English: There, here and over there. Basically, in a sense, to mean restless. A collection of thoughts, musings and ramblings...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Labuan

I can remember the day like it was yesterday. It is strange how it has been almost 4 years since my first day at work in Labuan. It was kind of a surreal feeling. Just the evening before I had flown in from Kota Kinabalu and there I was in the morning, starting work as an audit assistant for Chieng & Associates, Labuan.

At that time I was still fresh out of pursuing my Masters for a year in Brisbane, Australia. The quiet and peacefulness of Labuan actually suited me well, compared to the buzz of city-life in Kota Kinabalu which had grown in leaps and bounds. It had already been in the plan that I would move to Labuan for work, even before I had gone overseas for study. This was upon advice given by my parents after they heard about lucrative salaries paid by companies there from my brother. I remember telling people I met at university about my plans to work at one of the islands in the world gazetted as a tax haven, similar to the Cayman Islands.

To me, Labuan was more than just a place to work. It was also the place I seeked refuge from the storm that raged in my personal life. For a long time, it was the place where I was allowed to be myself and escape the tensions and threats that awaited me whenever I went back home. It was my saving grace, the place where I know that I will always be safe. Now that it seems that the storm has subsided, I finally feel safe enough to return to my hometown, if not for good, then for a very long time.

A fairly large piece of my family's history is attached to Labuan, even in the building that I am now working in - Tiara Labuan Hotel. Once upon a time, during the British colonial era, this building was a mansion where my maternal great grandmother worked as a housekeeper. She went on to marry a man named Ian Morris Oakford and they had a son and a daughter named Mary Esah Oakford - my grandmother. The rest of the details are pretty sketchy, and every year during Aidilfitri I get to have a refresher as other family members re-enact what they know of the story during family gatherings. We never get tired of the discussing the same story over and over again, I guess because it remains a great mystery to all of us. I myself often wonder about how my great grandmother met my great grandfather, and what was their story on this tiny island, and why did he leave. My own mother was born here in Kampung Lajau, but of course, no one really knows the exact location.

I also have an uncle who died at the young age of 27 here, while working for an oil & gas company. He died before I was born, so it was pretty strange that I had a dream about him a few months ago. I didn't see 'him' but in my dream I was in a very large, old and abandoned house filled with candle light. In the house I found a note addressed to me from him that told me about this place he left behind and I should come visit. It was very strange. It was not very long after that I had some family members visiting Labuan who also wanted to visit his grave but don't remember where it was. We spent a great deal of time hunting for it before we finally managed to locate it.

In Labuan, I have also gained many good friends that I am thankful for. When I first came to Labuan, I didn't know that many people apart from my brother and his family. I spent long hours being online and maintaining a long distance relationship. One of the first friends I made was William, who was my colleague back then at Chieng & Associates and now the current JCI Labuan president. We remained very good friends even though we have since then moved to different companies. He introduced me to JCI back then, and my initial reason for joining was to expand my network of friends, not really interested in anything else then. At that time, my day mostly consisted of eat, sleep, work until 8pm, online chatting, repeat next day. My social life was practically nil.

It was not until I left the audit firm and joined offshore trust company, ITMC that my life in Labuan started to get a lot more interesting. I moved to another job in Labuan because I didn't enjoy being a robot in an audit firm, and also because I was still afraid of living in KK. Here I met colleagues who I got along with, who also became my very good friends. From then onwards, my network of acquaintances and social life seemed to boom.

4 years may not really be a very long time, but I feel like I have learned and gained so much from being here. Bought my first ever car and home here, and learned the responsibilities that came with them. I faced my fear of public speaking by becoming the emcee for the JCI Labuan IAB Night in 2007 (even though I was very new and clueless about what was going on), put my organisational skills to the test by organising a couple of events for Association of Labuan Trust Companies (ALTC) and one for JCI Labuan (still in the process). There were also the fun and memorable times like the times I travelled to Vietnam and Singapore on company trips or even just a weekend road trip with my colleagues back to KK or to see the proboscis monkeys at Klias, having a girls' night out and the numerous makan-makan sessions we had. Speaking of makan-makan, I don't actually miss food elsewhere after knowing where the good food is in Labuan.

Ahh yes, they were good times. I will always cherish the memories, but as they say, I have to go while the going is still good. Labuan, you will always be in my heart.


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