You're vacationing in Kota Kinabalu.
This morning you hauled your body out of bed at 5:30 to accompany your "morning-light's-the-best-light" photographer husband to the stinkfest behind the city's fishmarket, where you spent a couple of hours slipping in seafood slime as you watched boats unload their catch and merchants market their wares.*
After a quick cup of kopi (not as caffeine-packed as peninsular Malaysian brews, unfortunately), you showered off the stench and drove up the coast aways, where you allowed yourself to be royally ripped off (it was too early in the morning to bargain) for a 'chartered' boat ride to Kampung Penembawan, an as-yet (but probably not for long) peaceful and unspoilt village of houses built over the sea, on stilts.
After an hour and a half, a good portion of which was spent dodging exceedingly overexcited munchkins who hurled themselves in the path of said husband's viewfinder everytime he put camera to eye,
you returned to your car. Two hours of strolling and boating under a perfectly clear, mid-morning tropical sun left you sweat-soaked, dehydrated, and red as the sweet, sticky pork filling in a cha siew bao.**
But no worries, because it's nearly lunchtime, and you're imagining tucking into a huge spread of seafood at a recommended restaurant on the road back to KK. The drive will offer an opportunity to dry off in your Waja's air-conditioned comfort.
Just one problem. It's Monday, and the restaurant's closed. You didn't anticipate that possibility. You have no back-up plan, no other chow recommendations to chase. You skipped breakfast and now you're ravenous. The noontime traffic into KK is horrendous. What's worse, it's looking like you may end up wasting a meal. You begin to panic.
And then, just up the road, a big pink coconut beckons.
It's kelapa puding ais - iced coconut pudding - an ambrosial Sabahan treat. You've already sampled a few nuts' worth, in seafood restaurants in KK. You just didn't expect to find it under a tin roof next to a makeshift garbage dump on a scorching stretch of highway outside the city.
And yet here it is, a hollowed coconut full of light, cool, pudding. It tastes more of coconut milk and coconut water (but not coconut cream) than of sugar, and while it's been set with some agent or another (gelatin?) it's pleasingly wobbly, not firm and rubbery. It shakes like a bowl full of jelly and slides down the throat with delicious ease. It is, at this place and moment in time, the epitomy of 'refreshing'.
You're revived, you're fortified. Things are looking up. Back to the car. You're on holiday, and you've just passed an enjoyable morning.You'll survive the traffic into KK, you'll find something fabulous to eat for lunch. You won't have to waste a meal.
*Truth: I was not coerced and I loved it.
**Truth: Kampung Penembawan is still very much worth a visit; the kids were sweet.
Kelapa Puding Ais stalls on Jalan Tuaran, around Mile 13, Telipok (20-30 minutes from KK). See this blog for more info on the pudding and the stalls' other offering, kelapa bakar (grilled coconut).