Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What did your grandad do during the World War?

Sometimes hidden treasures can be right in front of you and you don't know it. Each of us has a history of unique personal experiences that makes us who we are.

Last Sunday, my wife and I visited her elderly uncle. It was our 15th Hari Raya visit there and other than fulfilling our duties, I guess we just went there to say hello, how are you and bye. We normally stay for about 15 minutes tops. My uncle and his wife were not much of a conversationalist and in most visits, it will be one question and one answer. I always ask him about his business (he runs a small business) and how many people that has come to his house and which of my wife's siblings had been there and which hasn't. Nothing much really.

This time when I got there, my better half said why not change where I usually sit. It struck me then that I have been sitting at the same sofa more or less in those 15 visits and the interesting bit was that the sofas too have not changed position! I decided to change my questions too and started by asking him how old he was. He was 80 turning 81. I realised that this elderly gentleman who have lived through World War II and plenty of changes throughout Brunei history would know a lot about Brunei. I asked a number of questions, being an amateur Brunei historian for quite sometime, some I already knew the answers and needed verification. Some information completely new.

We talked about the war and what he did. He was around 16 or 17 when the war started and he was drafted in as a policeman during the Japanese occupation. He was sent to Kuching to undergo Japanese education before being sent back to Miri when the Allied bombing of Kuching and Borneo started. He made his way back to Brunei and he was arrested by the Allied and kept for about 3 months in Kuala Belait to ensure that he was not one of the wanted ones. Everyone thought he was dead as in those days, Kuala Belait was like a different country. There was no road and don't even talk about telephones. He later joined the Forestry Department and worked until the early 1980s before retiring. We talked about what he did when he was in the Forestry Department. All in all, time just passes by before you know it. It was the first time I regreted having to leave him as we had a number of other relatives to visit. In the car, all I kept thinking was I could have asked all this 15 years ago and during each of those visits and I would have been able to compile a sizeable knowledge bank. I would have to wait till next time and you realised thata the phrase 'kalau umur panjang' became a reality there. It is a sobering thought.

You know, young people, and I was one too, of course, often head for the door when our elders start to talk about the past or "the good old days." Interestingly enough, I read somewhere, by sharing their memories, our seniors are able to preserve their identities, see their contribution to life, and experience positive feelings about themselves, which promotes mental and emotional well-being. By allowing them to express themselves, it actually help them. And on our side, there is this satisfaction in getting close to the person, enjoying their stories and learning from their experiences and wisdom. We should allow our older family members fulfill a natural and important role by relaying family history, ethnic heritage, and folklore, which promotes intergenerational understanding and sharing. These bonds add meaning to our lives.

We still have a couple of weeks left or a week at least of this Hari Raya. When you visit your elderly, ask them all the questions that you want answers to. It will help them and it will help you too. There may not be enough time if you were to wait longer.

So, what did your grandad do during the World War?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hari Raya Cards

I promised my sister I will talk about Hari Raya cards sometime before the end of Hari Raya. Even though theoretically speaking Hari Raya is the whole of Syawal but by next weekend, it will be practically over. So I thought this is as good a time as any to talk about it.

We received two more Hari Raya cards from members of the Royal Family - this time from His Royal Highness the Crown Prince and Her Royal Highness Princesss Sarah. We enjoyed receiving from both Pengiran Muda and Pengiran Anak Sarah as they took the time to personally handwrite the envelopes and sign the cards as well. Each of them will send you a separate one even though it is the same card design. Last year was the first time that they sent out separate cards and it was last year that I discovered that both personally handwrite their cards and envelopes. You can't get any more personal than that.

I was looking through the Hari Raya cards I received this year. So far I have received about 100+. Most are run of the mill cards - either the square one, normally the Memory Lane or the Post Office cards, some the rectangular ones and most with either abstract or Hari Raya motifs or with the photos or pictures of mosques either a Brunei one or some other countries'. A few cards stand out as memorable. The one by the Minister of Communications was a winning art design by a 12 year old girl. The one sent out by the Chartered Bank CEO was handmade by the folks at Pusat Ehsan which I thought was very supportive of the Bank. The Minister of Home Affairs had the photo of the Jalan Sultan Bazaar - a good promo as well.

The Deputy Minister of Industry and Primary Resources was promoting the Golden Birdwing - a beautiful male butterfly from Labi which is protected as an endangered wildlife. The British High Commissioner sent out a card which depicted a caligraphy made by a student in UK. The 2nd Finance Minister sent out a card which showed a painting by a local artist. And finally one of the MFA PS sent out a card which had his own painting as the cover.

My sister wanted me to talk about my Hari Raya card which she designed which I have to admit is probably one of the most unusual design card which is being sent out this year. It's foldable and you can actually stand it up and use it as a deco for your table. You can even put is sideways. The design is interesting and it comes in a bright yellow envelope. I was a little bit worried about sending the card to the Royal Family members but my sister says the effect would be lost if I did not use the yellow envelopes. If anybody out there is interested in the card, e-mail me and I will send one to you. On second thoughts, that would be giving my identity away. Anyway, if you email me, I will forward it to my sister so you can ask her if she can design one for you too. Just for the record, my sister has a BA and an MA all in Arts and Design and one of her work has been bought by the Tate Art Gallery in London. The promo, okay sis? [I had to do this promo to get a discount on my next Raya card design from her ;)]

Talking about Hari Raya cards, I remembered in the 1980s when I was a junior officer at the Ministry of Communications - the PA to the Minister asked me to find out who it is that had sent one of the biggest cards we have seen to the Minister. It was one of those 18 inch x 24 inch card and what was surprising was that the card was meant for a 'kekasih' or a lover complete with love Hari Raya poem. The Minister was wondering who his secret admirer was. Eventually we found that the card was sent by an expatriate engineer who thought it was an honour for him to send such a huge card to the Minister but since he did not speak Malay, he did not realise the implication of the card!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Brunei's $15.9 billion GDP: Good News and Bad News

The latest issue of Brunei Economic Bulletin (BEB, volume 4 issue 3 & 4, July 2006) issued by the Economic Planning and Development Department of the Prime Minister's Office, contains several interesting information about Brunei Darussalam’s economy. There are good news and bad news.

Let me start with good news. The BEB wrote that the GDP statistics has been revised. Well, actually this is not new, because the announcement was already made sometimes in August 2006. But it is still good news because now we learn that our GDP statistics conform to the international practice (which uses the “1993 System of National Accounts”). The GDP statistics are also more comprehensive in terms of data coverage. Another good news: finally, our GDP statistics adopt two different approaches to compiling the data (ie, the production and expenditure approaches). Done this way, both the policy maker and analysts are now able to undertake data cross check. The revised methodology allows analysts to use GDP statistics more confidently.

Why are they good news? How do the new statistics help us? Let me give you one example. For a start, we now know better what drives the economy. From the GDP (by expenditure) statistics, we can see that on average, the investment rate is only around 14%. Mind you, we are talking about the domestic economy here. This figure is rather low if the country wants to accelerate its economic growth. (By the way, you can arrive at this figure by taking the ratio between capital formation and GDP). In comparison, the ratio between government consumption and GDP averaged around 24%.

What this means is that the economy spends 10 percentage points less on investment than on government consumption. Since the multiplier effect of consumption is typically small, while investment multiplier is high, you can expect the future growth rate would be rather slow. Investment (unlike consumption) is like “flour and eggs” in a cake: the smaller the amount of flour and eggs you put, the smaller the cake size you would get. (I am sorry introducing technical jargon, but actually the term “multiplier” refers to how many times 1 dollar gets multiplied in an economy in order to produce output).

You see: the improved GDP data now allows us to know more about the economy. With such data, not only that we know more about “the direction” of the economy, but we also know more about “the structure” and “the magnitude” of changes in the economy. Because knowledge is good, hence improved GDP statistics is good news.

What’s the bad news? There is a chart in BEB that conveys a very powerful message: Brunei economy slowed down. The growth rates in 2004 and 2005 were close to zero. What’s more, the average growth rate (between 2000-2005) was only around 1.6%. Is this low or high? To put this figure into perspective, I give you the average growth rates (2000-2005) of countries in this region: Malaysia 3.7%; Singapore 4.4%; Philippines 4.6%, Thailand 4.7%, Indonesia 4.7%, Cambodia 6.2%, Vietnam 7.3%, and; China 9.3%.

Finally, the new GDP statistics also revised Brunei’s total output upward. The nominal GDP figure for 2005 is now estimated at BND 15.9 billion, compared to BND 9.8 billion (based on the old series). The per capita GDP, therefore, gone up: from around BND 26,000 to around BND 42,000. This puts Brunei at par with Singapore in terms of per capita GDP.

But this revision should not lead Bruneians to think that they suddenly get richer (on a stroke of a pen). This figure only means that the old statistics series understated Brunei’s output. That’s all. The census in itself cannot create more GDP.
Today's entry is written by an expert who has been observing our economy for the last couple of years and still prefers his anonymity. He is a specialist in his field and has guest written once before this writing about food security in Brunei Darussalam.

