Love Letter to a Vanishing World

by Leanne Ogasawara


Of all the places I’ve never been, Borneo is my favorite.

I have several times been within spitting distance: to the Philippines—as far south as Panay; to the court cities of central Java and to the highlands of Sulawesi, in Indonesia. I’ve spent many happy days on Peninsular Malaysia. Have lived in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Kaoshiung~~~But as they say, “Close, but no cigar!”

My college boyfriend was a great fan of Joseph Conrad. He wanted to follow in the great man’s footsteps. He planned it all out. We’d go up the Mahakam River. “More than a river, it’s like a huge muddy snake,” his eyes danced with excitement, “Slithering through the dense forest.” We talked about Borneo endlessly. He promised I would see Borneo’s great hornbills, wearing their bright orange helmets– with bills to match. And primates: maybe we would see a gibbon in the tangle of thick foliage –or an orangutan. There would be noisy parrots in the trees and huge butterflies with indigo wings like peacock feathers, fluttering figments of our imagination. He told me that nothing would make him happier than to see the forests of Borneo.

A cruel young woman, I vetoed Borneo –and dragged him off to Kashmir instead. And to make matters worse, a year later, Gavin Young came out with his highly acclaimed book, In Search of Conrad, in which he does just what my boyfriend had wanted to do: follow Conrad to that famed trading post up “an Eastern river.” Read more »