Thursday, August 31, 2006

More Questions Confusing Mankind

  1. How come wrong numbers are never busy?
  2. Do people in Australia call the rest of the world "up over"?
  3. Does that screwdriver belong to Phillip?
  4. Can a stupid person be a smart-ass?
  5. Does killing time damage eternity?
  6. Why doesn't Tarzan have a beard?
  7. Why is it called lipstick if you can still move your lips?
  8. Why is it that night falls but day breaks?
  9. Why is the third hand on the watch called a second hand?
  10. Why is it that when you're driving and looking for an address, you turn down the volume on the radio?
  11. Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor, and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?
  12. Are part-time band leaders semi-conductors?
  13. Can you buy an entire chess set in a pawn-shop?
  14. Daylight savings time - why are they saving it and where do they keep it?
  15. Do jellyfish get gas from eating jellybeans?
  16. Do pilots take crash-courses?
  17. Do stars clean themselves with meteor showers?
  18. Do you think that when they asked George Washington for ID that he just whipped out a quarter?
  19. Have you ever imagined a world with no hypothetical situations?
  20. Have you ever seen a toad on a toadstool?
  21. How can there be self-help "groups"?
  22. How do you get off a non-stop flight?
  23. How do you write zero in Roman numerals?
  24. How many weeks are there in a light year?
  25. If a jogger runs at the speed of sound, can he still hear his walkman?
  26. If athletes get athlete's foot, do astronauts get mistletoe?
  27. If Barbie's so popular, why do you have to buy all her friends?
  28. If blind people wear dark glasses, why don't deaf people wear earmuffs?
  29. If cats and dogs didn't have fur would we still pet them?
  30. If peanut butter cookies are made from peanut butter, then what are Girl Scout cookies made out of?
  31. If space is a vacuum, who changes the bags?
  32. If swimming is good for your shape, then why do the whales look the way they do?
  33. If tin whistles are made out of tin, what do they make fog horns out of?
  34. If you can't drink and drive, why do bars have parking lots?
  35. If you jog backwards, will you gain weight?
  36. If you take an Oriental person and spin him around several times, does he become disoriented?
  37. Why do the signs that say "Slow Children" have a picture of a running child?
  38. Why do they call it "chili" if it's hot?
  39. Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Scrabble in Brunei

One of the board games that we play at home is Scrabble. My six year old loved it, though he is more interested in keeping scores (we let him as it helps with his additions) and we play his tiles for him. To keep him happy keeping scores we let him win most of the time. According to my dad, he and my mom used to play it almost every evening when we were tiny little kids. In those days, remember, there was no television. I remembered the old set we had at home had some missing letters and these were replaced by cutouts from boxes thus enabling us to identify which letters they were. In 1975, I took part in a televised Scrabble competition and our school came second. That was the one and only time I think Scrabble competition was ever televised on RTB.

At the toys and games corner in all the Hua Ho department stores, I was surprised to see that there were many Scrabble versions and that it remained popular even in Brunei despite the expensive prices. In fact throughout the world, I read that despite television and the millions of channels nowadays, Scrabble remains one of the most popular games in history. About 3 million sets are sold each year in 23 different languages. At the US Scrabble Championships more than 800 players competed to win the US$25,000 first prize and US$10,000 second prize. Their devotion towards the game has to be admired as training for the championships can take years as well as countless hours devoted to memorizing thousands of words that ordinary human beings might never even consider using them in a sentence.

Apparently Scrabble was created by a New Yorker named Alfred Mosher Butts. He invented the game after being laid off from his architecture firm during the Great Depression in 1930s. He realised that there were not many games based on letters (there were a lot of numbers based games or dice and other board games). His first attempt was called Lexiko and even though he continually improved on this game by studying words from the crossword puzzles of the newspapers and dictionaries, the big games manufacturer Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley rejected it.

He did not give up and continued to improve the game by adding a board, assigning point values to each letter, reducing the number of tiles, modifying the squares to double or triple the value of the letter and the words and trying various spots for the starting game. He renamed it Criss-Cross Words but still the game manufacturers remained unconvinced.

By then, he was rehired by his old firm and was no longer interested in continuing with the game although he kept on improving the game and continued to sell it in small quantities. After the second world war, he sold the rights to a James Brunot in exchange for royalties. Brunot made several adjustments like the 50 point rule for using all the tiles, changing the colour and most importantly coming up with the new name Scrabble. But sales still fail to materialise until 1952 when Macy's (Macy's is one of the largest department store in US, just in case you don't know) placed a huge order and more than 1 million sets were sold in 1953 and 3.8 million sets the next year. Unfortunately Alfred Butts who died in 1993 never made a fortune from the invention of Scrabble.

I thought the ending was a bit sad as I would consider Scrabble as one of the games that I have loved to enjoy ever since I knew how to play it until now and if it wasn't for the devotion of Alfred Butts, I would have not been able to play it. When I am old and bent (I am getting there already), hopefully the game will continue to help keep my brain active and alive.

English is a stupid language?

I was looking at the entry to HND requirements and it stated that you must have 1 A Level in an English related subject and 4 O Levels. I don't know about you but I have met a number of people whose A level is in a non-English or non-related subject thereby closing to them the opportunity to study either a ITB or even at the local private institutions in Brunei. Twenty years ago, these people would have been able to go to England under government scholarships to do HND there. Heck, 20 years ago 2 A Level at Grade 'E's would enable you to get a scholarhsip to do a degree. Times certainly have changed but the English requirements have remained. Though English is not an easy subject.

Let's face it
English is a stupid language.
There is no egg in the eggplant
No ham in the hamburger
And neither pine nor apple in the pineapple.
English muffins were not invented in England
French fries were not invented in France.

We sometimes take English for granted
But if we examine its paradoxes we find that
Quicksand takes you down slowly
Boxing rings are square
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

If writers write, how come fingers don't fing.
If the plural of tooth is teeth
Shouldn't the plural of phone booth be phone beeth
If the teacher taught,
Why didn't the preacher praught.

If a vegetarian eats vegetables
What the heck does a humanitarian eat!?
Why do people recite at a play
Yet play at a recital?
Park on driveways and
Drive on parkways

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy
Of a language where a house can burn up as
It burns down
And in which you fill in a form
By filling it out
And a bell is only heard once it goes!

English was invented by people, not computers
And it reflects the creativity of the human race
(Which of course isn't a race at all)

That is why
When the stars are out they are visible
But when the lights are out they are invisible
And why it is that when I wind up my watch
It starts
But when I wind up this observation,
It ends.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Are Brunei drivers incourteous?

I wrote yesterday's piece about a hypothetical Brunei driver who did not want to stop at junctions because he is convinced that statistically more accidents happen at junctions and the less time he spends there, the less likely that he will have an accident. Of course by zooming straight without waiting for the lights will likely cause him to have an accident. I didn't realise that most commentators would pick on this.

Brunei drivers are interesting creatures. I have often met outsiders through the many conferences, seminars and meetings held in Brunei that they find Brunei drivers very courteous, they don't honk for instance. Brunei roads are very quiet despite the long delays due to traffic jams. Brunei drivers are very patient. Brunei drivers give way. I heard of one story where an Indonesian driver who drove in Brunei and when he returned back to Jakarta, he dare not drive there anymore because he is so used to the Brunei way of driving. This is not an isolated incident. I have heard it so many times from a number of outsiders that the Brunei drivers I hear them described are so much different than the Brunei drivers, we Bruneians find.

And that's the interesting bit. We Bruneians find other Bruneians lacking in the manner of driving that we want them to be. The top number one complaint is of course the Kiulap roundabout. I have to admit that there are many a time that I find a car which I thought was supposed to be heading another way because of the lane that it was in, suddenly coming my way. At one stage I even went in the hospital road so that I can come out at the traffic light near the mosque rather than brave my way through the roundabout. In fact the wrong usage of lanes in roundabout happens everywhere and not just at the Kiulap roundabout. In other roundabouts, it is just less obvious.

The second area of concern is the zooming through at traffic lights. I don't know what it is about us drivers. Inside the protective metal cocoon of the car, we become fairly aggressive. A couple of minutes that we endure stopping at redlight is a torture that we cannot bear. So the moment the traffic light is yellow, we have to make sure we beat that and you see cars still zooming through even when the light has changed to red. Some have suggested using the British system where the light first changed to red and yellow so that drivers can be ready to move the moment it changed to green. However in Britain (I am not sure whether they have changed this), there used to be a road safety advert about 'not being an amber gamble' - many drivers instead of waiting for the light to change green moved while the traffic lights is red and yellow or rather red and amber and on the other side, the traffic light was changing from amber to red - hence, the accidents.

