Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Unfillial Son Tales

A few days ago when I wrote about the history of Istana Manggalela, a Tun Teja, a History teacher put up two very long comments about history but one in particular strike me as something I would like to pick up, namely the similarity between the three countries about the legend of a poor boy, who went abroad to better his lot in life. After many years, he achieved success, married a noblewoman and became the captain of a huge ship, forgetting his humble roots in the process. One day, in order to take shelter from an impending storm, his ship happened to berth near his birthplace. His ageing mother recognising him rowed out in a canoe calling out to her long lost son. He was too embarrassed to acknowledge her. She was very depressed and placed a curse on her unfillial son whereupon a storm appeared capsizing the ship and transforming it into rock.

In Malaysia, this is known as the tale of Si Tanggang, in Indonesia as Malin Kundang and in Brunei as Nakhoda Manis. Each and every single country has natural proof of it. Malaysia has the Batu Caves in Selangor where the caverns of the caves are said to resemble the cabins of the ship, Indonesia has the pieces of the ship in rock forms including that of a rock which resembled a man prostrating for mercy along the beach in Air Manis, Sumbar about 20 kilometers from Padang in Sumatra. Brunei has the Jong Batu, a small island which jutted out of the water in the Brunei River which resembled the keel of the boat jutting out. So, who is right?

Well, this blog is not a scholarly attempt to find out whose story it is. I am sure you can find someone who has written a PhD on this thing somewhere. But what I do find interesting is neither the Brunei or Indonesian version, ours and theirs are more straightforward and the natural rock formations look fitting as well. The story is so similar that it can fit in either one. The Malaysian one is more interesting as some has used it as an example about how the Malaysian Malays had ursurped what rightly was an Orang Asli's rights in this case, legend. In Malaysia, when the story first appeared in print form in a text book in the early 1960s, the story was that of an Orang Asli, in particular of the Temuans, as they live very near the Batu Caves. However by the 1970s, the Tanggang story became an all-Malay story and has remained so until now. The Batu Caves was discovered by an Indian in the early 1800s and rediscovered in 1878 by an American named Hornaday. By the 1890s, Hindu devotees began making pilgrimages and slowly turning the caves into a huge shrine for their Lord Murugan attracting some 1.5 million Hindus every year. Tell that to your Malaysian Malay friends.

Maybe it does matter to some, but to me, it doesn't really matter who has the right story - we don't even know our own origins - in the mist of time, it is possible that we all come from the same stock and therefore share the same stories passed down through legends and by finding natural rock formation in our areas, our elders try to fit those natural rock formation to the legend which has passed down the generation. But what's important is the lesson that the legend offers. The unfillial son's great sin for being unfaithful to his mother was both inhuman and unnatural and that sin can only be punished by being transformed in rock forms forever until the end of time as a warning and a lesson to all of us.
PS. Photo 1: Jong Batu - the keel of a ship now a small rock island in the middle of Brunei River; Photo 2: Rock formation said to be of a man prostrating for mercy found in Air Manis Beach, Sumatra; Photo 3: Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia - said to resembled the cabins of a ship; Photo 4: Rock formation said to resemble the remains of a ship turned into stone also at Air Manis Beach, Sumatra.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Art of Visiting the Sick in Brunei by Pollyanna

I'm sure you've visited people in the hospital before. And I'm sure you have your own etiquettes while visiting the ill. Being around a hospital environment this last week made me see that us Bruneians sometimes have our own rules of visiting the sick.

Rule #1. Visiting as soon as you have heard a loved one or friend has been admitted

Us Bruneians tend to spread the news by word of mouth. I once learned that my second cousin was getting married from an office colleague whom I had just met a couple of weeks. And because of this most effective form of communication, patients have yet to warm their bed when before they know it they already have visitors.

This just goes to show how caring our society is. It probably also stems from the belief that everyone will have their turn to get sick so it's best to visit those that are sick before you yourself need to be visited.

Rule #2. Bringing giftbaskets or 'buah tangan'

Sometimes us Bruneians are just so generous that we would buy anything to make the patient feel more at home and more comfortable. I suppose the most popular among hospital gift baskets are food items.

Now, on a personal note my Dad is a diabetic – a severe one – and during some of his stints in the hospital I have caught more than one well-intentioned visitor bringing my Dad chocolates or biscuits with sugar content that could up his sugar level through the roof.

But be that as it may, we love to bring little things to patients because it's just in our nature, isn't it? But it's not just us, some of my foreign friends also like to bring little souvenirs when they visit people in the hospital but they usually range from gifts of flowers to fruit baskets to little 'get-well' cards.

Last night my best friend bumped into this couple who had intended to visit someone at the hospital only to find out that that patient had already been discharged. So they gave this friend of mine a whole tin of Jacobs crackers which was initially intended for their sick relative/friend. You know the kind – the ones in the big tin!! Now that is what you call 'rezeki' or blessing, no?

We are a generous and caring bunch, are we not?

Rule #3. Staying as long as possible while visiting the sick

I'm not sure how to justify this. Perhaps visitors feel that they need to visit for the length of time equivalent to the length of time it took them to find a parking space. Now that would make sense for a certain public hospital where parking spaces are very scarce, but what of a certain private medical facility in Jerudong?

There's ample parking there most times I go there so it would make sense that visitors did not have to go round and round the parking lot for hours just to secure one parking spot. Still I see visitors staying by the patient's side for the full 4 hours of visiting time allocated during the evening.

I suppose that's what you'd call loyalty, although a bit overdone. But still loyalty.

Now some people would equate not visiting as a disrespect. I always hear "eh si anu balum melawat ah? / Has So-and-so visited?" or "Si anu seminggu sudah inda melawat ah? / So-and-so hasn't visited in a week, has he/she?"

So I think visiting and showing up to the sick patient is a way of earning points with the elders.

I know I heard one person say, "I've been here since 2pm and now it's 6:30 pm already. What time did 'you' get here?"

So what exactly is the real intention of visiting, do you think?

At this private hospital we all know, an announcement goes off every time it is time for visitors to leave and at the end of the announcement it always ends with:

"Pesakit perlu berehat / Our patients need to rest"

My sidekick has come up with some interesting alternatives in making the announcement more effective – albeit some of his alternatives are a bit on the rude side. Maybe one day he'll demonstrate for you if he's in the mood. Or not.

I think the announcements are very useful.

Sometimes people respond well to a faceless voice giving them instructions – then they can't identify the person to give them the evil look. Neither can they reprimand them for being disrespectful to people who have made the effort to come all the way, risk their cars trying to squeeze into illegal parking spots and visit their friend / relative / colleague / insert anything here. And also the next time they see the the announcer they won't be able to get revenge for having the gall to 'kick them out of the hospital'.

It works everytime at this private hospital. I wonder if the same were to occur in the public hospitals. Or perhaps the noise would just drown out the announcement. Please see Point #6 below.

But at times, when I see the patient literally dozing off from sheer tiredness (boredom??) while the visitors are talking away about worldly events I wonder whether the one needing company is the really the patient or in fact the visitor.