Photo credit: DEPD

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Please forgive me

On the second day of Hari Raya, my family and I went to 15 houses of colleagues, relatives and friends. We started at about 8.30 in the morning and did not come back until about 9.30 in the evening. It was continuous visiting and we only stopped for prayers at my parents' and my mother-in-law's house. That number I was told, is average and I know of many other families which did a lot more visits than that.

Out of that 15 houses, guess at how many housese were we offered to partake in the usual Raya feast? If you answered 15, you are close. It was 14 and it was only the last one which didn't and simply because it was late. I am not going to write about how excessive, wasteful or whatever it is that we should not be doing. I am not an expert in that area and my partner in my other blogsite has written another beautiful piece on this on our joint effort at bruneiummah. But of course this is as good a time to remind ourselves that moderation is always good. I have learned to pace myself, nibbling a little bit here, a little bit there, though when I totalled everything up, I think all the total amount still exceeded my daily calorie requirement. Sigh..... Lose 2 kilos fasting 30 days, and gained 3 kilos during 2 days of Hari Raya.

What gets me is that at some of the visits that we make are visits that we should make more often. Some of these visits are to our elderly relatives and every year I go there, I noticed how frail some of our elderly relatives have become. I noticed the amount of white hair on some of my elderly relatives which was probably there last year but wasn't as visible as now. Every year, people changed. Last year, I wasn't using a cane. Last year I wasn't worried about my glucose level. Last year I wasn't worried about this that or the other. Life now becomes very important. Promotion and other worldly materials at this point of my life become very immaterial and you know you have reach a certain point in your life to realise just how mortal you really are and how much that matters to your family.

In some of the houses, we noticed the absence of a loved one. Some have moved on to a better peaceful world. Some have just gone to the land of further studies. Some have started a new family. Whatever it is, changes occur. When I visit my elderly relatives, sometimes I wonder whether I will be seeing them again next year - not so much that they would have moved on, it could equally be me that would have moved on. I met a colleague who had everything but he is fighting an illness which completely consumed his life. I heard of another senior colleague who is unable to see now again due to another illness. These are people I used to sit down and discuss about the worldly matters. The phrase 'kalau umur panjang, badan sehat' become very significant suddenly. In our busy life, I wish we could have spent more time visiting each other and not just wait until Hari Raya to do so. If we only wait until the next Hari Raya, we might no longer be seeing some of these people. When you visit an elderly relative or colleague, sit down and have a chat with them, and do ask for their forgiveness. You may not have the next Hari Raya.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hari Raya Tribute to the Royal Family

The Hari Raya visit to Istana Nurul Iman is probably the only one in the world where the monarch and members of the Royal Family actually stood to wait for the public to come and greet them which numbers almost 40,000 daily for three days running. Someone emailed me whether I can scan the current photo of the Royal Family which was handed to us as a gift during the first Hari Raya. I looked at the frame and wasn't sure if I was to open the frame whether I could get it closed again as it is sealed. So I took a photograph of the photograph and posted it here (if you click on the photo, you will get a larger version). So, to His Majesty and the Royal Family, for taking the time to stand and greet more than 100,000 members of the public without complaint for three days every year, today's entry is a tribute to all of you.
Photo credit: Istana Nurul Iman

Click here for more photos of First Day Hari Raya at Istana Nurul Iman with His Majesty, Her Majesty and HRH Pengiran Isteri Azrinaz at www.bruneiresources.com

In the Name of Education by Z Junaidi

One of the first thing that intrigued me when I read the entry on Monday 23rd October 2006, was not the Hari Raya the blogger had spent all his life, but rather the loneliness he had to endure all the while. All - in the name of education. I had a rather similar upbringing. I ‘left’ my KB home before my 12th birthday to live and being educated in the so-called Science School. It was 1979. We were the second intake of students who had been selected to go to such a priviledged school.

I’m not too sure if it creates the same kind of feelings to parents nowadays as compared to those in the late 70s and early 80s. This was simply because ‘good schools’ were rare then. Today, some of the best echelon of A-students come from several schools around the country, eliminating the Science School as the (only) top school to go to. But no doubt in my mind, the Science School will still continue to churn out future leaders of Brunei.

It was interesting to note that another previous entry noted the cancellation of the Singapore programme for top PCE Brunei student back in the 1960s to 1980s in 1984 – some six years after the creation of the Science School in 1978. I wonder the wisdom of doing so - since that particular programme did produce some of our top senior civil servants till today – although the process will definitely involve sending young Bruneians away from home. The point was that some of us left home so early in life, that it makes you wonder if that is the way to be – as if being away from our parents is a good enough substitute for having a supposedly excellent education away from home – be it in Brunei, Singapore or the likes of the Sultan Idris Training College, Tanjong Malim or the STAR, Ipoh.

I was virtually away from home since the age of 12 till 24 or so when I graduated – except of course for the school/ university hols. It dawned to me sometimes, when I do come back to my parents’ home in those days, I was fairly ‘invisible’ to them to some extend. This means that in practice they do sometimes forget your presence at home or even simply to call you to join the family lunch. I don’t blame them. I do accept over the years that it was an outright consequence of being away from home for such a long time.

So, what do you all in a similar situation and background do in later years? For me, I was determined to do the ‘catching up’ for all those years to my very best. This means going back to my parents’ house virtually every weekend. It’s some sort of ‘revenge’ if you like. By then, married life made it even complicated. You have to be seen to cover your in-laws’ side as well, meaning doing the rounds not only to your parents’ house but also to the in-laws. No son in-law would like to be seen as unfair.

Even then, I did eventually found out that the missing childhood and teenage era was no substitute for the days spent with your Mom or Dad when you are already an adult. By then, your adulthood was shaped by all those experiences – bitter and good ones, including the feeling of home-sickness bundled up in a cocoon of intricacies, spreading through the already empty heart. Unlike the fresh and na├»ve childhood, supposedly ready to be shaped by our parents. That’s what parents are there for. It was like a missing gap in the middle, from the the time you were born till the time you started working.

I guess if they have a choice, they won’t even consider sending their children away in the first place. I sometimes wonder if parents do get lonely at times without having one of their children around.

But I take great ‘comfort’ and feelings of being spared somehow – if you were to compare to those who were orphaned early in their life. Our Prophet Muhammad was one. For these very reasons, I had some soft spots on orphans (and the needy). I sometime wonder if they do understand the implications of the notion of parents not being there for you especially when you need them so much. I guessed it did’t occur to them in the first place because simply they don’t get round to understand the significant of having to live together with Mom and Dad.

That said, I reckoned that’s what numbed my heart all those lonely years away from home – a set of mentality, if you like, to ‘soften’ the blow of not being able to live at home as many others naturally do.

Well, what now? I guess, for those who had not done the catching up, will do so during this Hari Raya – if you lucky enough to have your parent(s) still around. Whatever it is - if you happened to be married and have children - the presence of grandchildren will surely make the day for those lonely grandparents. Simply put, a good way of covering up those lost years.
Today's entry is contributed by Z Junaidi, who has contributed many ideas on what topics for me to write. However today, instead of contributing ideas, he has decided to write his own entry.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Silaturrahim during Hari Raya

Sometimes we pay lip service towards one of the aims of visiting each other during Hari Raya which is to extend silaturrahim. We take that for granted as most of the time that is what we happened. We visit each other's houses and see the same family members, the same friends and so on. Nothing new in that. Very seldom do we get to see more than that. This Hari Raya, I thought the same thing will happen but this year I came across two family friends who we have not seen for eons. If if it wasn't for having open houses and having the practise of letting virtually anyone to come visit us, we will not have come across these two cases of really espousing the case of extending silaturrahim.

The first happened during first day of Hari Raya. A family friend who often dropped in for Hari Raya this time round brought his mother who was a Malaysian. It was the first time she came with this family friend. And when she saw my mother, it was the most joyous of occassion. Apparently she and my mother were teachers together in a small town in Malaysia some 45 years ago. My mother left Malaysia when she married my father and ever since then she has never met her friend until more than 45 years later, the first day of Hari Raya this year. They had a lot of catching up to do.

The second was yesterday. I was at my brother-in-law's when I saw a vaguely familiar face. We looked at each other and it took a while for my brain to process through its face recognition software and for those who knows me, I have a very poor software, but yesterday it worked. We said each other's names and we remembered our piano playing days. I used to take lessons from a very distant cousin and he was her friend then. The last time I met him was more than 17 years ago. If it wasn't for my brother-in-law's open house, we wouldn't have met each other. He doesn't even know my brother in law but he was there because he was with his friend. (Anyway, I promised him a quick plug, this coming Saturday, there will be a music gig at the Dreamcatcher Music Studio in KB (same block as WyWy at Jalan Pandan) where he will be playing for the Bluesmaker, one of six bands that will be playing music ranging from Jazz to Alternative. Call the studio for more details.)