The third area nowadays seem to be road rage. This is not yet happenning widely but there have been reported cases. And my worry here is that this tended to be gender or racially motivated, like it or not. Bruneians (generally Brunei Malay Males - I am being downright honest here) who drive suddenly finding themselves being overtaken or some mistakes made by female drivers, non-Bruneian drivers or non-Brunei Malay drivers (even those Brunei Malays who happen to look like one) suddenly find themselve outraged that such a thing can happen. I am not sure whether this is because those Brunei drivers drive in small cheap cars did not like this or because those Brunei drivers drive in such big luxurious cars and they do not like this. Even though there is only a miniscule number of incidents but enough to be seen on the roadside if you are driving on the roads. We are not racists and yet the behaviour of some of our countrymen is unnecessarily making the rest of us looked that way.

It is easy to write as a third person and not consider myself as one of the Brunei drivers (even though that is strictly true during weekdays as I only drive my own car during weekends); but the fact is we are the Brunei drivers. You have to admit that some of us do make mistakes and take the wrong lane at the roundabouts, and that some of us thought going a little bit fast at the traffic light while we can still make yellow and that a little curse have escaped from our lips every once in a while at other drivers who overtake you or those who make errors in front of you. Those are inescapible fact. The most important thing is that we have to continously improve ourselves and to keep reminding ourselves about the need to be continually on the look out when driving. There are many solutions such as better engineering, better driving techniques and better enforcements. If you happen to be in one of those agencies, please think of something.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Why Brunei Can't....

Someone said to me that this blogsite is getting too serious and that he can't smile anymore when he is reading the articles. I have to agree. I think the topics lately have been a little too heavy for some. But today, I thought we will have some light hearted moments laughing at ourselves. If you don't understand no.3, just stick to no.1 and no.2.

1. Why Bruneians can't stop at junctions.

There was this Brunei driver who, when driving his car, would always accelerate hard before coming to any junction, whizz straight over it , then drive normally again (fast) once he'd got over it. One day, he took a passenger, who was understandably unnerved by his driving style, and asked him why he went so fast over junctions. The Brunei driver replied, "Well, statistically speaking, you are far more likely to have an accident at a junction, so I just make sure that I spend less time there."

So, now you know why Bruneians love to zoom through changing redlight at junctions.

2. Why Bruneians can't hold on to their money.

Theorem: 1$ = 1c.

$1 = 100c
$1 = (10c)^2 {10 cents squared}
$1 = ($0.10)^2
$1 = $0.01
$1 = 1c

Now you know why Bruneians can't hold on to their money. They treat $1 as 1 cent!

3. Why Brunei can't win.

An In**nesian, a Bruneian, and a Mal**sian are trying to set up a fenced-in area for their claims, but they have a limited amount of material. The In**nesian gets up first and makes a square fence with the material, reasoning that it's a pretty good working solution.

"No no," says the Bruneian, "there's a better way." He takes the fence and makes a circular pen, showing how it encompasses the maximum possible space with the given material.

Then the Mal**sian speaks up: "No, no, there's an even better way." To the others' amusement he proceeds to construct a little tiny fence around himself, but he then declares:

"I define myself to be on the outside."

No wonder, we can't win.

Finally, I received an email that had all this pictures of answers to 5 mathematical questions not done in shall we say, the conventional way. Words are unnecessary. Enjoy.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Our New Solar System

I wrote the following piece and posted it on February 10th on my predecessor blogsite, (now renamed about the hooha about what constitutes a planet and at the bottom of the piece today, I included the updates from the recently concluded IAU (International Astronomical Union) meeting in Prague held last Thursday about our 'new' solar system:-

Are we about to lose a planet or gain one? The latest tingle on the science community is that the astronomers have apparently discovered a new body which is about 9 billion miles away from the sun which apparently is about 1/3 larger than the current smallest planet Pluto. Pluto is about 2,302 km in diameter compared to new body which is about 3,100 km diamater.

The question now seems to be is that whether the new body be called a planet in which case we will have now 10 planets orbiting the sun or should we drop Pluto as being a non-planet? The new body currently designated as UB313 has yet to be named. It can only be named once it is declared as a planet.

The argument currently is centered on what should the size of the planets be? Apparently if UB313 is to be designated as a planet, there are apparently a few more bodies out orbiting the sun there which can also be designated as planets because of their sizes and their locations orbitting the sun. Some astronomers feel that any object in the solar system large enough that gravity has shaped it into a sphere should be called a planet. Others would like to demote Pluto and count only eight planets. A third possibility is to arbitrarily call anything larger than Pluto a planet.

All this argument spring to mind something I read on the internet about planets in the Al-Quran sometime ago on the Islamic Forum for Science and Arts website. In it the forum reiterated Surah Yusof (Verse 4) which stated that:-

4. "When Joseph (Yusuf) said unto his father: O my father! Lo! I saw in a dream eleven planets (Kawakib) and the sun and the moon, I saw them prostrating themselves unto me."

Bear that number in mind. Not eight, not nine and not even ten but eleven. The astronomers have yet to discover more. God is All-Knowing.

Update from IAU: Pluto is now no longer considered a planet but belongs to a category called dwarf planet together with its satellite Charon. The UB313 (Xena) is also considered as a dwarf planet as well as another celestial body named Ceres. The decision however is considered controversial as only 424 out of the 10,000 member of the IAU voted to remove Pluto as a proper planet. Some have argued for the need for a strict definition was deemed necessary after new telescope technologies began to reveal far-off objects that rivalled Pluto in size, otherwise by the end of the decade, there would be 100 planets. Some of the astronomers are disagreeing and some have begun a petition to get Pluto reinstated!

Me? I sure hope those Plutonians are appreciating what we are doing.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Single parent or triple parent?

I stood in for my PS yesterday as he couldn't make it to be the guest of honour at one mosque's forum on a better family life (keluarga bahagia dan diberkati). The forum itself is run of the mill with the panelists advising the audience that couples should as usual be nice to each other, respect each other etc kind of thing. But during the Q&A sessions, out of the many, two questions stood out.

The first questioner was asking about the position of a colleague of his whose wife has just passed away leaving him with their two children ages 1 and 2. He wanted to know whether it is wise for this newly widowed husband to get married. He did not state the reasons but one can guess what the reasons are - physical, emotional etc. The answer given by the forum panelists were not very clear. All I got was at the end of the day, you have to decide for youselves. I am not sure whether that's the answer we were looking for but then I am not sure whether that was the right forum to raise it. But it does set one's mind thinking from both the male and female angle. Should he and if he should, why? What happened if it's reverse? Should she and if she should, why?

A second questioner was asking about the position of a polygamist practisioner. I guess this is related to the above. The hypothetical person decided to take the plunge and got himself another partner. The questioner was how can he achieve 'keluarga bahagia' when most polygamists in practise find it difficult to maintain harmonious relationship between the two partners. When I heard that, to me one of the easy way to have keluarga bahagia is not be in that situation in the first place. But then to each his own. Again the panelist's answers were a bit off the mark but I think it was deliberately so. They were focussed on the need for that particular individual to be 'adil' or just to all his spouses. I wish him luck.

These two situations are apparently quite common in Brunei. Road traffic accidents apparently is the 10th biggest contributor of deaths in Brunei Darussalam. There are a number of children whose parents have died due to car accidents and these tended to be very young families. So there are a number of cases where the husband or the wife has to decide whether or not to remarry.

But even if not for accidents, single parents due to divorces are also rising. In 2001, there were 306 divorces among Muslims but it was 380 by 2004. Surprisingly out of that number, 92 divorces occur among couples who have been married between 10 to 14 years. I know of a couple who had been together for umpteenth years suddenly divorcing and the wife recently remarried. What will happen to the children? Will the husband or the wife takes care of them? So this is becoming to be a real issue for children who are affected by deaths and divorces. Whereas polygamists raise another issue altogether which I would not like to go through. All these issues are polarising issues and I am sure may readers out there have their personal opinions.

The Muslim Calendar

For an Islamic country, surprisingly most Bruneians will have difficulty if we are asked what is the Islamic date today. I am proud to say that I can tell you what it is but then I have to confess, I check the calendar every morning so that I can put the correct dates on all the letters and memos that come my way for signature. A couple of months back I wrote two pieces on the origin of days' names, one based on the Gregorian calendar (today's calendar) and another on the origin of Islamic days' names. Today the post is about the origin of the months' names in the Muslim Calendar.

