….but worth it…of course–lah!!

Mr Teo presenting the key holder, he was our Geography teacher now retired.

Then my gift to them…… the slide show that I spent 3 months scanning old Kodachrome and Ectochrome slides with the wonderful support and equipment of my friend Jonathan Gross in Morningside (our home). With no large screen available I hand held my laptop for each table as they gathered round to watch, laugh, point out, argue over who that was while the Ken Burns soundtrack continued to provide a strange ambiance to the 8 minute show. It was the least I could do and watching their faces light up with the old memories and seeing the connections being made between old friends that were now re uniting was the best gift I could possibly provide….after all we are in this thing together.

Sharing two of the photos from 1971-72 from the slide show

Mindy’s first Chinese breakfast.

Ally, our contact at River Junkies, the travel org arranging our Mt Kinabalu climb.

Mindy sharing a story with the local dress merchant helping her find a local baju kurung to wear to the party

Street scenes in KK, the capital of Sabah, East Malaysia and formerly Jesselton, North Borneo.

Handcraft magic at an art craft festival in KK, good timing and I had to restrain myself mightily.

Finally some time to relax on the roof of the Chaya Hotel, this is definitely not New Zealand.

Off for KB (Kota Belud) on the old road please, more to come from Borneo.

1 Comment

  1. Adam

    wonderful. best regards Adam.

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