Note to self: If I get lonely, must go to hospital and pay visit to any sick relative/friend I know and stay there til I no longer feel lonely.

Rule #4. Visiting at all hours

Have a look at the person standing/sitting right next to you. Do they have a watch? If they don't there's a high probability that that person would visit a sick person at 11pm in the evening. Because they wouldn't know that it was already 11pm and it was time for their sick friend/relative to rest and sleep.

But what if these people who visit the hospital late at night do own watches. Some mighty expensive watches I might add?

Yes, I've heard of many stories about how visitors just keep piling in to the wards even as late as 11:30pm at night. I can imagine how long it took them to find parking if they could only get in by half past eleven. So now, think of how long they would need to stay just to make the long parking search worth while. Hmm. You get my point?

Rule #5. Having a peek at every person in every bed in the ward

This is one of my personal favourites. Not because I do it but because it so amazes me why quite a number of people actually feel the need to see everyone accommodating every bed in the ward. Maybe if I looked closer, I'd probably see an attendance sheet in their hands. Yes, perhaps they're the wardens of hospital wards. Silly me for making such a big deal over this matter.

One time one of my close relatives needed to be in a separate room, closed off with only a sliding door with a very big window to separate him from the other patients.

And while I was there, quite often I would see these unfamiliar faces through the sliding door gazing at my relative with such an intensity that one time I actually came out and asked the person if they knew my relative and if they wanted to come in and pay a visit.

Needless to say the person went red, looked at his shoes and mumbled something like, "eh nda payah eh, kan meliat saja. / Er, no need.. I was just having a look."

I don't know. Maybe he knew my relative but was afraid he wouldn't be recognized. Or maybe he was just shy. Yes, Bruneians can get very shy at times.

Note: All sarcasm aside, (yes, didn't you notice I was being a little sarcastic?), I suppose what I did was a little wrong but I just don't get what's so interesting at looking at another sick person who has no relation to you at all.

Rule #6. Talking (really) Loudly with the Patient

Oh, this is another one of my favourites. You can learn a lot at the hospital. Not just about illnesses, but also about what someone's neighbour just bought for their new house. Or how many A's someone's cousin's son got for the latest PSR exams. And I don't even know these people, but somehow I've become quite close to them.

I always wonder if we just like to talk loudly, or we feel a kindred spirit to all those around us. So much so that we don't mind sharing such intimate stories in a room full of other strangers.

Perhaps every hospital ward should set up a stage and have visitors take turns going up on stage to unload the latest piece of personal gossip they have up their sleeve.

Doesn't everyone just love a hot piece of gossip? Come on now, admit it. You do!

Oh and don't mind the nurses every time they tell you to pipe down. I mean, it's not as if there are other patients in the ward who need silence to rest and try to heal, right? No, of course not. Mi casa, su casa.

'Put up your feet - Make yourselves at home'… should be the logo for every hospital.

Rule #7. Bring Your Own Children (BYOC)

Yes, children. Those adorable lil poppets that you just can't leave at home. Yes, even while visiting someone who's got a very contagious disease.

Yes, I do suppose that perhaps some couples don't have anyone to look after their children while they go out. I mean, not all Bruneians are lucky enough to have live-in housekeepers.

So rather than leaving your child at home unattended where there could be so many things that could go wrong, what's more safer than bringing your kids to see a patient who has a disease? I mean, if you can't see the disease, then it must still be safe enough to bring your 3-year-old daughter, right?

Oh and don't forget to shake the patient's hand before and after visiting. You must always teach your children good manners.

Then there are those who still bring their children but have enough sense to leave them in the outside halls rather than bringing them in to see the sick. Yes that's much better because then the kids will have the freedom to test their physical abilities by running around up and down the corridor, coupled with demonstrating how loud their vocal chords are to patients who's beds are fortunate enough to be right next to the hallways.

My, did you ever notice how kids just love to scream their hearts out? It is just so endearing. I want one of my own right now, just so I can take them to the hospital and show off their screaming skills. It's what every parents dream is.

So those are just some of the things I love about going to the hospital and the things I've picked up while observing other people. If you want to see some great examples being demonstrated, just go on and head over to the nearest hospital. You won't regret it. Oh and if you see a girl hunched over in a corner, writing little notes in her notepad, be sure to say hi! If you're lucky, you might get written about somewhere sometime.
Today's tongue-in-cheek but very insightful entry is written by someone who prefers to refer to herself as Pollyanna. She is a regular hospital goer (not by choice) and just wanted to bring to light some of the habits of other hospital visitors and whether people realised the impact of their actions on other patients and hospital visitors.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Toponomy - the study of placenames

The temperature was 5 celsius this morning and yet all the snow along the ski runs here in PyeongChang are artificial. There were some snow falls during the last week but it will be next month I have been told before the real heavy snow comes. PyeongChang is a poor place which made it big time - it used to be a potato farming area. It wasn't until the nearby village of YongPyeong turning itself into a ski resort 25 years ago, that PyeongChang County became wellknown. Phoneix Park the ski resort I am in at the moment itself became a ski resort place about 20 years ago. The county is a part of the Gangwan-Do province. The interesting bit about this province is that this is the only province which got chopped into two along the 38th parallel during the Korean War. So, some parts of the province is in North Korea. The border I have been told is less than 30 minutes ride away. I haven't had time yet to go out and see the place - the meeting and then the official dinner have taken the whole day, so I have only managed to talk to the Koreans about the place. Finding out more about any placenames be it in Korea or in Brunei or in any part of the world, for that matter, as you can see is part of my hobby.

Anyway, there is an old Brunei joke that says that Bruneians are among the toughest people in the world - who else would live in smelly places like Sungai Hanching or Bangar or Tarap Bau; or live in ditches like Parit or Paya Bagangan; or live in jungles like Rimba; live in scary places like Buang Tekurok or Batang Duri; or live in rotten places like Tanah Burok or live in places even where the stones are so knackered (tired) like Batu Ampar?

Where did those place names come from?

I have always been interested in the origins of place names. I have posted a number of entries about Brunei placenames here in the past May 30th; May 31st; June 24th; June 25th; June 26th; June 29th; July 24th; July 29th; and November 21st. I am always continuously surprised as to how the names come about. When you think about it, it is almost impossible how any names can come about without something happening in that particular place. Think about where you live and I bet you, if you don't know the origin of that place, you would have a hard time how in the world did anyone come up with the name for the place that village or town that you are staying in at the moment.

What I didn't realise was there is a scientific name for this kind of study. The study of place names is apparently called Toponomy. And it is still an open field more or less in Brunei according to one research paper in the 1996/1997 issue of the Brunei Museum Journal. If one day I am considered as surplus to requirement at my current agency, that would be a fantastic area for my PhD research.

