Friday, June 30, 2006

Family Titles in Brunei

On my recent blog on Brunei's Time Line, one commentator got carried away and she started to talk about events in the past before moving on to nicknames. I enjoyed what she wrote and I offered for her to write a whole blog about it and I will put it up. But up to now, I have not received anything from her. So, Hajah Yati, if you are reading, my offer still stands. And for the rest of you readers out there, if you don't have your own blogsite, I am most ready to offer my site for the occassional blogs that you want to write - just make sure the blogs are Brunei related. You can set up your own blogsite once you feel comfortable. As someone later on commented, it will be nice to read someone else's blogs too on this website. At least on this one, you get an instant 300+ readers a day. So, please, my e-mail is Do write.

I don't have much on nicknames to write on as suggested by Hajah Yati. I remembered when I was at school (primary), I have friends called Tulang (bones), Muam and some other wierd names. They have perfectly beautiful real names but for some reasons which I can't fathom, they go by these nicknames. As I grow older one nickname which keeps cropping up is Fusoy which is Yusof spelled backwards. Why? I have no idea.

Today I am going to concentrate on what titles you use to call your uncles and aunties. In fact this is a test as to whether the gelaran or the titles which you use for your uncles and aunties are 'correct'. Malays are pretty unusual in having specific titles for uncles and aunties. I could be wrong but so far I don't know of any other races' cultures which distinguished between the various uncles and aunties.

According to the Kamus Bahasa Brunei and verified by Kamus Nusantara, the titles that you (if you are a Brunei Malay) should called your uncles and aunties should be in the following order from the oldest to the youngest:-

1. tua (easy, this means oldest)
2. anjang
3. tangah or angah (comes from the word 'tengah' or 'middle')
4. iring
5. uda
6. amit
7. bungsu or usu or uchu (also easy, this means youngest)

Most families would get the oldest and the youngest correct. Most others would get some of the 'in betweens' mixed up. Some would make them up as they go along. Some would run out of titles simply because there are too many uncles and aunties. The official numbers here only go up to 7 but I know of a few families whose siblings number exceeded 16. Some families would repeat them, so the male uncle may be called tangah laki and a later female auntie called tangah bini. The only problem is when they get married - the wife of tangah laki should be called tangah bini and vice versa but the title is already used. In my wife's family, the Uda got split into Uda Hitam and Uda Puteh. So there are myriads of usage. To say whether the above order is correct is indeed debatable. But that's the official usage by the dictionary and I guess that makes them as official as can be.

The Malaysian Malays are slightly different using Long for the eldest instead of Tua, Ngah for Tangah, and I have never heard them use iring or amit. They also used the prefix Pak or Mak. So you would get Pak Long and Mak Long as opposed to the Brunei usage which would be Tua Laki and Tua Bini. My dad and mum got called Pak Teh and Mak Teh - I had trouble working out what number that title is - until mum told me that actually it refered to to their skin colour which is fair or white and hence the title 'puteh'. So they decided to use that.

I would really love to hear from you guys out there as to what titles you use for your uncles and aunties.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Brunei's American Hill

I didn't realise just how close our relationship to the Americans were. By the 1860s we had a diplomatic relationship with the USA. In fact in 1865, the United States Consul to Brunei, Claude Lee Moses obtained a 10-year lease for the territory of North Borneo from Brunei in exchange of a yearly tribute of $9,500. He later sold all his rights to a Hong Kong based US trader Joseph W. Torrey. Torrey with some associates formed the American Trading Company of Borneo and establised a planting and trading settlement on the mouth of the Kimanis river. Torrey was granted the title of Rajah of Ambong and Marudu and Supreme Ruler of the whole of North Borneo. The colonization attempt failed however and Torrey and others soon left. By the end of 1866 the settlement was completely abandoned before more attempts to renew the cessation in the later part of the 19th century.

Anyway, when the Americans were in Brunei, they stayed at a place near the Sungai Kebun area and that area is now known as Kampung Bukit Merikan. Get it? American in the local parlance became Merikan. That's the origin of the name for Kampung Bukit Merikan. Some elderly Bruneians used to call American as Merikans. A story told by an elderly friend when he was younger was a time when he wanted to purchase a pen and his father said 'jangantah bali pen pilot, ani buatan jepun, bali shafer, atu merikan..' loosely translated as 'don't buy the Pilot pen, that's Japanese made, buy the Scheaffer, that's American..'

A commentator to my earlier blog on the origins of the name has already noted that round the Lumapas area is a whole collection of village names which are fairly unusual such as Kampung Tarap Bau (presumably the smell of the Tarap fruits), Kampung Buang Tengkorok (tengkorok means skull and buang means to throw, presumably someone dumped some skulls there), Kampung Sungai Asam (sour river), Kampung Sengkirap, Kampung Buang Sakar, Kampung Pengkalan Batang and Kampung Lupak Luas. If you are expecting I am going to talk about the origins of those kampung names, you have to wait. I haven't gotten my sources on those names yet.

Another commentator talked about Kampung Masjid Lama which he presumes to be the site of an old mosque. He was right but he didn't know how old the mosque was. The kampung was named after an old mosque built by an Imam Haji Yaakub in 1920 on his own land. He was from Kelantan and married locally. The original name of the kampung was obviously not Masjid Lama as that could only have been named once the mosque was no longer used. The original settlers came from Kampung Tanjung Pelompong and a numberof them actually worked for the Brooketon Colliery which I blogged earlier. The Kampung has virtually vanished now to make way for the port and other infrastructure projects in that area.

Another name with 'lama' or 'old' in the name is Kampung Pekan Lama in the Kampung Ayer which I already alluded to on my blog on Kampung Ayer. Kampung Pekan Lama is built on a sandbank on the Brunei river. In the older days, it used to be the central market for the Kampung Ayer people and businesses used to be conducted in the area. It became a small business centre or a small town and in Brunei language, pekan means town. So, the name of the village remained as Kampung Pekan Lama (old town) even when the market and the businesses are no longer conducted in that village. And before it became Kampung Pekan Lama, it was known as Kampung Bakut China. Bakut meaning sandbank and China refers to the Chinese businessmen who used to predominate the businesses in that area. There is a nice article about the village on

More blogs on Brunei names in the future.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Brunei's Time Line

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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Much ado about TAP

Someone asked me about a previous posting of mine which among others I said 'forget TAP' when it comes to preparing for your retirement. My former officers are asking why the sudden change of attitude since I used to be the head honcho of the agency? I thought I will take the opportunity to clarify my earlier blog. It was never my intention to advocate a total abandonment of TAP nor to insinuate my former hardworking officers that their efforts are not worthwhile. On the contrary, I salute my ex-officers and ex-staff in their endeavour to provide a more professional public service agency. I think theirs is probably one of the best among government agencies. However there is a limitation to the TAP scheme itself.

For a lot of young people joining the workforce be it in the private sector or the government sector, the first thing you will come face to face with any government agency will be with TAP or to give it the proper name - Tabung Amanah Pekerja (TAP) or in English, the Employees Trust Fund (ETF, but this is rarely used). The fund is modelled after the Singapore CPF and the Malaysian EPF and as most provident funds is a 'defined contributions' scheme. You get to save a certain percentage of your pay with additional contributions from your employers which currently stands at 5% + 5% = 10%. In Singapore it's about 30+% and Malaysia it's about 20+%. The rates can vary depending on the economic conditions.

First entrants into the workforce have to be registered as a member and contributions will start from the first paycheck. This forced savings will be kept under that employee's account and will be invested by TAP. Last year, TAP managed to get a very good return of 4.25% (which is higher than any banks' returns in Brunei) and this year I have been informed, will be along that line as well. Apart from the early formative years, TAP has managed to keep its return well above inflation rates, so savings do grow. TAP employs a specialist investment panel as well as international fund managers to look after the investments, so there's nothing for the TAP members to worry about, plus the fact that the TAP Act also guarantees 100% of the savings. So even if the management were to go crazy and lose all the money in investments (we sincerely hope it doesn't), your savings will still be protected by the government.

So, why 'forget about TAP'? TAP savings will provide you with a lump sum payment at the end of your working career at age 55. But 10% savings per month is far from enough to maintain your current lifestyle during your retirement. Think of TAP as the basic and since it's compulsory, you can't get away from it. So your 10% savings will be there when you retire. Now, what you need to look at is how to get even much more when you retire. According to some actuarial studies, you need to save as much as 75% of your pay to maintain the same lifestyle you have when you retire. Think about it. This is an almost impossible demand. This is where the advices that I have put in my previous blog was supposed to help raise this extra amount.