The Muslim Calendar, of course is based on the Arabic calendar, actually has all the names long before Islam. Most of the names of the months are actually based on the climate at the time or big event which took place. Today's calendar is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar which is based on the solar cycle, so months usualy shift. In the pre-Islamic days, the Arabic calendar was a lunisolar calendar which used both the lunar months, but was also synchronized with the seasons by the insertion of an additional month known as an intercalary month. This the reason why the names of the months using the seasons come from. Of course now that the calendar is purely lunarcycle, the names do not follow the seasons anymore.

MUHARRAM - is the first month. This month's name is taken from the word "Haram" which means forbidden. There was a custom in Arabia which forbade fighting during this month. It is one of the four sanctified months of the year. Fighting in this month is looked down upon and is often put to the side in respect for Islam. Muslims fast on the tenth day because Adam and Eve, heaven and hell, life and death, fate and the pen were created on this day.

SAFAR - literally means ‘the void month’. The origin of this word has two theories: the first says that when the pagan Arabs went on their looting expeditions they would leave their houses empty or ‘sifr’ meaning void. The second theory says that the word is derived form the Arabic word for yellow called ‘sufr’: as when it was first named it fell in the time of autumn, hence the derivation the word yellow as all the leaves at that time turned yellow. It is held to be the unluckiest month of the calendar, as in this month Adam was turned out of the Garden of Eden. A third meaning is "whistling of the wind". When this name was assigned to this month, it was probably a windy time of the year (hence, Autumn).

RABIUL-AWAL - literally means the first month of spring. It seems it was spring time when the name was given.

RABIUL-AKHIR - literally means the last month of spring. Some Arabs also know this Rabiul Thani which means the second month of spring.

JAMADIL-AWAL - The first month of summer. "Jumada" means dry and the word Jumda, from which the name of the month is derived, is used to denote dry parched land: land devoid of rain, and hence denote the dry months.

JAMADIL-AKHIR or JAMADA ATHANIA - The last or second month of summer.

RAJAB - Another one of the sacred months in which fighting was forbidden prior to Islam. This was one of the most respected months for the Arabs. It is also called Rajab al Fard. Fard means alone; because the other three sacred months come one after another, except this month. The lexical definition of Rajaba is "to respect", which is where the word Rajab has been derived from and so Rajab denotes ‘the honoured month’.

SYA'BAN - This month's name was derived from the word "shu'ba", which means branch. The Arabs used to branch out during this month to look for water. This is the month of ‘separation’ or branching, so called because the pagan Arabs used to disperse in search of water. On the fifteenth night of this month falls the Shab-i-Barat: ‘The Night of Records’; on this night Muhammad told his followers that the Al-Mighty records all the deeds that the humans have to perform for the next year.

RAMADAN - The word Ramadan is derived from the word ramd "to burn" and ramda means hot stones. This tells us that when this name was given, it was a very hot time of the year. The entire month is spent fasting from dawn to dusk. The name came from the time before the Islamic calendar, when the month of Ramadan fell in the summer. Fasting during this month is often thought to figuratively burn away all sins. The Qur'an was sent down to the earth during this month. Furthermore, the gates of Heaven would be open all the month and the gates of Hell would be closed.

SHAWWAL - Shawwal means ‘tail’; so named because of the fact the she camels, after being with their young for seven to eight months, start to raise their tails. Also taken from the word "shala" which means "when the female camel gets pregnant". When this name was given, the female camels used to get pregnant during this time of the year.

ZULQAEDAH - The Arabic word "qa'ada" means to sit and another derivation of the word is ‘Master of Truce’ as the pagan Arabs did not conduct war during this month. This is the third sacred month in which fighting was forbidden. The people also used to stop their business activities during this month and sit and prepare for the Hajj (Pilgrimage).

ZULHIJJAH - literally means ‘Lord of the Pilgrimage’. It is during this month that pilgrims from all around the world congregate at Mecca to visit the Ka’ba.This is the last sacred month in which fighting was forbidden. This is the month in which the Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca) was performed.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Kampung Cowboy by Haryati

Rain, rain go away
Come back another again,

Little bebe wants to play

Rewind twenty years ago, when the air was less polluted & all the cars were labut by today’s standards, you might catch me singing this tune when I was stuck indoors. I was an active child running around outside my house without a care in the world except takut nampak spended! My siblings, cousins and me would play outside everyday before watching our favourite TV programs like Sesame Street, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, He-Man & She-Ra, My Little Pony and so on.

Fast forward to the present, I had difficulty buying a birthday gift for my sis. She’s not an outdoor type child thanks to cable TV. Technology has also advanced so much since the 80s. If she isn’t watching TV, she’d pop a vcd or dvd and watch some Korean or Japanese soap. And there’s also PS2. So what kind of gift do you buy for a kid like my sis? Scrap the Barbies and cooking sets, I wanted something more constructive. I do not want my sis to be part of the non-thinking, non-creative, inactive generation.

See, when I was young, play was totally different. There was main kikik (not popular amongst girls now), main carah, main tinting, main tapuk, main gatah and main pondok just to name a few. I spent my puasa school holidays at kampong which sadly, isn’t just the same anymore.

Mornings started with a quick shower using a gayung to scoop water out of a tajau! Of course the water was cold as ice because outside it was still berambun! The bathroom made from pieces of wood and zinc was outside. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were little holes in the wall where you could see who did what! And my family ampit pakai jamban tong. That’s when the saying don’t look down really applies. No fast food or maggi for breakfast but plain, boiled eggs. Sometimes it was talur separuh masak eaten with ruti & kicap! Our kampong house was small with one kitchen and living room cum bedroom. So every morning after waking up to ayam berkokok, we had to gulung our tilam kapok. Most of the time we had to jamur our tilams because it got so cold at nights that we wet the tilams, creating a world map!

We did errands for our grandparents which included jaga kambing, menjuluk mangga & jambu, bagi makan itik, putik talur and our least favourite, sapu tai kambing pakai penyapu lidi! Sometimes our grandparents would let us to naiki kambing to make them tame! So we became kampong cowboys. Other stuff we had to do was putik or tanam sayur. My siblings & I would put on wide brimmed straw hats, wear pemarang around our waists and carry takidings on our backs. After farm work, we’d spend our day swimming in the sungai. We held on to a length of rope and the biggest person around would hop on the bank and pulled us. We called it water skiing. After a tiring day, we had fresh aing piasau. My grandparents estate was covered with coconut trees that one would have to play carefully so that inda keguguran piasau. But actually we were also scared of belingkarung!

By six o’clock, we had to run back to the house. During those times, we were so scared of kelindahau, a supposedly red haired monster with ample chest, so spacious that she could hide little kids. My grandparents also scared us silly with tales of pengaits who supposedly walked around with sickles so sharp that they could behead you with a single swipe!

Kids today are totally different. So my sis doesn’t drag the rest of us around the kampong on coconut leaves nor does she try to make rafts and throw it in the water. She’s stuck indoors doing homework or projects. She’s off to tuition & mengaji. Can’t blame her for not spending time outdoors. So I bought her a DIY toy. One day she will thank me.

[Today's entry is written by guest blogger, Haryati Abd Ghafur]

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What images do we want to potray?

These comments were found on about Brunei. What a big difference in 3 years:

In August 2002 - Xinta wrote: Brunei's multi-million dollar playland complex with its free rides, sights and sounds. Early birds are attracted to the free rides, bathed in light and colour, which offer seats from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Popular with the elders is the ageless carousel. They mix with the kids riding a horse, a lion, a rooster and other animals as the music plays on and everybody merrily goes round. A mini train tours the complex and ends at the bump car rides. Along the way are the children's playgrounds with mazes and swings, mechanical rides, a kiddies train, a pirate ship, paddle boats, remote control boats and cars, high-tech rides, shooting gallery and pirates' den. The dinosaur's roar can scare the wits out of a youngster.

In October 2005 - Kokoryko wrote: Jerudong Park This is an attraction park, build for the Brunean 15 years ago; it was gratis until recently, but now you have to pay to have a ride on one of the attractions (chenille, grand huit, etc….) ; it is a sort of a mini Disneyworld, with all sorts of attractions. There was long time no maintenance and many attractions do not work anymore and some look dangerous; I spent about 5 mn there, it was enough for me! Near Jerudong, 15 mn drive from downtown. dont go

Which comment would you prefer?

As for other attractions in Brunei, you don't have to wait years to see the difference. These are as valid now as there were 4 years ago.

In August 2002 - dcglim wrote: The National Museum. DO NOT go! Its not worth the trip..... there is nothing to see there that is of historical significance. PLeeeease.... I've been there 3 times before.