So Hari Raya does provide the opportunity for us to meet each other but it does more than that too. So, go out and do your rounds. You might bump into someone and really extend your silaturrahim that much further.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

First Day Raya at Istana Nurul Iman

I am not going to write much at all today. Yesterday morning was the first day for what RTB described as state dignitaries and diplomats to greet His Majesty and the Royal Family at the Palace. I am pretty sure that I am not in the category of a 'state dignitary', but I was there all the same. I thought I will upload some of the more interesting food scenes during that reception (I will try to upload the entire photos at my multiply blogsite). Some of the more interesting exhibition was the house and the cannon made out of chocolate and this huge lobster (which they keep replacing) which is mostly decoration and the melted chocolate fountain for the dip. All the lobster meat was on the plate. Other interesting food also include deer meat rendang, the prawn satay and the melted chocolate dip. The others are mostly traditional Raya and Brunei food (with some dimsums thrown in) but of course decorated in the palace way.

I wanted to take a photo with His Majesty but of course was way too shy to pop over to him and ask whether I could; even though I have been on a one to one when presenting work to him. In the end, I took a shot about 10 feet away and another when he was almost close by when we were queuing to greet him at the end. The Raya gift this year is much better than last year's. We were all given this huge box which contained a framed photo of His Majesty's entire family including the new baby and a huge thick slab of chocolate decorated with a picture of the palace. Sorry Ebay. I aint selling this one. I only have this one set, the other I have given to my father.







Tuesday, October 24, 2006

First Day of Hari Raya

SELAMAT HARI RAYA to all readers. I am not sure why you all are here this Pagi Raya browsing through blogs when you should be out visiting your parents, your elders, your relatives and your friends. So to discourage people from spending too much time reading blogs, I am just doing a very short entry today.

When I posted this, it is still a couple of hours before I have to go to the mosque for the Raya prayer. My body clock after one month of training waking up at 3.30 in the morning still woke me up at 3.30 this morning. For the last 30 days, sleeping at 9.30 and waking up at 3.30 has been the routine. So, no more late night shows for me. And not sleeping after sahur has also been a feature. Though yesterday's morning took its toll, I nodded off for a couple of minutes during the budget negotiation with one of the ministries. There was a couple of millions that I have to check with the secretariat as to what transpired! Seriously, it wasn't that large an amount but a couple of items where I was not fully concentrating on the discussions, luckily the other members are more wide awake than me.

I received a Hari Raya card from HRH Princess Rashidah yesterday. That was the first one from members of the Royal Family for this Hari Raya. As usual the address on the envelope was handwritten. Normally HRH The Crown Prince and HRH Princess Sarah also handwrite the addresses on the envelopes. Very personal. The one from HRH Princess Rashidah has the potrait of her family which I have put up as the photo for today's blog. Later today, insya'Allah, we will be meeting up with the Royal Family as is tradition we will be greeting His Majesty and the Royal Family at the Palace on this first day of Raya. So it is normally a rush for us as we have to go home and then rush to the Palace as soon as the Raya prayer is over. After that only do we go to visit our parents etc. The Raya reception has always been enjoyable and I will see if I can take photos of the banquet. Though this time it's going to be awkward as it is a standing up reception and taking photos discreetly will be kinda difficult.

Oh yes, for those who have been anticipating the ummah blogsite, it is now up and running at http://bruneiummah.blogspot.com. If you want to submit any article or whatever to be included, please email to ummah.admin@bruneiresources.com.

In the meantime, go, go, go. Do your Hari Raya things. Visit your friends if you are in UK, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt or wherever it is you happen to be. If you are here in Brunei, do visit your elders and relatives especially those you don't often visit. This is the only time of the year for us to go and visit them. And also this is the best time to say sorry, maaf, ampun to everyone. Best time of the year to make up whatever glitches that have happened in the past. Okay? Once again, SELAMAT HARI RAYA!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Selamat Hari Raya to Everyone!

I know Hari Raya mood is definitely on as the number of readers to this blogsite has dropped dramatically over the last couple of days. Last Saturday, the number was 449 and yesterday it was 455. The last time it was this low, I have to go back to August. Anyway, blog reading is probably pretty way down everybody's list during Hari Raya. And blogging is also way down my list judging by the unpreparedness of today's blog. So today, I think the only people reading this are those not in Brunei and not celebrating Hari Raya or even if you are celebrating it, I know the experience will not be as nice an experience compared to celebrating at home. But that's only short term, I am sure once you are done studying, you will be celebrating all the Hari Raya you want at home.

Last night for some reason, I remembered how awful my Hari Raya was in my student days. One Raya, I spent up on the plane flying back to Brunei - in the 80s, Hari Raya was around June. Another Raya, I spent for my Law Part I Finals examination. I remembered greeting everyone I met just outside the exam hall wishing everyone Hari Raya and some even replying, today is Hari Raya? That was how stressful and uneventful Hari Raya was. But mostly my Hari Raya in UK was very uneventful and I didn't even visit anyone apart from a couple of Malaysian students' houses. The university I was in hardly have any Bruneians and we were about 3 hours intercity train ride away to London, so even a trip to London was not worth it.

In the mid 1990s when I was back as a student in America (I was the one and only Bruneian then in Boston, the nearest other Bruneians were the diplomatic people in New York, some 400 miles away), my Hari Raya lasted half a day. It was miserably cold and the snow was six inches thick and the river froze. My wife and I spent the morning of Hari Raya preparing food for my fellow student friends and we spent the afternoon walking around campus. In the evening, my student friends came and it was a standing up affair. I only had a one bedroom apartment with 30+ people squeezed into it. That was our Hari Raya, 2 hours of it.

In the 1970s, when I was a secondary school student in Singapore, Hari Raya was at least celebrated widely there. So it wasn't as bad - we had our Raya prayers in the Brunei Hostel there with all the Brunei students. We were at least able to visit the Brunei staff and other staff houses. But flying home was not an alternative. Most in the 1970s are not as well off as students of today even if we were just in Singapore.

I guess times have changed. Judging by the various sites run by Brunei students overseas and the photos being posted up, students of today are luckier. Most of you would have stayed in places where there are lots of friends and most can now afford to fly home to, if time permits. If you are abroad and you are reading this and are unlucky enough not to be able to fly home, I am sure you will try to enjoy your Hari Raya. A couple of tears in the morning is the most you should allow yourself, after that, hei, your friends are there and they are in the same boat as you are - miserable and trying to be happy at the same time.

But most importantly, your family and we all in Brunei remembers you. There are many conversations I have had with parents who talked about their children being overseas and wished their children were able to fly home to celebrate Hari Raya at home. So even if your parents don't tell you, deep down their Hari Raya is also different with you not being around.

On that note, Selamat Hari Raya to eveyone who took the trouble to reading this and all the blogs I have typed in since mid December last year. Saya pohonkan kemaafaan daripada semua, apa yang tersalah blog, tersalah type and especially to espeed people, I am asking for your forgiveness (for some reason, my espeed over the last 2 weeks have been working fantastically - no disconnection whatsoever). Like what they say, what is good comes from the All Mighty and what is bad comes from me. SELAMAT HARI RAYA MAAF ZAHIR BATIN!
>>>>CLICK for TAKBIR HARI RAYA<<<<<

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Last Minute before Hari Raya

After the beautiful posting yesterday following the expert posting by our guest bloggers over the last few days, today's posting unfortunately will not be as beautifully worded. For those who wants to continue to subject raised by Abu Iman, Abu Iman and I have talked about it and we will be opening up another blogsite which will be catering to the needs of the ummah especially Bruneians very soon. We will certainly be looking for contributors to write articles for the site and I will cross post Islamic related materials on that site as well.

Today being the last day (or 2nd last day) of fasting, I thought I will go into any last minute Ramadan and Syawal needs just like many Bruneians whom I saw yesterday at the shops. I actually popped over to buy a replacement water dispenser bottle at one electrical shop in Kiulap and all the shop sales people were busy catering to the needs of everyone else wanting to buy tv sets, hifi sets, dvd sets etc. Nobody wanted to layan someone like me just wanting to buy a plastic bottle. I overheard one of the managers called up his store to send another truckload of stuffs. Apparently the first truckload sent in the afternoon sold out. Eventually someone served me and I think my purchase must have been the smallest value on that day. On the way I passed by a few other electrical and even a computer shop and a furniture shop, they were all full of people! We have talked enough about this, so I won't go into it.

Back to today. When was the first Eid-ul-Fitr or Aidil Fitri celebrated? The first Eid-ul-Fitr was celebrated in in the second year of Hijrah or 624 CE (Common Era) by the Prophet Muhammad SAW with his companions and relatives after the victory of the Battle of Badr (Perang Badar). The Battle of Badr was fought about two weeks before on the 17th Ramadhan. So after the victorious battle against the Quraish, not only was the end of the month-long fasting in Ramadan celebrated but also to mark that victory. Eid-ul-Fitr is called Eid-ul-Fitr because Ul Fitr means 'breaking of fast'.