The study of toponyms can provide significant knowledge about the culture of Brunei whether in the past or present. According to that paper, the main toponym-classification of importance to Brunei are as follows:

Descriptive Names - examples include Kampung Muara (village near the estuary of the river) or Kampung Bangar (village of smelly dryish deadwood swamp) and it can come from other languages such as Sungai Nagalang (murut word for circular bracelet as the river meanders);

Associative Names - examples Kampung Pandai Besi (village of Blacksmiths) or Sungai Kedayan (river where Kedayans used to stay there) etc;

Incident Names - examples include Jalan Kustin (Coastin was a construction company which used to be based at the end of the airport runaway when constructing the new airport) now renamed Jalan Terunjing Baru;

Commemorative Names - example is Bandar Seri Begawan;

Commendatory Names - examples are all the Chinese shop houses with fancy commendatory names when the chinese names get tranlsated into Malay like Kedai Sumber Makmur Mulia or Kedai Kekayaan Berpanjangan;

Numerical Names - examples Kampung Batu 18, Kampung Batu 19 and Kampung Batu 20 but since then the three have renamed renamed Kampung Sungai Kelugos.

As you can see - there are many things and issues yet to be written about Brunei - even place names are interesting in this Land of Unexpected Surprises or is it the Land of Unexplored Places or something. See, that's what happens when I don't have access to my reference materials.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Lessons from the Winter Sonata City

Greetings from the City of PyeongChang, South Korea, one of three candidate cities competing to host the 2014 Winter Olympics. I arrived here yesterday evening to lead the Brunei delegation, not for the Olympics, but for an ASEAN+3 Finance meeting here. PyeongChang is a four hour drive from Incheon, Korea's International Airport. After a 7 hour flight and a 4 hour drive getting here, I am wondering why on earth would the Koreans want to host the meeting in this rather remote mountainous city. But having seen the beauty and of course, the possibility of reminding delegates of the upcoming Olympics vote for the 2014 Winter Olympics, we all know why we have to come here. Oh by the way, this place is also where they filmed most of the scenes for the Korean drama Winter Sonata (don't tell me you don't know what that is...)

The facilities at the hotel is of course similar to what most hotels would provide except that they have a few ski resorts nearby. The Korean technology is on display here. I am typing this entry on the flatscreen PC in my room with free broadband connection that zips at frightening speed (except that everything is in Korean - so I have to guess where the menu buttons are). I had to take a lesson in toilet flushing. Apparently there is a button to lift the toilet cover, a button to lift the toilet seat and another for both. The self cleansing buttons too have gender differences. After experimenting, the water squirts are angled differently, of course.

This is my third time to visit Korea in the space of about 15 months, after having never come here at all before that. But everytime I turn up here, the meetings are always held in different cities. It gives the opportunity for that city to earn some money by having delegates come to visit that city plus the fact that most times, we have to use some form of transportation to get to that city - so again an added bonus to the local transportation business. This is the one thing we don't do in Brunei or rather we can't do in Brunei.

A couple of years back, when I was a department head honcho, we were preparing to host one ASEAN meeting. I asked my officers to consider the possibility of hosting the meeting in Kuala Belait instead of Bandar Seri Begawan as everyone was arguing that the previous meeting was held in Bandar. The answer was we can't do it in KB. I asked why. There were many reasons, but the major one was, the inadequacy of accommodations. We needed at least 100 rooms for the 100+ delegates to come and there weren't enough rooms available. Another was the secretariat - we had to ferry everyone in. Another was the difficulty of transporting the delegates - we had to do that and there was some issue about transportation etc. There was a another issue about conference rooms etc. Plus a host of other issues which I thought was a bit trivial but nevertheless it led to this impression that we can't have big official meetings in KB. Forget the other two districts for the time being as their infrastructure is even very much less than that of KB. Considering Brunei hosts a number of official international meetings - why don't someone build up enough infrastructure in the other districts? Someone told me that they can't build up the infrastructure as there might not be enough demand for it and nobody wants to risk it.

So we have a Catch-22 situation. We can't host meetings outside the capital because there is not enough infrastructure outside. Nobody wants to build the infrastructure because they are not sure of how many times would those facilities be used and whether they can recover their investments - and of course with no investment in infrastructure, we can't host the meetings outside the capital. I have stayed at the Riviera and the Seaview Hotel. The Riviera is similar to most hotels I have stayed in other cities. The Seaview at that time would require some form of transformation which I have been told have been done now. But the numbers of availability just don't match up to the number of demands should there be one. Therein lies the problem.

The hospitality industry in Brunei is potentially huge. We hosted a number of meetings, events etc being officially open, officially launched, with foreign guests, speakers and participants. I would say that we are rather good at it - this being one of what economists call as our 'comparative advantage'. Too bad this isn't exportable or transferable. Some places are more 'laku' than others. Why? Should the government step in? Or should these be a private sector issue? To me, it's sayang that with the many ASEAN, APEC and other meetings hosted in Brunei, all of them are held in Bandar thus depriving what could be a great potential economic boost to any of the other towns in Brunei, if only given the chance to host those meetings.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

How old is Tanjung Nangka?

Sometimes it's surprising how long some of our villages have been inhabited. We know for a fact that along Sungai Brunei, the Kota Batu areas, Bruneians have lived there for hundreds of years. But for the most parts, most of the interiors of Brunei are not habited by anyone until very recently. Of course, there are some natives which live earlier in the interior parts of Brunei. However it is debatable as to when they started.

I read with interest a recent Museum report about the excavation work which they did at Kampung Tanjung Nangka. The excavation was done along the Damuan River. Damuan River is about 2 kilometers away from the main road Jalan Tutong. The Damuan River was recently widened and a lot of dredging was done along the river bank. The sands that were dredged were placed alongside the riverbanks.

Among the sands, many shards of potteries were found. In fact up to 5 boxes of broken pieces were actually found where the majority of these were potteries of different types. They have been identified as coming from the Sung Dynasty (960-1279), the blue white potteries from the Ming Dynasty and also the Ching Dynasty (1368-1912).

What was pretty clear is that the area around the village has been inhabited a very long time ago which is roughly around the 10th to 14th Centuries and continued until at least to the early 20th century. In those days, rivers are the main communications and transportation channels, it is not surprising that there are settlements as far inland as that found in Tanjung Nangka. However judging by the amount of potteries found which is considered as small by archaeology standards, it is more likely that the settlements there were very small. But it still indicated that the area around there despite the fact being considered far to some people have been settled, if the potteries evidences are correct, about 1,000 years ago, and that's how long people have been living in Tanjung Nangka.

PS. I wrote about the Telaga Raden Bisa - the well that can heal, that was said to be in the village in an August entry. The BB yesterday had an article about a school principal who had been writing children story books based on events of the village.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Brunei's Crocodiles

Do you remember the news story on BB about a couple of weeks back about someone finding a baby crocodile in one of the drains near the houses at Bengkurong? That baby crocodile most probably came from the nearby river. In fact that river is fairly well known for its crocodiles which the locals have sighted every so often. I read somewhere that these crocodiles if they live long enough probably can reach as long as 9 meters (30 feet) long.

