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You can’t appreciate a 5-star hotel if you don’t know what a 1-star feels like.

You can’t appreciate a 5-star hotel if you don’t know what a 1-star feels like.

Location, location, OK, OK, I get it. But how about a light bulb?

If you have only experienced luxury, can you appreciate it?

I’m not sure the place we’re currently staying in (on the island of Pulau Tiga) qualifies for even a single star, but if anything, it helps us appreciate one more star when we have it.

Some of the kids, OK, some of the adults too, talk about the 5-star hotel we stayed in back in Mulu. It’s comparably a cloudy night with no stars to be seen at the Pulau Tiga “Resort” (“resort” is a loosely used term here–I’d look it up if I had an Internet connection but let’s see: maybe “rest” in there, maybe a “re-sorting” of priorities, how about “I resorted to sleeping in my sleep sack because of all of the critters in the room” as a verb. Anyway.) But when the question is, “Removing hotels from the equation, what was your favorite place and why?” we get much different answers.

  • “Billit because we were really deep in the jungle.”
  • “Kinabalu because we were in the mountains and the air was cooler and less humid.”
  • “Bako because of the jungle and the walk to the beach that you could only get to by hike or boat.”

You can't appreciate a 5-star hotel if you don't know what a 1-star feels like. [Billit, Borneo, Malaysia]

You can’t appreciate a 5-star hotel if you don’t know what a 1-star feels like. [Billit, Borneo, Malaysia]

As we travel further along in Borneo we are getting fewer and fewer complaints about the hotels. Clean sheets are a priority. Air-conditioning is a huge bonus, but fans can help alleviate sweaty nights. But what’s our your door? What’s climbing on your roof at night (it’s usually a monkey)?

We humans can be a resilient bunch if we’re open to adapting.

My oldest son asked if we could come back to this island someday. This is the son who likes fast WiFi and counting stars–and not those in the sky, but how many are under the hotel marquee. Here there is electricity, but it’s not reliable and they have to flip a switch behind the bar when everything goes out. We’re 20 minutes through choppy waves on a rickety boat to a dinghy village and then 40 minutes by bus to Kota Kinabalu.

So why does he want to come back here?


Maybe, after 20 days on the (muddy) road, we have opened his eyes just a little to what’s beyond the star rankings and what’s out the door of the air-co room. He said he wanted to come back to go snorkeling because yesterday was his first day really snorkeling and they saw fish from another world, swaying coral and we walked on two truly deserted islands.

Maybe we’re cracking the nut, opening up the sealed and untouched true heart of a young boy who hasn’t opened his eyes beyond what he knows. Maybe it takes 20 days (or 20 weeks? months?) on the road to get the “Screen Sickness” out of his blood circulation.

But we wouldn’t have found it at the Marriott. Although you might appreciate the 5-star luxuries, you can’t appreciate it to the same extent, by definition, if you have never experienced the “1-star luxuries” of … no longer thinking in terms of luxuries.

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