I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Brunei (3)


Life in Brunei




A day here only scratches the surface of course, but we left feeling a little more knowledgeable than when we arrived.  We’d known about Brunei because it's a  a member of the Commonwealth and a former part of the British Empire.  The Sultan of Brunei is one of those people we’d heard of due to his links with polo, with our Royal Family and naturally , as a result of his immense wealth.  But we knew little more than that.




Driving through the capital Bandar Seri Begawan from our port, Muara this morning gave us chance to learn a little more.  There’s fewer than half a million people living here and those who are native to the country receive benefits which can only be envied by the immigrant workers.  Native Bruneians pay no tax, receive more or less free healthcare (they pay $1 each visit to the doctor, including all medication) free education (including higher education wherever in the world they choose to study) and clearly, the standard of living is high.  Most of the homes we passed had large porticos with multiple cars parked in the shade.




Because Brunei’s wealth comes from oil and gas, and petrol costs just 50c a litre, the price never having changed in the last twenty years.  There’s no competition – only Shell has the licence to sell petrol here – and little public transport.  So, everyone drives their own car.




When I say everyone, perhaps that’s not quite true of the people who live on the water.  Many of the Bruneians choose to live in water villages where their needs have also been well taken care of.




There are schools and other community facilities to enable them to live in the same way as they always have.




And government “shared ownership” schemes entitling everyone over 18 to buy their own home by paying rent over a period of time.  Here, the houses are part of a water village.




But there are similar government scheme estates on the edge of town, too.




Zul told us there are strict rules governing who may take advantage of the scheme – no buy to let and suchlike.  Oh, and of course, only native Bruneians are eligible.




The country’s wealth is apparent throughout the city, where large, lavishly decorated structures stand side by side.  This is part of the complex built for the last coronation of the Sultan.  I’m unsure what it’s used for now, but there appeared to be no shortage of facilities for hosting these huge events.




In a week or so, there will be a royal wedding here.  One of the Princes will marry a young woman from a wealthy Bruneian family with Royal connections.  It’s an arranged marriage, Zul told us.  So, here and there, we saw lavish preparations being made, one of which is the white structure lining the sides of the drive to the Sultan’s palace.




He lives here, in his 1800 roomed palace which is open to all Bruneians for three days once a year.  Zul told us that he’s amenable to receiving letters from his people and reads them personally.  If someone has a concern, then all they need do is write to him…




Because the assembly meets just three times a year and the Sultan is really the one in charge here.  What he says, goes.  Still, there’s a beautiful Assembly building for those meetings.




Most of the population is Muslim and since three years ago, when the Sultan introduced Shariah Law, there have been two Supreme courts here – Civil and Shariah, each of which stands in a prominent position just outside the city centre. 

During the day, we visited two enormous mosques, though didn’t go into either – just looked around the outside.




I approached this one down the East corridor, noting the signs on the sides as I walked.




At first, I wondered if these were significant inscriptions, perhaps some kind of equivalent to the Stations of the Cross, which the devout would use as prompts in preparation for entering the mosque?




Then I saw the sign.  “Eastern Shoe storage area”. 

Duh!  Of course, if the capacity four thousand people were attending a service, then there’d be a need for somewhere to store eight thousand shoes.  Unless there’s a system, how on earth would you ever find your own again?  So, there were four of these corridors, each lined with shoe racks above which was a number.  All I’d noticed was the arabic numeral and nothing more.

Silly me!




I did notice the lovely mosaics, however, but could go no further because I wasn’t dressed appropriately.




So, what more to say of Brunei Darussalam?  Well, it’s an interesting place and I’m really pleased we’ve been here.  Would I return?  Well, probably not in a hurry although we’ve had a really fun packed day.  I think that, for native Bruneians, life is pretty good.  Most work for the Sultan in some way – in government related jobs.  But for the Indian shopkeepers, the Indonesian service workers and other immigrants who don’t share the same entitlements, I think life would prove to be very second class.