In August 2002 - the same dcglim added: DOn't go to Serasa beach.... It was truly beautiful, a natural spit that has been cut, dredged and the remnants have been polluted utterly by the ships and the frequent visitors. Go to Jerudong beach instead. Its deserted. Its funny..... great beautiful beaches, which the locals try to destroy or if they don't they never ever use it.

Hmmmmmm....... Are these the images we want to potray?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Mushaf Nurul Iman - the Giant Brunei Quran

During the Thanksgiving Ceremony for His Majesty's Birthday last Thursday, His Majesty was presented with an extremely huge Quran weighing 225 kilograms (about 495 pounds for the metric-challenged readers). It took 6 men to carry the Quran into the Plenary Hall where the function was held and another 3 to put the Quran into the huge rihal (for keeping the Quran in place while reading it). I thought this was probably one of the largest if not the largest Quran in the world.

The Mushaf Nurul Iman as it was later known is apparently not the first of that size to be made. According to the accompanying guidebook that came with the Quran, it was the fifth that has been made. It was actually made by an Indonesian group (not sure what to call them), named Pondok Pesantren Al-Asyariyyah based in Wonosobo in Jawa Tengah. It was the idea of their imam Muntaha Al-Hafiz or better known as Mbah Mun who had since passed away. He died at the age of 93.

He had this idea of making huge Qurans and 4 were already handwritten and placed at various places in Indonesia. The first one started in 1991 and completed in 1994 and was presented to President Suharto and now kept at Bina Graha, Jakarta. The second produced in 1996 and was presented to the Indonesian Religious Minister and now kept at Baitul Quran, Jakarta. The third produced in 2002 and was presented to the Governor of Jakarta and now kept at the Islamic Centre, Jakarta. The fourth was presented to the Jawa Tengah Governor and now kept at Jawa Tengah Grand Mosque in Semarang. The fifth is the one that has gone out of Indonesia to Brunei. The Mushaf was specially flown using Royal Brunei Airforce transport plane on 5th July 2006.

The handwriting of the fifth Quran Akbar aka Mushaf Nurul Iman started on 21st October 2005 and completed before June 2006. At that time of the writing, it was reported in the newspaper and it wasn't at that time meant as a gift for His Majesty yet. The news report of the writing came to the attention of one of the committe members who then decided to contact the group for it to be especially designed for His Majesty's birthday gift sometime early this year.

It was written by an H Hayatuddin, a dosen (lecturer) at the Al-Quran Science University (UNSIQ) in Wonosobo, the ornamental designs was done by Anas Maaruf, an Undergraduate at the same institution together with Haji Majid bin Haji Ibrahim of the Information Department for the Brunei ornaments. What makes the Mushaf Nurul Iman different than the other 4 is that several Bruneian features have been added on to it. The Brunei kain tenunan 'Silubang Bangsi' with the motif of 'Bunga Mekar Kembang Bersinar' was added to the front and back pages which took about a month to make specially for the Mushaf. Several added features include the additional of Kubah Masjid and Payung Panji-Panji Diraja as well as the personal standard of His Majesty.

Several interesting features of the previously unknown hill town of Wonosobo is that the name is derived from Wono which means forest or resort and Sobo which means to visit making it especially a much visited hill town for people to bathe, wash and take home from a Surodilogo Spring which is believed to have mystical power. It is located about 145 kilometeres from Semarang, Jawa Tengah's provincial capital and is located at a mountainous region of about 275 to 2,100 meters above sea level. Among the local produce includes Tambi Tea Plantation which is well known since the Dutch Government era. Wonosobo now has about three quarter of a million poplulation spread over 948,68 square kilometers and used to be a major Hindu city but that has now changed as less than half of 1 percent now still practising Hinduism.

Digahayu Kebawah Duli Tuan Patik.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Making Brunei Competitive

An anonymous post on my entry Turning Brunei into a Nation of New Ideas noted that "... The Straits Times today (Sat 19 Aug) reported on the recent IPS-NTU report ranking economies on competitiveness. Out of 15 Asian economies, Brunei is in 14th place..."

Competitiveness is a word much bandied about in Brunei nowadays. That anonymous entry certainly thinks that competitiveness is something we Bruneians should be aware of and he or she is right - we should. How does one become competitive?

For this article, I looked at 3 possible answers - the first from my own academic notes, the second from a study commissioned by Brunei Economic Development Board and the third from Asia-Inc, the magazine, which focused on a cross section study of our own Bruneians in various fields.

In one of my crazy moments when I was studying for my Masters, I cross registered to the tough Sloan School at MIT in USA. The main reason was actually to study under Professor Dornbusch who was a very famous economist who died in 2002. Anyway, the course was entitled 'Management and Policy in the International Economy' and I learnt a lot of things. The whole course was focused on the issue of how does a country get rich and how does it do quickly? I can't remember that much in the last 10 years but the last time I refered to my notes is that you can work out the competitiveness of a country by looking at several factors - the country's infrastructure (roads, legal, taxation, environment, stability etc); the country's macroenvironment (exchange rate and inflation stability and pro-growth climate); the country's labour and other factors (compensation levels, skill and motivation of workforce, capital markets, access to quality intermediates); and the country's output markets (size, composition, potential growth and competition).

Studies have also been undertaken in Brunei. One such study was the findings published by the Monitor Group who worked with the Brunei Economic Development Board and reported on RTB on 12th July 2003 to determine Brunei’s competitiveness on a global scale by reviewing key findings and recommendations of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) initiative, as well as determining critical next steps to ensure successful implementation.

What were some of the key findings? Brunei ranks 69th out of 81 countries. It indicated that we should reexamine our complacent mindset. It highlighted the strengths of Brunei which include a stable and fair government, good standardized education system, robust oil and gas cluster and ample financial resources but our weaknesses are the underdeveloped business clusters, a poorly developed local private sector, lack of entrepreneurial culture and the slow government decision making. The finding also states that potential investors are very cautious about expansion or new investments, investors are either unfamiliar or unaware of investment prospects in Brunei. Brunei is perceived to be politically and socially stable, but possesses a low level of transparency and significant red tape. Furthermore, foreign organizations perceive Brunei to be biased towards investing internationally rather than domestically, which gives international investors lack of confidence.

The Group outlined four key strategic initiatives for Brunei to increase its competitiveness -

  • Firstly targeting specific clusters - the 4 prioritized clusters are financial services, hospitality and tourism, business services and transportation and logistics;

  • Secondly, building the Brunei brand: showcase the relative easiness to do business in Brunei. Build on the country’s safe and stable reputation and broadening the base of the economy;

  • Thirdly, driving key policy reforms. The slow government decision-making process needs to reviewed, alongside the lack of transparency and the lack of recourse arising from potential disputes; and

  • Finally empowering the public-private sector collaboration.
In March this year, Asia-Inc ask this question to a cross-section of Bruneians - How do you believe Brunei can improve its competitiveness?

  • Paula Malai Ali (you know who she is): Brunei should continue organising international events, like the first Brunei Marathon and the Asian Tour for golfers. As someone who is into arts and culture, I would like to see more music and arts festivals.

  • Dr Pengiran Hishamuddin (a Fulbright scholar): I believe His Majesty’s Government has done a vast amount of work in this matter, for example by investing in education and human resource development. We need to unite together as a country and support the initiatives of His Majesty. Furthermore, we need to support and listen to each other, and have faith in the capabilities of our own people.Words of encouragement: Honesty and integrity are the keys to success. Have confidence and believe in your capabilities. We should also never forget that we are Bruneians with our own way of life, heritage, history, tradition and culture.

  • Jonathan Chin (Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge): Brunei is on the right track in trying to diversify its economy. The nation’s resources are really its people and I believe the answer lies in developing the talent of its people for the future.

  • Laila Saleh (Engineer at Total now in Angola): What works in other countries does not necessarily work for Brunei. We have to pinpoint an economic niche for Brunei. I associate a country’s competitiveness with that of a company, and this brings us back to the essential: the development of personnel through a high-quality education system and innovation backed by new ideas and even better infrastucture. Privatisation works wonders for competitiveness if good and trustworthy managers are brought in.
So many answers to improving our competitiveness. The question would be what are we doing about it?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Stone Age in Brunei

How long has Brunei been populated? By all reckonings Brunei's history goes as far back in time as we know it - even being mentioned in Chinese annals as far back as the 6th century. It wasn't until the 14th century when Awang Alak Betatar married a Johor Princess and became Sultan Muhammad Shah was our current sultanage lineage started and hence began the modern history of Brunei. We haven't even speculated who were the rulers of Brunei all those 900 years ago before Sultan Muhammad Shah came into power.

