My impressions of Sandakan most of today was exactly what I had anticipated from reading "Land Below The Wind" by Agnes Keith: A frontier town on the edge of civilisation; a "Wild East" town in a region infested with pirates, refugees, gun-runners and possibly spies; run-down, potholes, faded painted, broken windows - in short, picturesque dilapidation in humid, decaying tropical weather. Yes, all this is true of downtown Sandakan. Downtown Sandakan is also mainly Muslim- Malay-Bajau-Sulusk and Filipino, with the Chinese and Indian shop-owners manning the cash machine.
Tonight, I was driven around "Mile 4", the new Sandakan. This is a different world. Whereas Downtown Sandakan becomes dead and dark at night, Mile 4 is bright, busy and trendy. Flashy new shops, fashionable cafes, hip restaurants and smart boutiques with decor that could be anywhere from Singapore to Sydney dot this suburb 4 miles from town. This is the Sandakan of the middle class Chinese whom I'm told have moved en masse here. They continue to own shops and offices downtown, but this is the first world enclave they are comfortable with and would have preferred to find refuge in. Amazing how different worlds exist not too far from each other.