Saturday, September 30, 2006

Currency Gallery What? by Zaki Mohidin

Ever wonder how a B$10,000 looks like in real life? Or where our polymer notes come from? Or even what your parents/grandparents are talking about when they’re going on about Duit Pisang masa zaman Jepun?

Then head down to the Currency Gallery at Brunei Currency & Monetary Board, Ministry of Finance where you can find an interesting exhibition on the history and development of Brunei currency from the barter trading to our award winning polymer notes. Tekan sini to get a taste of what to expect at the gallery.

For me who have never seen a B$10,000 note before it was quite amazing. It’s huge! Let’s just say it won’t ever fit my wallet, but it might fit in well inside your girlfriend’s Luella bag though.

Still pondering about where our polymer notes come from? Well they are printed by Note Printing Australia since 1996 for most importantly its security features (until today there are no known cases of counterfeit polymer notes) and its durability and quality. So far we have $1, $5, $10, $50 and $100 in polymer notes. They even have those printing plates on show at the gallery.

Do you know that the $25 notes (commemorating the Silver Jubilee to the Throne of His Majesty in 1992) are in normal circulation just like any of our other notes? When I knew about this I stopped collecting them whenever I can get my hands on them. If you find it hard to change for them at the banks, you can just change for them at the Currency Board. P.S. They can also change your Brunei currency to Singapore currency and vice versa.

Lastly before I forget, for those who collects special edition coins/notes or who is interested in purchasing them, you can do so at the Currency Board and also at Arts & Handicraft Centre. I even heard that they sell them at Hua Ho but I haven’t checked it out yet. Maybe some of you can comment on that.

[Today's entry is written by Zaki Mohidin, today's guest blogger.]

Friday, September 29, 2006

Jurnal Darussalam

My good friend, the Deputy at the History Centre kindly gave me the Centre's latest publication yesterday, Jurnal Darussalam. The journal is published once or twice a year filled with articles written by historians or other writers writing about history related to Brunei. There are only two publications which I refer to whenever I write about the history of Brunei, this one and the Brunei Museum Journals. Anyway on the way home yesterday, I was reading the journal and found that all the seven articles interesting. I am returning the goodwill to my friend by doing a bit of publicity for this journal and today will focus on three of the articles and leave the rest for some other time.

The first two aricles concerned the historical relationship between Brunei and China, one written by Pehin Jamil, the Head of the History Centre and the other written by a Chinese scholar historian, Professor Wu Zongyu.

Pehin's article entitled 'Raja Brunei dari China?' ('Did the Brunei King come from China?') was rather short but concentrate on a few European sources (Low, Groenevelt, Logan and Brown) on the possibility of the early Brunei Sultanate was of Chinese origin. Logan and Brown both noted the possibility that Ong Sum Peng, the son in law of Sultan Muhammad, became Sultan Ahmad (the second Sultan) and this was backed up by the 'Salasilah Raja-Raja Brunei' version Datu Iman Aminuddin (written in the 1800s). But Pehin contended that it was the Chinese record of the Ming Dynasty that maintained that when Sultan Muhammad died, he was replaced by Sultan Abdul Majid Hassan and a tombstone with the name of his daughter was actually found in Brunei stating that fact. He further argued that the throne would normally be passed from father to son and if there is no heir, then it would go to the brother. So in this case since Sultan Abdul Majid died in China, it was the brother of Sultan Muhammad, Awang Pateh Berbai who took over the throne.

Interesting possibility but not altogether impossible. After all it happened some 600 years ago and nobody really knew what happened then. Some can argue that Sultan Abdul Majid Hassan is actually not in the Salasilah Raja-Raja Brunei but his tomb was found in China and to put him in the current record would mean rejigging the numbers of the Sultans which makes thirty altogether instead of the present twenty nine. So, there is a possibility that he did not make it back to Brunei in time to take the throne and that someone else took over. The other argument that the throne normally passes to the brother conveninently forgetting the fact that the third Brunei Sultan, Sultan Sharif Ali, was also not the son of Sultan Ahmad but he was the son in law of Sultan Ahmad and he was not a Bruneian either, he originated from Arabia. I rest my case.

Professor Wu Zongyu wrote a very interesting article entitled the 'Brunei-China Friendship' on the history of the relationship from the sources of the documents from the Chinese very long history. The first mention of Brunei was in 517 CE when the then King of Brunei sent their first diplomatic mission to China. This king is not even known in Brunei's history and was 1,000 years earlier before Sultan Muhamamad, the first Brunei Sultan. In one reply from the Emperor of China, the Emperor stated that he named one of the mountain in Brunei 'Gunong Negeri Aman Sepanjang Masa' translated as 'Mountain of the country of Ever Peaceful' which the Professor related to the 'Darussalam' name of Brunei. Has Darussalam been in Brunei's name for that long ago or is it a coincident? In Brunei, there was also found a tombstone with the name Pu Gong which can be dated to between 900 to 1200 CE, some 250 to 500 years earlier before Sultan Muhammad. Pu Gong is actually a Muslim name as Pu means Abu in Chinese then. The Chinese Muslims were actually here much earlier than before Sultan Muhammad converted to Islam. So was it the Arabs who brought Islam to Brunei or did it come through China?

Professor Wu made two other interesting points, one about the origin of the tapioca in China. He stated that the origin of the common tapioca in China is from Brunei and was brought by a Chinese named Jin Xuezeng from Fujian Province and the tapioca was named 'ubi Brunei' or 'ubi Jin', The other point was that in 750 CE, one record stated that a Chinese named Wang Yao built a ship 60 meter long for somone named Li Luan with timber from Brunei. The ship was capable of carrying 2,000 tonnes. It's amazing when you think about it. Brunei was exporting timber about 900 years ago to China to build Chinese vessels and no doubt indirectly helping China expand its territories around the region.

The final article I wanted to focus on is written by Dr Hadi entitled, 'Brunei within the Era of Malaysia-Indonesia Confrontation 1963-1969'. Due to space constraint, I would not go into details but shall just reproduce the introduction to the article '...The effects of the Brunei Revolt should be discussed in two areas. Internally it sounded the death knell of the popular representative government in Brunei while within the wider regional context, the revolt served as the catalyst for Indonesia's policy of Confrontation with Malaysia. It is the aim of this paper to discuss the latter effect of the revolt. Briefly it will highlight the revival of the National Army of North Kalimantan (TNKU), the military left-wing of the Partai Rakyat Brunei (PRB) after the Revolt of December of 1962...' Sounds very interesting, right? The article touched on a subject which used to be uncomfortable for us in Brunei. To be able to discuss this just shows how much we have moved on since then.

If you want to know more, head right over to the shop at the History Centre at Jalan Sultan and fork out $** .... I just realised I don't know how much the journal cost ... anyway I think it's less than $10. For that amount of money, you can take a journey back in time to 1,000 years ago in Brunei History. That's real good value for money.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

As the Future Catches Brunei

When I first joined the agency, my PS showed me his favourite book entitled 'As the Future Catches You' written by Juan Enriquez, a Harvard Professor. It's a very interesting book, the typefonts different on every page and every few sentences and every few words, sometimes certain pages only have a few words but most importantly emphasising the important materials and points that are discussed and yet surprisingly it's an Economics book. It talks about how countries now facing a series of changes, be it political, economic or scientific, if we do not catch up with these 'future' changes, we will be left behind, and that only those with knowledge to sell will be the winner. Interestingly enough, it spends a couple of pages on Brunei. The descriptions unflattering but very painfully close to home. I don't want to get into trouble so I won't go into details but if you get hold of the book, read those bits and reflect.

I remembered the book as yesterday, interestingly enough, I received an email which talks about Reflect and Act. I thought it was a useful read for us here in Brunei as we reflect about our future. You might learn something, even though, strictly speaking we are not the target of this email. But take away the oil wealth, this email might be speaking to us:-

The difference between the poor countries and the rich ones is not the age of the country. This can be shown by countries like India and Egypt, that are more than 2,000 years old and poor. On the other hand, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, that 150 years ago were inexpressive, today are developed countries and are rich.

The difference between poor and rich countries does not reside in the available resources. Japan has a limited territory, 80% mountains, inadequate for agriculture and cattle raising, but it is the second world economy. The country is like an immense floating factory, importing raw materials from the whole world and exporting manufactured products. Another example is Switzerland, which does not plant cocoa but has the best chocolate in the world. In its little territory they raise animals and plant the soil during 4 months per year. Not enough, they produce dairy products of the best quality. It is a small country that transmits an image of security, order and labour, which made it the world's safe.

Executives from rich countries who communicate with their counterparts in poor countries show that there is no significant intellectual differences.

Race or skin colour are also not important: immigrants labelled lazy in their countries of origin are the productive power in rich European countries.

What is the difference then?

The difference is the attitude of the people, framed along the years by the education and the culture.

On analysing the behaviour of the people in rich and developed countries, we find that the great majority follow these principles in their lives: (a) Ethics, as a basic principle, (b) Integrity, (c) Responsibility, (d) Respect to the laws and rules, (e) Respect to the rights of other citizens, (f) Work Loving, (g) Strive for Savings and Investment, (h) Will of Super Action, and (i) Punctuality.

In poor countries, only a minority follow these basic principles.

We are not poor because we lack natural resources or because nature is cruel to us. We are poor because we lack attitude. We lack the will to comply with and teach these functional principles of rich and developed countries.

If you don't forward this message, nothing will happen to you. Your pet will not die, you will not be fired, you will not have bad luck for seven years and also you will not get sick.

If you love your country, let this message circulate, for a major quantity of people could reflect about this and CHANGE, ACT!!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Fasting Month Charity Blues

I was still seething about espeed yesterday morning at the office when my secretary's assistant intercom me saying that there was someone who wanted to speak to me. She said that it's a Pengiran and he sounded as if he knows me very well. Well, one third of Bruneians are Pengirans so that's no help whatsover. Anyway, I asked her to put him through and there was this guy pretending as if he knew me from god knows when and asking whether he can drop in at 9 to see me about something. I said I was fairly busy but if I could have his full name and what he wanted to see me about. He said something about whether I could pay for his mother-in-law's ticket to Singapore as one of his family member or himself or someone anyway, is going to be sent to Singapore. I am not going to fork out my hard earned money to people I don't know and when I insisted for his full name, he put the phone down.

This kind of request is not new. A couple of months back, there was this guy who came over as his car payments were about several months behind and he wanted to borrow money and he promised to pay back quickly as his elaun tambang is due. Once I was waylaid on the way to my car and there was this guy who said he came all the way from Belait and he wanted to see me to see whether he can withdraw his funds earlier but in the meantime could I could help him over lunch. Among us, we can pretty much write a book on the antics of all these people. My minister talks about his favourite - this guy comes every month to his house and limps in front of him and his maid told him that when the Minister is not around, the guy walks pretty fine. My PS told me the story about a whole family who came to see him with some hardup story and everyone who came to see him from the father to the little children had bandages of some sort on part of their bodies. My personal favourite is this guy who came to see me because his car failed the inspection tests as all his tyres are bald and he needed money to buy new tyres. Another told me that he had to sleep in his car at his farm to avoid the creditors seizing his car.

If you think this is a Malay thing, think again. About 9 months ago, a Chinese lady came to see me telling me about how her mother needs to be treated overseas and that RIPAS can't do anything and she needed funds to bring her over. A couple of months later, she came back and said that now she needed funds for a funeral and she says Chinese funerals are pretty expensive. I don't mind giving money to the needy but please, some of these requests really take the cake.

I don't know sometimes whether there is this group of people who preys on the senior government officers or these people slipped through the welfare net. Or as someone puts it bluntly, these are just people who think they can get away with it by brazenly asking for money. I remembered when I used to work at the number one address in Brunei, the number of letters asking for raya money is really mindboggling and will reach the high five figures by the fasting month. I recognised some of these requests and they shouldn't be there. In fact almost all of them had mobile phone numbers and pretty much two or three other contact numbers as well so that we can reach them. Their addresses looked fine to me and there was this one time when we had to go and give the envelopes to them, some of their residences looked so much better than even the senior government officials. It scares me to see the kind of society that we are fostering.

If you were to say, we don't have a welfare system which can help them, you are wrong. The Brunei national welfare system is probably one of the more generous one in the world. You don't have to contribute to it nor pay any tax to be included in the system. If you think you are hard up and have no other means of support, you can contact the Community Development Department and asked to be given welfare. If you can convince them, every month you will get $200 for yourself, $200 each for every wife that you have, $65 each for every child that you have, $60 each additional education allowance for every child that you have between the ages of 5 and 18 and there is no maximum ceiling. If you happen to have 3 wives and 10 children, you can make out a pretty decent living. The last time I checked, more than 6,000 people in Brunei are the recipients of these allowances. On top of that, we also have the Yayasan and the Baitul Mal who also give out assistance to welfare needies. For the non-Malays, the various Chinese associations also give out assistance.

I remembered reading S@S's blog a couple of days back about a few children being exploited by their parents went around restaurants selling snacks. I remembered thinking a bit cynically at least these kids sell stuffs. The adults who came to see us with their sob stories don't even bother to do any business whatsoever. I don't even know what's the point of today's blog. I guess just to let you know that there are people in our $42,900 per capita GDP economy that probably need our help, or maybe not. Depends on how cynical you feel or charitable you feel. Remember this is the fasting month - good deeds go a long way but there are also others who will want to take exploit that.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

espeed, faster connectivity, affordable pricing???

For those who were searching for an early posting this morning, my apologies. Or rather I shouldn't even be apologisig for someone else's problems which is espeed2 provided by our newly corporatised Syarikat Telekom Brunei Berhad or TELBRU as it wants to be popularly known. I lost the connection sometime at about 4.30 this morning when I came back after sahur trying to connect to blogger to upload a completely different topic. So I thought I will write a new posting altogether and I have to upload this posting via the more inefficient dial-up modem which I always keep as a backup.

The last time I complained, a technician came over and he told me that there is nothing wrong with espeed2 but rather there is something wrong with both my wireless server and modem and that I should just switch on and off the modem and even though he didn't say anything, it sounded as if he hinted there is something wrong with the complainer. I thought I looked like the fool when the technician told me that. But after doing that a few times, then I realised the problem is nothing to do on my side but it's on the TELBRU side. The espeed connection would mysteriously go off and then come back on again. So if I complain in between and the technician turns up when the connection is working, I will look the fool again. So, that's why today I am not going to post about anything else but just to blow off steam on what is essentially a very important connection between us here in Brunei Darussalam. Hmmmm, faster connectivity (if it works), affordable pricing (wanna do just a little regional comparison?) ....

I used to be seconded as a Corporate Planning Manager for JTB many many years ago. At that point in time, JTB was planning its first move away from the government and I was part of the original team. In the late 1980s, practically the whole telecommunications world was moving away from the public sector and moving into the private sector. BT (British Telecoms, not Brunei Times) was among the first to chart the way. Some of my friends in UK actually made money by buying the first shares of BT by some 30% to 40% of original purchase prices. It was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who wanted to put the shares of a public company into the hands of the public. TM (Telekom Malaysia), SingTel (Singapore Telecoms) and everyone else were also on the move then. But unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, JTB wasn't corporatised almost 15 years ago for various reasons, though it did lose its mobile telephone service arm which became DST sometime mid 1990s, its main rival today.

A few more attempts (I can't go into details without contravening the OSA), were made along the years since then before the final one which finally turned JTB into TELBRU earlier this year. There are still teething problems and moving what is essentially a rather inefficient animal into an efficient and corporate one is not easy as the people are still the same. Though I have seen some changes in attitudes but it will take a while before everyone linked their performances to the profitability of their company and hence to their individual paychecks. I am willing to give them that leeway period but there are many individuals who can't especially those who are dependent on the net for their businesses and having an internet connection that mysteriously go on and off is not good for business. TELBRU as far as I know does not even have a backup plan such as providing compensation for loss of businesses.

There are still a number of support infrastructure which still need to be in place. We need the equivalent of an office or an ombudsman who consumers can turn to that can regulate the various telecommunication companies (and impose fines for not providing promised services) and most importantly we need the judicial framework which can allow small claims to be heard and adjudicated. I know plans are afoot but the relevant agencies seriously need to bring quickly some of these plans into the limelight very much sooner than they expected.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Crescent Moon - the Islamic symbol?

You know, it's interesting how one symbol or icon is sufficient to represent one particular group. The Christians have the cross, the Jews have the Star of David and the Muslims have .... did you say the crescent moon and the star?

It is surprising that the crescent moon and the star have become the Muslims' symbol. I remembered being taught when I was young and even now to stay away from the use of religious symbols or items as this may lead to some form of idol worship that could compromise the belief of the one true God. And yet despite Muslims being taught that, surprisingly the crescent moon and star is being accepted as the symbol of Islam.

According to history, the early Muslim community did not have any symbol and the Muslim armies fighting under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad SAW, simply use solid coloured flags generally green, but also black for identifying themselves. There were many tales of the bravery of many brave soldiers who fought to keep the flag flying as letting the flag falls means that the army has fallen. There was this brave man who despite losing both hands held on to the flag with the stumps of his hands. Despite the tales, there was really no mention whether the flag had any symbols on them.

How did the crescent moon and star became the symbols of Islam? It was the Ottoman Empire which made the world associate that symbol with the Muslim world when they conquered Istanbul and adopted the city's existing flag and symbol which was the crescent moon and the star. This ancient city originally called Byzantium had much earlier adopted the crescent moon symbol said either to honour a pagan Greek goddes called Diana or to commemorate the first day of the lunar month in which the Romans defeated the Goths. The crescent moon was already on the city's flag even before the birth of Christ.

Then in 330 CE, Constantine refounded Byzantium and renamed it Constantinoupolis after himself or Constantinople in Greek. He rededicated the city to the virgin Mary, whose star symbol was added to the previous crescent. By the time, Sultan Mehmet II led the Turks to conquer Constantinople in 1453 and renamed it Istanbul, the city's flag was already the crescent moon and the star. As the Ottoman Empire grew and ruled over the Muslim world, the crescent moon and star symbol became synonymous as the Muslim symbol. In fact the star within a crescent was a badge of Richard I, and his army quit using it when it became the banner of the Muslims.

There have been intense debate on the internet about the suitability of using the crescent moon and the star as the Islamic symbol. Some argued that since Islam never had any symbol historically and that to use what is essentially a pagan symbol as an Islamic symbol is certainly not right. Until I came across several articles on the internet about this matter, I have never really thought about the suitability of using the symbol. In most cases, practically all our Brunei mosques used the crescent moon and star as part of their decorative motifs. The Brunei crest has the crescent moon as part of the crest. A number of Muslim countries also have it as part of their national flags including Turkey, Malaysia, Algeria, Pakistan and Tunisia and also not forgetting the international Red Cross and Red Crescent organisation. Something to think about during this holy month of Ramadhan.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Moon Sighters versus Scientists

Nobody sighted the new moon last Friday and that's why for Brunei, the fasting starts today. Though not being able to sight the moon was known way in advance and many people already commented that we won't be able to see it. Some people ask why bother? Some countries have done without it and relying completely on what they called hisab (calculations). Some have gone halfway, using hisab but still try to sight the new moon. Some countries like Brunei have remained as pure moon sighters.

Some argue that in this ultra modern era of rapid scientific and technological advancement, we should not avoid the use of scientific knowledge for making an Islamic calendar rather than having to wait for a confirmation of moon sighting to start a new month. Today, we have access to technology that we can calculate when and where the moon sighting occurs; and together with recorded data, we can even show how accurate the calculations can be. Some scientists even stressed that with today's technology, calculations are far more accurate than that of sightings as there is a possibility of mistaking other objects for the crescent moon. They further argue that sighting is not the only requirement but simply as a facility as that was the sole method available to the Muslims in the past.

So why sight the moon? The argument centers around the hadith of Prophet Muhammad SAW as narrated by Al-Bukhari which stated that "Do not fast unless you sight the crescent, and do not break your fast till you sight the (following) crescent." This pretty much is what is followed in Brunei that we have to sight the new moon regardless. Though if you ask me the scientific argument sounds as equally valid. Though the purists would have defended the argument of physical moon sighting as that is the method prescribed by the Al-Mighty and thus cannot be changed.

Though at least we have accepted sighting of the new moon even if they are no longer in Brunei as long as we are on one land. If sighting occurs on say Kalimantan, we will accept it. At least that's as much as I know. I could be wrong. If we are prepared to accept a sighting as far as Kalimantan, why not have universal sighting? So we all can fast and end fasting at the same time. I have been told that there is another hadith by Muslim, Al-Tarmizi and Nasai which rejected the argument about a sighting to be used by other distant places.

I remembered one ustaz when asked why are there so many interpretations and all these talks, make the Muslims look ununited, said, actually having differences allow us to talk about it and keep the subject alive and therefore should not cause disunity but instead allows a healthy discussion. It keeps the religion alive. Afterall the argument does not centre on the one most important thing - the belief in the Al-Mighty. Wallahualam. Selamat Berpuasa to all Daily Brunei Resources Muslim readers!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Surprises at the MIB Forum

The MIB forum organised by the titled persons of Brunei for His Majesty a couple of nights ago was interesting in many ways. I know many of you who were not at the UBD Chancellor's Hall think that you have already seen one MIB Conference, this one would be just like that. Surprisingly, no. There were a few things that I found very interesting despite the forum ending at about 12.10 am.

The first was to see a real life Prince, the Crown Prince of Perak talked about the institution of the monarchy. He is a scholar having his first degree from Oxford and his Masters and PhD from Harvard. I met him when I was there and he was a down to earth man. I remembered he introduced himself as Nazrin when I met him in Cambridge about 10 years ago (Cambridge is the name of the town in Massachussetts where Harvard University is located - the name is copied from the Cambridge in UK) and he refused to have any sort of formality. During the MIB conference, he delivered his paper with panache with a very scholarly attitude and his speech and language .... man, I wish I can write and speak like that.

The content itself was interesting and to any ruling royals in the world, very 'insaf'ing, if there is such a word - you can only rule if the public let you and when you rule, you have to rule well. He said that at the begining of the 15th century, there were some 300 ruling dynasties and by the end of the 2nd world war, we were down to a handful. Most have disappeared along the way. Those that survived adapted and basically ruled well to remain in existence. It was a paper that could only be written and said by a prince to his fellow princes. He shed tears towards the end. The emotion of being allowed to be open and to talk about one's own destiny was at the end of the day, overwhelming. [The full speech is available on the main bruneiresources website.]

The other papers admittedly were run of the mill and very straight to the point as they have been said in the past. They were actually interesting but after more than an hour of listening to the fantastic keynote address by Raja Nazrin, they were really outclassed. Though the Malaysian Professor was interesting in a way but I couldn't remember much of what he said. But for a Chinese Professor, he was able to see it from a non-Malay perspective and for that it was in itself unusual. Judge Hayati gave the normal run of the Constitution and how the royalty was part of that Constitution. However, she was able to attract everyone's attention when she talked, or rather she called out (loudly and clearly), that the time is right for women to be included in the Legislative Council and not just the present 29 all-men LegCo. All the ladies present and men too clapped very loudly. The camera was not unfortunately focused onto the main man, I really wanted to see what his reaction was.

Another surprise awaited for me at the steps of the hall. I was standing next to a Deputy Minister, both of us waiting for our cars to come pick us up, when he said to me something about what you young bloggers are up to nowadays. Apparently he is an avid reader of Brunei blogs. Well, Dato, I am about a dozen years younger, I guess young is relative. To most Bruneian bloggers, I am old. But it is interesting that the Deputy Minister acknowledges the existence of bloggers and so for you young bloggers out there, your serious stuff writings are read by the policy makers. I do know of a few extremely senior people who read my stuffs but on official relationship, I don't talk about it and therefore we pretend I don't write blogs. But you will be surprised who else reads your stuffs. That's an avenue for you to explore.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Happy Teacher's Day

It was Teacher's Day yesterday, a good day for some teachers, at least a holiday for all the others. My 6 year old loves the holidays. He wished everyday was a Teacher's Day. Actually it is not yet Teacher's Day, Teacher's Day is tomorrow but because later tonight we will be sighting the moon and tomorrow maybe the start of the fasting month, hence teacher's day celebrations held yesterday. But to wish anyone Happy Teacher's Day yesterday was too early, so you can wait till tomorrow if there is school tomorrow.

Today I will not post much about teachers in Brunei Darussalam or about the Education System. I think teachers deserved a rest. So what I will do is to link up to the various articles which I have posted in the past about teachers in Brunei Darussalam and the Brunei education system, both subjects of which are my favourites.
Oh yes. My heartiest congratulations to all the former and present teachers who received their awards yesterday:

Anugerah Guru Berjasa (Awards to teachers who have contributed tremendously)

1. Dato Paduka Haji Kifli bin Bujang (the father of the Attorney General)
2. Hajah Masura binti Haji Alidin

Each received $12,000 plus free first class medical treatments.

Anugerah Khas Hari Guru (Special Teacher's Day Awards)

1. Haji Abd Hamid bin Talipuddin (born 1926)
2. Pg Hj Md Yusof bin Pg Sabtu (born 1926)
3. Datin Seri Setia Hajah Kamaliah Suhaimi binti Hj Md Faizullah Suhaimi

Each received $4,000 plus free first class medical treatement.

Anugerah Guru Cemerlang (Excellent Teachers Award)

1. Hadion Lim Beng Guan (Mathematics)
2. Saadiah Abdul Ghafar (English Language)
3. Shim Guek Lan (Home Science)
4. Hajah Masnah Haji Lusin (Art & Design)
5. Saliah Haji Kahar (Science Lower Secondary)
6. Hajah Jaini BPKDP Haji Mohsin (Pre-school)

Each received $4,000 plus given priority for further studies.

Do send them a congratulatory note if they happen to be your teachers in the past. Happy Teacher's Day.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Situation of Rice and Sugar Supply in Brunei

The 19th coup in Thailand's modern history does not seem to affect the financial market very much. I think the Baht went down by about 1%. Most of the finance people I talked to said that ever since the uncertainty of the current government, all the risk factors have already been factored in, so when the coup did come, it was more or less expected. So, why am I talking about Thailand's economy if it is more or less predicted?

A number of people who realised it is that our rice imports come from Thailand. Some called me up asking what is the rice situation. So I did a quick check on our rice supply. The answer was reassuring. We have apparently five months stock of rice in this country. So the Thais can still argue about their political future and we still would have plenty of rice in this country. We actually have a few more months on our storage in Thailand itself but that would depend on whether shipping is still going on. But the good thing about the Thais is that whether it is a military government or civilian government, business still goes on as usual.

At the same time, the government does allow local companies to import rice from other areas. That's why nowadays you can see California and Australian long grain rice being sold in Brunei other than the Basmati rice from Pakistan. A number of other rice exporting countries such as Vietnam, Myanmar and Australia are all set to step in with supplies of rice should Thailand failed to deliver. So again we do have enough rice coming in. So, you don't have to rush out to your nearest Indian shop to buy rice. There is enough rice in the country.

The other controlled item is sugar and unlike our neighbouring country which seemed to suffer a shortage of sugar, ours is in good supply and even drowning in it. According to the authorities, tomorrow a ship will come in with our sugar imports from Brazil (the first time I heard that we import our sugar from there), we will have a 12 month supply. So that's enough to give everyone diabetes should you really want to have that much sugar. So again, there is enough sugar in the country.

All these talks about possible shortages have led to one or two people thinking about how we should be 100% self reliant on food especially rice. I won't go into a debate about it here. I remembered posting about it sometime last May entitled "What do you Know about Rice in Brunei?" where I mentioned that even if you were to turn 100% of Brunei into rice plantation fields, we still won't be growing enough rice for everyone in the country. To add to that my guest blogger just a few days ago talked about the issues that we have to grapple with in order to have food security in Brunei. I won't beat the subject to death but you can reread the posts again.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cars at Kampung Ayer

I really pitied the guy who accidentally reversed his car into the river from the parking lot in front of the Bubungan Dua Belas at Jalan Residency. Luckily he managed to escape from the car and was able to swim to safety. It still took the fire and rescue people a few minutes to find the car even though they had complete diving gear. Imagine if he had been in it, those few minutes would be the difference between life and death.

All of us who have driven through those areas must have noticed the number of cars parked alongside the riverbank belonging to the Kampung Ayer residents. It's a difficult situation for them given the parking areas that are available are never sufficient for the many cars that they owned. I know the Kampung Ayer residents parked wherever they can find parking spots throughout Bandar. I remembered when I was attached at the Marine Department which was based in the old Customs Department building some 16 years ago, how long we had to wait for the residents whose cars were parked at the department's carpark to move their cars out in the morning and then how difficult it was for us when we wanted to leave in the evening as they would already be crowding around there waiting for cars to go out.

Given that the residents parked their cars along the river, I am still amazed that the authorities have never built any barrier or any form of rails along the riverbank, if not to prevent the cars from going over, but at least give the drivers some form of indication of how near they are to the river edge. Last night during the BICTA awards, I asked my colleague who used to be the head honcho of public works why is it that the government never put up those barriers. He said the answer was somewhere along the line that a request was never put up and that nothing ever happened all this while. Besides there was this massive river front project which was supposed to widen the roads along Sungai Lampai which would include parkings and everything. Everyone assumed the project will take place soon and that there is no point in putting up temporary structures such as crash barriers etc. Still, it would have been worthwhile to put up as the river front project is still up for award. Sometimes I worry that something serious has to happen before we move to do something about it.

In the meantime, what else can be done? I understand that there are already several parking lots which can be used by the residents. Some required to be paid a minimal sum of about $1 per evening which included the Yayasan parking and the parking in front of the cemetery. These are not taken up by the residents, paying $1 a night can be quite expensive in the long run when there is free parking to be had. The Yayasan was only able to attract people who happen to live near the Yayasan building, so it is not taken up much by the Kampung Ayer residents. Another solution would be the 'park and ride' concept which is used extensively in Europe. Build a big parking lot somewhere further where there is space and then use a bus service to regularly ply between the parking area and the riverbank. That stil sounds expensive. A crash barrier along the riverbank would be cheaper. It would be cheaper still if accidental drowning deaths can be prevented.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Brunei Textile Stores as Tourist Destinations

Yesterday I was invited to open and attend an Islamic finance conference organised by a Malaysian bank. During the break, I had the chance to speak to a few of the bank's executives who flew in from KL the afternoon before and had to fly out again by the afternoon of the conference. So in the short few hours that they had, the ladies executives went out shopping. I have always been proud to point that Malaysian lady officers (and men too) whenever they are in Brunei, they make it a point to shop for textile materials. Apparently Brunei had a reputation among Malaysians at least, that the shops here sell very good value for money textiles especially silk and the good quality textiles. This also included the jong sarat.

However, this particular lady said that she did not find that to be true. She said she was taken to the textile shops both at the Mall and the Yayasan and she only found one piece which she liked. She thought the textiles are expensive and not as cheap as she had heard and she did not apparently like the selection. That sort of floored me a bit because over the last few years, all the feedback I get was that despite the conversion rate, it is still that much cheaper to get all the good materials in Brunei.

I thought at first she did not go to the right places. In the Mall, there would the Nazmi and the Kofom and at Yayasan, there would be a Hong if I am not mistaken and a Nazmi as well. My wife and I worked out the number of places available and we came out with quite a number of areas. We tried to work out the number of textile shops but that was a bit iffy because some of the shops will declare themselves as textile shops but we don't consider them as one as they do sell other things as well. Anyway, the areas are the Kiulap areas (Kofom, SH Himco etc), Batu Satu area (Kofom, Hong, Nazmi, First Metro), Gadong Mall (Nazmi, Kofom), Gadong Outside Mall (Hong etc), Bandar Yayasan (Nazmi, Hong), Bandar Proper (Nazmi etc), Delima Satu (lost count), Batu Bersurat (YMRM) and Sengkurong (Firoz Jaya). There are just too many but to an outsider, it would be difficult for them to know any of the shops outside the Mall and the Yayasan without someone taking them there.

So, what's today's point? I guess there are many textiles shops in Brunei which we can turn to our advantage. We don't have to go to Malaysia or Singapore which we used to go in the 1980s and 1990s which is a good thing. (So, we can buy other things instead of weighing our bags down with textiles.) I wish there was some sort of guide that we can use to give out to the tourists and help people like the bank executives like the one I mentioned earlier. Malaysians ladies are now beginning to realise that our textile shops are like shopping heavens, we have to treat this as a form of tourist attractions. Who knows? If the Malaysians love these, perhaps we can persuade the Koreans, the Japanese, the Chinese who are alaready here and perhaps attract the Middle Eastern tourists to come here. Just a thought.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Pope and the USA

I don't normally like to write about religion and politics. Both subjects are difficult to handle and I am not an expert in either one of them. However both do come to prominence every now and then and the last few days, the Pope and Islam has been the focus on every newspaper in the world.

Pope Benedict XVI caused so much anguish in the Muslim world and at first refused to apologise after his lecture at the University of Regensburg where he quoted a conversation between Manuel II, a 14th-century Christian Byzantine emperor and an Islamic Persian; “‘Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’” Though yesterday the Pope finally said that he was “deeply sorry” about the angry reaction to his remarks about Islam, which he said came from a text that didn't reflect his personal opinion. “These were in fact a quotation from a medieval text which do not in any way express my personal thought.”

I read his entire lecture and of course when you read things in entirety, you get the bigger picture. His intention to raise the issue of how to confront and combat the religious extremism that gives rise to terror and violence was commendable. Though I would still question his usage of that conversation and given the Pope's background of being a hardliner, I have the feeling despite his apologies, that he did it intentionally. He deliberately provoked listeners as to whether the current Muslim world has the capacity to be critical of itself. Though one can make the same argument over the Christian and Judaism world. Both have also gone through violent stages in the past. Think of the Crusades and the Inquisition.

Though I do worry that the current extremism in the world. The smallest of all words, the slightest of all actions, an eruption will occur. Are we not capable of being rational or self-critical? And at the same time, does religion have to be dragged in all the time when the underlying causes are not religions but something else altogether but fought in the name of the religion?

Yesterday, the Brunei Times led with an interesting article about the US State Department's report on its annual International Religious Freedom Report 2006 which listed Brunei among the 20 countries of 'significant list' of violators. This apparently is the second category. The first category is made up of 'countries of particular concern' of 8 countries including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. The article rejected the accusation and focused on the Brunei constitution stating that '...All other religions may be practised in peace and harmony by the person professing them in any part of Brunei Darussalam...' and arguing that to be placed on such a list was a provocation by the US government.

Given the sensitivity of this, I am not so sure whether this ought to be even highlighted currently by either party or even by me raising it on this post. But I thought this was a particularly apt time to raise this in the context of the Pope's speech. Are we capable of being self-critical? But in this context, do we even have to be? Given that US has in itself been in violation of the things that they have accused of others, think of all the atrocities commited in the Iraq War and the curtailment of freedom of movement and speeches in the USA in their so called war against terror that they are no longer have the moral higher ground to accuse other countries. Given their intransigent nature, it's not even worthwhile to argue with them.

Perhaps the US might want take a lesson from the Pope.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Can we have Food Security in Brunei?

Recently, I got engaged in a little, yet very interesting, discussion with Mr. BR about the notion of “food security” in the context of Brunei Darussalam. Interesting because of two reasons. First, food is abundant in Brunei. All you want to eat is available in this country. But Brunei imports most of its food. (Well, I guess most of us know it already). Second, food security is far from being a simple issue.

So, I then looked into statistics to check the source of the food that I eat everyday. And here is what I saw. We import almost all the rice we eat. The bulk of our vegetables are also imported. We also import lots of fruits. Practically, we don’t produce flours that we use to make cakes, noodles, cookies and all the delicacies we eat here. We import sugar. We bring salt from overseas. We bring chilies from neighbouring countries, Although from time to time we still import eggs, but most of the eggs we eat are actually produced locally.

So perhaps it is only natural if some people think: “…hey, we need to produce our food ourselves.....”. But do we really need to produce most of our food ourselves? Here, let me share with you what I think.

On paper, we have two alternative strategies: either we produce our food ourselves, or we continue to rely on import. Producing all the food locally is certainly appealing. And the benefit is perhaps clear to many: we can be food self-sufficient and food secure at the same time. But then: at what cost? When I look around us, really there is no country in this world that produces all their food themselves. Perhaps because they know that the cost of doing so far outweighs its benefit. (Well, some did try to do it. And indeed the cost was enormous: the resulting inefficiency from producing all the food themselves really killed their economy).

On the contrary, the benefit of importing all the food is also clear. The idea of importing is especially attractive to most international economists and traders. Indeed in many cases, international competition helps push the prices of food downwards, and benefit the average households like myself. But such a strategy poses importing countries with dangers. When international market structure in, say, rice or flour or vegetables, change; or when the exporters and middlemen are able to form a cartel and or exercise their power, then it is me, the average household, who will suffer. My kitchen will be exposed to fluctuations in the prices of commodities, with all the consequences.

Since both alternatives have risks, I guess we need to follow a course of strategy that lies somewhere in between those two polars. Let me call it the third strategy. We can start by, first of all, define “the level food self-sufficiency” or "food-security” that we want to have. This means, we need to define more concretely the notion of food-self sufficiency. For example, we should can define the level of “vegetable self-sufficiency” that is considered safe for the country. Whether it would mean 30 percent (of all the vegetables we need in a month should be produced locally), or 40 percent, or even 25 percent, the key is that such a level must be clearly defined and decided. This step should be followed by the next step: to design additional strategies to make up for the difference between what we produce locally and what we consume. Such additional strategies should have elements of the so called “food buffer stock”, food logistics, and investments in selected agricultural subsectors, in order to guarantee that all households are food secured. Lastly, assess as to whether the government budget can afford to finance such strategies in a long term.

Now that we start to touch on so many complex issues, I think I like to stop here…

[Today's entry is written by an expatriate who has been observing us for the last 2 years and who is an expert in his field but he said he would rather remain annonymous and he does not want his field of expertise to be mentioned either. I have persuaded him to write a few more posts as I think we need many more articles from people like him.]

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Islamic Banking in Brunei

I was sitting next to someone from HSBC Amanah Bank last night during dinner. HSBC Amanah is the Islamic Bank of HSBC operating in the middle east. They have been very influential in being at the forefront of Islamic banking there which surprised me completely when I first heard it. According to this person who is currently based in Riyadh, the banking system in Saudi Arabia up to about five years ago was based on conventional banking with the exception of one small bank. HSBC became the first non-Islamic bank to convert their banks into Islamic bank, first by converting five branches before completely changing the whole bank into an islamic one. The other banks in Saudi realised just how many people are attracted into the new Islamic bank and decided to convert too.

Next to me was a Malaysian banker and she mentioned that we ought to be 'insaf' that it is a non-Islamic bank which first converts itself when we should be the ones to do it first. She also had an interesting story as well. She told me that she went to the middle east some years ago wanting to visit a Takaful there only to be told that at that time there were only two takafuls throughout the world and both were then in Malaysia.

Today Islamic banking has gone a long way. Yesterday, during the conference organised by the MOF and the Islamic Financial Services Board, I listened to one speaker from the USA talking about how they managed to set up an Islamic mortgage for American muslims but still with work within the Federal National Mortgage Association more popularly known as the Fannie Mae system. A couple of days ago, I heard from the grapevines that the Japanese will be issuing bonds based on the islamic principles known as sukuks and even the US Treasury is contemplating it. I have not seen the official announcements yet but I am pretty sure that there are moves afoot trying to siphon the extra liquid in the Islamic financial world due to the high oil prices.

Even in Brunei, we have not been spared. OCBC which is a Singapore bank since last year already hold an Islamic bank license under our financial centre and is already attracting funds from overseas through the bank. The development of Islamic banking has gone a long way and has expanded rapidly over the last few years. Our own two Islamic banks now merging into Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam (BIBD) was designed to help it so that it can defend its territory in Brunei and to be able to expand overseas and compete regionally if not internationally. But there are some quarters who are still apprehensive about the move still preferring the old way of two local banks competing in our tiny market.

Islamic financial system is here to stay, like it or not. It is becoming acceptable alongside the conventional banking financial system. However, along with others, I for one sometimes doubt the current Islamic financial system and still preferring to use conventional banks and conventional insurance companies. My experience with takafuls have not been pleasant ones (such as premium rates rising despite massive drop in principal's values) and I am not alone with some quarters feeling that they have been shortchanged by seeing higher charges etc when they take out loans with Islamic banks. I am not so sure whether this is because we don't understand what's going on, or the system here charges or administers it differently, or there is a premium to be paid for going Islamic. However I would urge everyone including myself and the people who runs the Islamic bank to understand thoroughly what should be in the system and that the move towards Islamic banking should not be painful and should be well explained to everyone.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Brunei Man's Best Friend?

A couple of weeks ago, there was this long debate in the media about what to do about stray dogs in this country sparked by dogs attacking a little boy incident. The debate spilled over to the comment box on this blogsite. I refrained from writing as both LSM and Maurina already did beautiful pieces about it and Unharm6187 wrote a few paragraphs worth about it in the comment box (I am surprised you did not post one on your site?)

A couple of days ago, I came across the minutes of the meetings that were held by the taskforce to look into the problems of stray dogs. I wasn't at the meeting so I can't give first hand accounts of what happened but can only based on what I read. Contrary to what the public think about the government, the amount of attention that was paid to be both ethical and humanitarian was clearly evident from the discussions. That's a plus point but there was no mention of a long term solution yet such as the building of animal shelters which were clamoured by some sections of the public. But then there has only been 2 meetings, so there are clearly many more meetings to go through. As Maurina said, more pacings need to be done.

I remembered many years ago, I was once a deputy Postmaster General, taking over from the incumbent as he went on haj leave for about a month. The Postmaster General is responsible for all the postal services in this country, the millions of letters and parcels sent and delivered and the running of all the post offices throughout the country. My job as the acting number 2 was to ensure that the administration and the management of all these functions function well. One issue that I came across was dogs - both the stray kind and the ones that acted as security guards. Dogs are territorial animals. Postmen and meter readers have been attacked by dogs, unfortunately dogs bite postmen happen so often that it becomes unnewsworthy as opposed to dogs bite children stories which becomes sensationalised. In Brunei, dogs have chased postmen and sometimes bite them and you don't get to hear about them.

What happens if postmen are unable to deliver letters because of dogs? If it is a guard dog, normally the department will try to deliver a letter saying that no more letters will be delivered until the dogs are under control. That warning letter can sometimes be difficult to deliver, so it becomes a Catch 22 situation. But the owners normally come and complain why they never receive letters, so they get all the letters at once when they come in and the warning letter as well. However stray dogs are treated differently. In those days, the district authorities will be informed and workers with blowpipes will come in and you know the rest.

I am not a lover of dogs, I have had my share of being chased by dogs when I was a child and I certainly didn't provoke them - I just happened to come across them, so I don't buy the theory that the dogs have to be provoked before they chase and bite you. However I do realise that they are the Al-Mighty's creatures too and they are here for a reason on this earth. We should however also realise the consequences of dogs and the possibility of dogs aggression. In America, according to the, there are almost 5 million victims annually -- about 2% of the entire population. 800,000 need medical attention. 1,000 per day need treatment in hospital emergency rooms. Between 15 and 20 die per year. Most of the victims who receive medical attention are children, half of whom are bitten in the face. Dog bite losses exceed $1 billion per year, with $345 million paid by insurance. So, dog attacks are more common than you think and is quite costly to the economy.

What can we do in Brunei? Dogs are required to be licensed in Brunei under the Dogs Act. If they are not licensed, the authorities can come and take the dogs away and the owners can be fined. However that raised its own problems. It does cost money to register and no one knows where to register one anyway. I have yet to find out who does the registering. Unfortunately there is no penalty if the irresponsible owners who after getting weary of their dogs decided to let them go and these dogs became feral dogs. These dogs can become very dangerous as they are no longer domesticated. There are talks that the government should set up animal shelters but it has been pointed out that may not be on in this country. There are no brownie points for doing it. The only way is to get the private sector involved. Would anyone be willing to set one up?

Clearly, the taskforce still has lots of work to do and plenty of pacing. My colleague who is chairing it certainly has to balance between the needs of the safety of the public and the needs of the animal lovers. It ain't easy, as they say when man's best friend can become man's worst enemy.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Brunei's Perfect Disaster

It finally happened. I remembered writing about it way back in May about the future of Brunei water and electricity. Water and electricity supplies can fail and water supplies did fail big time last week.

So, on Monday, my first day back at work, I happened to be chairing a meeting where both the head honchos of public works and electrical departments were also presentand naturally I asked about the recent water supply problem which happened during my absence. I thought with all the precaution in place, it is quite surprising that such a major disaster could have taken place. Both of them explained and from what I gather it is like the Discovery Channel's Perfect Disaster series where everything conspired against you to get the perfect disaster going.

According to the head honchos, the electrical supply to the water pumps at Bukit Barun failed. The pumps supply water to a majority of people both in Brunei and Tutong Districts. There were actually two cables, one acting is a backup. The main cable underground at Penapar had a short and the technicians had to work hard to find out where the short was and replaced that section of the cable. In the meantime the backup cable from Batu 18 Jalan Tutong also failed due to a fallen tree. This was an overhead cable and technicians quickly replaced the cable there. However when the current was routed through the newly replaced, they found out that it did not connect. The cable had to be replaced again. By the time they managed to reconnect, both the cables at Penapar and Batu 18 are linked to the water pumps.

Unfortunately it took them about 24 hours to get those cables up and running. In the meantime, everyone was using up the water supplies available at the water storage tanks dotted throughout the Brunei and Tutong Districts. The water storage tanks only stored water for about 18 hours. So the water ran out for most people who are connected to the Bukit Barun pumps. There are some who are connected to the Tasek pumps mostly in Bandar and some parts of Jalan Tutong and Jalan Gadong. They still had water. There were only 9 water tankers for about 60,000 households in Brunei District and 1 water tanker for about 15,000 households in Tutong District. The water tankers worked for a full 24 hours and still they couldn't deliver all the water that the public wanted. Emergency pipes were installed in key locations with water from Tasek pumps.

So even when electricity was connected, it still took time for the pumps to function fully as they require for the distribution pipes to be full or something like that. It took the better part of the second day before the pumps started to pump water. Even when they started, there were parts of the districts where the water couldn't get through. Air trap had built up in some parts of the pipes and the air had to be released before water could get through. Some older pipes, with the new water pressure going through, just broke and cause major problems. One house had no water for five days.

Major lessons - plenty. Cables to major installations like water pumps had to be checked regularly. It does not matter how many cables linked to it, what's important is that they all worked and can take over from another easily. Perhaps these installations should also have its own power generator. More water storage tanks had to be built. In Singapore, the system can take up to 48 hours of water failure, currently Brunei is only up to 18 hours. More water tankers had to be made available - not necessarily through purchasing more but commandering them from various agencies. Many agencies have water tankers but used them for the purposes of watering plants etc. In an emergency, there has to be a procedure for ensuring that all the tankers would be available. Emergency water supplies areas had to be readied so that the public can have access to water from those supply areas. In the meantime, it is still prudent for the public to realise that there is a real need to save water. The major lesson for all of us, water is an important life source and it is scarce. Do not waste it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

More Origin of English Words

Continuing my series on the origin of English words for us Bruneians. Sometimes you can't imagine how certain English words came about for us to use here in Brunei. Before you think how clever I am writing today's post, I have to admit that I got this article from one of those circulating emails. So, thanks to whoever it is that wrote this. So, the next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts from the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and were still smelling pretty good by June. However, even in June they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water. Following him, the same water was used by the other men, the sons, the women, and finally the children. Last of all came the babies. By then, the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "don't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw, piled high. It was the only place for animals to get warm. So all the dogs, cats, and other small critters (including mice, rats, and bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, "it's raining cats and dogs."

The roof was not always effective in stopping things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom, where bugs and droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Thus, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That is how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor of the house was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "dirt poor."

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery when they got wet in Winter. So, they spread thresh on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they kept adding more thresh until, when the door was opened, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entryway which came to be known as the "threshold."

Food was cooked in the kitchen in a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They mostly ate vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leave the leftovers in the pot, and then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been in there for quite some time. Hence, the rhyme, "peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of both wealth and that a man could "bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and sit around and "chew the fat."

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with a high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food-causing lead poisoning and death. This happened most often with tomatoes. So, for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Most people did not have pewter plates, but had trenchers - a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. Trenchers were never washed and often worms got into the wood. After eating off wormy trenchers, one could get "trenchmouth."

Bread was divided according to status; workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the "upper crust."

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. They might be taken for dead and prepared for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table. The family would gather around and eat and drink for a couple of days and wait to see it they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a "wake."

England is old and small and they started running out of places to bury people. So, they would dig up coffins and reuse the graves. When reopening these coffins, one out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside. They realized they had been burying people alive. So, a string was tied on the wrist of the deceased. It led up through the coffin, up through the ground, and was tied to a bell. Someone sat out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be "saved by the bell," or be considered a "dead ringer."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Post 9/11

PS. Yesterday was 9/11 and much as I wanted to write about it, I thought of all the atrocities committed in the name of fighting the war against terror since then, I decided against it. I even refused to post about it on 9/11 but preferring today 9/12 as a small but token gesture against the current military incursions as even in the fight against terrorism, the end does not justify the means. The battle against terrorism will only succeed if economic development in the crisis regions is strengthened - countries need more economic help and not more military help. There should be respect for international law and respect for countries' sovereignity and tolerance for other cultures.

I pray that the Al-Mighty have mercy on all those who have died since then and pray that whoever are the perpetrators of all these deaths receive their fair judgment in hell when they die. The world may be a changed place but it is not an excuse for any military incursions nor for any gratuitous deaths.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Spoon-fed Bruneians?

In my post sometime last month entitled "Turning Brunei into a Nation of New Ideas", there were a number of very good opinions. But I thought I will just turn to three which unfortunately were all written by anonymous commentators, so I can't credit whoever it is that wrote in the comment box. But if you recognised that among these are your comments and you would like to be properly credited, email me and I can credit you properly.

It's a debate about the way teachings are conducted in our schools and not just a primary level but secondary and tetiary levels. I remembered my own sister who went to United World College in Singapore and later to St Andrews in Brunei. She could see the significant difference between being asked to find her own information as opposed to being spoon fed. With being asked to think and to find her own knowledge, she spent more time acquiring the knowldege but she acquires a skill of thinking and a skill of acquiring knowlege as compared to being given all the information. It's the difference between being taught how to fish or being given the fishes.

Anonymous 1: "...This post reminded of an incident that happened to a friend of mine after returning from an overseas posting with his family a few years ago. His children had the luxury of getting 4 years of UK education. Inevitably they had to return and they ended up back in one of the local schools. A few weeks later his 10 year old daughter received a 1 week suspension because she 'argued' with her school teacher about a particular subject on discussion at the time. This surprised me because his daughter is very well brought up and charmingly intelligent. You would think that you are talking to an adult if you have a conversation with her. When asked what she did that led to her suspension, she just said that she only pointed out to the teacher that the incumbent made a mistake and she offered to give her reasons and opinion, which according to her is the norm when she was in school in the UK.

Anyway to cut a long story short, I am also lucky enough to have my children go through the same UK education and have seen the differences between our system of education and the UK's. Ours does not encourage thinking and reasoning. It does not allow them to express opinions and challenge things which may appear normal to us but different to a 10 or 15 year old child. We tell them to memorise the times table without explaining the concept first. We educate our children through a rota system. Spoon feeding etc etc... This is where we lack and this is why I think Brunei has an uphill struggle to turn into itself into a Nation of new ideas simply because the education system does not encourage our young children to explore 'creative thinking' or 'self expression'. I hope I'm wrong but from what I have seen so far from my work experiences in Brunei and overseas, the light at the end of that tunnel is far from bright. I've not posted this message to offer solutions but to highlight a gap in our education system and to a certain degree, our social way thinking..."

Anonymous 2: "...I agree with anonymous above. It is true, the teaching and thinking of Bruneian's (do not mean to offend or stereotype) need to widen. I was brought up in a similar setting, UK-based teaching and I often found it weird that other students from government school were different to how I dealt with the school system. Take for example studying overseas to an Australian University. Here the people and classes are full of discussions about issues- issues that Brunei shelter's the young generation from. How is that productive when the real hard hitting issues are hidden from them? How are they 'supposebly' the generation to build our future when they themselves are still thinking and acting the same as their parents.
It really was a culture shock to have to talk about certain issues, but over the years I have realised that Brunei has slowly opened up its shell and become more open to all sorts of Issues, especially about women's abuse and other health issues. Thats a positive step I guess. Slowly InsyaAllah, Brunei will be there as recognised as other countries in the world. And all will be happy with the changes happening..."

Anonymous 3: "...I do believe that Bruneians has the capability of churning out new brilliant ideas. We have seen Bruneian students winning all there competitions let it be the Robocon competition or any other competition out there. I fail to believe that the new generation has the 'malas ku ingau' mindset, i've seen students who wants to achieve much more than just the normal academic goal. I've seen students who wants to build and invent new things, those who wants to create something new and unique but alas theres something that sets them back. Creativity does not lack in Brunei and so does red tape. With all the red tape around it takes forever to get anything done. Whenever I talk to someone about businesses, the most common complains is the lack of procedure. Not only there is lack of procedure, you have to know those high up to get things done. Also in order to get things done one has to 'mengampu' those high up so that they would sign the relevant papers. So where can we put the blame on?..."

To repeat, so where can we put the blame on? Or better still, can we move to a better way of teaching?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Please excuse my son from school

Yesterday for some reason (you know how it is, a fragment of your memory suddenly came), I remembered the time when I was staying at the Brunei Students Hostel in Singapore. The Hostel catered to Brunei scholarship students which stayed there studying in various Singapore schools from about 1955 to about 1983 if I am not mistaken. About 10 best Brunei male PCE students and the Arabic students were sent to Singapore every year. The program stops when Maktab Sains started and when Al-Azhar University accepted direct entry for the Arabic students from Brunei. Just for the record more than 400 students went through the Singapore route and we do form a strong group of constituents.

We were a tough lot for the warden to look after. One of our favourite tricks was signing our own excuses for not going to school. After a while, some of us were particularly good at it and were able to imitate his signature for the times when we skive school. It was the bad old days. When I was at Primary school, I remembered that there was this girl who copied her dad's signature into her report book because she came in much lower in her class than what the dad wanted. She was in big trouble when her dad came to the classroom asking why is it that the school has not handed his daughter's report card to him.

Anyway, this being a Sunday, I thought we will take some light hearted moments reading actual excuses written by parents who themselves may have been excused to much from school when they were younger:-

# "My son is under a doctor's care and should not take P.E. today. Please execute him."

# "Please excuse Lisa for being absent. She was sick, and I had her shot."

# "Dear School: Please ekscuse John being absent on Jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and also 33."

# "Please excuse Gloria from Jim today. She is administrating."

# "Please excuse Roland from P.E. for a few days. Yesterday he fell out of a tree and misplaced his hip."

# "John has been absent because he had two teeth taken out of his face."

# "Carlos was absent yesterday because he was playing football. He was hurt in the growing part."

# "Megan could not come to school today because she has been bothered by very close veins."

# "Chris will not be in school cus he has an acre in his side."

# "Please excuse Ray Friday from school. He has very loose vowels."

# "Please excuse Tommy for being absent yesterday. He had diarrhea, and his boots leak."

# "Irving was absent yesterday because he missed his bust."

# "Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father's fault."

# "Please excuse Jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday."

# "Sally won't be in school a week from Friday. We have to attend her funeral."

# "My daughter was absent yesterday because she was tired. She spent a weekend with the Marines."

# "Please excuse Jason for being absent yesterday. He had a cold and could not breed well."

# "Please excuse Mary for being absent yesterday. She was in bed with gramps."

# "Gloria was absent yesterday as she was having a gangover."

# "Please excuse Burma, she has been sick and under the doctor."

# "Maryann was absent December 11-16, because she had a fever, sore throat, headache, and upset stomach. Her sister was also sick, fever, and sore throat, her brother had a low grade fever and ached all over. I wasn't the best either, sore throat and fever. There must be something going around, her father even got hot last night."

Saturday, September 09, 2006

What matters most

There may be days when you get up in the morning
and things aren't the way you had hoped they would be,

....that's when you have to tell yourself that things will get better.

There are times when people disappoint you and let you down,

but those are the times when you must remind yourself
to trust your own judgments and opinions,
to keep your life focused on believing in yourself
and all that you are capable of.

There will be challenges to face
and changes to make in your life,

and it is up to you to accept them.

Constantly keep yourself headed
in the right direction for you.

It may not be easy at times,
but in those times of struggle
you will find a stronger sense of who you are,

So when the days come
that are filled with frustration
and unexpected responsibilities,
remember to believe in yourself
and all you want your life to be,
because the challenges and changes
will only help you to find the goals
that you know are meant to come true for you.

Keep believing in yourself.

- anon -

Friday, September 08, 2006

Why I want a Wife

While researching for one of my posts, I came across this article written by a Judy Brady who was a free-lance author during the 1960s and wrote many articles on women's movement. This piece entitled 'why I want a wife' was written by her in 1971 and became a classic of feminist satire. It's a very interesting read and this is America in the 1970s. I don't know about you but in some sense it is what Brunei is in the 2000s seemed to be like. Brunei males tend to be dependent on their wives. Is this a cultural upbringing? Or is it the way things are?Anyway, read and comment.

Why I Want a Wife by Judy Brady

According to the dictionary, a wife is a "woman married to a man." But, as many women know, a wife is much more: COO (Chief Operating Officer), housekeeper, nutritionist, chauffeur, friend, sex partner, valet, nurse, social secretary, ego-builder, and more. Rather than complains why she herself would like to have a wife.

I belong to that classification of people known as wives. I am a Wife. And, not altogether incidentally, I am a mother.

Not too long ago a male friend of mine appeared on the scene from the Midwest fresh from a recent divorce. He had one child, who is, of course, with his ex-wife. He is obviously looking for another wife. As I thought about him while I was ironing one evening, it suddenly occurred to me that I, too, would like to have a wife. Why do I want a wife?

I would like to go back to school, so that I can become economically independent, support myself, and, if need be, support those dependent upon me. I want a wife who will work and send me to school. And while I am going to school I want a wife to take care of my children. I want a wife to keep track of the children's doctor and dentist appointments. And to keep track of mine, too. I want a wife to make sure my children eat properly and are kept clean. I want a wife who will wash the children's clothes and keep them mended. I want a wife who is a good nurturant attendant to my children, arranges for their schooling, makes sure that they adequate social life with their peers, takes them to the park, the zoo, etc. I want a wife who takes care of the children when they are sick, a wife who arrenges to be around when the children need special care, because, of course, I cannot miss classes at school. My wife must arrange to lose time at work and not lose the job. It may mean a small cut in my wife's income from time to time, but I guess I can tolerate that. Needless to say, my wife will arrange and pay for the care of the children while my wife is working.

I want a wife who will take care of my physical needs. I want a wife who will keep my house clean. A wife who will pick up after my children, a wife who will pick up after me. I want a wife who will keep my clothes clean, ironed, mended, replaced when need be, and who will see to it that my personal things are kept in their proper place so that I can find what I need the minute I need it. I want a wife who cooks the meals, a wife who is a good cook. I want a wife who will plan the menus, do the necessary grocery shoping, prepare the meals, serve them pleasantly, and then do the cleaning up while I do my studying. I want a wife who will care for me when I am sick and sympathize with my pain and loss of time from school. I want a wife to go along when our family takes a vacation so that someone can continue to care for me and my children when I need a rest and a change of scene.

I want a wife who will take care of details of my social life. When my wife and I are invited out by my friends, I want a wife who will take care of the babysitting arrangements. When I meet people at school that I like and want to certain, I want a wife who will have the house clean, will prepare a special meal, serve it to me and my friends, and not interrupt when I talk about the things that interest me and my friends. I want a wife who will have arranged that the children are fed and ready for bed before my guests arrive so that the children do not bother us. I want a wife who takes care of the needs of my guests so that they feel comfortable, who makes sure that they have an ashtray, that they are passed the hors d'oeuvres, that they helping of the food, that their wine glasses are replenished when necessary, that their coffee is served to them as they like it. And I want a wife who knows that sometimes I need a night ot by myself.

I want a wife who is sensitive to my sexual needs, a wife who makes love passionately and eagerly when I feel like it, a wife who makes sure that I am satisfied. And, of course, I want a wife who will not demand sexual attention when I am not in the mood for it. I want a wife who assumes the complete responsibility for birth control, because I do not want more children. I want a wife who will remain sexually faithful to me so that I do not have to clutter up my intellectual life with jealousies. And I want a wife who understands that my sexual needs may entail more than strict adherence to monogamy. I must, after all, be able to ralate to people as fully as possible.

If, by chance, I find another person more suitable as a wife than the wife I already have, I want the liberty to replace my present wife with another one. Naturally, I will expect a fresh, new life; my wife will take the children and be solely responsible for them so that I am left free.

When I am through with school and have acquired a job, I want my wife to quit working and remain at home so that my wife can more fully and completely take care of a wife's duities.

My God, who wouldn't want a wife ?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Learning from Vietnam

One of the downside to blogging about Brunei when you are overseas is that you can't do it. I tried but I don't have any reference materials with me and it is not exactly cheap calling someone to confirm on certain things. Yes, there is an amount of work involved in writing a post and all these have to be ready before I write it. So, I thought I will spend a little bit of time talking about Hanoi, its people and being an amateur economist, look at the economy as well. I haven't spent that much time outside the conference area but the spare time that I have, I have tried to utilise that as much as I can.

The last time I visited Hanoi properly was in 1998 and my ambassador father took me around Hanoi and its surrounding. So I saw a different kind of Hanoi as opposed to the ordinary tourists or visitors. I came back in 2000 and even then I have seen the prosperity starting to come into Hanoi. The main shopping area then was the Han Gai area - the 36 streets. Each street specialises in something like flowers, lacquer wares, iron works etc. So the most visited tended to be the touristy area that sells the artwork, the embroided table cloth etc. When I first visited the area, it was run down but 2 years later, the shops which only had wooden doors suddenly had glass doors. Now 6 years later, some of these shops don't even look as if it belongs to Hanoi. It can blend in easily with the artsy and modern shopping areas in Singapore or any of the big cities in Asia.

Oh yes, I forgot there are now shopping centres in Hanoi and we were passing by one yesterday when we had to go through this massive traffic jam just outside the Vietcom Tower where everyone was slowing down to watch presenters and dancers advertising LG products including the plasma and LCD panel television sets.

Eight years ago, there were already many motorcycles. But yesterday there was even more motorcycles. Our car couldn't even move. It was like rivers of motorcycles. What's amazing is that half of these motorcycles look as if they just came out of the motorcycles dealers. These are new and you can tell that the Vietnamese are now very affluent. A few more years the roads will be choked up with cars instead of motorcycles.

I was asked to look at Vietnam's economy. How can Vietnam grow so fast at a blazing 8% growth as opposed to Brunei's snail like development of 0.4% last year? Vietnam has been able to cut their poverty rate from 11% in 2003 to 8.3% in 2004 (we haven't even be able to agree what the poverty rate in Brunei is). All the growth is due to increases in domestic demand and exports as well as buoyant consumption and investment and a strong global markets for oil and commodities. At the same time the government continues to pursue and expansionary fiscal policy and this was able to cover the cost of reforms and infrastructure. At the same time too, the private sector had an increasing role.

Is there any lesson here for us in Brunei? Yes and no. Expansionary fiscal policy helps (for the economically challenged, expansionary fiscal policy means the government spends more money) and this can drive up demand in the short term due to the boom in government expenditure. In Vietnam's case, there is not much leakage. In other words, the government builds buildings, the Vietnamese workers get the money and they get to spend it and the retail and business sector booms etc. But in Brunei, government builds the buildings, but the workers bring the money back to the countries they are from and hardly anything gets spent in Brunei. We don't have a cheap labour force for us to produce anything that can be exported in the volume that Vietnam has. In other words, the Brunei economy and the Vietnamese economy are different and we probably need to look at other models if we want to improve our economy. But 8% growth is really something we need to find if we really want Brunei to be more developed in the future.

PS. For those who knows what meeting I am attending and interested in knowing what happened, I can tell you that yesterday's meeting was very hot indeed. There were two issues still sticking in the press statement and even though we spent four hours, we still couldn't move on these two sticky sentences. The first one is our friendly superpower's topic of today and even though they have moved slightly but the Asian Superpower refused to even have the sentence in. The second one was less contentious, something about asking our great big brother's fund to speed up a little bit on the reassessment of shares etc. The downside is that the two day meeting which was supposed to end yesterday have to be reconvened this morning at some ungodly hour so that we can settle those two sentences before the ministers meet this afternoon. I have a feeling that we will still be unable to move after 5 hours.

Another topic which we ASEAN countries had to meet very quickly on the sideline yesterday was about a meeting which a superpower wanted to have with us rather than meet us individually in bilateral meetings. I thought that was a rather undiplomatic move until someone said the new guy was a former international bank CEO and he does not understand diplomacy. Alright. The concensus was we are not tiny little vassal states to be pushed around. The small guy is fighting back.

PPS. Another interesting photo from Hanoi. If you drink this juice, you will become very klever and can spell korrekly.

Inspirational Quotes