But Brunei has been peopled even way much earlier than the 6th Century. Sometime in 1971, the Brunei Muesums made a very startling discovery at Tanjung Batu beach at Muara. They have discovered that this area was once inhabited by primitive or stone age people. They discovered a stone implement which was later identified as an adze. According to the Brunei Museum Journal article (Brunei Museum Journal 1976), the discovery came as an 'archaeological shock' because no such stone implements were ever discovered before nor was there any archaeological indication that suggested the presence of Stone Age people in Brunei. This discovery was the unveiling of our prehistory. A few more stone age tools have been discovered ever since.

There were 4 implements that were discovered - the first implement was an adze and would have been bound onto a wooden shaft and was used for hollowing out troughs and dug out canoes and is also used as a hoe; the second was a grooved adze used for splitting logs or for hacking and crushing purposes; the third was a bevelled adze used for lighter activities, some called it a chisel used for smoothing or hollowing out wood; and the final one was a bored hoe, similar to the modern hoe, except that this one made out of stone.

At the same time, the existence of caves or rock-shelters having been occupied as living places by the neolithic people were obvious at Tanjung Batu. The remains of gigantic rocks which resembled caves and rock shelters were visible and one of the implements was found at the foot of a cliff which forms the cave.

For those struggling with their pre-history and asking what is the Stone Age - the Stone Age is the time, very early in the development of human cultures, before the use of metals, when tools and weapons were made of stone. The dates of the Stone Age vary considerably for different parts of the world. In Europe, Asia, and Africa it began about 2 million years ago. In the most advanced parts of the Middle East and Southeast Asia it ended about 6000 BC, but it lingered until 4000 BC or later in Europe, the rest of Asia, and Africa.

By that definition, Brunei has Stone Age people who has already inabited parts of Brunei theoretically as far back as 2 million years ago and lingered on until about 6,000 BC before metal was discovered and the Stone Age ended. And that my dear readers, is how long Bruneians have been on this island.

The sad thing is I have only come across this when I was trawling through the Brunei Secondary History textbook (Secondary 1) and I had to search various Brunei Museums Journals to find the real article before finding it in the 1976 edition. I have not seen the tools in real life. I have said this before with other Bruneian 'historic finds' - we got all these treasures which we found over the years, how many have been seen? It's either I haven't been to see the right exhibits at the Museums or the the exhibits at the Brunei Museums need a thorough overhaul or am I right in getting the impression that we are hiding them?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Turning Brunei into a Nation of New Ideas

"How can we turn Brunei into a nation of new ideas?" Dr. Saad Al-Harran, a UBD lecturer asked yesterday in the Borneo Bulletin and he continued "... As a newcomer to Brunei, I have observed that there are too many restaurants and catering services in practically every corner of the capital. Undoubtedly, restaurants provide us with delicious food to eat and enjoy, while at the same time it enables us to have the energy to be active citizens in the community. But to have too many restaurants competing with each other in a small market is something of a concern, that requires serious attention from the policymakers - especially those who want to have a solid foundation for small and medium enterprises (SME) to grow and progress ... "

"... A few have succeeded to open not only one but two or three restaurants because they provide quality food and services, such as play areas for children so as to make dining enjoyable. Meanwhile, others struggle because of the tough competition. The question is: how we can solve this problem of having too many restaurants, and come up with new ideas that will enable small businesses to grow and be sustainable in a highly competitive market place. I am sure the government is keen to support new initiatives that will allow small businesses to grow and succeed locally, while competing in the international market at the same time ..."

That is certainly one of the questions that we should ask ourselves. Bruneians are not stupid. Wikipedia had this entry which talked about the Chinese but also Bruneians: "...when Magellan's ship ships reached Brunei in 1521, they found a wealthy city that had been fortified by Chinese engineers, protected by a breakbarrier. Antonio Pigafetta noted that much of the technology of Brunei was equal to Western technology of the time. Also, there were more cannons in Brunei than on Magellan's ships, and the Chinese merchants to the Brunei court had sold them spectacles and porcelain, which were rarities in Europe..." We were strong technically, our technology equal to the Western technology at that time, even though we had the Chinese help, we still had the financial resources and the intelligence to tap them. What happened to us in the 500 years since?

Dr Saad had a simple solution - instill the culture of reading into our society. We need to make libraries accessible to children so that everyone will benefit and by doing so will create a thinking and knowledgeable society. We have built the libraries and we do have the mobile libraries to go round the various schools. Though I don't know whether our DBP peopls managed to get the right kind of books and whether reading catches on within our society. Supposing that works, would it create the 'inventiness spirit' in Brunei and create more businesses? Is that what we are looking for?

When I read through the various literatures and for other notes and websites of Livewire, or the MIPR Resource Centre or the Young Entreprenurs Association Brunei, you would notice that the government and other voluntary groups have put up enough efforts. So when you think about it, books and knowldegeable are maybe insufficient to make Brunei a nation of new ideas. Or is it the entreprenuerial spirit that we are looking for? Or is it the comfort of being in government is such that, there is no point in looking for jobs elsewhere. Amongst us, the senior government officers, we have lamented that there are very few business leaders. We have often mentioned that we should be out there - outside of the comfortable cushy jobs in government, to help spearhead the businesses, but obviously not many of us are willing to take the challenge or feel that it is worth giving up our civil service jobs. As such, very few of the businesses expanded beyond the restaurants and the barbershops.

It is obvious that there is a lack of qualified Bruneians in the private sector. And given the size of the economy and the size of the workforce and the size of the government's workforce, one person less in the private sector means one person less who can become the new leader of the Brunei economy. I could be wrong. What do you think?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The History of Brunei Oil

Last Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised to find this book on display at Solitude at the Mall. I remembered this book vaguely some 30 years ago when my father bought it from the publisher, Brunei Museums. I could not find the book at my parents' house anymore, someone either pinched it or we could not find it among the many things being stored at my parents' house. Sometime last week, I saw it again for the first time since, displayed with many books on Brunei at the ICC for the Raja Payung Negara Exhibition. An evil thought did cross my mind of pinching the book but the angel in me told me that I will be able to find it sooner or later. And et voila! Solitude had about a dozen of the books at only $10 each.

What's so great about 'The Discovery and Development of the Seria Oilfield' written by GC Harper? Well, first of all, this the only book in existence that I know of describing events about how the Seria oilfield (our country's lifeline) was discovered and the many developments to build up Seria up to about 1970s (the book was published in 1975 and reprinted in 1990). That said, there are many things we do not know about. For instance, did you know that oil was discovered in Miri first in 1910 and not in Seria? And that Shell first worked out of Miri to develop both the Miri and Seria oilfields? So there are a great many things we do not know about. Of course, cynics will say that this knowledge is not critical. I agree but knowing the past is fun especially for history buffs like me.

A number of new knowledge which I thought I will share with you all. The location of the first well to be drilled in Brunei specifically to produce oil was not in Seria. It was at Ayer Berkunci (around the Sungai Kebun Kampung Ayer area). It was not the 20th century but in the 19th century, albeit the last year of the 19th century - 1899. Why drill here? Oil prospectors in the 19th century already suspected that the Borneo island area had oil potential as there were many seepages (oil coming up to the surface) found in many areas. In Labuan, the search was on as early as 1866. Sometime in 1911, they started drilling in Labi and Bukit Puan in Belait. In 1923, they drilled in Tutong. But drilling continued in the Belait District until oil was discovered in Seria in 1929.

Seria was not called Seria then. The local name was Padang Berawa (Berawa is some sort of wild pigeon). Padang Berawa covers the area between Sungai Seria and Sungai Bera. And it was a swamp. The water in the area was dark red and and not suitable for human consumption. During rainy season, the whole area is submerged in water. But once oil was discovered, for some reason, the name Padang Berawa disappeared. The little river, Sungai Seria now provided the name, Seria to the newly developed town that was built for all the workers converging there.

How did they discovered the Seria oilfields? According to Salam, the Shell newspaper, a Mr. Mariott and Hon. Cochrane (later to become Lord Chochrane of Cults), both working for Sarawak Oilfields Ltd (SOL), in 1926 visited Kuala Belait which then consisted of a few fishermen's huts, on their way to visit a geologist somewhere in the Sungai Tali/Lumut area. On the way they stopped at Sungai Seria and while resting there, Cochrane smelled oil and discussed his hunch with the geologist and decided that the search for oil should be extended to the south (Seria) leading to the first well to be drilled in Seria in 1928. Oil was discovered in 1929 after the well had deepened to about 974 feet and you know the history of it since.