Of course, for one person and his family, life is tickety boo to the extreme.  I’m really not sure how I feel about that.


The waterfall


Suitably equipped then, in rubber shoes and with our lifejackets all fastened and secure, we boarded the long-tailed boat and headed up river.




The water was indeed fast flowing and at times, the little outboard motor struggled but we kept going, our experienced boatman knowing the river well enough to avoid the really tricky bits.




I’m pleased to say the rain had stopped by now but that didn’t mean we weren’t getting wet!




But it was warm and we were enjoying the ride.  What harm did a little water do anyone?




Unlike the boats we rode on in Myanmar, though, these were rather less stable.  We needed to sit right down in the bottom and the slightest wiggle from any or us would make the thing wobble.  It brought back memories of rowing in a four at college, though the plank of wood we each got to sit on wasn’t quite as comfortable as the seat in a four.  Still, so far, the bottom was (relatively) dry, and sitting cross legged for a short time was ok with me.




Soon, we spotted activity up ahead.  The National Park is a popular place with visitors mostly coming from Australia and mainland China and we weren’t the only group moving around in small boats today.




We scrambled out, looking for the jetty or the bank to step onto – but there wasn’t one.  OK, so that’s why we needed the rubber shoes?  Quickly rolling up trouser legs or, in some cases, just not caring about getting wet, we waded in.




At least we could take off our lifejackets, which made it a little more comfortable and we’d been given plastic bags for our cameras, too.  So, time to concentrate, to focus on where I was stepping and make my way to a dry(ish) bit and take a photo.  The rocks and boulders in the picture are typical of the terrain along the riverbank.  Walking was tricky, especially in unfamiliar shoes which were now squelching and full of water, but with a little care and a deep breath, it wasn’t so difficult.




At this point, we turned left and began to walk up the riverbed.  I couldn’t take many photographs because I was worried about slipping on one of those large boulders and falling in.  But from time to time, I stopped, carefully took my camera from the plastic bag and took a quick snap.  Most of the time, the water was no more than six or eight inches deep, flowing quite fast and clear enough to be able to see where to place our feet.  But at times it was rather deeper – at least, knee deep – and in these places it was more tricky, because the water was muddy and concealed the odd tree root or similar hazard.




Along the way, the sun came out, bringing a bit of sparkle to the occasion.  We were rather enjoying this and I was trying very hard to look up and to notice things rather than spending the whole time focusing on where I was putting my feet!




Our goal lie just a little way ahead.  There, in the middle of the jungle was a lovely waterfall.  Some just dived right in there to the deep water pool, enjoying a cool, refreshing dip.  Those of us who didn’t quite fancy the idea of spending the return journey sitting in a puddle of wet clothes simply stood and savoured the moment.




Making our way back to the boats was rather easier; after all, we were seasoned river walkers now and were a little more familiar with the hazards.




We scrambled back into the boats and sped back downstream.  Fast flowing rivers make one half of the journey easy, at least.




We were soon back at the centre and on dry land again. 




We put our shoes to dry and washed off our feet before a delicious local lunch.




I thought the map might be helpful in working out where we’d been but I’ll need to do a little work on that one later!




On the way home, we stopped at a longhouse, owned my members of the tribe which used to be headhunters.  They were playing a traditional song of welcome which I’ll try to recreate next time I get out all my pots and pans at home and have a wooden spoon to hand.




Mother and son danced.




The neighbours looked on.




Granny played the drum.




It was incredibly hot in here and once the welcome song was over, Zul explained how these people live.  This is actually four homes – which was obvious once he’d pointed it out, and four families live side by side in this stilted house in the middle of nowhere. 




Though, amusingly, one of the group was taking pictures of us on her tablet!  Perhaps they are not quite as cut off from the world as we might think?




Anyway, it was an interesting diversion and we had all dried out a little more in the heat!




Back then, to the jetty for the speedboat ride back to Bandar Seri Begawan.




