Fear is my New Friend

How i conquered my fear of success by traveling alone in a foreign country.

This blog post was going to be completely different, but my mind seems to have trained itself to wake up on Wednesday morning and write whatever has brewed in the back of my brain overnight.

I not only walked across this bridge in Similajau National Park, I stood in the middle and took photos.
I not only walked across this bridge in Similajau National Park, I stood in the middle and took photos.

This post was originally going to be about ice cream, husbands and almost getting electrocuted - I will still get to those stories, bear with me - but first I'm going to write about fear.

Fear is natural. It preserved our ancestors, and endowed them with a healthy respect for sabre toothed tigers, mammoths and the like. These days, how much fear is really useful? We live, generally, in the safest and most crime free world there has ever been. I know there are bad spots, I know bad things still happen, but I suspect they always will.

The forest was quite beautiful. I walked for a couple of hours, and didn't see another soul.
The forest was quite beautiful. I walked for a couple of hours, and didn't see another soul.

But that isn't really the sort of fear I'm talking about. Caution is necessary and sensible. I'm a woman travelling alone, and the social option of joining groups of people isn't available to me as the other travellers I meet tend to be several decades younger or in couples. So I don't stay out late at night, I don't go to clubs or bars, and I avoid deserted streets in the evening (especially since I almost had my camera stolen in Sibu).

The fear I mean here is the nameless, useless fear, the voice in my ear that says, "Who are you to be taking off around the world at your age? Who are you to be changing career? Who are you to think you might have talent or ability?"

Similajau National Park, north of Bintulu. Can't swim in it, there are crocodiles.
The river at Similajau National Park, north of Bintulu. Can't swim in it, there are crocodiles.

This voice has been with me, in varying forms, for most of my life. People reading this who know me personally will appreciate my incredible talent for self-sabotage - messing up an interview, leaving a job just as I was about to be promoted, moving house, city or state.

Batang Kemena, the river that flows past Bintulu, and the fishing village on the opposite bank to the city, Kampung Jepak.
Batang Kemena, the river that flows past Bintulu, and the fishing village on the opposite bank to the city, Kampung Jepak.

My biggest fear is the fear of success. I suspect the voice is at its loudest just as things are about to get really good.

Yesterday I had an email from the editor of a publication. She recently accepted an article of mine, and had asked for photos to go with it. I bought my DSLR camera two months ago, I still don't know what I am doing most of the time, but I sent the photos I liked and kept my fingers crossed. She loved them.

Kampung Jepak. I had a great lunch there, at a stall set up by two enterprising local ladies outside their house.
Kampung Jepak. I had a great lunch there, at a stall set up by two enterprising local ladies outside their house.

I did a little dance of joy, all alone in my home stay room. Success feels so good. Lots of small successes will, I'm sure, add up to a larger, all-encompassing success.

That fear is still there. Perhaps it always will be. But instead of letting it run my life, I'm looking it full in the face. I accept that it's part of me. I may not like it, but I'll live with it.

I used to try to override fear, kill it, lock it away. Now I see this isn't realistic. We all have fears we know are illogical. I'm not locking my fears away, I'm acknowledging their existence, but getting on with what I want to do in my life. I'm thinking of them as well-meaning friends, giving me un-wanted and un-asked-for advice. They're natural, they're normal, and they are the part of me that wants to keep me safe. They can chatter away all they like, I don't have to take any notice of them.

By the way, if you're thinking of travelling, just do it, you don't have to be a millionaire. I'll take this chance to plug my favorite sites:

  • SkyScanner.com for airfares, especially if you don't mind flying in the middle of the night on a Tuesday.
  • AirBnB.com for accommodation, in some really interesting places.
  • Any number of house sitting sites, too many to mention here.

The options are endless.

The Dangers of Buying an Ice Cream

The local beach at Bintulu, the scene of my near betrothal.
The local beach at Bintulu, the scene of my near betrothal.

There's a few little beaches and small islands at Bintulu where the locals go on weekends. On a weekday it was fairly quiet, and an ideal spot to sit in the shade and eat an ice cream.

Ice cream is a weakness of mine. I had ten years of not eating dairy food for health reasons, and the one thing I really missed was ice cream.

The stall had four flavours, two were pink and two were yellow. The lovely man at the stall got out a teaspoon and gave me small amounts to try. (The yellow ones were durian fruit, which I'm not keen on, and sweetcorn, which is just wrong on so many levels when applied to ice cream.) He eventually made me a huge sundae with two different flavours of pink (strawberry and mixed berry), chocolate sprinkles and one of those spiral biscuit things.