I guess some readers would ask - if TAP knows 10% is not enough, why not raise the contribution rates? The problem is that TAP's legal contribution rates are across the board - it applies to everyone in the country whether you earn a lot of money or just enough to survive on. 5% of $10,000 is peanut as opposed to 5% of $500. So, any contribution rates rise would have to take into account everyone's ability to pay - that means both employees and employers. From the studies so far, there are a number of both employers and employees who can't afford to pay the higher rates. At the same time, don't forget too that any significant raise would also lessen the amount of cash available in the total country's economy. Hence, the problem is a more global nature. One solution we are contemplating on is for TAP can raise it slowly as what's done in Singapore and Malaysia (both almost 60 years old when compared to TAP's 12 years). But for the purpose of my blog's arguments - this will take time and that's why I say 'forget TAP'. By the way, TAP does allow for any member to save more, so if you don't feel like doing your own investments, you can put the extra deductions from your salary into your TAP account and let it grow there.

The moral is - at the end of the day, you have to do more than just wait for TAP to deliver that savings at the end of your working life. You have to get up and do more for yourself and your family.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bukit Markuching Revisited, Again

Bukit Markuching is in the news again. Quite a lot of things seemed to be happening at the place. In a way, it's typical for Brunei. New things always attract attention. We see the same thing for restaurants and other places as well. Restaurant owners have to keep reinventing themselves every few months, otherwise people will just tuned off. I remember visiting a few that was so crowded during the first few weeks of opening but the number of diners tapered off after that.

Yesterday, though, I managed to get the history of the currently famous Bukit Markuching. It seemed that the Bukit was quite famous in the past among Bruneians especially among settlers in the Subok area. Imagine it, in those days, there were no roads along the Subok or Kota Batu areas. Travelling was done by rivers. You learn to navigate the rivers. In fact most settlements in Brunei if you study your local history deep enough will always be by a river somewhere. That's why tiny little streams in Brunei tend to have names as people will have used it sometime in the past.

What happened is that the early settlers there whenever they wanted to go to the Berakas or Bandar area, the easiest route for them is actually to go over the Bukit Markuching. The treks that were used in the early days remained today as treks for trekkers to go up the hill. Since the trek up and down the hill will take quite a while, the villagers would go up and bring along food with them. At the top of the hill, they would normally rest and this is when they started building little huts for them to rest in.

So during the rests, they would normally tuck in to the foods which they have brought with them. Leftovers which are normally thrown away attracted a number of wild cats that lived in the hill. The word kuching comes from these wild cats which lived there being dependent on the early travellers. The only part which I have not got the explanation to is how come there is a 'Mar' in front of the name but I think we can put that down to usage. The early travellers must have talked about Bukit Kuching in the earlier days but with the Brunei style, must have talked about the number of cats up in the hill and says 'bukit berkucing' or hills with cats and hence the 'Mar' comes from there.

So, there you go, that's how Bukit Markuching managed to get its name. Anytime you go trekking there, you know how the Bukit gets its name and now you know how those huts at the top of the hill appears there as well.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Brunei place names

There is one hill somewhere along Jalan Tutong, way past Tanjung Nangka which has an identity crisis - maybe not the hill, but certainly whoever it was that named it all those years ago. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera when I passed by the sign, otherwise it would have made a very good visual photo.

Anyway, the hill is called Bukit Gunung Batu. For those who do not speak Malay, Bukit means Hill, Gunung means Mountain and Batu means Rock. This means the translation would be Rocky Mountain Hill? Probably the first time that you will see Mountain and Hill appearing together in the same name. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a mountain means a natural elevation of the earth's surface having considerable mass, generally steep sides, and a height greater than that of a hill. And the same dictionary says a hill is a well-defined natural elevation smaller than a mountain. So, what happen when the place is called both mountain and hill? Go figure.

Jalan Tutong has several interesting other place names. What I used to love is one village where my late step uncle used to stay called Kampung Batu 18. In those days the village did not have a name so Batu 18 which means Mile 18 - indicating it's 18 miles away from the capital - became a name. It's not the only one, two other villages next to it were called Kampung Batu 19 and Kampung Batu 20. The names were the most original that anyone can think of. Unfortunately the authorities step in and now the three villages are called Kampung Sungai Kelugos. Rather run of the mill name now, don't you think?

If you use a name long enough it will stick even in these modern times. My late father in law named the road next to his house, Jalan Bunga Dadap. He even put up a road sign for the name. When the official simpang usage came, the road has a simpang number but the self made sign remained. Eventually when the official signage came, that name became official. Jalan Sampah is another. You can't find the road anymore. It used to be called that as that was the road to the first landfill which is somewhere near Istana Edinburgh. That's why behind the Ministry of Health and in front of the Ministry of Finance buildings, there appear these small woods. The authorities can't build anything on it yet as there is still gas seeping through because of all the garbages underneath it. Anyway, the Jalan only became Jalan Menteri Besar when government ministries are all built there.

Jalan Kustin is another. This is the road leading off Jalan Berakas heading towards the back of the airport terminal near the RBA training center. It used to be called that as that was where the contractor Coastin used to be based - I am not sure what they do, must be a big contractor for the airport works or something. Anyway, people who used the road called it Jalan Kustin. It is now Jalan Terunjing Baru. Even that new name is a misnomer. The actual Kampung Terunjing is a few miles away.

So, if you have nothing much to do this Sunday, you can take a drive and pay attention to the official labels and signs. They are more fun than you think.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Origin of Place Names in Brunei

Sometimes the origin of place names in Brunei is a mystery. Some we can only guess - Kota Batu must have some stone fort built there somewhere in the past. Muara is fairly natural. Muara is the mouth of the river and of course that's basically where the big mouth of the river entering Brunei is - so Muara became the name.

Gadong most probably comes from the word 'gedung' which means 'warehouse' rather than the colour green which in Brunei Malay is called gadong. In Gadong, there must have been in the past some warehouses and the name became associated with the are Gadong. Some names are beyond imagination on how they came about.

One which I came across recently is Berakas. The Berakas mukim is probably among the most populated in the district of Brunei-Muara. The authorities have actually divided Berakas into Berakas A and Berakas B to distinguish between the two halves of the mukim. In the olden days, say, the late 1940s, Berakas was mostly forest land. The only people who lived here are the kedayans and it was a while before other people started to live here. They first began settling here around the 1950s then when under the first resettlement program, lands were allocated in the Anggerek Desa and the Burung Pingai area. There was only main road, the Jalan Berakas which links the area to the BSB area.

However before there was resettlement, people used to come from the Kampung Air area to gather firewood from the forest in the Berakas area. Imagine it at that time, no houses, no roads, no nothing - just forest. When they collected the woods, they bundled them together. The process of bundling the woods in Brunei Malay is called 'berkas'. So gradually, when people start talking about gathering firewood, they talked about 'memberakas kayu' and et voila! Berakas was born as the place where people come to memberakas kayu or to gather firewood.

Another interesting name is Serasa which is a village in Muara for those who are geographically challenged. Serasa is believed to be named by a group of migrants who arrived at one of the rivers in that village. When they rested to partake their prepared meals of pais-paisan, they took some of the pucuk gajus and pucuk pawas as ulam. When they ate the pucuk-pucuk, they found that the taste to be 'serasa' (serasi/sesuai or in English, suited to their palates). They named the river Serasa and they stayed there. For a while the village was known as Kampung Sebatik as these people actually came from Sebatik Island in Indonesia.

More origins of Brunei place names in future blogs.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Brunei-Cambridge GCE

I read with interest the many blogs and comments on the English O level - arguments about whether it should be dumbed down and there is even talk about abandoning the O level itself. I don't want today's blog to throw the subjects open but I just merely wanted to put forward my two cents worth.

This topic is admittedly not among my forte. I personally have no problem with the GCE O level itself or with the GCE O level English way back in the late 1970s. I did both English and English Literature at O level and English at A level as well and without sounding too conceited did well in all of them and taking them more than 30 years ago thus giving me no personal experience to make me say we should dumb down the GCE O level English or abandoning the GCE O level itself. The only note that I can make is that English is the world's current language of knowledge. Not being proficient in it will mean difficulties to many people who want to go further in life.

But with regard to the GCE O level - let me share something which maybe beneficial to the whole argument. I once had access to the public examination results data and I was asked to study the public examination results in Brunei between 1996 to 2000 for GCE A Levels, GCE O Levels, BJCE and PCE. I don't have the paper anymore but I have put some of the findings of the data and it is actually available as a powerpoint file on my website. Bear in mind this is old data and I don't have access to the latest data to show what the situation is currently.

For English at A levels, since the number of people who took it is quite low and only those proficient enough in it is allowed to take it, the failure rate (those failing to get at least Grade E) was only around 18%. Not bad. But for English at O levels, where the majority of students took it, it was the reverse. In those 5 year study, more than 85% of students throughout Brunei who took it - failed to get even a grade C. But then it wasn't just English, subjects where more than 50% of the students failed to get even a Grade C include Economics, History, Computer, Maths, Accounts, Geometrical and Mechanical Drawing, Commerce, Biology, Chemistry and Geography. The other subjects which people do well enough (more than 50% of students get a C at least) are Physics, Art, IRK, Additional Maths, Sastera and Malay (less than 20% fail). Physics and Additional Maths are quirks - only people good enough in Maths take it, so the vast majority are good and therefore have lower failure rates.

Like I said, this is old data and it's way out of date. I don't have access to the current situation to judge for myself what the situation is. But the present Education Minister himself said it a couple of weeks ago - only 18% of students passed their sciences subject. So I can safely presumed that it has not changed significantly.

Whatever it is we should look at this rationally, remembering that any education policy is a multi-faceted issue - is it the Education system? Is it the Examination system? Is it the schools curriculum? Is it the teachers? Is it the students? Is it the budget allocation? I remember blogging about how UBD is allocated $55 million annually for about 3,000 students but for the rest of the 150,000 students, the budget allocation is $474 million. Nobody commented anything then. Should we spend more money on university students and pamper them but who will be getting good money anyway after graduating as compared to giving more money to primary and secondary schools? There is an economic issue of private (university education) versus public goods (elementary education) here. Some would argue that private goods should be paid for (by the students) but public goods should be given free. Some countries like Australia has abandoned the GCEs and now concentrating on the Certs (I to IV where Cert IV is the equivalent of the O/A levels). Even in England itself, the arguments about GCE O level and A level are also being discussed. It would be interesting to take into account all these arguments. All in all, there are many issues and we should not take them out of context.

But whatever it is, I know the folks at Ministry of Education are very concerned and are doing whatever can be done. Unlike other policies which can be changed overnight, education as most social sciences policies are not easily changable. It's like this huge supertanker travelling through the ocean and even when the captain signals for the ship to stop, it will traverse for several miles with the engine off before even stopping. Let alone trying to get it to change directions. It would be wise to have cool heads think about this rather than just focus on one small aspect and lose sight of the whole picture altogether.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


I read a Singapore blogger posting who presumably works in a bank coming across the Brunei $10,000 note and posted the picture of the note up. I think she said something along the line that it was the largest note she has ever seen and she said that the money resembled 'hell money'. At first I wasn't quite sure what she meant by 'hell money' until I realised she was referring to the 'paper money' burnt by traditional Chinese giving offerings to their departed ones. This was taken up by Naz, a Brunei blogger who said that the size must have been the largest in the world. I think there were a few comments about the size of it as well.

Despite working in the financial sector, I don't come across the $10,000 note very much either. Most of the money we deal with come in figure forms and I am used to dealing with billions figures but have never actually seen them in real life. It would be interesting to see how much a billion dollars worth of money would look like. The last time I came across the $10,000 note was when I was asked to audit the board that issued our banknotes and that was while I was working in a different agency. I remembered someone joking that the one pile of $10,000 note that I was holding was worth millions. Yes, the size of the $10,000 note is large befitting its value but I don't think it was the largest in the world. Of course if you have never come across it and suddenly to see one, you would probably think it is the largest in the world too.

Just out of interest, the Brunei $10,000 note measures around 20 cm x 13 cm (8 inches x 5 inches), roughly about the size of an A5 piece of paper (or A4 folded in half). The Singapore banker who came across it of course thought it was big compared to its Singapore equivalent. The Singapore $10,000 equivalent is about 18 cm x 9 cm. The Brunei $10,000 note was produced under the 1989 series and so far there is no new $10,000 note under the new polymer series. I presumed if there is a new $10,000 polymer note, it will be much smaller than the current ones as most other Brunei notes have shrunk. If you want to find out more about Brunei notes, the best link is still the old Currency Board page under the old Ministry of Finance website. You can see all the notes plus all the security features and information on how to tell whether the Brunei bank notes you have is real or counterfeit. I am still trying to find out whether the Brunei note is the largest in the world in terms of being used as an active legal tender.

What surprised me is that the $10,000 banknote is currently available for sale at e-Bay for the price of US$8,499.99 (about B$13,600). I thought this was hillarious. All you have to do is bring $10,000 to the Brunei Currency and Monetary Board at the MOF Building and hand over that $10,000 and ask that to be exchanged for one $10,000 note and then sell that note on e-Bay and make an easy B$3,600 profit!

The title of the largest bank note in the world still belongs to the Philippines' 100,000 piso note which measures 35.6 cm x 21.6 cm (14.2 inches x 8.6 inches) - roughly the size of a foolscap paper which is about 2 inches longer than an A4 - which again is about the size of two of the Brunei $10,000 note. The Philippines' note however is only a commemorative, even though it is legal tender, they issued only 1,000 of these notes. It was to commemorate their 300th anniversary of independence from the Spanish and it was printed in 1998.

One of the best website that I have come across that deals with trivia in the world's bank notes is It tells you what the highest denomination note in the world is (Hungary's 100 million); lowest denomination (Fiji's 1 penny); no denomination (Tatarstan's notes); oldest (China's notes - as far back as 140 BC); smallest (Ivory Coast's 0.10 Franc - 32mm x 46mm); and most zeros (Yugoslavia's 500,000,000,000 Dinara). It's a worthwhile surf.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Happy Father's Day, Again

Note: I wrote this blog much earlier expecting to publish it for the Father's Day and saved it in my office's laptop. But with my short break at the Empire, I did not have access to that laptop and I had to write another one for Father's Day which I didn't particularly enjoy as much as this one. Since I thought this is a much better blog than the one I published on Sunday and not to mention the amount of research I had to do - rather than wait for the 2007 Father's Day, I am publishing it here as we should not just wait for Father's Day to say our love to our fathers. Here it is:-

A few weeks ago, my six year old son drew a picture of a car on a road. He showed the picture to me and he told me that it will look beautiful hanging on my office wall. I asked him to put the picture in my bag. The next day, I forgot to take the picture out. When I came home that evening, he asked me whether I have placed it on my wall. I told a white lie and said I did. He asked me what did I think of it. I told him it looks fine but my son looked a bit disappointed expecting something else. The next day, I took the picture out and on it he had written without me knowing it 'I love you'. When I came back home that day, I told him the picture was very beautiful and he asked me whether I liked it and I told him, yes, I love the picture very much and I very much love the sentiments that was written on the picture as well.

My blog a few days ago on 'family' raised a few comments (in the side comment box) and in my e-mails. Bruneians are I guess in some nature a little bit shy or reserved to say 'I love you' to our parents. My six year old has no problem saying that but I am just wondering there will be an age when he will no longer say that to me. It is not our nature I guess to be openly affectionate. In some sense we are caught between the time when the father is someone we have to be very respectful to the point that even a raised eyebrow would scare the living daylights out of you and the time of the modern young fathers of today. Today most modern young fathers no longer have that attitude. Most will play with their children and at the same time, children are no longer frightened of their parents. I am not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Fathers are different than mothers. We seek solace and comfort from our mothers but from our fathers, sometimes we don't know what to expect. We see him as someone we look up to, someone we can seek shelter under and someone as a pillar of strength. By the time we realised we need him, sometimes it may be too late. One poem I came across succinctly puts it -

When I was:
Four years old: My daddy can do anything.
Five years old: My daddy knows a whole lot.
Six years old: My dad is smarter than your dad.
Eight years old: My dad doesn't know exactly everything.
Ten years old: In the olden days, when my dad grew up, things were sure different.
Twelve years old: Oh, well, naturally, Dad doesn't know anything about that. He is too old to remember his childhood.
Fourteen years old: Don't pay any attention to my dad. He is so old-fashioned.
Twenty-one years old: Him? My Lord, he's hopelessly out of date.
Twenty-five years old: Dad knows about it, but then he should, because he has been around so long.
Thirty years old: Maybe we should ask Dad what he thinks. After all, he's had a lot of experience.
Thirty-five years old: I'm not doing a single thing until I talk to Dad.
Forty years old: I wonder how Dad would have handled it. He was so wise.
Fifty years old: I'd give anything if Dad were here now so I could talk this over with him. Too bad I didn't appreciate how smart he was. I could have learned a lot from him.

