It was on my first climb up Mount Kinabalu when I first met a Danish couple. It was 4.30pm at Laban Rata and I was looking for a seat to have dinner. Sadly, all the tables with the 28 people I came with were filled.
‘Can I sit here?’ I asked a man who was sitting by himself.
‘No, my wife is sitting here, but you can join us,’ he told me, motioning for me to sit down in front of an empty chair in front of him.
I learned that he was an Australian man and along with his wife, used to work as mountain emergency rescue workers but have since sold everything to travel the world on their boat.
‘Now we live on our boat,’ he told me, smiling at his wife, ‘and we enjoy our lives. It is so freeing to be able to go where we want.’
‘What kind of work did you used to do?’ I asked, intrigued by what mountain emergency rescue might entail.
‘Sometimes climbers get lost – it happens – so we fly in with our helicopter to try and rescue them,’ he told me, explaining the gear he used.
‘It’s dangerous work sometimes, but we enjoyed it.’
‘Was it where you met your wife?’ I asked him.
Smiling, he said yes.
While we were talking, another couple came and joined us. ‘Can we sit here?’
The new couple were from Denmark and were spending their honeymoon in Malaysia.
‘Do you like Malaysia so far?’
The wife nodded in excitement. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘we just came back from – what was that place – yes, Sandakan! And we saw turtle lay eggs!’
Her husband was less enthused. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘this is what she likes.’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘Christian would rather be home looking after his horses. Boring.’
‘She would like to move here,’ the husband told me.
Danes wanting to move to Malaysia? That was interesting.
‘But aren’t Danish people the happiest in the world? Why would you want to move here?’
‘Not really – it depends what you mean by happy. Denmark is cold many months in the year. You don’t get sunshine like Malaysia.’
‘So are you really that happy?’
‘I think we’re like normal people. We are not extra happy like what the media says.’
Beauty is where you are willing to look
‘Do you like living in Sabah?’ I asked my Sabahan friends.
‘Normal,’ they told me.
‘Do you go to the islands often?’
‘Have you climbed the mountain?’
I was at first surprised that most of my Sabahan friends had not climbed Mt Kinabalu nor visited the islands near them, but on further inspection, I realised that this was common for most people.
I have lived in Sarawak for around 7 years and haven’t stepped foot in Mulu, a UNESCO heritage site. Yet, people from all over the world are going there on a daily basis to marvel at the tallest pinnacles in the world.
The closer you are to something and the more often you see it, the less intrigued you are by it.
‘I like Thailand More’
It was this June that I met another Dane. Again, I asked him, ‘Aren’t Danish the happiest people in the world?’
He told me the same thing as the couple I met two years ago: that it depends what you mean by happiness.
‘I like Thailand more because unlike Denmark there isn’t a great divide between rich and poor. In Thailand you can find a hawker stall right beside a luxury condo – you don’t see that in Denmark.’
No Perfect Place
I used to have many complains about the countries I lived in, but now I seldom do. I realised that most discontentment arises from ignorance of what is available and a fantastical idea of another place.
More often than not, issues unresolved remain as such regardless of where you move around the globe, your job title or the number of adoring fans you have.
Perfection of situation remains an illusion and one of which has become the easiest excuses to not do the work of building yourself up emotionally.
Contentment is an attitude, and you can find contentment right now, in exactly the circumstances you are in.