There were many companies searching for oil in Brunei then as compared to now. Among them include the British Borneo Petroleum Syndicate Limited, the Shanghai Langkat Company (a Singapore consortium), Nederlandsche Koloniale Petroleum Maatschappij (a Dutch company), the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company Limited (drilled in Tutong), Asiatic Petroleum Company (Federated Malay States) Limited and the British Malayan Petroleum Company Limited (BMPC). The latter two are Shell companies. The current Brunei Shell Petroleum Company Limited was not formed until 1957, being the first company to be registered under the new Companies Act taking over from the BMPC.

There are many more historical nuggets in the book. I suggest that if you want to find out more about the history of oil exploration in Brunei Darussalam, the development of Seria and other related aspects, buy the book. It's only $10 at Solitude.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

$42,900 GDP per capita - are Bruneians now richer?

The Economic Planning and Development Department (JPKE) finally announced last Monday the much awaited ‘new’ GDP for Brunei. The last issue of the Brunei Economic Bulletin published by JPKE was for the 2nd quarter of 2005 which was released in December last year (all the Bulletins are available on bruneiresources website. I was told then that's why the 3rd and 4th quarters as well as the 2006 issues are on hold was that JPKE was revising certain figures. So now we know. The press release for the revised GDP is also available for downloading on the same site.

Brunei Darussalam’s GDP for 2005 is now B$15.9 billion which is revised from B$9.9 billion. So we have at a stroke raised our GDP by some B$6 billion. This makes our GDP per capita B$42,900 which should move us a few places up the GDP per capita world league table and probably (I could be wrong with my calculations here) should move us slightly ahead of Singapore. Someone commented yesterday on my Cbox, what does the revised figure mean for Brunei? Does it make me any richer? Do I feel richer?

First of all, we have to remember that GDP is only a measure of the size of the economy and is supposed to be the total market value of all goods and service produced within that economy at that particular point in time. If you did some economics, the basic equation will be GDP or Y=C+G+I+X-M which is the private sector + government + investment + exports – imports. All that JPKE indicated by the new GDP figure is that the size of the Brunei economy is much larger than originally estimated. According to JPKE, the improvements are due to a more comprehensive data coverage, new data sources, improved estimation methodology (still estimation, mind you) and adoption of two different approaches to GDP compilation. Previous GDP estimates only used the production approach.

So, all we now have is that the size of the Brunei economy has been ‘wrong’ or underestimated all this while. Given the new GDP per capita, our economy is now at par with the more advanced Asian economy and ranked about middle with the more advanced European economy. But the absolute total size is still small. So even with improvements with GDP measurements, there is no direct benefit to each and every single one of us because it is only the size of the economy that has ‘changed’. The biggest problem is that GDP per capita is used as an indicator of living standards as this is the only measurement which is available to every country in the world but it is not designed to be that. Our B$42,900 share of the GDP just means that you and I are living and working in a much larger economy than you think you used to be. That is all.

The measurement of GDP regardless of improvements made to the estimation still relies on many things which are not fairly measured. It ignores my mother’s and my mother-in-law’s efforts in raising their children for instance. Both my mother and my mother-in-law are full time mothers. Their efforts are not counted towards the GDP calculations as they are not ‘paid’. But if my father and my late father-in-law had employed maids, cooks and gardeners in order to do the same thing they do, then the salaries they received are counted towards GDP. If you buy nasi katok, that will be counted but if you make them, it is not counted. If your house burnt down and you rebuild it, it will be counted but if your house maintain as it is, it doesn’t count. And yet for all intent and purpose, you only have that one house whether newly built or an old one. You are probably worse off as now you have to find money to build that new house. Furthermore GDP per capita does not make any distinction as to whether you are in the richer or poorer category. If you are newly graduated and joined the government, the salaries you received are lower than that of the GDP per capita. Does it matter

So, at the end of the day, all we have is that GDP is only a measurement of the size of the economy. By its very nature, it does not attempt to do anything else. As it is the only common measurement available, it is us that tend to make much of it especially in using it to compare with other countries ‘development’.

What is really important are the changes in GDP every year as that does indicate whether or not the economy has progressed or components in the economy has changed. In this case, JPKE in their announcement has said that between the years of 2000 to 2005, the Brunei economy expanded in real terms at an average of 2.0% with the oil sector growing at 0.8% and non-oil sector growing by 3.6% per annum. This is good news as the private sector especially non-oil can absorb more people joining the workforce every year. But is 2.0% per annum good enough? If our population grows at around 2.1% per annum, then again we will face problems in the future regardless of how high our GDP per capita is currently.

I wouldn’t rejoice too much that our GDP per capita has allowed us to leapfrog over several countries and make us ‘richer’ than some others. Though it does give us bragging rights and we also know our places in the pecking order of the world's economies at least in relative terms. But at the end of the day, what is important is that the expansion of the size of the economy matters much more as the bigger the growth the economy, the more it is able to absorb the growth in the population and hence the better the future for our children.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Gender Wars in Brunei (Revisited)

One Aaron Johns just recently commented on the The Gender Wars in Brunei entry which I posted a couple of weeks back. I thought his comment was very eloquent and gives a different perspective to the overall argument about the gender differences between men and women. Rather than leaving it in the comments box, I thought I will take it out and post it out here so that everyone can read this. Aaron Johns, if you please....

I apologize for this late comment. I only managed to read the readers' comments yesterday. The majority of the readers’ arguments and comments were very interesting. But I couldn't help but notice that none of the readers saw this issue of so-called gender wars as biological. Men and women are biologically different. One gender is not better than the other but it's just that - DIFFERENT.

A man's organs, senses and brain can handle certain tasks better. That's why some men are more dominant in some areas. The same also applies to women. For example, a man's vision is more focus while a woman's vision is more peripheral. On average, a man is better at navigating through a city but can’t find his own socks inside the closet.

Sociologists and psychologists used to have the upper hand in the 'Nature vs Nurture' argument - that men and women behave like they do due to social programming. However, recent findings in studies in the fields of biology and genetics show that this is not the case. Men and women are controlled by their hormones and genes. Their brains do not work in the same way. They don't think and approach problems in the same manner.

Now it is important for both genders to understand this simple but important fact. If we look at our education system (or most countries' education systems), it can be said that the system suits young girls better than young boys. Girls mature at an earlier age, can multitask better and also have a better verbal ability. It is perhaps not surprising to see them performing better overall than the boys at school.

In the UK, girls have been outperforming boys in A Levels for years. However, boys still performed better in certain subjects such as mathematics. Furthermore, although there are more female first graduates than male, there are still more men with Master's degrees and PhDs. Many people conveniently points out that this is due to gender discrimination. But this clearly cannot be the case because after all the efforts made to level the playing field; men are still dominant in some fields and women in other. There are still more female teachers than male. On the other hand, there are still more male scientists than female. Some women become teachers not because they have to or due to discrimination but simply because they choose the teaching profession.

That said, I'm not saying that there is a total abscence of sexual discrimination. It does exist in our society. However, I don't believe that this is a major factor causing the disparity.

Now back to my point. Since men and women have different abilities, we cannot expect them to perform equal roles. I believe that women should have the exact same opportunities as men. But if men can perform better as pilots, why should we put more women to fly our airplanes? Similarly, if women can teach better than men, why should we give more teaching positions to male graduates? Lawrence Summers of Harvard University was in trouble when he suggested that one of the reasons why the number of women making it to the top in science & engineering is small was genetics. He is not an uneducated misogynist. He is the President of perhaps the best university in the world (not sure whether he still holds that position, maybe Mr BR can verify this) [BR: no longer, it's now Derek Bok].

I believe a man and a woman should have equal rights and opportunities but different roles and responsibilities. This is very much the case in Islam. It is true that male relatives will get a larger share of inheritance but they also have greater responsibilities. Sure, a husband is the head of the family but he must not see this as a privilege. He is responsible to provide for his wife and children no matter what. It is not an excuse not to provide the wife with nafkah just because she is earning more than him.

If we can acknowledge that a man and a woman is inherently different, then we can understand gender issues better. It will also help us in our daily interactions at the office as well as our personal relationships. Men and women should complement each other. It is not necessary for women to do everything that men do. Of course, if a woman can be a better pilot or scientist than all her male counterparts, then she should get the job. But on average, this might not be the case.

For more on gender differences, please read Brain Sex by Anne Moir & David Jessel and Why Men Don't Listen & Women Can't Read Maps by Allan & Barbara Pease.

Monday, August 14, 2006

What is there in Tutong?

