Weighing The Dangers Of Foreign Travel

Most any travel you do has some danger attached: car crashes, a bad fall, stomach illness, an airplane crash. Or you might only lose a purse or a wallet.

But it seems to me that foreign travel carries an extra danger factor these days, with all manner of nationalistic and religious terrorism.

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‘Merdeka’ newspaper’s play on the raid/kidnapping

Consider a recent trip I made through Borneo with some friends. You think of Borneo’s dangers being mainly of the jungle, insect and reptile kind. But there are ugly nationalism and religious sores festering there as well.

So I’d hardly given it a thought May 11 when some of my travel companions — Michael, Diane and young Daniel Pang of Honolulu, plus part-time Hawaii resident Glenn Woo and wife Linda — went off on their own for dinner outside Sandakan in the Borneo-Malaysian state of Sabah.

They’d heard that the best restaurant, four miles out of town on a bay, was Ocean King Seafood. And they reported back that the reputation was well deserved. They ate and returned to their hotel by taxi.

Three days later, during the dinner hour, the popular dining spot was raided by four armed men thought to be from the insurgent Filipino Islamist group called Abu Sayyaf. It operates mainly by speedboats from the nearby Solo and Basilian islands, and their biggest strike was the bombing of a superferry in 2004, killing 116 people. In this May 14 raid on Sabah in Borneo, they kidnapped the restaurant manager, an employee and a policeman.

As the news spread, all I could think about was that if they had hit three nights earlier, they would have had five very valuable American hostages. A whoopee payday!

Abu Sayyaf recently declared allegiance to the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and has expanded its operations from the southern Philippines into eastern Borneo, a part of Malaysia. Its operatives recently kidnapped some Chinese tourists. Not a lot of Americans go to Sabah. It’s most heavily traveled by Europeans and Asians.

Abu Sayyaf’s most publicized kidnapping was of an American and two British missionaries in Mindanao in 2001. They executed the American. The Brits were killed in a failed rescue attempt.

The Ocean King restaurant incident momentarily soured my usual enthusiasm for popular restaurants in unsettled parts of the world, but you can’t live life to its fullest worrying every day on the road about a terrorist strike. I’m sure glad the Pangs and the Woos were not at Ocean King May 14.

But two days later, they, with me in tow, tried another you-must-eat-here place, as if our worst fears were stomach problems from the water or a corked wine.

Our lives went on. We refuse to live Mad Max style, in a fortress citadel or (most of us) armed and ready to shoot back.

This bad stuff shall end — as most all bad stuff does — with a bad ending for bad people. That’s my personal faith.