- anon -

Father's Day is coming this Sunday being the third Sunday of June as decreed by US President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 but it was President Nixon in 1972 which made it as a legal permanent national observance. Father's Day originated by Mrs Sonora Dodd nee Smart who wanted to honour her father William Smart in 1909. Her father raised 6 children by himself on a rural farm. When she was older, she realised just how much her father had done and she advocated the idea of a 'father's day'. It was first observed in 1910 before spreading throughout America. It is now celebrated worldwide. Though not all countries celebrate it on the same day.

With the upcoming Father's Day, most people would now have the opportunity to send a card and a present to your fathers. You can say 'I love you' in those cards or you can give it to him and say those words to him. In our Brunei society, you may not have to say it. It is enough to know that he knows that you love him even though you will never have the guts to say that you love him but it is also enough to know that he loves you. Talk to your dad while he is still here. For those whose fathers are no longer here with us today, remember him with your prayers. Without him, you would not be here today.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Teachers in Brunei Society

I was reading the comments about my blog on the Brunei Education System. I love the comments as one of the objectives of this blog is to bring to the attention of readers of issues in Brunei Darussalam, our beloved country. I believed passionately that we collectively can do so much better than trying to change the world alone. What is important is that we can share in this task and we have to respect one another's opinions as believe me, after being in the civil service for 20 years, there is no right and wrong policy - all policies are intended to do good but not all policies ended up doing good.

The argument about the status of teachers to me is one such point. The teaching profession is an honourable profession. It is probably one of the few profession in the world that can actually change the course of history and the course of mankind. As a teacher, you get to mould the students in front of you to be somebody that you want them to be. There is no greater honour than being called a teacher. Once a teacher, always a teacher for the rest of your life. I don't remember many people from my younger days but teachers - them, I remember very well. I owe them the position I am sitting in now.

One of the difficulties in being teachers in Brunei is not so much about the low pay. Our pay is so much better than what is being paid in our neighbouring countries. Even in Singapore, it is comparable (don't forget Singaporeans have to pay taxes and higher living costs). Graduate teachers in Brunei start off on G13 which is now B$2,630 for a degree, B$2,810 for a masters and there is a further increment on completion of the postgraduate CertEd or DipEd, the maximum salary will depend on where you end up - the highest of course being Permanent Secretaries. For non-graduate teachers, the starting pay depends on the qualifications, full details of which you have to get from the Education Ministry but generally teachers can be on G2 ($1,050 to $2,465), G3 ($1,310 to $3,140), G5 ($1,485 to $2,505), G8 ($1,600 to $3,685) and G9 ($1,485 to $2,505). There are other salary scales depending on what kind of appointment that you get.

But what I am afraid is that our societal expectations make it sometimes difficult to honor the teaching profession. Some of our society's expectations are the high government posts, the big bank accounts, the fancy houses, the latest cars etc. These expectations brush any jobs aside which is a non-government job or jobs not in the fast track of the government career services. Parents ask how come you are not in the ministry? How can you be promoted faster if nobody sees you? Don't join the private sector - low pay. Don't become a teacher - you must be desperate. With this kind of societal values, it is almost impossible to get even able and dedicated students who want to be teachers. When people ask some parents, what is your son doing - he would humbly mumbled, he's only a teacher. I can absolutely cry here.

To me, there are 3 ways of looking at your job, teaching or otherwise. You can treat it as a JOB, as a CAREER or as a CALLING. As a job, you are just in it for the money. As a career, you are looking at longer term. But if you treat teaching as a calling, you are looking at it as your lifelong work to do something, to dream and to aspire. Only you can see that your job as an honourable job for it to give you meaning and peace in your life. If you cannot find any worth in your current job, that lack of worth will likely haunt your career change. It has been said that only you can create your own values by looking for the honour in your work now. Finding the honour in everything you do builds up the dignity and the honour within you. Most importantly, teachers hold the future in Brunei in their hands. We should not forget that.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Brunei Money

Whenever I am stuck on something I turn to one of a number of books on Brunei that I have in my collection. The one that caught my eye today is entitled "Brunei and Nusantara: History in Coinage" written by William L.S. Barrett published in 1988 by the Brunei History Center and printed by Percetakan Seasons Sdn Bhd. This book was published in conjunction with the official opening of the Brunei History Centre as well as an exhibition on the history of Coinage of Brunei and Nusantara.

The book is interesting and to use to words in the foreword 'sheds light on the history and administration of the Sultans of Brunei during the late 17th and 18th centuries.' The coins in the book served to validate the Brunei Tarsilah such as the rightful correct lineage of the Sultans throughout the ages. Some of the earliest identifiable coins are those that belong to Sultan Nasaruddin who ruled from 1690 to 1710 and there are other coin which have been issue either prior to, or later than some of the more positively identified coinage. Those who doubted the existence of Brunei only has to look at the older coins and the coins really demonstrated the capability of the Brunei economy at that time. We don't really know the exact time when Brunei issued its own coins. Some of the earliest unidentifiable coins are said to be about a few hundred years earlier than some of the more identifiable ones.

These earliest coins called 'pitis' is unique to Brunei and the designs were "unlike any other in the world", you can't get anymore unique than that. The concepts and design must have been conceived locally and with little outside influence. Mind you, in those years, there were other coins already circulating in Brunei earlier such as the copper coins from China since time immemorial, the Islamic gold coins of the Sultanate of Samudra Pasai (1297) and Acheh (1524); Malacca (1445 to 1510), Portuguese and Spainsih coin (circa 1500) and other Arabian, Persian and Indian.

However the interesting thing was that another form of currency used in Brunei was that of miniature cannons, the 'bedil damit'. They were highly prized and are used for exchange for gifts and settlement of debts. Given their size, it was very unlikely that they were used for day to day trading. Another form of 'money' was plain strips of iron called 'duit besi' and in 1840 an inch of this was valued at one cent and one hundred would equal to one silver dollar. But again given the weight, their use may not be as widespread. However a number of coins issued by the various Sultans throughout the ages are used widely throughout the ages. The designs are very interesting, some traceable to a particular Sultan and some are indeteriminate. The more modern coinage was minted during Sultan Hashim (1885-1906) before the modern notes and coins of today. All in all, the book is a very interesting book to read.

All these years, I have been trying to get another copy of this book to give away as gifts but so far I have failed miserably. However, something better has come up, you don't need the book - you can see the coins and all the money that Brunei has ever issued for yourself, in real life and in real time.

Now fast becoming one of the really hidden treasures of Brunei, it is located at the Ministry of Finance building complex and was officially opened by His Royal Highness the Crown Prince in mid January. It is the gallery of the Brunei Currency and Monetary Board which now has the biggest and only exhibit of the coins and notes of Brunei Darussalam through the ages including the pitis and the miniature canons. It is open during office hours and is free of charge to visitors. So, what are you waiting for?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father's Day

Today is the third Sunday of June - the American date to celebrate Father's Day which has also been taken up by many countries. It has been said that it was started by a lady who admired her father who brought her and her 5 siblings up singlehandedly. It was first celebrated in her hometown in 1910 before being celebrated nationwide. By the time RichardNixon became President in 1972, the Father's day holiday was officially recognised.

For most Bruneians, we have great difficulty expressing our love to our fathers. We do not seem to have the same difficulty with mothers. Perhaps the younger fathers may find it easier but the older the father, the harder it is for his children to express their love for him openly. Father figures are generally expected to be respected and to be obeyed. He isthe discplinarian in the family. He is also expected to be the breadwinner of the family,though that stereotyping is breaking down. Some children have also expressed their opinions that today's fathers have to do more than just expect their children's respects. I am not a family relationship expert, but I thought it might be helpful if I include the following 10 ways in how to be a better dad from, their advice seems sounder than what I can ever give.

