The Toast Of Borneo For An Evening

August 10, 2008

My accomplishments in life, so far, have been modest. I once avoided receiving what I expected to be a pummeling at the hands of Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen (it ended in smiles). And I was the first person to ever recognize Sheryl Crow in public (it ended in frustration).

I have been quite fortunate in having the opportunity to do a bit of traveling, a few times to places that were slightly unusual. Borneo would be on that list.

It was quite a spontaneous trek. Studying in Singapore, we had a long weekend (which hardly mattered as my friends and I took a hands-off approach to attending class) and my friend Shawn and I decided to go somewhere. We met a travel agent, told her how much money we had, and asked where we could go.

“Borneo,” she replied.

I had no more than an approximate idea where Borneo was located, but, six hours later, we were on an airport tarmac in Kuching, Borneo’s capitol. Fortunately, our cabbie deposited us at a 7-11 (no matter where I’ve travelled, there’s always a 7-11) to help us reorient a bit before we headed to a hotel across the street, The Hotel Mexico (excellent lodging should you be in the area and willing to spend six bucks).

Borneo was an experience. There weren’t (m)any “round eyes” aside from Shawn and myself and our typical college attire, combined with the length of my hair, made us rather conspicuous. But, as I recall, most of the locals where polite.

The food was interesting (although we did supplement the local fare with KFC at times), and I discovered one of my favorite beaches as well as the greatest glass of pineapple juice I’ve ever had. We took a river trip with some fisherman and I learned – only once I returned to the States – that the oldest rain forests in the world are in Borneo.

Our final evening began with a couple drinks in the hotel bar at a massive Holiday Inn. It had been built, apparently, when a movie, Farewell To The King starring Nick Nolte, had been filmed in Borneo.

From the hotel bar, we ended up at some nearby street café, indoor seating with the street side wall open to the pedestrian traffic. We drew the usual amount of stares, prompting me to ask our waitress, Lily, “Why does everyone keep staring at us?” She smiled.

“Do people know who we are?” I joked. She appeared puzzled.

I quickly concocted the explanation that we were members of the band R.E.M. (I think I opted to be Peter Buck; Shawn, Michael Stipe, although we bore no resemblance to either aside from being carbon-based lifeforms). I told her how the rest of the band was in Singapore as we prepared for a tour of Southeast Asia (which, as I recall, was true).

Soon, we had attracted a small crowd, regaling them with G-rated tales of life on the road, signing a few autographs, buying a round of drinks, and promising Lily that we would write a song for her (entitled Lily’s Pen, which we had borrowed).

I hope Lily got over the disappointment if she ever purchased an R.E.M. album expecting her song. Meanwhile, five of my favorite songs from the band for whom I was momentarily, albeit not necessarily, the lead guitarist.

R.E.M. – So. Central Rain

R.E.M. – Superman

R.E.M. – Orange Crush

R.E.M. – Belong

R.E.M. – Leave