Just under 50 years ago, there was no connecting road between Tutong and Seria. Seria in the early 1950s was just over 20 years old, it was a completely made up town and existed only to serve the fledgling oil industry which was found in 1929. Brunei in the early 1950s was also struggling to recover soon after the Japanese invasion and was just taking over its administration from the Australian led BMA (British Military Administration). There were only three trunk roads from Brunei Town by very early 1950s - one heading towards Berakas, the other one heading towards Muara and the other one heading towards Tutong. Most other roads are probably newly built in the last 20 years or so. Ask your parents.

So, the only way to get to Seria from Brunei Town was to go to Tutong and go all the way to the end of Tutong at Kuala Tutong (that's the road along Pantai Seri Kenangan), go for a few kilometers and you will reach the end of Jalan Kuala Tutong and there will be a ferry there to take you to Danau. From Danau, you drive along the coast all the way to Seria and Kuala Belait. If there is high tide, on some parts of the coast, you will have to sit out the high tide and venture only once the coast is clear. It wasn't until the two bridges were built crossing the two major rivers in Tutong were we able to drive all the way to Seria and Kuala Belait in 1958. And even then the road to Seria was single lane until some time last year when the double carriageway was introduced even then only up to Sungai Liang so far. By that nature, even though Brunei is an ancient nation, but from the modern infrastructure perspectives, Brunei is still a very young nation.

Yesterday, I took my family for an outing to Tutong and we went all the way to the end of Kuala Tutong just to see the where the former jetty for the ferry was. The jetty was no longer upkept and parts of the jetty had gone into the water. Pretty soon, the whole jetty will surely collapse. I had forgotten that Kampung Penabai, the kampung along the Jalan Kuala Tutong is a fairly old village and many houses were built along the way. Pantai Seri Kenangan had been spruced up nicely and there are now many facilities along the way. Oh yes, they don't sell sotong tutuks at Pantai Seri Kenangan - they sell keropok lekor! The one we tasted was from a Sabah recipe claimed the seller who originated in that area but now lived in Bukit Beruang. And there was also an old lady selling tapai using the old fashioned daun simpur (tasted really really nice). The Istana Pantai is still along the way - it looked really old now - I don't remember it looking that old before.

Before setting out for the 20 odd miles to Tutong (from our house), I checked out two websites - Bahapakitani, a worthwhile blogsite to visit about what's going on in Brunei and another called Brunei Daily Diary and they both suggested to visit the 'People's Festival' at Dewan Kemasyarakatan as well as the Go-Kart Race at the same place. It was definitely a worthwhile visit - the People's Festival had a cookery competition making various Tutong specialities but also included non-Tutong specialities such as making sculptures out of chocolates and sweets, and a table setting competition - you dressed up your table with your finest so that people can judge it. One of the tables looked like a restaurant table complete with tomato and chilli sauce bottles - I am not sure who that person was and what she thinks of table setting standards but I guess standards are fairly opens, anyway I wasn't sure who won - she probably did.

The go-kart race was interesting. I have never really seen one so close up before. Didn't realise there were many colourful words by the drivers especially for their go-karts which decided unilaterally that they did not want to join the race by breaking apart at the word go. The 50 cc mini motorbike race was also very interesting. I am just wondering how painful and cramped it was for grown ups to sit on motorbikes designed for 6 year olds. Hey, some people probably find that fun. Anyway, all in all not a bad Sunday for us.

The Chocolate and Sweet Decor

Tapai in Daun Simpur

Istana Pantai, just before the Pantai Seri Kenangan

Pantai Seri Kenangan, Kuala Tutong

Grown up men on 50cc mini motorbikes

The Go-Kart Race in progress

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I give up this Sunday

You can't take bottled water, you can't take your phone, you can't take your medications, sheesh... why the heck not. Ban everything. Not even your clothing. Think of how much savings airports will make. No more security guards and no more worries about anyone planting anything on any airplanes. The Ultimate Airline Security.

I give up. The world has gotten far too crazy for me. I can't get off it. I don't know how to get to the moon. Let me rest this Sunday.

Brunei Times, 13th August 2006

Airports step up security


THE arrival of Royal Brunei Airlines flight BI098 from London was delayed for more than an hour yesterday ``due to security reasons in London'' according to the RBA office.

In light of heightened airline security around the world, RBA issued an advisory on security measures.

Passengers were advised when passing through airport security to have their personal belongings in a single and ideally transparent plastic bag.They were to be hand searched, with footwear and other items screened by x-ray. Pushchairs and walking aids also would be screened.

Passengers boarding flights to the US were to undergo another search at the boarding gate and all liquids were to be confiscated.

RBA said it hoped the security measures would be in place for a limited period.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

What's the weather like in Brunei?

Brunei's weather forecast for yesterday was occasional crossing of squally showers persist further offshore this morning and may spread to coastal and inland areas in early afternoon. Nevertheless, fair intervals and slightly hazy can be expected in between. For outlook to early Saturday morning, expected to remain unsettled with crossing of squally showers. The wind will be Southwesterly 10-30 km/h over land and 20-40 km/h at sea. Wind gusts of 50-70 km/h can be expected near squally showers. The condition of the sea is expected to be moderate to rough at 1.5-2.5 m and occasionally rise to 3.0 m near squally weather. The temperatue will be maximum of 31 deg C and a minimum of 23 deg C. If on RTB, the newscaster will end with Wallahualam Bisawab.

Surprisingly, in Brunei, I noticed that most of us are not really that much concerned about what the weather forecast is. Of course, golfers are a different bunch altogether. One group would excessively worry about it - worrying about their poor game. The other group couldn't care less what the weather is. I once played in a full rain simply because one of our flight member had to finish the hole and get his par. We were really drenched then. When I was in England, the weather forecast is a must. No way will I miss it. I have to know whether it's going to snow tomorrow. I have to know what the humidity level is. I want to know whether the day is dry or not. I want to know the wind chill factor. Here in Brunei, I couldn't care less if it rained or not tomorrow. I don't know about you.

The weather service in Brunei is provided by the folks at the Meterological Service. The internet service started in 1996 (according to the website but I do know the actual weather forecasting service already existed even when I first joined the Ministry way back in the 1980s) at the Old Airport and is currently a section under the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), Ministry of Communications. It is an active member of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

At first the service was started to provide meteorological data for the aviation purpose but with the haze crisis in 1997 and the need to do continuous monitoring, the meterological service is now required all the time. Much of the services provided by Meteorological Service are made readily available to the general public. Climate data requests are provided however to non-govern mental agencies, with some exception, on cost recovery basis (meaning, they now charge for it).

The Brunei meteorological observation network comprises of the three stations at Brunei International Airport, Muara and Kuala Belait where 24-hour surface observation is practised at the International Airport and Kuala Belait and upper air observation is only done at the International Airport. Additional monitoring through rainfall stations are also done at Tanah Jambu and Sungai Gana.

The Brunei Meterological Service website provides three weather information - the weather forecast; warning and advisory; and satellite images. It also provide links to other weather related matter as a description of Brunei's monthly weathers. All in all, it's a worthwhile website to go into, if you want to know whether you will be able to play soccer the next day or if you are overseas, you might just want to visit it to feel right at home.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Golden Jubilee of Teacher Training in Brunei

Together with about a thousand guests at the Chancellor's Hall at UBD, we watched His Majesty signed the plaque to commemorate 50 years of teacher training in Brunei. The noble institution which started as Brunei Teacher Training Centre and today, as the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education has trained so many of our teachers and with them the future of Brunei Darussalam. I have said enough about the nobility of the profession when I posted an entry about Teachers in Brunei Society not that long ago. Of course His Majesty has said the same thing more eloquently yesterday. But one of the issue that he pointed out is the need to return the honour back to the teaching profession:

"...We must glorify it forever because teaching is not easy and not all can shoulder (the responsibilities that come with it). It is a difficult task and needs the right qualities and qualifications."

Another point raised in His Majesty's titah was the need to restructure the teachers' scheme of service. That I agree entirely and a topic for another day.

Today I would just like to bring up some of the comments that were written earlier when I wrote that entry and I dedicate today's entry to all the teachers out there. Thank you so much.

-13- noted: "I too believe that teachers are, I quote, sculptors of the young minds. And yes, teachers do stay for a long time in one's memory when very much appreciated. I know some who look down on this career path and it upsets me to hear that. Thank you for posting this up, for voicing out what needs to be heard."

Fishes agreed on teaching being a noble profession: "Teaching is indeed an honourable profession. Most teachers have one appealing quality that is their passion of teaching : palpable and a valuable asset which money can't buy."

Obi-chan noted on the dedication of teachers: "Some of my close friends have by now been well immersed in the teaching profession. One of them is absolutely appalled at his Form 1 students still being incapable of forming a proper simple sentence in English, and has been persevering on his own initiative to make his classes more interesting, using an assortment of toys."