  1. Respect Your Children's Mother
    One of the best things a father can do for his children is to respect their mother. If you are married, keep your marriage strong and vital. If you're not married, it is still important to respect and support the mother of your children. A father and mother who respect each other, and let their children know it, provide a secure environment for them. When children see their parents respecting each other, they are more likely to feel that they are also accepted and respected.
  2. Spend Time with Your Children
    How a father spends his time tells his children what's important to him. If you always
    seem to busy for your children, they will feel neglected no matter what you say. Treasuring children often means sacrificing other things, but it is essential to spend time with your children. Kids grow up so quickly. Missed opportunities are forever lost.
  3. Earn the Right to Be Heard
    All too often the only time a father speaks to his children is when they have done something wrong. That's why so many children cringe when their mother says, "Your father wants to talk with you." Begin talking with your kids when they are very young so that difficult subjects will be easier to handle as they get older. Take time and listen to their ideas and problems.
  4. Discipline with Love
    All children need guidance and discipline, not as punishment, but to set reasonable limits. Remind your children of the consequences of their actions and provide meaningful rewards for desirable behavior. Fathers who discipline in a calm and fair manner show love for their children.
  5. Be a Role Model
    Fathers are role models to their kids whether they realize it or not. A girl who spends time with a loving father grows up knowing she deserves to be treated with respect by boys, and what to look for in a husband. Fathers can teach sons what is important in life by demonstrating honesty, humility and responsibility. "All the world's a stage..." and a father plays one of the most vital roles.
  6. Be a Teacher
    Too many fathers think teaching is something others do. But a father who teaches his children about right and wrong, and encourages them to do their best, will see his children make good choices. Involved fathers use everyday examples to help their children learn the basic lessons of life.
  7. Eat Together as a Family
    Sharing a meal together (breakfast, lunch or dinner) can be an important part of healthy family life. In addition to providing some structure in a busy day, it gives kids the chance to talk about what they are doing and want to do. It is also a good time for fathers to listen and give advice. Most importantly, it is a time for families to be together each day.
  8. Read to Your Children
    In a world where television often dominates the lives of children, it is important that fathers make the effort to read to their children. Children learn best by doing and reading, as well as seeing and hearing. Begin reading to your children when they are very young. When they are older encourage them to read on their own. Instilling your children with a love for reading is one of the best ways to ensure they will have a lifetime of personal and career growth.
  9. Show Affection
    Children need the security that comes from knowing they are wanted, accepted and loved by their family. Parents, especially fathers, need to feel both comfortable and willing to hug their children. Showing affection everyday is the best way to let your children know that you love them.
  10. Realize that a Father's Job Is Never Done
    Even after children are grown and ready to leave home, they will still look to their
    fathers for wisdom and advice. Whether it's continued schooling, a new job or a wedding,fathers continue to play an essential part in the lives of their children as they grow and,perhaps, marry and build their own families.

From National Fatherhood Fatherhood Initiative. "10 Ways to be a Better Dad" brochure.

Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Bukit Markuching, Revisited

I have ruffled a few feathers on my local holiday blog this morning on Bukit Markuching (just corrected from Merkuching, thanks Hazirah, though if I am not mistaken the official signboard says Merkuching, though all the archived news says Markuching). It's good to know that the local spot has a very good following who have been quite vociferous in letting me know my mistakes through the comment box, e-mails as well as verbally. Once again I apologise.

To make amends, I have attached a satellite picture of Bukit Markuching and the views that trekkers can enjoy if they reached the very top (and not the 'top' that my little boy ran up to). For reference, on the lower left hand corner is Bandar Seri Begawan and you can just make out Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien (circular black). Look at the top left hand quadrant and you can make out several features that will be visible from the hill including the International Convention Centre (red spot), Ministry of Finance Building (blue spot, next to the red spot), the Lambak Kanan housing plus views of the surrounding areas. By the way, I am really glad that our local tourist spots have such great supporters. We need you in our efforts to tell the whole world out there that are many wonderful places for both locals and tourists to visit when they are in Brunei Darussalam.

For additional info, you can visit the following website which has photographs taken from the top of the hill. If you want to see even closer in that satellite photograph, I suggest you go to google and download the Earth Google program. It's really great. You can even see your own house and other 'interesting' places in Brunei Darussalam. You can't hide. Serious.

Holidaying in Brunei Darussalam

I finally managed to get a few days off starting Thursday until today. If you think that I have not been working very hard, let me tell you that this is only my second leave (3 days) since last January (5 days) and before that my last holiday was in October 2004. So in the space of 20 months, I have only taken 8 days off (and yet I am entitled to have 60 days off in a year). Do I hear any sympathy out there?

Me, the wife and my 6 year old decided to spend the precious 3 days as a local holiday. This is one of the irony of life - previously we can't really afford to go out the country much even though it was easier taking holidays but nowadays when we can afford it, we can't take the holidays! But we are grateful. It allowed us to discover a few more places for our local holidays right here in Brunei. Even better right here in the District of Brunei-Muara all within driving range. I am really sorry for KBians (but I was born there) or Tutongians (I went to my first school here) and even the Temburongians (my prep school) but I will get to write the more interesting places in these other districts eventually.

So, local holiday. At 6 am - went off to Bukit Merkuching at Jalan Subok. I saw the Home Affairs Minister officially opening the trek up this hill about a couple of months back and thought why not have a look. You have to drive a fair bit into Jalan Subok until you hit Kampung Belimbing (there is a sign) and slow down until you can see a sign on your left hand side. There are two signs (one is a round sign saying something like Selamat Mendaki Bukit Merkuching), ignore this one - if you go through here, you will find yourself in someone's backyard in order to get to the Bukit. Instead, go on about five simpangs further, then you will see a bigger rectangular sign. Go in, passing through a housing estate but at least this one has a proper car parking place. Then you go up the hill passing through someone's pineapples and other local fruits gardens. You get up to the hill and you get to see a fantastic view of ...... (drum rolls) ...... Kampung Belimbing. That's it. I mean that's it. There's nothing there up on the hill. I am trying to figure out why the Minister officially opened the trek until my missus mentioned that it was the Kampung itself which initiated it. I guess you have to go up there yourself and find out. It's a nice trek up the hill, my 6 year old ran all the way to the top, so it's not that particularly hard. [By the way, BB had this to say about the Bukit "...Additionally, they can also take a closer look at a variety of flora and fauna that are found in this area..." After all that long trek, flora and fauna?]

8.30 - went off to Pantai Serasa. I haven't been there for quite a while. The place has literally grown. I mean grown bigger. Where there used to be sea, now there is land. This is one successful reclamation work that Brunei has done. I remembered a few years ago thinking just how long the Serasa spit will last. I can assure you with the reclamation work, the spit will last for quite sometime yet. We went there not to go to the beach but to the huts selling fishes and crabs and prawns. Yes, the seafood there is the freshest and beats even those in Jerudong. So, fresh food lovers, Pantai Serasa at 8 in the morning is your best bet.

9.30 - went off to Pantai Muara. Just off the entrance to Pantai Muara has become completely fortified now what with the new Marine Base and the expected arrival of our naval battle frigates. Only the entrance to Pantai Muara is the last unguarded place. The area has been completely renovated by the new Environment, Parks and Recreation Department (JASTRE - Jabatan Alam Sekitar, Taman dan Rekreasi). There are better walkways, children play area but no sotong tutuk. Apparently the sotong tutuks only come on Sundays. When we were there, lots of kids came. The playground is free afterall and the kids will be exercising all day - can't buy any snacks! All the stalls are closed and apparently only opened on Sundays other than this one Ma Cik selling mangga wani!

The Louis Mini Zoo in Tutong, the Berakas Forest Recreation Area and the Bukit Shahbandar Recreation Area are next. But I will reserve that for future blogs. The mini zoo is particular interesting - it raises all sorts of issues. But the important lesson of today is that there is enough local happenings to keep a local tourist happy.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Ghosts in Brunei

Borneo Bulletin last Sunday had a story about ghostly tales in Brunei - especially of ghosts and spirits moving into vacant houses. Tales about 'spirits wandering' at Kampung Perpindahan Lambak Kanan and in Rimba. Some of the more favoured spots - ghostly hot spots - are said to be the coastal highway road, banyan trees, fishing ponds, beaches and at a school. BB reported the usual claim to be a ghostly lady floating and dressed in a white cloth, or hovering and headless or appearing in black with red eyes.

I have never seen one and neither do I wish to see one either regardless of whether I believe in it or otherwise. But there are sometimes convincing arguments and I have to say that it maybe as equally hard trying to disprove them as it is to prove them. I have heard tales about the spirits and ghostly figures ever since I was a tiny little boy. Some of them told first hand by some of my relatives and friends and some I have come across but never really saw.

The coastal highway is a favourite place for sightings. One wonders whether it is due to the tricks of the eyes - eyes strained for driving too long - or whether there is something out there. In the older days before the highway, the road to Belait was just a small road passing through among others the Pasir Puteh area. My aunty told me that once when she, my uncle and her whole family was on the way back to Seria, quite late at night, they saw someone waved at the road side and by the time they got nearer, the figure (as usual ghostly white lady) stood in front of the road and they could not stop but went through her! When they looked back, that figure was no longer there.

Another famous road place is the Jalan Tutong in front of the Damuan Park. In fact, the Damuan Park itself especially the area towards the further end (where they put up all the tractors etc) is to be avoided once the sun has set. But the road in front of it has caused so many accidents. I personally once saw two cars suddenly swerving and ended up on top of the crash barrier. I could not see why the two cars swerved but if you were to asked the drivers, I would say they saw 'something' and they wanted to avoid 'it'. My uncle used to tell me stories that if you passed by that area in the older days especially during dusk, make sure you do not have any fresh meat in your car otherwise you will hear someone crunching on them.

My late grandfather used to tell me a story about one time when he went to the cemetery to read the yassin at my late grandmother's grave quite late one afternoon, he overheard voices that say 'ada orang datang' loosely translated as 'there is someone coming'. He could not find anyone but he said he definitely heard those voices. He said spirits talked in the nether world just like we do in the physical world and occassionally we hear them.

My driver told me a tale about a group of youths who went to have a pee near the Maragang Beach and they must have peed on something. Something came out and chase them all the way out to the car and followed the car even when the car was already on the highway and the people in the car racing away fearing for their lives.

There are many places and tales like these in Brunei. The Royal Brunei Golf and Country Club and the Empire Hotel Golf Club are two such places where balls have been known to be on the fairway disappeared when you get to where you saw them. Tales about golf clubs being 'borrowed' and returned to your bag or returned to a prominent place some holes away has also made the rounds. Last Monday night when I was playing there - even though I did not see anything, with the full moon, it was a bit unnerving playing in the open and with tall trees in the jungle next to you. Talk about trees - one famous tree is a tall tree at the end of the bailey bridge at Jalan Bebatik-Kilanas is said to be making life a bit harder to the contractor who is upgrading that bridge as it seems to have a 'protector'. Sometimes, one wonder about such stories. But I am sure that blogreaders would have mountains of stories to share.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Commencing your new life (Part 2)

Damon Darlin of the New York Times (yes, I know, it is my favourite reading and if it wasn't for NYT, I will be struggling for materials) wrote recently about financial planning for the young graduates. I agree with him that even though you thought you are the smartest person in the world when you graduated and you have managed to get your first job already, you need to know how to manage your salaries. I mean seriously, most of us have never handle that much money before and suddenly you earn this much and everything that was probably on your wish list is now on your shopping list. But do that and you are looking at the poorhouse when you retire. Like Damon said, if you think it is tough living on very little now, imagine what it will be like when you are old and sick.

It is well known the current savings under TAP will be inadequate, no matter how hard my former investment officers at TAP work to get good returns. The amount of contributions are way too small. So you have to take up the retirement savings slack yourself. This can be done via many Small steps which surprisingly can make a big difference over the first 10 years of a working life.

The easy stuffs - not so easy but easier than the harder stuffs which you will read later on:-
  • Stop taking coffees at Starbucks (oops, no Starbucks in Brunei), Coffeezone then. According to NYT, saving $3.50 a day will let you have about $11,500 in 10 years;
  • Stop smoking - you will save $25,600 over 10 years;
  • Learn to cook - any takeaway and fastfood restaurant will cost you about $10,000 over 10 years;
  • Learn how to pack a lunch - this will save you around $23,000 in 10 years.
Now, the harder stuffs:-
  • Keep 10% of your salary in a savings account separate from the rest of your money - make sure it is not connected to a cheque book or an ATM card - in other words, make it harder for you to take it out, so you will be less tempted;
  • Make sure you save money in a private retirement fund - forget TAP, forget insurance savings - put it in a proper retirement fund - the earlier you start, the more you have;
  • NYT gave an expert bit of advice: Stick the money in the broadest stock index fund offered by your plan, not bonds and not a money market fund. Sure, the markets may stumble at some point during the next 45 years, but history has shown that they will rise over a period that long. You take risks when you are young;
  • Ignore your raises every time you get a raise, and you'll get them because you are working hard instead of spending money you don't have, pretend you didn't get one. Bank in the entire amount (one of my PS says his monthly budget is still based on the assumption that his salary is $2,000 - he earns 9 times more now);
  • Don't borrow to buy depreciating assets - since almost every consumer product from an iPod to a sofa is worth less the moment you buy it - Use cash and do not use credit cards or bank loans as you will pay more for something that is becoming lesser in value. If you can't afford it, don't buy it. (probably an exception is a car);
  • Protect your credit - you will need to borrow later on so by having good credit history - the banks might be willing to lower their interest charges - and also pay all your credit card bills and carry no balance;
  • Cut down your ATM withdrawal to once a month - take just enough cash to last you - you will cut down on incidental expenses;
Over time, you'll start spending the money. It's human nature. But you'll start spending it more slowly. You'll keep the car another few years. You won't immediately move to a new apartment. All that helps money to accumulate. The psychology is - having less to spend can help you spend less on frivolous things and save for worthwhile causes. Having less will also make you work harder to get more. If you are comfortable, you get complacent. My free advice of the day.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Commencing your new life

It's June. In UK, this is the graduation month for final year students. I remembered when I underwent my undergraduate graduation 19 years ago. Though this year I really have to symphatise with all Brunei students in UK. I just hope that everyone gets through with all the lecturers going on strike and all that. For those of you who somehow managed to get through all those exams and those strikes, congratulations on your upcoming graduation ceremonies. It's the mother of all graduations that you would have undertaken throughout your life.

For today, I am steering clear of any contentious education issues. I was reading the New York Times and one article about 'commencement' stood out which talks about the commencement speeches given at American universities. For those of you whose education background is Brunei, UK and Oz, 'commencement' means 'graduation'. I am not sure why the American graduation is called differently. I was told that 'commencement' means you are commencing on your new life as opposed to graduating from school. But one thing I remembered about my Master's commencement at Harvard, that it was a very joyful and colourful affair and not a very solemn traditional one like the ones we attended at UBD, British or Australian universities. I particularly remembered mine, we had an Imam leading the commencement prayer which was a first for Harvard in its 350 year history to have an Islamic cleric led the commencement prayer.

Anyway, what interested me most about the article was the opening remarks given by the Deans, guest of honour etc. But the most outstanding one was by a Bill Bradley, a former US Senator at Ithaca College which begins:-

"... President Williams, members of the faculty, members of the class of 2006, friends and family of the class of 2006. I want to continue my acknowledgments. I'm very sensitive, I want to make sure that I acknowledge every element of this community. And so let me borrow from Garry Trudeau and continue my acknowledgments: and so I recognize Chairman Bill Haines and members of the board of trustees, bored members of the trustees, those who watch "The Sopranos," those who watch "American Idol," those who still watch the reruns of "Frasier," those who don't like TV.

Denizens of Ithaca, denizens of the night, knights of Tompkins County, people of class, classy people, people of height, the vertically constrained, people of hair, the indifferently coiffed, the optically challenged, the temporarily sighted, the insightful, the out of sight, the out-of-towners, the Afrocentrics, the Eurocentrics, the Eurocentrics with Eurail passes, the eccentrically inclined. The sexually disinclined, people of sex, sexy people, earthy people, animal companions, friends of the earth, friends of the boss, the temporarily employed, the differently employed, the differently optioned, people with options, people with stock options, Knick fans, Celtic fans, those who don't have the wisdom to be either Knick or Celtic fans, the divestiturists, the deconstructionists, the home constructionists, the homeless, the temporarily housed at home, and, God save us parents, the permanently housed at home. Good morning! ..."