His wife was fascinated by my arrival at the stall. "Where you from?"  Australia. "You alone?" Yes. "Who you with?" No-one. "Where your husband?" Not married. "Why you not married?" Don't want to be. "He not married - you marry him!" The "he" in question was a twenty year old customer, mortally embarrassed by the whole process.

This reaction to me has been common in Sarawak. Taxi drivers, people in shops, men and women are surprised not that I'm travelling, but by my single status. In this society, family is immensely  important, and so are groups. I don't believe it's a gender thing, although I would have to talk to single male travellers to be sure. It's more a concern that I don't have a family, a group - even when I explain that I have children and grandchildren in Australia. If anything, it makes my situation even more peculiar in their eyes.

Perhaps I wouldn't have bought an ice cream if I'd realised the stall holder's wife would try to marry me off! I have a few more days in Sarawak. My aim is to leave here still single.

The Hotel Room from Hell

Another modern building, on Canada Hill, overlooking Miri. The Petroleum Museum.
They like modern architecture here. This is the Petroleum museum, on Canada Hill, overlooking Miri.

A lot of the accommodation here isn't what we would call hotel style. They are rooms, often above shops, with a single receptionist. Each room usually has its own bathroom, a TV and air conditioning. I never watch TV, but it's handy to have somewhere cool to come back to and to write in. There's no food, and no extra services.

The original oil well in these parts, now part of the Petroleum Museum.
The original oil well in these parts, now part of the Petroleum Museum.

These places vary from pretty basic and incredibly cheap, to more up-market and with WiFi, which is essential for me so that I can keep the blog updated.

The first one I found in Miri had WiFi, and although a bit basic, on first glance seemed reasonable. I'm over everything having to look like a magazine photo, and I can't afford it anyway.

They like modern architecture here. This is the centre of local government, or Town Hall.
This is the centre of local government, or council chambers.

I checked in, paid for one night, unpacked and settled in.

The first thing that went wrong was the internet. It worked really well until around 9:00pm. To cut a long and quite horrible story short, these are a few of the other things wrong with the place:

  • damp bed linen - as though it had been taken out of the dryer too early,
  • rock-hard pillows,
  • old, lumpy mattress that leaned to one side,
  • a modern toilet too large for the old space, so that to use it I had to sit on it sideways,
  • neighbours whose idea of disciplining their children was to shut them in the corridor and wait until they screamed loud enough before letting them back into the room,
  • neighbours who had a domestic in the middle of the night,
  • neighbours who had quite active sex for a large portion of the night (these may all have been the same people),
  • the power cable to the air conditioning unit had been laid across the floor of the shower (I found out when I was standing in water).

Admittedly the noisy guests aren't the fault of the management, but the paper-like walls are.

Many lovely parks and gardens in Miri too.
Many lovely parks and gardens in Miri too.

In the middle of the night I managed to get the internet to work  long enough to make a booking at another place on the other side of town. I checked out at 8:00am, with a clear understanding of why they made me pay, in cash, in advance. I imagine people flee in terror after staying there.

So at shortly after 8:00am on a Sunday morning, I was wandering around Miri with all my luggage - a bag, a backpack, and a small suitcase - trying to find the home stay I had booked in the middle of the night, and after maybe three hours' sleep. I usually have a  good since of direction, but it had completely abandoned me. And I couldn't find a taxi. (Usually they're everywhere!)

Public buildings, including the library, in Miri.
Public buildings, including the library, in Miri.

I stopped and asked a local woman about my age the way, pointing at where I thought I was on my map, and where I wanted to go. I soon became the centre of a group of four or five people, none of whom spoke much English, and all of whom wanted to help. In the end the woman grabbed me by the hand while her husband picked up my suitcase and took off ahead of us.

The view from my window in Miri. A huge shopping centre and hotel across the road. In the evenings food stalls set up on the strip between the main road and the side road.
The view from my window in Miri. A huge shopping centre and hotel across the road. In the evenings food stalls set up on the strip between the main road and the side road.

Their car was parked nearby. They loaded me and my luggage into it, drove me to the other end of town, and found my accommodation. The people here really are lovely!

My new place is home stay, a bit like an upmarket backpackers. I have my own room, but the bathrooms are shared. There's also a shared kitchen, and toast and coffee (self serve) for breakfast.

I may yet survive Sarawak without being electrocuted or married. Fingers crossed.

 

4 thoughts on “Fear is my New Friend

  1. Dotty Martinez

    Jennie,
    I love tuneing in on your travels. Writing about your fears I would think is very therapeutic. Just facing the unknown everyday must be a big fear. You are doing what a lot of us wish we had the guts to. Is there a way to include a link to a map so we could quickly see where you are? I did look it up on google and it made more sense. Great job!

    View Comment
    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *