Sarawak & Back

July 5, 2016

Just got through recovery from a lovely trip. In this case, it was an academic conference in Miri, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. Such a great meeting, and there were even some of us that weren’t academics. In any case, it involved one leg on AA DFW-NRT, followed by a couple of legs on our partner, Malaysian Airlines NRT-KUL-MYY. It was coach all the way out, but most importantly it got me there without a bump.

Perhaps I should explain the connection between an international academic conference, and a globally oriented foundation. By the time one reaches the backside of life, there are a number acquaintances made. Paths traveled, earlier, come in handy later on. And so it is with evaluating the economic development of the regions that the foundation has interests in. Stomachs, as well as hearts need to be filled, so economic development is a factor in the mission.



Discussing the learning process, with my old friend (and former boss), Dr. Sang M. Lee made an elegant offer. He mentioned that he’d been heading up an annual pacrim business conference for the last 33 years. That possibility had completely escaped me. This year it was to be in Miri, Malaysia. Dr. Lee was a bit concerned that it was a long way for me to travel, but he was talking to an old airline pilot. A journey to the far side of the world is an outing. Especially, when you’ve old friends, and acquaintances at the other end of the journey. If nothing else, it’s a chance to do three decades worth of catching up.

Conference hotel

The denizens of Miri were a delight. Though the city population was over 200k, the way folks interacted with me, was straight out of an extended rural society. That is to say, plenty of concern, and cooperation. That’s not always the case in the places I travel, but it’s worth mentioning when it presents itself, as it makes the traveler a member of the community almost immediately. If you’ve the time, and interest in Borneo, Miri is a great spot to hop into it. Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world.

Miri waterfront property

As you can see from the previous two photographs, there’s a bit of disparity between the modern, and the traditional in Malaysia.That is really quite common on the pacrim, and in this case, the pictures were taken only a block from each other. Though it might be considered a dichotomy in the western world, it plays very nicely in Miri. Somehow, it seems quite appropriate, to my sense of aesthetics.

Lots of signs like this around town

These signs, announcing the conference, were all over Miri. Folks seemed be quite proud that their city had been selected for an international event, such as this. Our academic host, Curtin University, did an excellent job of coordinating the meeting. When asked how we were treated, on the way to the airport, I told the van driver it was an excellent conference, and I couldn’t think of a thing that would have improved it. Even the students from Curtin, were a delight to chat with. Under their hijabs, the girls were as academically precocious as the male students. As to their commitment to their college education, you could tell they were very serious about where their studies were taking them, and resolute in their commitment to an international focus for their future. Between the undergraduates I taught at the University of Nebraska, and the students I met on Sarawak, the Malaysians seemed more focused. A group of 11 students nearly wore me out one afternoon, after the seminars. Going by the questions they were asking, I had no doubt that they were going to have interesting lives in the international business world. It’s nice to be in a crowd of strivers.

Great kids from Curtin University!!

Conference opening session

It was a great meeting. What else can I say? Never having been to one of Dr. Lee’s Pan-Pacific conferences, I really didn’t know what to expect. As far as I could tell, it came off without a hitch. One of the goals I wanted to accomplish, on this trip, was to make as many international contacts as possible. There was some concern, as I was traveling solo, and had few international academic contacts since I’d been doing “other things” for most of my career.

I needn’t have worried. Within a few hours, Dr. Daneel van Lill, and the University of Johannesburg contingent had adopted me, for all practical purposes. I must say that whole group was wonderful to associate with. Not one of them had any rough edges, and though I didn’t speak a word of Afrikaans, they were kind enough to keep the communication in English. So considerate! My experience wouldn’t have been nearly as pleasant without that gang. Now I have people to annoy in South Africa (as well as others in the world), when I head off in different directions.

Dr. Sang M. Lee (my old boss)

The return was a bit more problematic, as it involved getting out of Borneo during festival. I spent one fully unproductive day at the airport, but what was really cool is that the hotel van driver noticed that I was still there in the afternoon, and brought a snack out from the hotel kitchen on his next trip. Another surprise! Truly impressive, but not terribly unusual in their culture.

The next day I was successful, and made it back to Kuala Lumpur. I caught the evening flight up to ICN (Seoul) on Malaysian, and got a bit of food poisoning on the flight, but I wasn’t the only one. In 40 years of airline travel, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard an announcement that the FA’s would be coming through the cabin picking up sick sacks. Well, at least they had plenty of sick sacks.

Getting into ICN, I was prepared to spend a day recuperating as I’d been up for quite awhile, and needed a bit of time to heal up. Checking in with the US on my WIFI cellphone, it became obvious it would be better if I took the afternoon AA flight to DFW. The flight was full, but if you don’t try, you don’t fly.

I checked in at the counter, and inquired if there was anything besides coach available. They immediately issued me a seat in business. What a surprise, but I wasn’t going to turn it down! Transited security, and headed straight to the Korean Air Club, that reciprocates with my Admiral’s Club membership. First priority was a badly needed shower in their facilities, followed by a lovely meal, including three glasses of skim milk, which isn’t as common as you might think around the South China Sea.

King’s parade at Incheon terminal (Seoul)

Reinvigorated, and smelling lots better, I headed down to the gate. The podium paged me immediately (Rats! I knew Business was too good to be true). Approaching the counter, I was relieved of my Business pass, and issued a seat in first class (3G). Well! God protects fools, and he was coming through unexpectedly for me today. Don’t worry, I thanked the gate agent profusely for looking after my interests.

Sometimes standby works well

Finally, I want to provide big time kudos for the FA’s up in first on the flight. FA Dennis Ray headed up the operation, and I have to say that he, and his associates, provided the finest First Class service I’ve had in my life. His personal attention, to each and every one of his First Class customers was fascinating to watch. We each had what amounted to a briefing, how our First Class “toys” worked, and an interview regarding our preferences in meals. This was all interspersed with what was obviously his natural Texas wit. It was great to watch, and I told him, and his associates, that very thing at the end of flight. I loved what AA was offering yesterday, and I do believe it was a First Class experience second to none.

The New AA does a great job, and it’s a wonderful thing to witness when it’s being delivered at its best. I’m a truly lucky man.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply