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Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah Paperback – Illustrated, 22 January 2019
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- Language : English
- Paperback : 260 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1732945705
- ISBN-13 : 978-1732945708
- Customer reviews:
Neill McKee's work takes us on a true adventure. His keen observations of North Borneo re-imagine a time and place via a unique journey. McKee's writing stirs the imagination and simultaneously explains a place less traveled. His eye and ear for startling detail and understanding of political dimensions make this work a fascinating and eye-opening read. --Diane Thiel, Author and Professor, University of New Mexico: www.dianethiel.net
I love it. It has so many qualities that the usual memoir lacks. Neill McKee is honest about himself, not in any way self-absorbed, but he shares his opinions with attractive openness. McKee is lyrical about the countryside and I felt I was with him as he enjoyed the humorous side of life and the characters in the cramped town of Kota Belud. Nothing drags with different scenes in the short chapters in this book. It is a refreshing journey around a fascinating slice of Borneo with the best of guides. --Clyde Sanger, Author and Journalist, Ottawa, Canada
Finding Myself in Borneo brought back so many warm memories of our own experiences in the US Peace Corps in the late '60s and early '70s. Although we were posted to Liberia, West Africa, McKee's stories induced a lot of discussion about our generation and its ideals. McKee's insights into living in another culture are entertaining, perceptive and informative. We want to read more about his life experiences and are already looking forward to his next book. --James and Vivian Bowman, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA
Neill McKee joins a rare band who dare to write about what they brought to volunteering and, realized much later in life, what they received, learned and cherish. The book takes us to the roots of his career when he was a secondary school teacher in Sabah, where he became a filmmaker and then a specialist in media and mobilization for positive social change. That McKee was able to return to Sabah a number of times after his volunteer years, offers the opportunity to match the anecdotes to what in fact happened to the people who touched his life, and he theirs. That is an opportunity and courage I envy. --Christopher Smart, Returned CUSO volunteer, Ottawa, Canada
This book is a highly readable flashback to the life of a foreign volunteer teacher in Sabah during the 1960s and 1970s--a time when big changes were just starting to sweep across a land full of eager communities and unspoiled tropical forest. In the closing chapters, McKee makes bittersweet visits back to Sabah. As a filmmaker, he surveys the land by helicopter to find much of what he remembered has gone--vast stretches of forest felled by political and economic forces. Travelers will find this book a fascinating read. McKee's succinct wit offers first-time visitors to Borneo vivid historical bearings to frame their present-day experiences as they travel through this land, still full of many attractions. Malaysians and Sabahans will discover, in McKee's observations, issues to debate on rainy afternoons. --S.Y. Chin, Asia-based editor
Neill McKee captures the spirit of Kota Belud, Sabah, Malaysia. As I read, I was instantly transported to the immaculate greens, the deepened shadows of mountains silhouetted against the hot, sapphire skies; the hullabaloo that constituted the heart of the vibrant Asian culture in the era he lived in North Borneo. I felt I was riding with him on his motorbike as the enthralling splendor of the place unfolded. It's an enchanting narrative and I couldn't stop until I had consumed the entire book! --Nuzhat Shahzadi, Writer, Fairfax, Virginia, USA
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
It is easy to forget that it was once possible to experience the true adventure of travel into the unknown, largely unsupported and with little opportunity to access the vast body of knowledge that exists on the internet, nor the opportunity to be in contact with family and friends whenever one might want to. Modernity has certainly dulled the opportunity to indulge the minutiae of one’s journey in the raw, making sense deeply, for oneself, rather than symbolically for others through the shallow connections of social media. This is what makes this memoir an important and gratifying read.
As a Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) recruit, the author’s initial experiences are described through a somewhat solitary lens. Fresh encounters with Asia, Malaysia and Borneo transition to teaching high schoolers in Kota Belud, where it is necessary to connect with an alternate culture and a new language (which is interspersed throughout the text). After a while, a sense of place is cemented through friendships with students, staff and residents, and then fellow volunteers. There is time enough to imagine Borneo as Tolkien’s middle-earth along with friends, and for motorcycle rides that touch people and nature. The author’s many steps to ‘coming of age’ are also traced as he begins to find himself as a man and then as a person with a purpose. This latter journey is traced more quickly in the second part of the book, which includes reflections and details on how the lives of students, colleagues and friends have progressed and changed. And also his career as a film maker and development work. The story rounds off in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is a fine place to write a memoir. And perhaps channel one’s past by holding aloft a banner for the North Borneo Frodo Society as part of an annual ‘Freak Flag Parade’.
Major difficulties a volunteer will encounter are a different culture, the people think differently, the pace of life is slow and the environment is not clean.
The rewards are that a volunteer feels satisfaction from helping his fellow man, or woman, achieve a higher standard of living and for making local people aware of the good things they are missing.
A part of the rewards is meeting other volunteers. It is a joy only the volunteers can appreciate.
The book reflects Neill's depth and breadth of General Knowledge. For example, he correctly states that the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima was uranium, while the one dropped on Nagasaki was plutonium.
Neill's experience brought him face to face with the bloody clashes between radical Muslims and Non-Muslims. It is a problem fueled with ignorance and backwardness. It takes many people like Neill to make a dent in solving this problem.
I met Neill back in September 1966 at the Men's Residence of the University of Calgary, in Calgary Alberta, Canada, by chance. After being awarded a Scholarship to study Ph.D. in civil Engineering, the Men's Residence administrator mailed me an application to fill if I wanted to stay in the residence. In the line of the year of study, I wrote, First Year. I didn't write Ph.D. Therefore, the administrator thought that I was an undergraduate. Therefore, they put me in a room with Neill (that was his choosing). An undergraduate shares the room with another student, while a graduate gets a room by himself. My colleagues told me to go to the administrator to change. I refused telling them that this is an opportunity to know the Canadian culture.
I never regretted my decision. Through Neill, I did learn about many aspects of Canadian life, including music and the theater. So often, we would go to dinner in Downtown Calgary.
Then, each went his own way. We lost contact, until in 2006 when I got an unexpected call from Neill. He tracked me through my book, Building Your Own Home, which was published by John Wiley and Sons, back in 1988. Then, we met in 2017 in Mamaroneck, NY where I live.
Going back to Neill's Book, Finding Myself In Borneo, I enjoyed readingit very much. It was a welcome departure from my world of structural engineering. I intend to read it once more. There is a saying, a book that is not worth reading twice is not worth reading once.
Wasfi Youssef, Ph.D., P.E., structural engineer and published author