Wow! Talk about inclusivity! You can only do this at an American university but no way you can do this at any other universities in the world. At times like this, I much prefer the solemn and traditional ceremonies at our local and British universities.

To those of you who are 'commencing' your new life - I wish you all the best. I wish I can turn time all over again to be with you as you crossed over the threshold of the working world.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


I ran into a stranger as he passed by, “Oh excuse me please" was my reply.

He said, "Please excuse me too. I wasn't watching for you."

We were very polite, this stranger and I. We went on our way and we said goodbye.

But at home a different story is told, How we treat our loved ones, young and old.

Later that day, cooking the evening meal, my son stood beside me very still. When I turned, I nearly knocked him down. “Move out of the way," I said with a frown.

He walked away, his little heart broken. I didn't realize how harshly I'd spoken.

While I lay awake in bed, God's still small voice came to me and said, "While dealing with a stranger, common courtesy you use, but the family you love, you seem to abuse.

Go and look on the kitchen floor, You'll find some flowers there by the door. Those are the flowers he brought for you. He picked them himself: pink, yellow and blue.

He stood very quietly not to spoil the surprise, you never saw the tears that filled his little eyes."

By this time, I felt very small, And now my tears began to fall. I quietly went and knelt by his bed; "Wake up, little one, wake up," I said. "Are these the flowers you picked for me?"

He smiled, "I found 'em, out by the tree. I picked 'em because they're pretty like you. I knew you'd like 'em, especially the blue ."

I said, "Son, I'm very sorry for the way I acted today; I shouldn't have yelled at you that way."

He said, "Oh, Mom, that's okay. I love you anyway."

I said, "Son, I love you too, and I do like the flowers, especially the blue ."


Are you aware that if we died tomorrow, the company that we are working for could easily replace us in a matter of days. But the family we left behind will feel the loss for the rest of their lives.

And come to think of it, we pour ourselves more into work than into our own family, an unwise investment indeed, don't you think?

So what is behind the story? Do you know what the word FAMILY means?

FAMILY = ( F)ATHER ( A )ND ( M )OTHER ( I) ( L )OVE ( Y )OU.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Brunei's Education System

At the last Friday prayer, one of the people who I always bump into every Friday but never really got to know well other than on a nod and smile basis, came over to me. He was asking me where I worked as he saw me sitting on stage at ICC when he was receiving his diploma. He was in his 30s and we chatted about why he is studying now when he already has a family to look after. He was very happy to receive his diploma trying to make up for his youth when he did not do very well academically and he was very glad to be given the chance to study again.

What struck me are two things. The first is the determination of one person trying to make life better for himself by taking the sacrifice to continue his studying. He had undergone the 'school of regret' or 'sekolah menyesal' as most older people would say. He obviously saw that the future to a better life is best by taking up further studies. It was harder as he had to compete with much younger students though at the same time he had the maturity to do it. He was embarrased to be studying so late in his career but to me that's the beautiful bit, age does not matter. What is impotant is that he recognised it and is willing to overcome his handicap. At the same time, we should also help more people like him - those who are willing to go back to school to better themselves.

The second thing that struck me is our nation's education system and our traditionalist approach towards education. This is not the first time I have spoken about it. Though I am not an expert in this matter unlike some bloggers I have to defer to, who are much more opiniated about the subject matter. All I have is the experience of being a member of the Vocational and Technical Education Council as well as Academic Accreditation Council sub-committee on Management and Accountancy qualifications. But what I can sense from the traditional educationalist in the secretariats is that it will be a cold day in July before they stopped considering that it is not necessary for us to continue with our traditional schooling of 6 years primary, 3 year lower secondary, 2 year upper secondary, 2 years post secondary before completing university. GCE O levels and A levels are must haves, without which, they maybe unable to consider your univeristy's qualifications. Even though I am a product of the traditional education system and did very well, I also pitied those who did not have the academic inclination but go through on the trade route. This has always been one of the biggest issue that we have to go through at practically every meeting - the recognition of trade routes.

Being an insider, other people would say I should not have much difficulty in changing policies, but I also have to convince other members and generally have to defer to the council's collective decision. We require pressure from outside and this is where blog readers can come in to help spread the knowledge. I have said this before but to me it's worthwhile repeating - we should all be more concerned with our education system. Our country is too small for us to squander the few qualified people we have. For us to be too choosy may cause problems. But for us to be too liberal may also not be too good. A balancing act has to be achieved. Your role is to help highlight those issues.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Brunei Coal Mine

On Borneo Bulletin, about a month back, there was a mention about turning the old Brooketon Colliery in Muara into a heritage park. The Museums Department wanted to turn the historical 62 hectares coal mine as an open site museum to promote the country's eco tourism. It is currently already a protected site under the Antiquities and Treasure Trove Act. A number of readers must have been wondering when did we have this coal mine and how come we don't have it any more?

In Brunei, we just do not realise sometimes how lucky we are and how rich our country is. Currently we have the oil. But in terms of natural resources, we still have the silica sand unexplored, the peat which can be converted into energy, the coal and the trees. That's why in the old days, Bruneians were great traders trading our goods far and wide. Unfortunately we seemed to have lost that skill with most of us now preferring to be civil servants, sitting down in airconditioned room and pushing papers.

So what about the coalmine? Coal was first reported in Brunei Darussalam near Muara as early as 1837. The mine was called the Brooketon Colliery when coal was first discovered. At first it was mined under European supervision in 1883. But in 1888, the mine was leased to Charles Brooke and between 1889 to 1924, it was operated by the Sarawak government. Annual exports of coal varied between 10,000 to 25,000 tons annually and in those 33 years of operation, more than 650,000 tons were exported. At first it was opencast until it became harder and underground mining was introduced. It closed down in 1924 because of heavy financial losses caused by continuously decreasing coal prices in the world economic recession.

Brooketon Colliery was strategic as it was very near to Muara where then and now there is a safe deep-water anchorage to which the mine was connected via rail. So there was a rail line that connected Brooketon which is about one and a half mile away from Muara.

According to Brunei Shell, there are a number of other coal bearing seams throughout Brunei. A nearer one is at the Kianggeh and Mentiri Valleys and at Berambang Island. Another area in Tutong is at the Tutong and Keduan River Valleys and in Belait is the Ingei and Topi Rivers. Lumut Hills and Labu Sycnline also have it as well.

We forget that coal played an important role in the world economy before oil. Steamships rely on coal for their fuel. In fact when coal was discovered in Labuan in 1844, the British decided to annex the island from Brunei. When the Japanese invaded Brunei, it was not just the oil that attracted them but the coal deposits that we had in the country too.

I have asked a few people but most are unsure where the exact location of the mine is. I supposed we have to wait until the Museums Department is ready to open the open site Colliery Brooketon Museum.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The house of 12 roofs

I am not generally a superstitious person but sometimes events can happen that makes us realise sometimes there is a fine line between the supernatural and the real world. One case in point I remembered was back to the time when I was involved in the preparation of the Youth Ship Program, which I blogged about a few weeks ago, was the cultural dances practices. At that time, the only place which was available to us was the Bubungan Dua Belas - that's the old British High Commissioner Residence at Bukit Subok. The building is probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest wooden residence still in existence in Brunei Darussalam today.

During the practices which took us to quite late at night and being young exubriant youths at that time, to put it mildly, we were pretty loud. We have been at it for a few nights when one day, when we were supposed to come back for practise, a number of us were suddenly down with flu. That was when the elders told us to clamp down for a while and to be less 'excited' as that was only a warning because we cannot 'cabul' at that place. We were pretty much subdued after that episode. Though I was told that somebody saw something at that place. I am not going to speculate any further. Recently the subject matter came up and someone said something to me about the place still being interesting and despite the extensive renovations, you might still want to refrain from going to the bog for whatever reasons.