According to the scientists, there are many types or genus of crocodiles but in Brunei, there are only two types. One is the Crocodylus Porosus or the English Salt Water Crocodile or in Brunei, known as Buaya Katak. I am not sure why it's called that especially if it can grow up to 30 feet long. The other type is the genus Tomistoma Schegelii or known as Buaya Penjulung. The obvious difference between the two is the snout of the crocodiles. Buaya Katak's snout is more rounded whereas Buaya Penjulung's snout is narrower. But so far there is insufficient evidence that there still exists Buaya Penjulung in Brunei even though some fishermen claimed that they have seen and caught it in the past.

Interestingly enough, there is a little known debate among crocodile experts which spilled over to the internet about the possibility of a third genus of crocodile in Brunei known as Crocodylus Raninus. It was once thought that in Borneo up to 4 types of crocodiles existed, the Crocodylus Porosus, Crocodylus Raninus, Tomistoma Schegelii and Crocodylus Siamensis. Crocodylus Raninus is a freshwater crocodile and was said to have been seen about 100 years ago in Sarawak but now considered more or less extinct. However a Raninus skull was found in Tasek Merimbun not that long ago and many biologists harbour the thought that there are two types of crocodiles living in Tasek Merimbun instead of one.

I am not sure whether I like the idea of even one type of crocodile living anywhere, let alone two types. If you really want to see crocodiles without having to be surprised by finding one in your drain, Louis Mini Zoo in Tutong has a big collection of them in any size you want. Let's just hope they stay there.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Istana Manggalela

If you live in KB, you would know that there is a guest palace there at the top end on the right of Jalan Maulana just after the roundabout heading towards Kuala Belait. The palace has tall white walls with a label that says Istana Manggalela. For those who do not know where that is, use my description to find it. But if you do find it, ask permission before taking photographs. Last December when I went there with my family wanting to take a photo in front of the gate, an armed gurkha came out and said I was not allowed to do that.

Anyway, the Istana was built in 1956 and completed in 1958 and was originally designed to be the palace for His Majesty Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien whenever he visited Kuala Belait. Remember in those days, the roads linking the capital to KB was in its infancy and in some parts cars can only be driven along the coast. At some places, you have to wait until the tide goes out before you can drive across. Unlike today's one hour drive, in those days, the BSB-KB trip can take as long as one day or more. So a palace was essential for the Sultan whenever he goes to KB.

The original name of the palace was not Istana Manggalela, it was originally called Istana Hinggap - 'hinggap' is a Malay word meaning to stay temporarily. In Malaysia, this is widely used, in fact, there are still a few palaces called Istana Hinggap there.

Where does the name 'Manggalela' come from? According to an article I read in the Berita Muzium which gets their sources from a newspaper called Berita Brunei April and July 1958, the name was derived from an old battle which happened in Padas, Weston in Beaufort, Sabah.

During the North Borneo Chartered Company days which then already controlled parts of North Borneo (Sabah), the Company wanted to own all the lands in Sabah including Padas which at that time still was still governed by the Brunei Sultan under the leadership of a Brunei noble named Pengiran Shahbandar Hassan. The Bruneians living around that region protested and the North Borneo Company sent its army. During that battle, the North Borneo army failed to defeat the Bruneians. Part of the reason it was said that around the Manggalela Fort, the defenders had put up a white cloth curtain as a shield against the army and bullets supposedly did not go through it. The shield was considered as 'magical'.

I found an interesting description of the battle named the 'Padas Damit Battle' in the Sabah local government homepage which described the battle. There was no mention of any magic bullet proof curtain but what was important was the building of a very strong fort made up of eight foot tall round wooden pillars at Kampung Galila which prevented the well armed British army from attacking. And what was also important was the bravery of the locals who were only armed with knives and swords as opposed to guns and cannons. It was a long battle and fought between the two sides between December 1888 to May 1889. The locals eventually lost when the British declared them as pirates and started to kill them one by one. The British eventually took over the area and renamed the whole area as Beaufort in 1895 after Governor Beaufort who was the British Governor based in Labuan then.

The name of the Istana was chosen in commemoration of the bravery and skills of the locals at that battle. The Istana is also a listed building under the Antiquities and Treasure Trove Act.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ladies - Getting Married?

Today's posting is the traditional wedding dress for the Brunei bride. Most of the accessories are identical to the groom's accessories. The major difference is the headgear and accessories for the hair. I won't be describing what's identical but only the new items.

For the hair, the bride has to wear the Tajok. This is placed on the head with the hair in a bun. The ornament has flowers arranged in three levels on both left and right sides. To keep it in place, the hair is woven around a stripe of black cloth tied to the ornament.

The Karong Tembusa made of gold and precious stones is placed on the back of the neck (nape) tied with jasmines coiled to the hair and the Tajok to keep in place the position of the Tajok on the head.

On the Tajok is the Ayam-Ayam Bernaga. This is tied with black cloth or or to the hair to prevent it from falling.

The Sisir which is the Malay word for comb is another ornament to be worn during the Berbedak Ceremony. It is slipped into the hair and its position is a little lower than the Tajok.

The final item for the hair is the Bunga Goyang literally the 'shaking flower'. This is placed between the Sisir and the threaded jasmine twined around the head which leads below the nape (below the Karang Tembusa).

Another item for the head which is both worn for male and female is the Serbang. This is placed on the forehead.

The only other major item of difference between the groom and the bride is the Gagatar. This is worn below the nape, tied and joined to the Serbang.

All the other ornaments are similar to both groom and bride such as the Kanching, Panding, Mudapun, Gelang Penguluan dan Gelang Geronchong. However on the arm, instead of the Puntu, the bride uses a smaller bracelet called the Sindat. Of course, the bride does not use the Keris, Kuas or the Kopiah Berpisnin.

Hope that helps everyone who will be getting married this coming December or is helping someone to get married - that you know what ornaments you will be wearing during the wedding ceremonies.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Getting Married?

The wedding season is starting to peak - the number of wedding invitations are now mounting. Two of them will be my cousins who will be getting married this December and I have been asked to give the thank you announcement at one of them. Anyway a lot of male Malay Bruneians get married - wear their traditional ornaments but never got to know the names of what they wore. I thought we will spend a little bit of time today just looking at what it is that you have worn or will wear. Enlarging the picture on the right might help a bit. This example is for a Royal Groom but it is still as useful to know.

The hat is known as Kopiah Berpisnin and is used for Berbedak, Bersanding, Berambilan-ambilan and Mulih Tiga Hari.

On the shoulders are the Kuas and is usually studded with precious colourful stones and tasselled.

On the neck will be the Kanching and normally only worn during Berbedak. It is worn on the neck and on the chest which makes it look like a necklace with lockets in tiers.

A smaller looking Kanching called the Mudapun will be worn on top of the Kanching. This is worn together during Berbedak.

On both arms will be worn the Puntu to be worn during the Berbedak ceremony.

Together with the Puntu will be worn the Azimat or Gimat. This is worn slightly lower than the Puntu but only on the right arm.

On both wrists will be worn the Gelang Penguluan. These bracelets are worn during the Berbedak and sometimes worn until the Wedding Day itself.

The belt to hold the kain is called Panding and is usually worn during Berbedak and sometimes during the Berpacar. The head of the Panding, the Kepala Panding is placed exactly on the mid of the abdomen, that is right in front of the Kain Kapit.

The traditional Keris is also worn during Berbedak and is placed into the Panding on the right hip.

On both ankles are placed another pair of bracelets called Gelang Geroncong.

We will have a look at what the ladies will be wearing tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More Origin of Place Names in Brunei

Practically all Bruneians know Jalan Gadong - it is still considered as the business and commercial centre in Brunei even though a number of other centres such as Kiulap, Telanai, Delima Satu have sprouted up to challenge it. Ever wonder where the name Gadong comes from? A number of people I asked said that because the place was green, hence gadong as that is the Brunei Malay word for green. Some said that this was where the various properties of someone entitled Di-Gadong and gedong is the name of the stores. I said this too in a June entry when I wrote about origins of some Brunei places. Nice theories. Incidentally the English word Godown which is a storage place is derived from the word 'gedong' or 'gudang' and in turn probably originate from the Telugu word ‘gidangi’ or the Tamil word ‘kidangu’.

According to an old project by UBD which I stumbled upon on Brunei streets since I wrote in June was that the origin of the name Gadong is derived from a fruit called “gadong”, which grows along the riverbank at Pulau Sungai Gadong. The flesh is purplish in colour and edible by boiling it after soaking it in water.

Gadong saw rapid development in the 1960s with the construction of a bridge connecting Bandar Brunei and Jalan Gadong and the new government infrastructures built in the are including the Gadong Power Stations and later on the Police Headquarters and the Land Transport Department. Jalan Gadong itself was completed around 1967 /1968 and eventually connected to Jalan Tutong at the current Jalan Tutong/Jalan Gadong junction sometime in the early 1970s. Before the road was built, the only way to get to Gadong from the capital was by using a barge travelling along the Menglait river.

The road before you reach Jalan Gadong is Jalan Kumbang Pasang. Just for the record, Jalan Kumbang Pasang started after Jalan Dato Haji Basir (in front of St Andrews) and then goes all the way to the entrance to the Old Airport Government Building Complex. After that the road is called Jalan Berakas.

The road is named after a place called Kumbang Pasang which means 'eddy water'. Some also said that the name originated from the word kumbang for ‘beetle’. So far that's the best explanation I get. Anyway, this road is one of the first main road to be built under the Government's first RKN (Five Year National Development Plan) of 1953/1958. This road linked to the Berakas and Muara areas and by the late 1960s to the Gadong area and replaced an earlier temporary road built in the late 1920s to allow cars to travel through to a rubber factory at the Kampung.

With regard to another road in Bandar called Jalan Kianggeh - according to a book entitled "Dokumentasi", the author noted that the name Kianggeh may have been derived from a Chinese word 'Kiang' which means river. Though it also possible that the name Kianggeh may have been derived from the name of a person but so far nothing has been written about it yet.
Note: Illustrated photo is of an early development work for Jalan Sultan (circa 1950s).

PS. SSEAYP participants - Welcome to Brunei! I hope you are enjoying your stay here and all the best for the rest of the program. From the Ex-Brunei YL and Ex-Solid Group A Leader 1990. (For those who have no idea what SSEAYP is all about - link to my May entry about it.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Grave in the Middle of the City

I was speaking with my brother yesterday about a few historical research articles that he had to be added on to the library at He gathered the articles when he was at Tourism Unit and one of the projects which he did was to gather all the information about historical sites in Bandar Seri Begawan. One of them was an article on the rather unknown but quite famous graveyard across the road in front of the General Post Office or rather in the carpark yard of the TAIB Building.

A lot of us must have seen the grave or rather the walled part of it and there is a roof structure over it. I am not sure whether the younger generation if you passed by it actually realised it is a grave. The older generation know it as Kubur Dang Ayang or rather the Dang Ayang's Grave. Dang is the Brunei colloquial term for Dayang and Ayang is the name of that person.

I have not had the chance to read the said article but my brother described the contents of the paper to me. The grave is not exactly a grave as such and it may or may not contained the remains of one or more persons. It is a very sad story. Apparently in the old days, a sister and a male sibling was caught in an unlawful relationship (sumbang mahram is the Malay term). According to the laws then, the crimes must be punished by being stoned to death.

However nobody then had the heart to stone them to death but neither could they leave them unpunished. So they compromised. what they did was to build a cavern in the middle of the forest (remember most Bruneians in those days live along the river and this 'kubor' was about a mile inland then - so it is quite far from the other Bruneians) and forced the two of them to live in it. Some versions said only Dang Ayang was forced to live in it and some versions said both of them. The cavern was fitted with an air ventilation and presumably some food was left with them as there was supposedly a small chimney where smoke can be seen coming out of the chimney. This smoke indicated that they were still alive. They must have been kept there for a long while until one day no more smoke was seen coming out of the chimney and everyone presumed that she or they died.

According to elder Bruneians, the place was actually a mound and during the bombing of the second world war, the mound was flattened and up to now that's why there is no mound left. Nobody knew when the graveyard started to be walled but presumably someone did it because it is still technically a grave and up to now it is left there - to be left unknown and a rather sad testimony to an indescretion of a young Brunei lady.
PS. I finally managed to read the article and according to the research based on the gravestones found there, the lady in question named Raja Ayang was a member of the aristocracy (and whose father was said to be the son in law of the third Sultan) and most likely the crime was during the time of Sultan Sulaiman (circa 1432-1485). It was said that the lady realising what she committed was very serious that she and her entourage (so it wasn't just one person but the whole household) voluntarily went to to their deaths. Before the second world war, the mound was said to be as high as 10 meters but when bombed it was flattened with some saying that it is possible that the mound is empty in the first place.

PPS. I was chatting with my driver about my entry and he told me that his wife had studied another version in school as part of her Malay Literature class something along the line of a 'were-crocodile' (buaya jadi-jadian) and that she hid inside the cavern to escape from him. I will be getting more details on this one and maybe post this as well.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Brunei Coins

Someone asked in the chatter box, what is that design on the Brunei 10 cent coin? Rather than answering that question in the chatter box, I thought I will spend a whole entry on Brunei coins. We all have coins and have been holding them either in our pockets, purses, the small drawer in the car etc. But we never really know much about them and we always take them for granted. Today I thought we will spend a bit of time learning about the coins that we handled everyday.

First we look at the design of the coins. On the obverse side (this is the way coin faces are described - obverse refers to what we call the front) is always the potrait of His Majesty. The reverse side (that's the other face) are all those designs which are officially described as follows:

+ 50 cent coin - Crest of Brunei Darussalam;
+ 20 cent coin - A vertical oblong pattern based on local design and said to represent a tree;
+ 10 cent coin - Claw shaped (sepit ketam) local design and said to represent an animal;
+ 5 cent coin - Tree shaped local design and said to represent a bird; and
+ 1 cent coin - Local design and said to represent a flower or a group of blossoms.

There are currently 3 designs of coins being issued, the first one being issued in 1967 where the obverse design featured the portrait of the late Sultan Omar’ Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien while both the second and third issue of coins featuring the portraits of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam were issued in 1968 and 1993 respectively. The reverse designs for both issues were the same.