Feeling thankful we hadn’t needed the emergency call button.




For most of the way, there was the quiet sound of the afternoon nap until we reached the suburbs of the city.




With a jolt, Zul, who had been sitting fast asleep next to my hero, woke up and sprung to his feet.  We weren’t due back till 5 and so we had an hour or more to have a look around the city.  Did we want to see the Sultan’s Palace and other places?

Of course we did!


The best day


Sometimes, as the day begins, we feel a little ho hum.  A little weary of early mornings, being given directions and told what to do.  When we opened the curtains this morning and saw the rain, it only added to the temptation to stay at home today, to take an easier, shorter, less strenuous tour.  But you know, we are so glad we went with our original plan, because really, we had the best day!




I’d popped out first thing when I’d heard a commotion outside early on.  Sure enough, there was the pilot’s launch.  It was warm and sticky, even then, and my camera immediately fogged up.




But it was raining, and though we kept our fingers crossed that it would fair up once the sun rose, as we gathered our things together and watched as we neared the dock, it was coming down more heavily if anything.  No dancing girls here in Brunei, just a man in a yellow kagoule.




Even the welcome poster didn’t have the right name of the ship on it.




However, after breakfast, we joined a group to visit the Temburong National Park and found that, once we were outside, it was so warm that the rain didn’t really wet us, if you know what I mean.  We began by driving through the affluent neighbourhoods of Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei and listened to our guide tell us about life here.  I’ll share that in a future post, because really, it’s rather interesting.




It being Sunday – Easter Sunday, in fact, the streets in the city centre were quiet.  No market today and not much traffic either.




Zul, our young guide told us our boat wasn’t quite ready, so he’d take us and show us the mosque.  By the time we’d looked around there, hopefully all would be ok.




No, that’s not our boat, but a concrete, mosaic covered structure in the middle of the man made lake which surrounded the main mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan.




We were advised that it’s the best place to take a photograph and sure enough, there inside it was a small platform specially constructed for the purpose.




Eventually, I got my turn.




Even more interesting was the clothes rail with black burkas hanging there.  I rather liked the sign too: “Please take off your shoes” and underneath the step with a pair of shoes on it, “Thank you for not putting your shoes on the stairs”.




Ok, so no time to go inside, even if we had all got ourselves togged up appropriately, so off we went passing by the Sultan’s field just opposite.




At the jetty, we boarded a medium sized speedboat equipped with two powerful engines and squeezed ourselves in for a 45 minute ride.




We passed by the water village, where homes are built on stilts.




But soon, we were out into the jungle, making our way towards a different state of Brunei which involved us sailing through a little part of Malaysian water once again




Our driver was a casual sort of chap, sitting back and navigating the river with ease, in spite of some tricky areas of rapids. 




From time to time we’d pass another, similar speedboat and both would slow down to minimise the rocking and rolling.




There were lifejackets stuffed into a rack above our heads, but we hoped they would not be needed, especially when Zul told us about the crocodiles in the river.




Once back into Brunei waters again, he pointed out the emergency beacons on either side of the river.  On the top is a button to be pressed in the case of an emergency.  What worried me was how on earth I’d shin up that green pole to reach the button – although as my hero pointed out, the crocodiles in the river might well provide a bit of an incentive in the case of such an event.




45 minutes later, we arrived at the boat jetty where a bus was waiting to take us on to the National Park station.  Here we were given lifejackets of our own to wear, given strict instructions for the next part of the adventure, which was to take place aboard smaller, five seater long tailed boats on a fast flowing river with rapids here and there, too.




For some reason, too, we were given a pair of rubber shoes to wear as well and advised to leave all our belongings and our own shoes here, before continuing on the next part of our journey.  We had no idea why we needed rubber shoes, but it was too late to find out more.  We simply did as we were told and boarded the small, long tailed boat.




With fond memories of our travels by boats like this in Thailand, we climbed aboard and sat tight for the journey. 

I’ll tell you all about the rubber shoes in the next post!