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Sabah, Pt.4

After stuffing our faces with fresh BBQ pork, we say goodbye to Val and go our separate ways. Our plan for the rest of the day is to head back to house, scoop up some of the guys and head to the beach. One great thing about traveling through Asia is picking which beautiful beach to visit on your trip. It’s always nice to kick back and soak up the sun and remind yourself that life is good. We kick back in the sand for some hours, then we’re off to the house for our last night in Tamparuli. On the way back to the house though, our stomachs start talking: time to chow down. Iylia turns to ask me if I want to try a local dish.

“Rome, have you ever tried stingray before?” asks Iylia.

“I haven’t, but I’m game to give it a shot. What does it taste like? I’ve been told it’s similar to scallops. Is this true?”

“If you eat the wings, then it will taste more like that. The way this restaurant prepares the dish will have a different taste, as you’re eating meat from around the tail.”

“The tail?” I reply, apprehensively.

“It’s delicious,” Iylia assures me with a big smile.

“I trust you, Iylia. I’m down!”

After driving a bit further, we take an exit and pull up to what looks like a rest stop in the U.S. I tell everyone that I’ll meet them at the table. I have to use the bathroom before trying this legendary stingray dish.

Something that stands out in my mind about Sabah is how unique their public bathrooms are. They’re cleverly designed to simulate a rainforest setting. One day my bathroom will look the same.

After draining all my water from my body, I am back to the table with everyone. I can see the stingray waiting for me there. Everyone seems to lock eyes on me for my first bite.

Will this be a food orgasm in my mouth, or will it be spat out like a pornstar? I thought to myself.

I study my meal before deciding which bit of the tail I will start with. I find an area that looks meaty and start my approach. As I lift the meat from the plate, I notice it’s flaky and white. I take the plunge and toss the meat in my mouth. The table is silent.

“Oh my God. This is amazing,” I say with a mouthful of stingray.

“I knew it!“ Iylia cries.

After my first bite, the floodgates are open and I can’t stop carving and tossing back the delicious meat. Sorry vegans. The texture of the meat is similar to trout, and the taste is similar to chicken.

Back in the States, I grew up hunting and fishing, not to catch a trophy, but to stock my freezer. All I can think about are the countless stingrays I’ve stepped on in the ocean and how a new predator will be entering the water once I return home.

After we are done with our meals, we head back to the house for our farewell dinner. Zoe and I don’t remember too much about the ride back, because we were both knocked out after soaking up rays in the sun and gobbling rays for lunch.

When we wake up, the sun is no longer with us, and we are at the house. The whole Karabaw team is there to greet us. Zoe and I quickly run upstairs, throw on a change of clothes and make it back down to enjoy our last meal with the team. Val and his family prepare a huge dinner for us: chicken and rice, BBQ chicken wings, fresh juice. The meal is set for a king and his troops- the Karabaw troops.

After dinner, we share more injury stories, drink local beer and sing songs. Now, I only sing in the shower or when I’m driving alone, so when they say it’s my turn, I’m not exactly on my game. Two people who stand out for their voice and guitar skills are Val and a young fighter named Wesley. Val’s voice brings silence to the table. It’s deep and smooth. Wesley brings laughter and energy.

Slowly, people start making their way home and sadly, it is time for us to grab our gear and make our way to the airport. We say our goodbyes, chug a beer and are on our way back to Taiwan.

As we head to the airport, Iylia and I chat about life and martial arts. At this moment, I realize I don’t want to leave the airport. I want to stay in Tamparuli and live in the countryside away from distractions.

Team Karabaw, like most teams, has a strong bond with each other as teammates. You feel like family. Val and his team took us in like they’ve known us for years.

I would like to give a special thanks to my good friend Fitri Rosmin, who helped set this amazing trip up. If you’re ever in Sabah, you must stop in and train with him. He’s the head instructor for Team Karabaw in Tamparuli and he has a very good technical game. It’s obvious when his students compete.

I can’t end this without giving thanks to Val and Iylia. You both showed Zoe and I a great time and took us in as family. I can’t express enough for anyone reading this article to stop in and train with Team Karabaw. You could be a BJJ practitioner or a striker, it doesn’t matter. You’ll find everything you’re looking for.