Here is something else you don't know. You must have seen or read a number of television shows or cartoons where someone who wants to get even with a shopkeeper pays large amounts with coins instead of notes. There is actually a legal limit to how much you can pay with coins. Coins are legal tender up to their face value with the following restrictions:-

+ $2 coin and above : any amount (but generally coins $1 and above are commemorative and always kept as collections - even though theoretically they are usable);
+ 50 cents and $1 coins : maximum $10; and
+ 20 cents, 10 cents , 5 cents and 1 cent coins : maximum $2.

So you can't pay someone $100 worth of one cents coins even if you want to get even. The other interesting fact is that I was told that the 1 cent coin is actually worth slightly more than the 1 cent value as the value of metal nowadays are much higher.

How can we tell if Brunei coins are genuine? There are two things you need to look at. The first is the tone and finish, other than the specifications of sizes and weights as gazetted if you have access to that information. It is said that a genuine coin will give a sharp ringing tone when dropped on a hard surface. Secondly, the relief of the design, milled edges (all have milled edges except for 1 cent coin), lettering and characters on both the obverse and reverse are very sharp and defined on genuine coins. The holding and passing of counterfeit coins is a criminal offence and the penalty is 7 years imprisonment and a fine.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Postage Stamps of Brunei: Early History

Brunei surprisingly was the last among the Borneo states to have its own stamps. Sarawak had theirs in 1869, Labuan despite not being a state in 1879 and Sabah, then known as North Borneo in 1883. Brunei only had theirs in 1895 and even that was considered by stamp enthusiasts as unofficial. Prior to the 1895 issue, the postage stamps used in Brunei was a Sarawak one which was used in Muara, then known as Brooketon. Rajah Brooke ran the coal mining operations there and used the stamps of Sarawak for the community. That postal service in Muara operated from 1893 to 1907.

The 'first' Brunei stamps in 1895 was considered as controversial and known in the stamp world as the 'Brunei Locals'. Printed in Glasgow by a John Robertson who managed to get a concession from the Government - the government gets all internal revenues but he gets all external revenues - was considered as purely speculative. The stamps were considered as 'locals' only - to be used in Brunei but not to be used abroad and was labelled 'bogus' in its early history. For Brunei letters to be sent abroad, it had to have additional Labuan stamps as Brunei then was not a member of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). The Brunei postal services were also described as 'spasmodic' throughout 1895 to 1906 but it was a service nevertheless.

In 1906, the Brunei government started to operate its own postal service. However the first postage stamps that were due to come to Brunei from United Kingdom were said to have been lost in Singapore and an alternative was found at short notice which was to overprint the Crown Colony of Labuan postage stamps with the word BRUNEI. The Labuan stamps were first issued in Labuan in 1902. The first post office was located in the Customs House.

The first of these stamps were used in the inauguration of the Post Office in October 11th, 1906. Since so very few of these early stamps survived, the actual date of the inauguration was also in dispute with some stating that it is October 15th. The stamps are scarce as even in 1906, collectors and dealers were buying up quantities of the mint stamps for investment and it is said that the issue was so heavily speculated at the time of its release but enjoying only a very short life.

By 1907, the proper Brunei stamps had arrived known as the Brunei River Type as the stamps depicted a typical Brunei river scene. A London company, Messrs De La Rue & Co Ltd printed the 1907 stamps and intrestingly enough this same company carried on printing other Brunei stamps until about the 1970s. Between 1908 to 1920, the stamps colours conformed to the UPU requirements of three standard colours - one for printed matter, another for postcard and the third for single letters. In those days, unlike today's multicoloured and multi-image stamps, the colours were standardised to help assist international recognition of the three classes of mail. Uniformity of colours were also carried out under the colonial colour scheme so the colours also confirmed to their counterparts under the Straits Settlement. However during the first world war, Sarawak stamps were used in Brunei as the stock of stamps in Brunei ran out.

In March 1924, a new design was used as well as a change in size. The stamps now show a panoramic view of Kampung Ayer with Brunei Town in the background. The designs were adapted from a sketch made by Mr LA Allan, a former British Resident who in turn took it from a photograph taken from Bubungan Dua Belas, then used as the official residence of the British Resident. The man who took the photograph was the then Resident Mr EEF Pretty.

In 1941, the stamps were sent to Brunei in 'changed colours' and so were unused so as to allow the existing stocks to run out. When the Japanese occupied Brunei during the Second World War, the Japanese government used these unused stamps in 1942 and overprinted them with the words Imperial Japanese Government in Kanji characters.

It wasn't until 1952 before the government issued the first Brunei stamps with the picture of His Majesty Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saiffudien, the 28th Sultan thus beginning the modern era of Brunei stamps.

Friday, November 17, 2006

From laughter comes wisdom

My entry on the Brunei kuehs showed just how hopeless I am in certain subjects. But I enjoyed reading the comments correcting me and I hope at the same time other people read those comments too as the education does not stop just reading my entries alone. The comments are part of the education too as out of currently 700 readers a day, I am sure there are many experts on many subjects out there.

Similarly enough Tuesday's entry on Brunei medicinal plants and traditional medicine elicited several professional medical comments. By the way I did have urinary tract infection last month and what I had several years ago wasn't it. Though this time I only relied on conventional antibiotics for the cure. Anyway, there are people who swear by traditional medicine and some would never contemplate anything other than conventional medication. And I have seen one case up close where alternative medicine actually worked. To me the jury is still out. But most importantly, I am glad to see professionals giving their expert views in the comment box. We all learnt something on Tuesday.

My entry on "You know you are Bruneian Part 2" is obviously meant to entertain. It makes Bruneians Bruneian, if you know what I mean. Obviously not every single description applies to everyone. There are Bruneians out there who never did any of the things that were mentioned and it does not make them any less Bruneians. There are some who are offended but then there are some who found the descriptions close to their hearts. However, when we read the 49 descriptions (which I did not write by the way but merely compiled and edited them from readers' submissions) we can associate with them. Some obviously make us Bruneians look bad. I found two comments interesting - honeybee argued that description #5 should not be a norm - that we need to change to be more competitive. An annonymous commentator sighed - worried that none of the description are positive to the point he lamented - why don't we just have a negative sign on our flag?

Laugh loudly but I think we also need to laugh wisely. One interesting quote which I copied from somewhere says - "... we can't be free, until we learn to laugh at ourselves. Once you look in the mirror and see just how foolish we can be, laughter is inevitable. And from laughter comes wisdom ..." Once we are able to laugh at ourselves and to see how foolish we are, hopefully then we are willing to change ourselves. So other than to entertain, I sincerely hope we all learn something from the You know you are Bruneian series and able to learn enough to make the necessary change in us. Educating ourself is important.