Why was the Battle of Badr such a big thing? For Muslims, winning the battle marks a huge turning point. The Battle of Badr was the first big skirmishes between the Quraish based in Mecca and the Muslims based in Medinah. The Muslims all this while had been carrying out succesful raids against the Quraishs by attacking caravans belonging to the Quraishs. In this particular instance, the Quraish decided to fight back with a huge force three times bigger than Prophet Muhammad SAW's army. In this particular instance, the Muslims managed to defeat the Quraish including killing several important leaders. And by winning the battle, it was the first major event that the Muslims who were forced out of Mecca two years earlier, felt that they will be able to overcome the Quraishs who until then was seen as one of the most powerful and the richest in the Arab world then.

One of the most important aspect of Eid-ul-Fitr is charity where all Muslims are expected to help the needy. Someone left a comment in the comment chatter box to talk about Zakat. I wanted to write about it earlier but I saw S@S already did, what I will do is link you to her article on it. What's important is to remind everyone that if you are an independent person, in other words, no longer relying on your parents, you must pay for your zakat fitrah now! You only have today until tomorrow's (or Monday's - depending on moon sighting) Eid-ul-Fitr prayer to pay it. It is only $2.84 for Bruneians in Brunei, 3 pounds in UK, US$8 for those in America and for those in Australia and New Zealand, I have no idea what the rates are. Do let me know.

Parting notes - do the takbir tonight first and last minute shopping later. And from www.islamicity.com - tomorrow for the prayer, a reminder of the Sunnahs of Eid-ul-Fitr:

+ Wake up early.
+ Prepare for personal cleanliness, take care of details of clothing, etc.
+ Take a bath after Fajr.
+ Brush your teeth.
+ Dress up, putting on best clothes available, whether new or cleaned old ones.
+ Use perfume (men only).
+ Have breakfast on Eid-al-Fitr before leaving for prayer.
+ Pay Zakaat-al-Fitr before Salaat-al-Eid (on Eid-al-Fitr).
+ Go to prayer ground early.
+ Offer Salaat-al-Eid in congregation in an open place except when whether is not permitting like rain, snow, etc (a bit hard to do in Brunei).
+ Use two separate route to and from the prayer ground.
+ Recite the following Takbir on the way to Salaat and until the beginning of Salaat-al-Eid:

Allahu-Akbar, Allahu-Akbur. La ila-ha ill-lal-lah. Allahu-Akbar, Allahu-Akbur. Wa-lilahill hamd.

(Allah is great, Allah is great. There is no god but Allah. Allah is great, Allah is great. And all praises are for Allah).

Saturday, October 21, 2006

One World, One Ummah by Abu Iman

2 days to Eid - subject to the sighting of the moon this Sunday.

If it isn't sighted, we continue an extra day of fasting and abstaining ourselves from our nafs. If sighted, we will celebrate Monday as the 1st day of Syawal, the month of Victory for Muslims all over the world.

Ramadhan will be over soon. I am sad to see it go for I know not if I will ever see it again. I pray Allah accepts my prayers and Duaas during this blessed month of Ramadhan.

We have struggled for a month against our nafs, our inner demons, abstaining ourselves from eating, drinking, se*ual relations, monitoring our actions to - prevent from bad actions and promoting good. We pray every night during Terawih prayers to Allah Azza Wa Jalla, seeking Lailatul Qadr, the night that is better than a thousand months, seeking for His forgiveness for our past sins. Only Allah knows whether our sins have been pardoned. We can only pray in hope and fear for His forgiveness.

Those who have filled Ramadhan with fasting, prayers, recitation of the Qur'an and remembrance to our Creator, Allah Azza Wa Jalla, than deserved is the victory. Those who have not, then Wallahu Waklam.....Allah knows best.

Syawal is just around the corner. And like everyone else, I too am excited. The day where we congregate in the morning for mass Eid prayers and celebrate our victory. Victory against our nafs. Reflect on what the muezzin calls when he lauds out, 'Haya Alal Fallah'..... Let us go towards victory.

In Brunei Darussalam, the custom is to visit our families, near and far, to improve on relations, old and new, to hold feasts for family, friends, neighbours and colleagues in our houses and the singing of songs, all this holds steady during Syawal. Our garments are usually new and colourful, the food laden in all its variety, such is the joy and happiness when Muslims celebrate Syawal. It is a joyous occasion lasting a whole month, the beauty that is Syawal. The month of victory.

But let us not get away from the fact that as Muslims, as one Ummah all over the world, we must not be selfish in thinking Eid-ul Fitr or Hari Raya as we call it here is limited to Brunei alone. Think of our brothers and sisters in the so-called liberated Iraq, the oppressed Palestinians, the starving and famine muslims in Sudan, the war torn people of Lebanon, those in Indonesia who have been struck by natural disasters, those in the US, the UK and Europe who are currently undergoing what some say as Islamophobia, Muslims everywhere who are poor and needy who don't enjoy the priviliges that we have here in the Abode of Peace, my home, my beloved Brunei. Beware of excesses in our consumption of food, electricity and time. Let us not follow the ways of the Shaytan. Instead think of our Muslim brothers and sisters all over the world. Think of them when when we eat our ketupats and kuih mur and when we visit our family and friends.

Perspective is everything.....

How do I help them you say? They are far and I do not have the money nor means to help them all. The answer lies in our prayers and Duaa. For have we not been taught that Duaa is the weapon of the believer. When we carry out our prayers, give Duaa to them and pray that Allah bless and protect them and guide them through their adversity. They are our brothers and sisters and we are like a wall. When one brick falls from one side, the repercussions are felt by the rest of the wall.

As Muslims, we transcend all borders. Beyond nationalities, cultures, tradition, heritage. Beyond creed, colour, gender and age. The Prophet Muhammad Alaihi Salam said, every muslim is a brother to every muslim.

That aside, I humbly and sincerely as I possibly can, ask and seek forgiveness to all of you, my readers, my family, my friends, my colleagues if I have caused hurt or ill-feeling towards you in any way. I wish you all a happy Eid with your family and loved ones.

May Allah guide and protect us in this world, May He bless us with knowledge that benefits us, May he bless us with the Taufik so as we can implement the knowledge and use it in our daily lives. Amin Ya Rabbal Alameen.

All that is good comes From Allah Azza Wa Jalla and all that is bad comes from my own self.
Today's entry is contributed by Abu Iman, a professional Brunei young family man. He speaks on behalf of all of us as we seek forgiveness from each other as we try to make the world a better place for all of us, not just for Muslims but for everyone.

PS. If you wish to prepare for the takbir Eid Fitr, you can download the takbir (both long and short versions) from the zikir library at www.bruneiresources.com.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Month of Spending? By Kamal Muhammad

What is the first thing that come to our mind when it comes to Hari Raya?

Is it the sound and sight of firecrackers?

Or is it the green package that the youngsters get from the elders?

Or is it the cakes and the new attires which we bought especially for Raya?

Or is it the opportune time when we can check out and make our move to the person whom we have admired for so long? (This is also a hint for anyone who haven’t figure that one out yet!)

Or is it the open houses where we can eat homemade cooking of our friends, relatives and colleagues?

Or is it the morning Hari Raya Prayer and subsequently the greetings that we make to our elders, family and friends?

Or is the old fashion tradition where we all ask for forgiveness to each other and foster closer relationship especially with people whom we have not met for a very long time?

I believe everyone has a different version of Raya and it may all relate to the stages of life cycle that we all go through. It is difficult to say that everyone have to celebrate this and that way. I guessed that makes us different and special in our own way. Simply put, everyone has their way of celebrating their joy days.

Either way you put it, we all have to admit that Raya is the month where we had to spend extra more than we normally do. It is not during the Raya itself that we spend the dollars but it is the preparation that led to it. Raya is the month when we enjoy the spending. So if I may rephrase, we spend more in Ramadhan, than any other month of the year for the preparation of the month of Raya.

But is this what our religion wants us to? To spend our money and burden ourselves with spending which we can’t afford and end up with debts? Obviously not. So why are we still spending? I believe there is no direct single answer or factor that contributes to the spending habit. Perhaps the modern society of today has evolved to a level where it is a norm for all of use to spend and turn the fundamental idea of spending as a necessity.

For example, imagine if we don’t spend extra for the drink and food for our guests, I can’t imagine how that would turn out (don’t mean to offend anyone, since it is possible this may occur, it is just for the purpose of my argument). We may have to admit that at certain level it can be difficult not to spend. Spending is not necessarily bad for the society but as long as you can afford it and we keep in mind our own limit.

In the US, consumer spending and sentiments are two of the determinant factors that drive the U.S. economy which in turn drive the global economy. As a matter of fact, there can only be economic growth when there is spending by either the institutions or the consumers. With growth, come job opportunities but if uncontrolled and unchecked may also lead to inflation, interest rate rises etc. The ripple effect is endless. Things can turn bad if it is out of control.

So it is down to us, as social responsible citizen, we can set an example to the others, we should make sure that we spend wisely to a level we all think we can afford. But at the same time, we should also bear in mind that when we spend our extra cash stash in the bank, we are also helping our own economy and our own people.
[Today, our guest blogger, Kamal Muhammad used his experience as an Investment Manager by talking about the need to watch what we can spend and the effect on the economy.] Photo credit: www.tourismbrunei.com

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Melayu - Origin of the Word

In the comment chatter box, I noticed that there have been a number of remarks about MIB and the citizenship, and even the relevancy of MIB in the context of the religion. If you are expecting today's topic to be about MIB, let me apologise in advance. I am not an expert to speak about the topic but I can point you to a couple of seminar papers available on the bruneiresources.com website that may be of use who wants to know more about MIB.

I was more intrigued about the origin of the word Melayu. According to the latest Pusaka Vol. 12, another Brunei History Centre publication, one Malaysian historian, Nabir Abdullah who wrote in 1978 and has been widely quoted noted that there are two schools of thoughts where the word 'Melayu' comes from. Firstly, the more widely acceptable explanation is that the word Melayu comes from Sanskrit 'Mala' which means hill/mountain and 'ur' which means town in Tamil or town/village/locality in Malayalam and hence Hilltowns or Malayur/Malaur. The second explanation is that the word comes from slaves in the Celebes. They are called Melayu because of the work they do which is the word 'Mala' which means to carry and 'ayu' which means stick and hence, they carry sticks.

If you read more literature, you will come across these explanations though the first one seemed to be widely acceptable. Though I guess it will concerned some Malay supremasists to note that the word Melayu comes from our South Asian neighbours and the second explanation is not very appealing either. However another version from Wikipedia is that the word Melayu may also originate from a river named Melayu River in Jambi, Sumatra. Though whichever comes first - whether the river was originally named Melayu River or it was named after Melayu is to be debated. The Pusaka article also noted the possibility of a Malay Kingdom in Sumatra. But according to the Chinese Historians, one journal by Yi Jing (6th Century) noted that the name 'Ma-La-Yu' was already in use then and many artifacts of 'Melayu' have been found in Jambi.

The adoption of the word "Malay" in the English Language took quite a circuitous route. It was adopted into English via the Dutch word "Malayo" which itself comes from the Portuguese word "Malaio" which in turn originates from the word 'Melayu' itself. I read somewhere that the 'Malay' as a race is considered as the youngest among races in the world. This probably stemmed from a Dutch anthropoligist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach who in 1775 noted that there are 4 main human races by colour - Caucasian (white), Ethiopian (black), American (red), and Mongolian (yellow). In 1795, he added Malay as another race as Malays are "brown color, from olive and a clear mahogany to the darkest clove or chestnut brown." Though many anthropologists have rejected his theory of five races as race classifications as classifying races is quite complex and cannot simply be done by colours.

I guess the next natural topic to write would be where do the regional 'Melayu' people come from bearing in mind that 'Melayu' is a fairly substantive race all the way from Southern Thailand to the sothern Philippines. Probably after that would be to write especially for Brunei where the 'Melayu' people in Brunei come from. Now, only if I have the time...
Photo credit: www.bruneitourism.com

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A La Carte or Buffet for Sungkai? By Kamal Muhammad

Hunger, tiredness, thirstiness, all add up to one thing - a desire to end one’s salvation. I do believe breaking fast times are the most look forward to times during the Ramadhan month (apart from the Lailatul Qadar of course). It is the time when we all regain our energy and end the physical and spiritual restraint exercise.

But one may wonder whether it matters how we break our fast. Do we eat lavishly and eat what our natural desire command us, or shall we eat moderately and still exercise some restraint. Buffet or a la carte is the question that ponders me when ever I dine out. To answer the question, one has to experience oneself what each means.

Option 1: A la carte – Too bad, the prices doesn’t change; I hardly come across any restaurant that give discount during Ramadhan, but most of the time the prices are cheaper than buffets (depending on what you order of course). But A la carte is usually meant for those who want a simple dish (or it can be complicated), who knows what they want and most importantly want to enjoy their food. Whether one is to enjoy the food, depends on whether the correct menu is picked and the cook is doing what he/she supposed to do. If the two combinations match, then the chances are, the food is good.

Option 2: Buffets – the good one start at 18 bucks and can go as high as 22/23 bucks for the high end - pretty standard market prices nowadays. The number of dishes can go as far as 12 to 20 dishes. It is worth every penny – plus this is the best time when the price of buffet per head drops like more than 30% especially for the good hotel restaurant. Come to think about it, Ramadhan is the month of food feast where all the good restaurants comes up with their best recipe, if not this is the best time of the Year when the cooks try and promote new recipe. Good for tourism though if we can market it that way?

Anyway, that's beside the point, the question is, can we really enjoy the food? The chances of saying yes is pretty slim, with so many flavours and so many choices, one can end up spoilt by it. It just numbs one’s taste bud especially when two contrasting flavors taken one after the other. Plus a normal person intake is pretty much limited after fasting a whole day. It is just weird to push all those foods of 22 dishes down one's throat. The main reason of breaking fast turns from - to moderately break one's hunger and thirst (dates and plain water) - to enjoying food - then finally trying to fill your stomach as much as possible to make one’s money worth it.

But does it really matter with what we choose? Perhaps it may dictate one’s character with the choices that one made. If so, how does a simple choice of a la carte and buffets make a different? May be, let me try to relate that to terms which I am a bit familiar with - investment.

A la carte choosers are more focused and professional. Often they know what they want. In terms of investment, they are risk takers and can be associated more toward hedge fund investors. The rewards are of course can be greater if successful but can also be disastrous if a decision is chosen wrongly.

Buffets are for people who are unsure with what they want; they want the best in everything and want the freedom to choose. Buffets are also those who are in search for the best one in life but do not mind to lose something along the way. In terms of investment, buffet choosers are more prudent investors and like to diversify their risk in various baskets. If they can manage properly with what they invest (eat), and harness their stock picks (menu) they can make the best out of their investment.

Ramadhan is the month of blessing and for all of us to exercise restraint in hope to be a better person. We have always been tested and shall remain to be tested with choices that seem not so important but if we think hard, there are always reason of the choices we made.
[Today's guest blogger is Kamal Muhammad, the young Investment Manager at the B$1+ billion Retirement Fund.]

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

T'kidum

How many people in Brunei have seen this? When I first saw it on the magazine shelf at Pustaka Remaja two Sundays ago, I thought, wow! A Brunei own comic book. That's a first. It was reasonably priced at about $4.90 but I thought compared to other comics from Malaysia and especially from UK or USA, $4.90 is nothing, besides talent has to be paid for and when it's Brunei own talent, we have to make our sacrifices. So I settled down as soon as I got home to read it. It has its own ISBN number 999 17-32-12-8 and it was issue no.1. It was published by Brunei Press. Then the date of the publication struck me. This comic book was printed in June 2003. Three years ago!

Where was I three years ago not to have noticed this? But to make amends I read the comic from cover to cover. The front cover has got the five cartoon characters but the back cover has the cartoon caricature of all the cartoonists. I am reproducing both the front and back covers of the comic so that you can all go out and grab whatever copies that are left on the magazine shelf at Pustaka Remaja.

The five cartoonists are Rahim or Rhyme (cuboiart.blogspot.com) better known for his Cuboiart and Si Cuboi books; Noh (Malai Yunus Malai Yusuf) for his Malaiku books published in 1992, 1994 and 1996; Suhaili Omar who used the pseudonym Alai; Kahamarul (ROL) and Denny Azriman@Jeman or Jenah. All these five are our local cartoonists.

According to the blurbs in the inside of the front and backcovers, Rahim as you know has Borneo Bulletin readers tickled pink with his accurate but humourous depiction of the local scenes. He graduated as a Chemical Engineer and began his cartooning with his Si Cuboi series in Media Permata. The series were compiled into two books Koleksi Si Cuboi and Si Cuboi 2. Noh taught hismself art and has represented Brunei in Japan and Malaysia in Cartoonists Conferences. While Alai started off as a serious artist and did not have any intention to draw cartoons. He was attracted to draw cartoons when he saw them in Borneo Bulletin and had his first cartoon published in 1991. Rol on the other hand is an illustration artist and his creations can be seen in the Media Permata, Weekend and Sunday Bulletin and some of his drawings have been exhibited in Asia and Europe. Jeman had been drawing as soon as he knew how to hold a pencil and part of his earlier drawings appeared in the well known Malaysian comic. His first drawing appeared in BB in 2000 and ever since he had became a serious cartoonist.

I want to know whether anybody had ever seen the next issues after this issue no.1? It would be a pity if T'kidum did not continue as I thought the cartoons are among the best local cartoons I had ever seen related to our country, Brunei Darussalam.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Brunei Escargot and Other Discoveries

A lot of Bruneian Muslims on this second last Sunday of this Ramadhan took the time to visit the graves of their loved ones. There is of course next Friday and Sunday when the cars will overflow whatever limited spaces there are available at the carparks next to the cemetery. It happened to us last year when we visited our grandparents' graves in Kuala Belait. I remembered saying why was it that everyone was here at this time, conveniently forgetting that I was there as well adding to the traffic jam. This year we left the house at 6.30 in the morning and we reached KB at around 7.30, there was only one other car there. For those who haven't made their visits yet, there is next Friday and Sunday. Of course, you can always visit the graves at any other time of the year but do try to make it during this fasting month.

As usual I always try to make any long trip worthwhile to discover new things about Brunei. I always make a tour to both Kuala Belait and Seria to note any new things, new buildings whatever to add to my knowledge. I don't go there often enough anymore despite having my aunty and my cousins staying in Pandan and Lumut. The only downside yesterday was that we were too early and the shops haven't even open up yet after we were done at the graves. So I just drove around the the two towns. In KB, SKBB Plaza's renovation is complete and it is open. The riverside cafe at Riviera is also now open and looks very pretty with the sail like structure and it looks fun to have coffee by the riverside. Not much in Seria at all but it looks bustling enough. But I did not go through the Pandan area at KB where the development I have been told is explosive (relatively speaking for Brunei).

We did stop at the new Soon Lee Complex at Sungai Liang. The last few times we passed by, it was still under construction. I was surprised to discover it has a number of service apartments as well as numerous shops under its structure. There was at least 2 restaurants, one a Chinese Teo Chew and the other a Malay Seafood; an Ayamku fastfood restaurant as well as an internet cafe called Atfrenz. A number of other shops including a hair saloon as well as a Soon Lee Mart were there as well. Add a cineplex, that place would have it all and would cater for the whole of Sungai Liang area. I forgot to add that the lighthouse photo is the lighthouse at Lumut and not from a American New England coast.

Today's main topic is actually a small one, so that's why there are already three paragraphs up there. My cousin's husband showed me what he managed to get at the tamu in Seria. I took one look at it and all I see was snails - the common garden variety - you know, the one you see crawling all over the place. However he said that this one may look like that but actually came from the riverbanks. I took one whiff at it and I can assure you it does smell as if it came from the riverbanks. Probably it tasted very nice, just like the French escargot, but luckily yesterday was still fasting month so I was able to skip tasting it. It is called Languai which reminds me of a Brunei boat called languai which they used for racing. Why called a racing boat, a snail, is beyond me. Probably that's why they never win races. There are many other snail like or shell like creatures in Brunei that became edible. These include tekuyong siruk, kunau, kupang, kerang, biluyan or something like that. The only problem is that these all come from the mud. So you do need that Hepatitis A or B protective shots to make sure that you are all protected from whatever that comes from eating these. Anyway, that was all the discoveries I made on a Sunday in Brunei. Hope you all find them interesting.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Historic Moment to Remember

About three Fridays ago, Pehin Goh launched a pictorial book entitled 'A Historic Moment to Remember’ a book that was commemorating the Chinese New Year celebrations at the ICC which was attended by His Majesty and members of the royal family earlier this year. I read in BB that I can get hold of the book for free and finally managed to get hold of it yesterday. When I looked through the photographs, I remembered blogging about the celebrations. It was in my earlier days as a new blogger and my entry on spaces.msn actually focused more on the Lion Dance and I managed to insert some information about the lions as well:

I was among the crowd at the New Year gathering held by the Brunei Chinese Chamber of Commerce at the ICC where His Majesty was the Guest of Honour. Admittedly it was a grand spectacle and one of the performances was a Lion Dance. Lion Dances are one of the things that can raise my heartbeats. When I was very young, I must have been scared and till now, even the sound of the drum beats is enough to steer me away if I happen to stumble upon it. Yesterday, I had no choice, I had to sit and bear it.

I remembered a Jackie Chan movie where Jackie played the lion and did all sorts of acrobatic manouvers. I can't recall the title of the movie but I remembered just how interesting the moves were. Yesterday's performance was nowhere near as good as that. Though I was impressed enough to realise just how much work is involved. In addition to moving around vigorously, the lead dancer must also bring life to the lion by manipulating its mouth, eyes, and ears and that require special skills. He must also operate from an uncomfortable, low crouched position, and follow each movement of the lead dancer.

Interestingly if you look closely, the 'lions' don't really look like their counterparts in the jungle. Why is that? I was told that first of all, there are no lions native to China. So, the lion in the dance is actually based on a mythological animal. According to legend, the Lion Dance was developed to combat a demon-like creature which had brought havoc and destruction to a rice farming community. In order to frighten their evil enemy away, the villagers constructed an awesome-looking figure, which they called a Lion. Their efforts were successful and down the years the Lion Dance became a symbol of good luck and to chase away evil spirits.

Yesterday, there were 6 multicoloured lions. Apparently the color of the lion indicates its age. A multicolored lion with a long white beard, for instance, represents a mature lion. It indicates age, respect, and a tranquil nature. The Black Lion, however, is a young animal, representing youth, aggressiveness, and vitality - a fighting Lion. Lion dance groups in China are actually made up of members of Kung Fu schools. In fact the lion dance competition in the Jackie Chan movie was based on kung fu schools competing against one another. An annual lion dance tournament in Hongkong which Brunei entered is also organised by the Hongkong Martial Arts Association.

So, lion dancers are not as innocent as they look. Those people doing the lion dances have to be good martial arts specialists. Bear that in mind the next time you feel like making disparaging remarks about sissy dancers.


Anyway, the book contained not just the Lion Dance photographs but also many other photographs of interest to the Brunei Chinese Community especially those who were present during the celebrations at ICC last February. It is available for free from Sunlit in Gadong. All I did was to call them and they asked me to come collect it. I don't know how many are available, but free books are hard to get and this one may go fast as well. This is also a historic book as it is the first time in history that His Majesty attended a Chinese New Year Get-Together here in Brunei Darussalam.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Rimba Horticulture Centre

I was out in Rimba yesterday at the Horticulture Centre. Previously I used to go there every couple of months searching for plants and flowers to add to the collection at home. Sometimes it's just simply to buy earth, fertilizers and flower pots. Over the last year, I have been too busy to do that and I noticed lately that my plants growth seemed somewhat stunted and before being accused of plant cruelty, I thought I will have to get some fertilizer at least. At least that's my justification. My better half tells me that I am buying instant flowering plants just to make my plant collection look better for Hari Raya. Heh. Maybe.

The Horticulture Centre (check out their website) was established in 1979 though it was only in 1992 when it became the centre for horticultural business; have changed since the last time I went there. Maybe not a lot but it seemed to have improved. What used to be underused car porches have been turned into small stalls to sell related horticulture products. The one I noticed was an aquarium seller and that seemed to be well stocked with all the paraphanelia that you would need to start a small aquarium at home. The other stalls are horticulture related. Unfortunately none of them were open at 8 in ther morning when I was there, so I was not able to see up close what they were trying to sell.

The existing plant stalls seemed not to have changed despite me not having gone there for quite some time. They were all selling the same plants, fertilizers and earth. Though up close, I noticed that they are now promoting plants which are not native Brunei plants. These tended to come from Thailand or rather Bangkok which one of the sellers persist in saying. I am pretty sure Bangkok itself does not sell plants but I was not about to argue about semantics. Maybe today's customers like exotic plants or there is not much variety in Brunei's plants. I am not sure about the biodiversity thing in having foreign plants coming to Brunei and the economics of all this, that I have to leave to the agriculture experts.

The other thing that seemed not to have changed was the prevalence of Indonesian workers. Practically every single stall you go to, there would hardly be any Bruneians about. The one stall which I managed to find was right at the end where this kindly 60+ lady gave us lots of of extra plants and I only spent some $30 there. Some would argue that more Bruneians should be manning the stalls. But then I am not sure whether it would be worthwhile for our fellow Bruneians to be sitting there, apart from this retired lady, as there is a cost to sitting down and waiting for customers. But having said that, there are plenty of unemployed Bruneians. But then again having said that too, would they be willing to work for $300 a month?

There are lots of interesting economics in the horticulture market. Maybe someone would be able to write about it. Or maybe someone has, but I have not come across it yet. But to whoever happened not to have nodded off towards the end of this post who are able to work out all the economics of it, I do hope that you will be willing enough to write about it.
PS. BLOGSPEAK! My heartiest congratulations to the Brunei bloggers for becoming Brunei Times' Star Bloggers in their blog. Check out their blog entries - Ranz, Emma, Maurina and LSM. Maurina and LSM were already well up and established in the blogosphere world and were among the first outside my immediate circle to notice Bruneiresources and post comments when I first started on spaces.msn.com last December and encouraged me to move out of spaces.msn into blogspot.com. Ranz, so far is the only one I have met in real life and he is as Emma describes him, his looks belie his ability. I owe Ranz big time. It was Ranz's plugging that was responsible for jumping the average daily readership on bruneresources from double digits to 250 in May, without which base, I will not be seeing the 600 daily readers nowadays. Emma, I have only known through the internet world but I am sure will get to know more now that she will be writing for BT regularly. These are four experienced bloggers and BT chose the best among the local Bruneians who will be able to tell the world what Brunei is all about.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Fiscal and Monetary Review (Again?)

I have been neglecting my main library at bruneiresources.com to the point that visitors on a daily average there has dropped lower than at this blogsite which is a first (553 for the bruneiresources.com versus 629). The bruneiresources.com as the main library used to average around 1,000+ daily. The last time I updated anything was the royal wedding pictures and helping to host the Brunei Currency Board Gallery's temporary website.

At the moment I am uploading the entire Brunei Laws which is on pdf format for which I am very, no, extremely grateful to my legal friend; the gazettes which contained the amendments to the laws, also on pdf format; and a few other interesting publications including the Fiscal and Monetary Review Annual 2005 which was released last month by the Ministry of Finance. Because I am too busy doing all this, this will be a short entry today.

I think I wrote about the Fiscal and Monetary Review already in the past. The FMR as the MOF people called it for short is one of two publications released by the Government which actually tells you the state of the government finances, the economic situation and anything related to the Brunei economy. The other publication is the Brunei Economic Bulletin (known as BEB) released by the Economic Planning and Development Department of the Prime Miinster's Office. I have made these two publications ever since it started on pdf format from my main library at bruneiresources.com at this link.

The FMR Annual Report 2005 contained all that you need to know what happened to Brunei finances in the year 2005 - the fiscal sector talks about the fiscal position of the government's finance, the revenues it gets, where its spends it; the monetary and banking sector developments talks about the monetary developments such as exchange rate viz-a-viz against other currencies, money in circulation M0, M1, M2 etc, interest rates (getting lower), banking system (increasing loans), the direction of the lending, loans (this got BB headline coverage last year when I mentioned the amount during a speech which I gave) and all sorts of other data. For those who are interested in the Brunei economy, it's a worthwhile publication to read to know more about the state of the Brunei's economy and government finances.

Though I have to admit that the FMR still lacked certain things. I guess the most important is the absence of some of the analysis. The FMR gave you the facts but not the reasons, so for example you will read M0 going up and down but no analysis why it's going up and down and what effect this will have on the economy. This is an area that the FMR which has been published since 2004 need to do to bring it to a higher level. The FMR Annual 2005 in particular covers the calendar year 2005 but the government fiscal year has shifted from January-December to April-March, so the report only covers up to Q3 of the government 2005/2006 fiscal year. So the last quarter is not covered in this annual FMR. Again that's probably something they need to look at. In the meantime to all the blog readers, do click on that link and read all the past and present issues of the FMR and BEB.
PS. Sorry, today's entry is not that short either, maybe tomorrow's one will be short.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sports Tourism in Brunei

I was at a meeting yesterday discussing the next Hassanal Bolkiah Asean Youth Football Tournament (HBT) to be held sometime next year. This tournament was initiated as part of His Majesty's efforts to bring the youths of ASEAN countries together through football and is the only one in the region to do so. It was meant to be a biennial affair and kicked off in August 2002. However the second HBT was not held in 2004 but in March 2005 instead and now the third HBT to be held sometime next year. At the last tournament the government spent some $1 million in direct and indirect costs.

Costs are one thing. It's a worthwhile effort if there are benefits, in this case there are, though very much intangible ones. Other than the usual harmonious relationship, introducing Brunei etc, there are some benefits to our local tourism industry such as hotels etc. The only problem seemed to be sustaining this so called 'sports tourism' for it to continuously bring in the benefits to our country.

We have some of the more interesting sports facility here in the region. For the information of non-golfers, the Royal Brunei Golf and Country Club (RBGCC) at Jerudong is known among golfers as the Augusta of Asia. Augusta is one of the well known course in USA where the American Masters are played. The Brunei one is a tough and challenging course and the last time I played there, I did not even want to count the number of balls I lost. It was in the region of three boxes, I think, though since I used second hand balls, it was more like three plastic bags. Enthuasiastic golfers around the region have been making a beeline to RBGCC just for the challenge. We also have other facilities such as our watersports.

I remembered SJ, our Tourism head honcho saying in the past that Brunei is making a bid to raise its profile by hosting international sporting events such as the South East Asian Games, the World Badminton Championships and the World Shooting Championships. We had the Brunei Open Golf tournament and the Brunei Marathon as well earlier in the year. All these do cost a fair bit to run but in the long run, if it brings in the tangible benefits to our tourism industry, it will be money well spent. What I am afraid of is that we spend the money but no benefit come our way. All we would have are sportsmen coming to Brunei to get the prize money and say thank you very much for your generousity, and we hope to come back again the next time you hold the tournament to get more money.

To make sports tourism a success, need sustainability and the promotion that goes with it that we seemed not to have. We need to have consistency so that sportsmen and athletes from outside would know way in advance that they will coming to Brunei. How many people realised that the Brunei Marathon will be held again this year in December? Promotion, promotion, promotion. That way we can have the international coverage as they would know this is a yearly event and they can put it in their calendar. The international sponsors would also know in advance which event to sponsor and we would have to rely less on our own funding. Once we are established in that calendar, it will be easier to get the tourists in. They know when certain things are happenning and can plan way ahead. All these require effort and need to be coordinated. At the moment, each of the event are run individually and are held more or less at the convenience of each organisers. SJ, what say you?
photo credit: www.bruneimarathon.com gallery

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

How prepared are we?

Yesterday morning was spent at my wife's cousin's house attending her daughter's funeral. She passed away the night before due to lungs failure. She was not even 40 yet and she left three young daughers, the youngest barely 7 years old and the eldest in Primary 5. Her husband told me the lungs failure occurred because of complication in her diabetes.

I keep on seeing the television health adverts on what things to look out for when you are suffering from diabetes - all in the line of look after your feet etc, because the feet is always the first part affected by cuts etc and untended can cause other complications later on. What struck me is not so much the advert but the existence of the advert itself. To have an advert which keeps on airing repeatedly (to those who watched RTB) means that there is a serious problem. According to the MOH website, the third leading cause of death (2001) in Brunei is Diabetes Mellitus. I am not a health or medical expert to say whether this includes all complications due to diabetes but even on its own is already the third leading causes of death.

In the afternoon, I visited my wife's brother-in-law (biras) at Gleneagles-JPMC Hospital in Jerudong. He has just undergone a heart bypass operation as a couple of his arteries are blocked. I was quite surprised that he had to undergo the operations. I had always seen him as a very active man, he is not the one that sits down doing nothing but he goes fishing, he tends to his kebun, in fact he is so active that he is always busy doing something. But I guess when you are in your 60s, body parts do tend to fail. Alhamdulillah, he is making a very quick recovery, now being able to walk about and maybe in one or two days will be released. So at least I guess that's something to be thankful for leading an active life. Heart diseases is the number one leading cause of death in this country and related to that is the Cerebrovascular Diseases which is at number four.

In this month, most of us will be visiting the graves of our loved ones. Some of us will be visiting the graves of someone close to us who died young and some who died at the 'right' age. The young ones who died young include those who died due to cancer (2nd leading cause of death in this country) and even road accidents (6th).

You know it's scary when you realise just how mortal you are? I am always reminded of this whenever I take my hypertension tablets, check my blood pressure monitor and read my glucose meter. Two things we can take from today's entry is firstly, how much lifestyle diseases are affecting us, yes including road accidents and secondly, how prepared are we, both emotionally and financially?

The morbidity rate of Diabetes Mellitus was barely 5% before the 1990s and by the turn of the 21st century is now close to 30%. It shows just how much the Brunei lifestyle has changed over the last 10 years. Are we becoming too affluent or just leading the wrong lifestyle? Too much junkfood? Too busy lifestyle?

In terms of financial planning too, we sometimes forget. A retired senior officer came to see me very recently inquiring whether his future pensions could be paid now to help him pay for his house. Apparently he only built the house after he retired and now he does not have enough funds to complete the house. Being retired and suffering seriously from a couple of diseases above, he said he might not make it beyond 60. He is worried his family will have nowhere to stay.

It is not just houses but also emotional support. When a young woman or man passed away, it is always the children that we worry about. People always say those who have gone are now at peace. It is those left behind that have to worry. We can help the orphans with the financial assistance, just watch how many donations are given in this holy month. Monthly financial assistance is also given through the Community Development Department. But who gives out the emotional donations? The young children brought up without their mother or father or both?

Perhaps today, we might start thinking of whether we should go for that sungkai buffet and use the savings to add that to our bank account for future use. Even if we do go, maybe we ought to reach out less for that roasted lamb and go for the salad instead and go easy on that thousand island dressing. We should not spend too much time at that restaurant and go to the mosque soon after sungkai to do the terawih prayers, perhaps those 20 rakaats will perhaps help us lose a few calories. And drive carefully back.
Photo credit: "Learning About Metaphors" at www.booksbychildren.com.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Old Age Pensions in Brunei

Last night's announcement during the Nuzul Al-Quran celebration by His Majesty of a 25% increase in old age and handicapped pensions marked the 8th time this pension has been increased since it was first introduced in 1955 by our 28th Sultan. When it was first announced in 1955, it was the first time that the government has enacted a government funded modern welfare system. Though last night's announcements equally caught the majority of people by surprise just as the announcement of the accelerated salary increments last July.

The pensions are paid under the Old Age and Handicapped Pensions Act (Chapter 18) and was first introduced in 1955 when our 28th Sultan, His Majesty Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien III first announced it in a Christmas Eve speech. His Majesty when announcing it stated that the pensions are to ensure that the old aged and the handicapped in this country gets sufficient care from the government. Just for the record, the amount of old age pension was $20.00 in 1955, $25 in 1971, $30 in 1973, $37.50 in 1977, $50 in 1980, $100 in 1984, $150 in 1991 and the last increase before last night's announcement was in 1998 then making it $200.00 a month.

Since 1955, old age pensioners aged 60 and living in Brunei (15,858 recipients in 2005) are entitled to receive a monthly pension from the government. Under the handicapped pension, the blind and their dependents numbering some 130 recipients, the physically handicapped numbering some 330, those with mental illness (under the care of an institution or looked after by their family) numbering some 350 as well as Hansen disease sufferers (used to be known as leprosy) (if any, as at the moment no one is in Brunei is receiving this pension) and are not gainfully employed will also receive the same pension as the old age pensions.

Unlike other countries, whose pensions and welfare schemes are either funded by contributions from the existing workers' salaries deductions (famously known as pay-as-you-go schemes) or from savings from the workers when they were working, the Brunei pensions and welfare schemes are funded directly from the government coffers. At the moment, the payments do not constitute a large percentage of the government's total budget and the increases can be paid for.

Receiving the old age pensions is now seen as a rite of passage in Brunei. It has achieved a status symbol of a sort that you have actually arrived at something just by being old enough to receive it. So much so that the question among pensioners is that 'have you receive your old age pension?' and if you haven't, you are still considered 'young'. It is also seen as a right, a benefit, that cannot be denied. It is the mark of an elder Bruneian.

Monday, October 09, 2006

'Nuzul Al-Quran'

Tomorrow is a public holiday for everyone of us here in Brunei regardless of race and religion, and in other Islam countries in the world a well. We will be celebrating Nuzul Al-Quran. There are some among us including those who will be going to the ICC later this evening who do not know what Nuzul Al-Quran is all about with some of our younger readers even asking 'apakan nuzul ani sebenarnya?' and why celebrate on the 17th Ramadhan?

The answer to that is this short paragraph which I quoted from BB in a 1999 article - "The 17th Ramadhan is one of the significant dates in the Islamic calendar or 'takwim' as it is the date of the Revelation of Al-Quran also known as Nuzul Al Quran, which falls today. The Revelation of Al-Quran is very meaningful to mankind as it influences the life of the people and this event can be considered as the biggest historical event in mankind's civilisation."

I read somewhere that there have been some arguments that the revelation was not on the 17th but rather on the 24th. The majority opinion is that the Al-Quran was first revealed on the 17th Ramadhan (6th August 610 CE) which was based on Verse 41, Surah Al-Anfaal and the minority opinion was the 24th Ramadhan (13th August 601 CE) based on Verse 41 Surah Al-Qadr and Verse 1 to 4 Surah Ad-Dukhan.

Based on reading the surahs alone, we will not be able to decipher the verses to find the exact dates, as Al-Wahidi Al-Nisaburi, an Islamic Scholar considered as one of the best classical scholars in this field wrote: 'The knowledge about Tafsir of the ayat is not possible without occupying oneself with their stories and explanation of (the reasons) for their revelation.' Wallallahualam. The only person who knew the exact date was the All Mighty and Rasulullah SAW. To Muslims, what's more important is that the Al-Quran was revealed and it was first revealed in the month of Ramadhan.

According to the scholars, the whole Al-Quran descended (nuzul) or came down from the lauh al-mahfuz on the night of Laitul Qadr to Baitul Izzah (lowest of the heavens or the earth's heaven) but was revealed to the Prophet slowly over a period of 23 years. The first verses being Verse 1 to 5 of Surah Al-Alaq translated as 'Read in the name of your Lord, who created, created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is most bountiful. (He who taught) the use of the pen taught man which he knew not.'

The first revelation came down when the Prophet was meditating in the Hira Cave. According to Imam Bukhari as narrated by Aishah RA: "Al-Harith bin Hisham asked Rasulullah SAW: 'Ya Rasulullah. How is the divine inspiration revealed to you?' Rasulullah SAW replied, 'Sometimes it is "revealed" like the ringing of a bell, this form of inspiration is the hardest of all and then this state passes off after I have grasped what is inspired. Sometimes the Angel comes in the form of a man and talks to me and I grasp whatever he says'".The last revelation was verses 278 to 281 of the Surah Al-Baqarah. Rasulullah SAW passed away nine days after the last revelation.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Helping the Brunei Needy

A couple of years ago I was staying at my uncle's place in Batu Pahat, a town in Johor for my cousin's wedding. The one thing I discovered at his house was the amount of name cards and flyers at the bottom of his mail slot. When I looked at them, they were all about providing loans. These are not the normal bank loans. These are the illegal loans from loansharks. According to my uncle, he cleaned out the mail slot every month and even then they keep piling up. I was quite surprised that in Malaysia, these 'private' loans have become such huge businesses. A couple of months back there was this story about a street vendor who defaulted on a M$200 loan was set on fire by the loan sharks suffering some 40 percent burns. I don't know whether there are loan sharks already operating in Brunei but I am pretty sure that they are out there except that these cases are not out in the open yet.

I was speaking to one of my staff the other day and found out that in our agency, there are also staff who 'lends' money to other staff. For instance, if a staff has an overtime of say $300 coming his way say at the end of the month but he needed the money now. He can sell that to someone for say, $250 now. The difference of course is the margin that the lender is willing to depart with his money now and the amount that the borrower is willing to forego in order to get some amount of money presently. I don't even want to talk about the legality of this nor the 'ursury' principle that's involved here. Suffice to say that $50 is the opportunity cost to both parties. It happens and that there are people who are willing to be the seller and the buyer. What I just don't realise is the existence of such a system happening under my own nose and that it exists in many agencies a number of buyers and sellers who are willing to undertake such transactions.

The fact that there are Bruneians who are in desperate need of short term cash cannot be denied. Nobody really realises the existence of short term Islamic pawning counters run by BIBD at the old IBB headquarters at Jalan McArthur. If you happen to pop in there, there will always be a large crowd pawning their personal stuffs. I don't have the figures as to how many of these pawned items are returned back as that would indicate that the borrowers only needed the money short term. But I have a feeling that a large majority of the pawned items stay there indefinitely. So there is a market out there and that there will always be a certain percentage of the population who are constantly in need of money.

Add to this, are my previous posting and your additional comments about a small percentage of Bruneians who go around and asking for 'financial assistance'. What we are not sure of is whether the need for extra money is for daily necessities or is it for non productive use. It's easier to be condescending and tell these people that they should plan for the future.

Financial planning is now a word we bandied about. If you are not in a debt spiral, you can always stop yourself at the edge of the financial abyss and start planning for the future. What we do not have is financial planning for those already spiralling downwards into the deep abyss. At the same time we do not want the loan shark market to flourish as they have done in our neighbouring countries.

How do we help them? Some of the cases that the government has helped has not exactly been examplary. There is this famous welfare case of this guy who was given a boat complete with an engine worth at least $15,000 for him to be able to go out and fish and earn an income for his family. The last time he came to see me, he has already sold the boat and the engine, but he did not mention anything about the boat, all he told me was that the welfare people did not want to deal with him anymore to earn my sympathy. I found out about the boat later. He still goes around nowadays asking for 'help'. Cases like this make us very sceptical about wanting to help.

But obviously there are people out there who need our help especially in this month of Ramadhan. They are the orphans, the invalid, the really poor. Some say that the really needy are the ones who do not beg nor ask for help. My sister-in-law once told me about the story of a family in her kampung who lived poorly whom they always donate to. These people never ask for assistance and yet they are the ones that we should help. I guess if we looked around hard enough, there are those among us, even among our own family that need our assistance. These people are too 'proud' and too 'shy' to ask us but we should be aware of their needs. Rather than you throwing the money into new cars, new clothes etc which you do not need, use the money to help them. Good deeds go a long way.

Inspirational Quotes

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