Bubungan Dua Belas (House of Twelve Roofs) is called that due to its distinctive roof form, has been associated with the history of UK-Brunei throughout history. It used to be the residence of the British Residents until 1959, when it became the residence of the British High Commissioner until 1984 when Brunei gained its full independence. The building was handed over to the Culture Section of the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports and that was when we used it for our cultural dance practises. The building was also used by the Japanese when they were in power during the second world war. There must have been a lot of fighting during the war time and presumably a lot of deaths as well. Another story which the PWD engineers loved to tell is that when they constructed the road going up to the MFA building, the tractors keep stalling and the project was very much delayed. Apparently there were a lot of human bones being dug up along the Subok hill and it wasn't until some 'expert' was called in to deal with the spirits, that they could finally start the road project.

Back to Bubungan Duabelas, in 1998, the Government signed a joint project agreement with UK to turn the project into a permanent and dynamic exhibition centre in commemoration of the relationship between Brunei and UK. It was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth when she was here in 1998. The exhibition covers the history of the building and its use over the years up to 1984. It also focused on the enormous progress that Brunei has made in the economic and social fields since 1984, including its expanding and dynamic role in international and regional affairs. For those of you who have never even heard of the place, let alone have known that it has become a museum of sorts, please drop in to get a feel of the Brunei history. It is open daily during the daytime and there is no charge for entering it. Be careful, not to be too 'chabul' near the grounds - there are a few interesting trees there that seemed to have been there forever. Do let me know what happened in the toilet, should you decide to go in there, please?

Friday, June 09, 2006

How round can round gets?

Quick Quiz - What is the shape of the ball used during the upcoming World Cup in Germany starting tomorrow? .... I can sense the hesitation .... You want to say round but you are afraid that this is a trick question. No, this is not a trick question. According to Adidas, the official ballmaker for the World Cup, when Germany kicks off against Costa Rica, the ball used will be 'rounder' than any of the previous balls used in previous World Cup Finals. Huh? Do you mean to say that previous balls were rugby shaped balls? How 'rounder' can round gets?

According to Adidas who had been supplying balls for the world cups for the last 36 years, this year's ball to be used during the world cup will be 'rounder' because the balls are not made from the usual 32 black and white pentagon panels but rather the panels are premolded into the right shape and they are not cut out of a flat piece and forced into a round shape as before. By reducing the number of places where panels touch each other, the ball reacts three times more accurately when kicked.

How do they test this so called accuracy? Apparently they had a robot that kicked the ball against the wall a few thousand times. When tested among footballers, the strikers like the ball a lot more than the goalkeepers who complained that the balls are too light. Sorry, no sympathy from me whatsoever there. I am looking forward to a lot of goals this world cup.

I guess if you put up a $100 million worth of marketing muscle, you can always describe it any way you want. Adidas expects to sell 15 million of the '+Teamgeist' ball this year alone. In addition, Adidas will also be the maker for David Beckham's hi-tech shoes, the German's football jerseys and the Argentine's football jerseys. Aididas likes to introduce new soccer things during world cups. In 1970, Adidas introduced the black and white pentagos and hexagon football. In 1986, Adidas introduced the then 'telstar' football. In 2002, they had the 'fevernova'. With the new '+Teamgeist' Adidas hopes to achieve its $1.5 billion worth of football related sales this year. So, what's a $100 million?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

All I ask for is honesty

There was an interesting little news that I saw on Brudirect quite a while back under 'other reports' about British policemen moonlighting among others as models and masseurs. More than 1,000 of them reported that they held part time jobs in addition to being a cop, which surprisingly also include them working as florists, hypnotherapists, entertainers, plumbers and caterers. And it's not just the lowly constable doing the extra work and finding that supplementary income but the list also include chief superintendents and two deputy assistant commissioners! Their salaries are not cheap either as salaries start at about BGP27,000 (that's $81,000 our money or about $6,500 a month) up to GBP30,000 ($90,000) after two years' probation and benefits include overtime, free travel in the capital and up to 30 days' annual leave.

Now, I am not sure whether these policemen are doing for the money or for the fun of it but it is quite interesting to know that they are allowed to do so. How about Brunei Civil Servants? The General Orders stated that civil servants are civil servants for the full 24 hours, so technically speaking one cannot not be a civil servant. However there is a clause which allows a Brunei civil servant to apply and to receive income for another job. However that is not automatically granted and depended on what the job is. Civil servants are allowed to apply to open up businesses or work at one but obviously they have to apply to do the PM's Office for permission. It used to drive me crazy as when the rules were relaxed, it was meant to help the lowly paid rank and file but a number of applicants that I had to process were those whose salary are triple or quadruple that of the clerk.

Permission comes with a number of rules and guidelines which include not being allowed to use the official photocopiers for running that business. The difficulty was policing. Many civil servants surprisingly are quite entrepreneurial and managed to run all sort of businesses in the office. But ask them to do it properly outside their scope of work, many would rather not do it. I know of a few who used to be very active running their own little side incomes but now that they have completely retired, they are not as active as they used to be. I am not sure if it the atomosphere in the office that is driving them to run businesses or is it because you like your regular earning and you are only moonlighting or simply because you are younger and therefore need to supplement them. In general, I say, go ahead, all I ask for is a little honesty. Do not abuse your position. Do your work and serve the public. Do not let your business get in the way of serving the public. We are civil servants - we are servants to the public. We are not the lord and masters of the public - remember that.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Malay Days

A few days ago, I blogged about how everytime we say the name of the day in English, we inadvertently pay homage to either a Roman or Germanic god of old. A reader commented I should also blog one about how the Islamic/Malay days came into being and several other commentators have come up with their own versions. Like they say in the cooking show, let's take a finished blog out of the oven as I have prepared this one earlier.

Names of days around the world come in one of two varieties (trust me, I have been reading up on these) - those following closely the Latin/Germanic gods or those which follow the numeric days. Because of close relationship of the languages and religions in the middle east, the Islamic week is originally derived from the Jewish week, as was the medieval Christian week. All of these have numbered weekdays in common. All three also coincided with the Sunday through Saturday planetary week. The Islamic and Jewish weekdays begin at sunset, whereas the medieval Christian and planetary weekdays begin at the following midnight some six hours later.

The Islamic/Malay days are easier as the numbered days are derived from the Arabic numerals themselves with slight modifications. If you recall, the Arabic numbers are wahid or ahad (one), ithinin (two), thalatha (three), arba'a (four), khamsa (five), sita (six) and seven (saba'a). In Arabic, the days are then known as yaum as-sabt (sabbath day), yaum al-ahad (first day), yaum al-ithnayn (second day), yaum ath-thalatha' (third day), yaum al-arba`a' (fourth day), yaum al-khamis (fifth day) and yaum al-jum`a (gathering day).

From these Arabic words, we then derived Ahad as Sunday, Isnin as Monday, Selasa as Tuesday, Rabu (from arba'a) as Wednesday and Khamis (from khamsa) as Thursday and sabtu (from saba'a) as Saturday. However for Friday, it is Jumaat. If you noticed the Brunei Malay numbers are slightly off by one day. We tend to say Monday as Hari Satu or First Day but Ithninin actually is the number two, Tuesday is known as Hari Dua or Second Day but Thalatha is the number three and so on until Sabtu as Hari Enam. Some older folks called Ahad as Hari Tujuh even though it is supposed to be the first day of the week. Ahad is more popularly known as Hari Minggu nawadays.

What's interesting is that under the ISO 8601 standard - Monday is considered as the first day of the week and Sunday as the seventh day. So the Brunei usage complies with ISO!

On an interesting note too - some countries which practices numeric days have some slight variations. In Polish, their second to fifth days (Tuesday to Friday are called that) but for Sunday, their word 'niedziela' means 'no work' and for Monday it is 'poniedzialek' which is 'after no work'. Their saturday is 'sabota'. Similarly for Russians, their sunday is 'voskresenye' meaning 'resurrection' and monday 'ponedel'nik' meaning 'after no work'. For Vietnamese, their sunday is known as 'chu nhat' meaning 'master's day' and then for Monday to Friday, theirs are known as second day to seventh day. The only straight numbered days are the Jewish days for the first six days but their Saturday is known as the sabbath. The Icelandic word for Saturday is 'laugardagur' meaning 'washing day'. In Persian, Friday is known as 'adineh' meaning 'day of faith' but their saturday is known as 'shanbeh' meaning 'night and day'. I am not sure why that is called that, but some celebrations seemed to be in order here.

The name of days are quite fun!

Inspirational Quotes