I guess the most important take here is more and more education. Quoting His Majesty during the Yayasan's Hari Raya celebrations at the ICC last Tuesday - "... We cannot predict how the future would look like but we need to progress. For instance, years ago, our elders could not have imagined that we might be able to attain the high standard of living that we all enjoy now. They probably could not have anticipated that the nation could progress. Neverthless they worked as hard as they could. One of the main and meaningful contribution they made was to give us education, although the level of education attained was not the same. Through it the nation then enjoyed the progress as we have now. The key to this sucess are efforts and determination. For example, our country would not have been able to produce local doctors if there were no planning. The same goes with other professional careers. All these started with education, then followed with proper planning and providing opportunities for them to further their studies to a higher level ..." (translation courtesy of Brunei Times)

If there is anything good that I hope we all pick up is that we need to educate each other much more.
PS. I really have to make amends to the e-speed people and thanked them for the tremendous effort and services they have provided.

I have not had ANY problem whatsoever since I talked about it last time. My e-speed2 has been on continuously for weeks now and not once has it ever failed on me. Howzat for service?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Pengembara: The Road Less Travelled

Sometime in April I wrote an entry about a book entitled 'Wanderer in Brunei Darussalam' written by Pengembara which is a pseudonym for CH Gallop. A number of people still remembers him as he was a very active man when he was a teacher in Brunei. For those who don't know him, he actually wrote numerous articles for Borneo Bulletin about Brunei when he was here and some of those articles were reproduced in that book.

He found the entry and emailed me sometime in May thanking me for writing 'appreciative comments' on his book. He was also glad to see the individual comments from people who remembered him and his family. He and his wife are currently in Penang on retirement. He hopes to bring out two more Pengembara books, one about Brunei and the other about Sabah and Sarawak.

I was intrigued about one particular project which he wrote about the Sungai Ketam project and searched for that particular river only to find out that the river has disappeared. I wrote that as the Mystery of the Brunei Missing River sometime in May 2006.

While waiting for Mr. Gallop to produce another Pengembara book, in 1997, HSBC in commemoration of their 50 years in Brunei produced a special edition of the Pengembara articles entitled "Pengembara: The Road Less Travelled". My sister who worked there got the book for me and I have forgotten about it more or less until I was searching for another book and found this one. The book contained some more of Mr. Gallop's writings and it was edited by Sharon Meyers who also wrote a coffeetable book on Brunei entitled "The Golden Legacy" which I mentioned a couple of entries back.

This book contained 14 articles all about Brunei. The first article actually is a review of a very rare book, which UBD managed to purchase, about Brunei entitled 'City of Many Waters' written by Peter Blundell and published in 1923 describing events which took place around the turn of the century in Brunei. The author met Sultan Hashim (reigned 1895-1906) and assisted the Sultan in English correspondence. Brunei had a population of 21,000 then.

Mr. Gallop also wrote about community life in Brunei talking about invitation, dress codes, protocols, speeches etc. His subjects moved on from Snakes to Hills (spectacular views from Bukit Kelangkong (*I have to search for that hill*)) to Brunei's old driving licenses (little red or blue book). He talks about subjects ranging from Sinarubai Volcano to an old man's vigil reciting the Quran at the former Sultans of Brunei's graves. He went as far away as Kuala Balai to as near as Kampung Dadap. I will have to reproduce some of those articles as entries to the blog in the future. There are more things to know about Brunei if only we take the time to do so.

In a way, he was the earlier Mr. BR if that's how you want to know him. I am more or less continuing that tradition but unfortunately I am not that adventurous yet going as far as what Mr. Gallop has done. I realised that the book is available at some bookshops in Brunei despite its age but you have to know what you are searching for. So keep a look out at the top shelf and open your eyes wide. This book is as rare as the Blundell's book now and just as valuable.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

You know you are Bruneian (Part 2)

  1. You 'miss call' instead of calling or sending sms.
  2. You always say "kapih ku.. bila terima/keluar gaji/overtime/elaun ah?"
  3. You park your car as close as possible to your destination area.
  4. You speak Malaysia if you meet Malaysian, speak Indonesia if you meet Indonesian.. and so on.
  5. You are asked to go to a "meeting" but actually you will only be "listening".
  6. You go to someone's wedding, you give money using an envelope and put your name on it or if you think you don't give enough you use a blank envelope.
  7. Indo mee is your staple food and Ayamku is your fastfood.
  8. The term 'balik kampung' is almost not applicable.. since you can 'balik kampung' everyday.
  9. Motorcyles and bicycles are not your transport, they are your sport.
  10. When you see local tv camera around you during the day, then at night you will watch local news... and hoping to see yourself on television.
  11. You drive your car on wavy and potholed road.
  12. You receive official news faster by mean of "mouth" than by "written".
  13. You like electronic products from Japan.
  14. If you have the chance to call a radio show and before you are asked to hang-up, you say 'boleh minta putarkan lagu?'
  15. You are in BIG debts and refuse to pay the lenders and yet still drive a CLK and live in a mansion.
  16. You wear baju kurung with large katoks and maniks all over.
  17. You are loud and speak in melandih way.
  18. You and the whole family have the same car plate numbers.
  19. You spend your $$$$$ on your wedding even though you are broke.
  20. You become Akademi Fantasia fanatics.
  21. You know most of the people here - "eh si anak si anu eh saudara si blabla".
  22. You drive to the shop next door even though the shop is only 100 meters away (except maybe in Kampung Ayer).
  23. Every year, since the 80s until last year, you don't want not to miss HM's Birthday Titah (because you are hoping that HM will increase your salary).
  24. When you want to get some service from the government agencies, you will find your saudara first.
  25. If something goes wrong, you will say that one of the datos, pehins is your relative (or at least they know you).
  26. You cannot live without Brudirect's HYS.
  27. You give you children super long name.
  28. You rush to a new shopping mall just to beat everybody else even though it's just another Hua Ho.
  29. You wave your hand while driving to other drivers that you know.
  30. You are able to pay (or not) for one or two amahs who are most likely an Indonesian or a Filipino.
  31. You are ok to be fat.
  32. You are a busy body with other peoples' news, especially the bad ones, and you think your responsibility is to know and to spread it around.
  33. Your friends get married on the same day and you don't know who to go to.
  34. You like to stare at phones for 24 hours and chat on MSN.
  35. You say "Mun paham bisai" (this needs no further explaination) .
  36. You have to wear 'cool' attire everywhere, even on holidays.
  37. You add "BUI" on each sentence.
  38. You think exercising, being hyper active, competition are for little kids.
  39. You can't type or spell properly properly, example "hw r u? hy my nme s si org brnui"
  40. You add "me & you" on your converstations with your girl mates.
  41. You listen to Pelangi FM.
  42. You think fake Von Dutch products are the best.
  43. You are especially racist to Indian workers.
  44. You would rather go to shopping malls than hanging out at parks, having a picnic with your friends.
  45. You have 'candas' in your house.
  46. You read this blogsite because all your friends are reading it and you don't want to be left behind.
  47. You rush to get a $99 handphone not caring about the limited features coz you think anything cheap is a bargain.
  48. You have two handphones - one for DST and the other for BMobile (for one month and then switch off one or the other).
  49. You always try to runding the policemen who caught you speeding.