Di agreed: "...teaching really is a noble profession. there aren't many jobs where you can truly make a difference in others lives. it's just a shame that not many young people realise this."

Di also pointed out that: "...a lot of graduates who are bonded under the MOE scholarship are offered jobs and teachers, but unfortunately, they simply see the teaching profession as a stepping stone to "something better". and even sadder are ubd graduates, who spend 4 years getting a degree in education, complaining when they are asked to teach and desperately searching for "a better job"..."

Perhaps this may all change with a better scheme of service?

The young but wise Akatsuki have changed her mind about the teaching profession: "I remember at one point in my life, I've grown arrogant that I looked down on teaching profession. I saw people who could become nuclear scientists or math genius chose teaching as a career. I was shocked, thinking of how their talents would be wasted. But now I know that being a teacher is one way of passing knowledge and wisdom. Teachers reach out for the youth, they can be the most influential people in the students' adolescent lives. Think of a teacher who not only teaches his/her subject to the students, but also make them feel understood, make them feel heard and make them feel that they have a place in this world. Teachers who give hope, who inspires and befriends."

A teacher calling himself/herself "Mads" agreed: "'s my CALLING..."

A very experienced "Jen" also voiced his/her opinion: "...very inspiring comments from Mr. BR on the teaching profession, from a teacher who is passionate about her chosen vocation and loves, not so much teaching per se but more so (dare i say it} the moulding?/ grooming?/ challenging? of young minds to go beyond and take the path less trodden. Success is seeing your students become young accomplished individuals living meaningful lives and contributing back to society. 30 years in education and I am merely a senior education officer, yet my belief that the teaching profession is the cornerstone of a nation's progress and success, is more firmly entrenched than ever. The existing set-up in the teaching profession is not infallible and hopefully under our able leaders we will strive to go beyond the mundane and nurture the unique individual in each and every child in our beloved country. CONGRATULATIONS! to all teachers. YOU have chosen to be a teacher because YOU can see the child in each individual student. Viva la Brunei!"

Though an anonymous did not agree with everything I posted but I don't blame him or her, there are aspects of the education career that may be lacking (think of a better scheme of service for instance) and he/she said: "Yeah,yeah. I've heard it again and again. Teaching is a noble thing. Bla, bla, bla! But org Brunei cakap tidak serupa bikin. Do we get a lot of respect? No! It's just plain talk! Only few appreciate us. Why don't you work as a teacher and see the real situation." And feeling regreful later apologises: "Sorry if my comment seemed harsh but your view about teaching in brunei is one-sided." No apology needed my friend, I agree, not everything is as rosy as people say.

Thank you to all my teachers at the long list of institutions that I have attended in the past - Sekolah Melayu Bukit Bendera Tutong, Sekolah Melayu Datu Mahawangsa Lambak, Brunei Prep School Lambak, Brunei Prep School Bangar, Berakas English School, Teluk Kurau Secondary School Singapore, Queenstown Secondary Technical School Singapore, Anglo-Chinese Junior College Singapore, St Andrews Junior College Singapore, Keele University England, Harvard University USA, Heriot Watt University Scotland and Universiti Brunei Darussalam and not forgetting my religous schools - Sekolah Ugama Lambak, Sekolah Ugama Madrasah BSB (including the overflow classes at Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien) and Sekolah Ugama BPS Bandar. Thank you, thank you and may the Al-Mighty bless you all.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What happened to the Brunei Shipwreck?

If you remember, one of the most interesting discovery in recent times in Brunei was the Chinese junk wreck which sank some 40 kilometers off the shores of Brunei. This 1997 discovery of what is now known as the Brunei Shipwreck is probably one of the most important in Brunei's archaeological history. Some 13,000 artefacts recovered originated from Thailand, Vietnam and China showed just how successful and flourishing was the Brunei trade with the region some 500 years ago. The Brunei harbor was once one of the most active in the South China Sea, strategically located not far from the thriving commercial markets of Thailand, Vietnam and China.

The shipwreck was discovered by Elf Petroleum (now TotalFinaElf) on 24th May 1997 but excavations only started from May to August 1998 which brings more than 130 specialists from around the world. Most artefacts recovered and dated from late 15th to early 16th Century CE (Common Era). If you remember, this excavation work was shown on the Discovery Channel from time to time.

According to experts, the Brunei junk sank about 50 years after the great Chinese explorer, Zheng He's expedition. China at that time was isolating itself and had banned all forms of seafaring trade. So most foreign merchants had to come and deal directly with China. Most foreigners come bearing tributes to the Chinese Emperor and trade in China. For Chinese traders, they had to smuggle if they want to export anything. The smuggling was quite prosperous as the Emperor had to keep issuing edicts against it every few years.

One of the most prized items recovered was the Chinese blue and white porcelain which was said to be so desirable and completely different from other ceramics. When you hit it, it made a bell-like sound which the people then considered as a magical sound. But to be ble to afford such luxuries, Bruneians then have to export our rich natural resources then such as wood, turtle shells, gold and camphor.

The sinking of the junk then was almost towards the end of the Asian era. By 1511, the first Portuguese ships arrived thus ending the time when only Asians rule the Asian waters and in some sense marked the beginning of the end of the then Brunei Empire.

The only problem with this story is we seemed to have lost track of what is surely the greatest recovery in Brunei's archaeological history. I am not sure how many of us remember it anymore. I only have one book entitled "Sunken Treasures of Brunei Darussalam" printed in 2003 especially for the Australian tour of the Sunken Treasures in Sydney, Canberra and Fremantle and nothing else. I know there is another book entitled "The Brunei Shipwreck" produced by Elf (illustrated cover). I don't have that one. Other than an exhibit in the Museum, nothing seemed to have come out of this great recovery - not even a peep from the Tourism people. Have we forgotten about it? Are we not marketing this? Strange. Or am I imagining things?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Brunei Darussalam Annual Report 2004

Since the early 1900s, the Brunei Government produced the Brunei Darussalam Annual Report. The report highlights the achievements of the country as well as the various happenings in Brunei during that one year. It functions as a diary of sorts as well as to provide statistics of that year. I did an entry once for the 1961-62 report when it outlined the developments before and after the rebellion.

In some years, the report did not get published. In some years, a few years worth of reports were crammed into one annual report. However since the mid 1990s, the report disappeared completely. I was told that the Information Department, the department which is now responsible for producing it, could not get updates from every government agencies that are supposed to provide them or something along that line. I thought the disappearance was very unfortunate as I lost track of what happened as well as it's very embarrasing as when we visit other countries we will be given those countries' reports and we have none to respond with.

Earlier this year, I was very surprised that the report resurfaced with a vengance. The 2004 Annual Report came out in full blazing colours and gone were the traditional amateurish looking report and in was the more professional look. By all appearance its a report that you would not have thought was a government publication and I have to take my hats off to my colleague who is now the Acting Director. We used to share an office when we were at the Istana and I am sure glad that he has put his energies towards reviving the report. I do hope the 2005 Edition which is supposed to be more up to date would be as beautiful as the 2004 Edition.

The contents of the 2004 Annual Report outlined many happenings. First of all, the changes in the Constitution which happened towards the latter part of 2004. It also contained the pictures of the last Cabinet before the reshuffle in May 2005. Photos of the Royal Wedding of HRH The Crown Prince and HRH Pengiran Anak Sarah. I found the interviews with a writer who won an ASEAN Award Winners and an Artist - Haji Jawawi (South East Asia Writers Award) and Haji Padzil - an interesting addition to the report.

But best of all it contained many statistics - did you know that in 2000 there were 277 chartered flights and by 2004 there was none? What do you make of that? Land Transport reported that there are 262,827 vehicles registered in Brunei but only 161,578 are licensed (I sure hope the 100,000+ unlicensed vehicles are not on Brunei roads as I wouldn't like to have an accident with an unlicensed (hence uninsured) vehicle). The Anti Corruption Bureau recorded the top 10 agencies with the most complaints received - Royal Brunei Police topped the list with Land Transport and Immigration Department coming second and third. The Ministry of Education was 4th - I can't figure this one out (Is it bribes for getting into good schools?). Brunei only has 102 females in its jails out of the 1,095 total inmates. We are 97.33% self sufficient in eggs and 94.39% in chicken but only 60.58% in vegetables, 22.47% in fruits and 2.02% in rice. For broadband subscribers there are 4,786 espeed1 and espeed2 users in Brunei in 2004.

So, go ask the Information Department for the 2004 Annual Report and if they ran out, ask them to speed up with the publication of the 2005 Annual Report. It's a worthwhile read.

Inspirational Quotes