I had lunch with my alumni at a restaurant called Wecan Elite - the best description for the location I can think of is it's in an apartment block behind Pizza Hut Gadong. I had a tough time searching for it, apparently it is quite popular and I must admit the food was good (that's a free plug for Wecan). There are not many of us but the few that we have are enough to keep our group alive and allow us to share many things. Yesterday, we ended up talking about the concept of time when a minister, a member of our alumni was describing how his elders, if they wanted to know how old you are now, would ask how old you were when a certain major event took place.
The Bruneians then have their own concept of time. A number of our elderly Bruneians when you asked them do not know when exactly they were born, sometime some do not even have birth certificates to prove that they were born in whatever years. It was only in the 1940s that birth certificates were issued and even then not everyone has birth certificates to prove what year they were born. Some of our elderly folks then were not literate in the ways of the British to register their children. There are many cases where in the civil service, the elderly siblings are still working but the younger ones have reached retirement age because the elderly one can claim any year he was born but the younger ones have birth certificates.
To determine how old you are, you will be asked how big you were when a certain event took place. It seemed that there were several major events in Brunei between the 1900s to 1950s. This would be a very quick lesson in modern Brunei history:-
'Beras bau tahi' (circa 1906) - there was an episode when the rice that was available in the country was of such low quality that it smelled very badly - some say at that time, the rice was imported from one of the south asian country and by the time it reached Brunei, the rice had turned bad and was giving out bad odours;
'Perang Jerman' (First World War circa 1910s) - this is the easy one - this was during the first world war even though technically it was a World War but it was mainly between the Germans and the rest of the world, hence the 'perang Jerman' (German War);
'Rahmat - cholera epidemic' (circa 1920) - I am not sure why this is called Rahmat or I heard it wrong - during this time there was an epidemic and a number of Bruneians died during the time;
'Tamoi Angus' (circa mid 1920s) - this was a big fire at the Kampung Tamoi at Kampung Ayer, even though the fire is not as big as the ones that happened today, when it happened the fire at Kampong Tamoi was considered then as the largest those people alive then have ever seen and this became an event marker;
'Perang Jepun' (Second World War circa 1940s) - this is also an easy one - second world war but since the Japanese invaded Brunei, this came to be called by our elderly folks as 'perang Jepun' (Japanes War);
'Orang Australia datang' (circa 1945) - the Australian Military Administration (AMA) took over from the Japanese when the Japanese surrendered and the AMA ran the administration until they handed it back to the British;
'Marhum Puspa' (circa 1950s) - this was when His Majesty Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien was coronated after the death of his brother His Majesty Sultan Haji Ahmad Tajuddin.
I bet you a number of you have never heard of those events (other than the World Wars) and honestly I have just heard it too.