PS. This list is compiled from all the comments I received both here and verbally after I posted the first You know you are Bruneian post. Similarly to that one, I don't claim credit as the credit belongs to all of you out there. Thank you to all contributors and I welcome more contributions to start Part 3.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Brunei Medicinal Plants

A few years back I had this pain when urinating and forcing the urine to flow out felt as if someone had kicked me in the groin. It was that painful. The concensus among relatives was it was either appendix but it couldn't be because I didn't have any other symptoms or it could be stones in the kidney and it's making its way down. Anyway, after a very long wait to get a referral to RIPAS for a scan, and to cut a long story short, the scan showed nothing but the pain remained. Another trip to JPMC to get a second opinion said that that might be tiny stones or crystals instead of bigger stones. Whatever it is, it *&#*#$*?* hurts like crazy, I remembered thinking then. The medical solution was - wait for the tiny stones or crystals to wash out, if it washed out. What?!

My better half suggested a natural traditional solution. With pain that bad, I was more than willing to try anything. So we went to see this lady herbalist and she prescribed a plant whose leaves I had to blend and drink raw every morning. I did that for about a week, holding my nose trying to swallow this blended liquid (washed but uncooked and unboiled) down my throat. It was like drinking raw grass and leaves, which it was. But, lo and behold! It worked. After a week, the pain disappeared and another quick check at both RIPAS and JPMC showed nothing.

Now, I am not one that believed much in traditional medicine. But that particular one time I had to believe in it. I still am not sure what plant that was. Anyway, everytime I tell this story, a lot of elderly Bruneians (those older than me, so that would make them much older to you readers) will always come up with names of other plants that can heal practically all the diseases in the world. I remembered one plant my brother-in-law told me to look after and said that it will cure hypertension and I asked him how do I take it and what dosage? He looked at me funny. That was when I discovered that most of this knowledge being passed down are just the names of the plants and their supposed possible ability to cure certain illnesses but nothing else. To rely on them can mean signing your own death warrant if taken excessively. You would think someone ought to study this further as after all most medicines in the world started off with some plants or other. Remember quinine?

Actually a study has been made in Brunei Darussalam by the Agricultural Department and in fact a book entitled the "Medicinal Plants of Brunei Darussalam Part One" was published in 1992. (I am still waiting for Part Two.) The ethnobotanical information for the book was made with the cooperation of four local practising herbalists from Muara, Lamunin, Sengkurong and Jangsak. According to these four the plants in Brunei range from Akar Saga which can cure a certain urinary disease (blood in the urine) to Tahi Ayam plant which can be used for fever and coughs and leaves used for pouliticing wounds and skin itch to Sambal Bagangang which can strenghen one's body especially the back. Others include plants such as Bayam Berduri when boiled with Allium cepa and Nigella sativa apprently can cure Kencing Masin. Another plant Daun Pahit can be used to cure diabetes and reduce high blood pressure. Even the leaves of well known plants such as Durian Salad can also be used relieve certain allergies.

In the book, more than 100 of these plants were described. The book also described the ways in which the plants have to be prepared. Depending on the plants and the cure, the leaves or the plants can be prepared in several ways such as decoction, infusion, maceration, pounding, grinding or filing, sap application, vapour application, chewed concoction, smoke application, fresh consumption, ash application, tincture and warm compress. A list of cures with the plants used are also indexed in the book. A number of diseases have more than one plant cures such as blood pressure which has about 8 different plants which can either cure or alleviate it.

With synthetic drugs having side effects and sometimes ineffective against certain diseases, natural herbs need to be reexamined to see whether these can be used as alternatives. According to some study, plant-based drugs are valued at billions of dollars and with Brunei Darussalam possessing a very diverse tropical flora which contained many plants that have not been evaluated for medicinal purposes, it makes sense that we look into this 'wealth'. Research into these plants are really really essential which may help to diversify our economy.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Mystery of Brunei's $1 note with 2 serial numbers

Every once in a while, some BR readers out there would send me something. This I received from a reader who luckily enough reads the Miri Daily News which is in Chinese. She found this story and has very kindly translated the news article and emailed me the relevant page on Miri Daily which appeared in the 10th November 2006 edition.

B$1 note with 2 different serial numbers

Seria, Nov 9 – A currency note collector was very excited as he discovered an extraordinary note few days ago. The B$1 note bears two different serial numbers on it.

Mr. Yong said that he started to collect B$1 notes years ago, particularly those with the “golden” numbers of ‘6’ or ‘8’. To date, he has collected over ten pieces “golden” numbered B$1 notes.

Recently he was fortunate to have discovered a note with “golden” numbers, as well as a note that has two different serial numbers printed on it. He presumed this is a printing error by the Currency Board.

On the right hand corner of the unusual note is 4266868, however the left hand bottom corner is 833318 which he has never seen before."

I have not asked the folks at the Brunei Currency and Monetary Board as to how that particular note has two serial numbers on the front (see that note on the newspaper page.) If I get a nice answer, I would post that here. In the meantime, you better start taking a look at the $1 note in your wallet. They may be worth something.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunday Ramblings on Brunei Kuehs

There are days when I get completely stumped as to what to write. Today is one of those days. Plus this morning I went to the golf course for the first time in about 4 months, so it was an extremely early morning and coupled with a very late night last night after coming back from my wife's nephew open house in Muara. Plus too yesterday was a mentally tiring day trying to find savings from practically every single agency's next financial year budget. It's funny when you asked all the head honchos where you can find savings and everyone replies that they can't find anything to deduct. ALL the projects are important and NO, NO, you can't cut anything. But the fact is no matter how much money is allocated, at the end of the year we get a few hundreds of millions unspent. So what happened to all those 'important' projects?

Anyway, that's digressing a bit. I am not supposed to be talking about that even though that's a topic on its own right. And since I can't talk about that I will have to talk about something else. Normally I try to put up a controversial topic on Sundays as the number of readers are the worst today and by tomorrow it would have been covered up by another topic and lose its sting or at least its controversy. But today I am not ready to write anything controversial, so you all have to read my ramblings at nothing for the last two paragraphs and we will see where the next paragraph takes us.

But I always promised to leave one fact everyday. Okay... So how many Brunei Malay kuehs do you know? My gym manager friend would know the answer to this one as he has been studying for the citizenship exam. I wanted to visit the museum as I was told that there was a Brunei Malay kueh replica on display but my better half who accompanied a group of senior officials' wives went there in March told me that the Brunei kueh display at the museum does not resemble anything edible and looks a little bit tattered too. Perhaps the dust mite found the kuehs replica edible. Anyway, how many Brunei kuehs do you know?

One of the kuehs that we all eat is called Puteri Mandi. It is nothing more than a ball of dough in green colour being fried and then being rolled in sweet dessicated coconut. At the tamu, you can find about three or four of these balls being sold on a skewer. If you were to travel back in time to the time when the padians are still selling their wares along the riverbanks and in between the houses at Kampung Ayer, they would be saying, banyak kueh ni, calak lambai, biraksa, penyaram, chuchuk dayangku, wajid.... Puteri Mandi used to be known as Chuchuk Dayangku. I don't have the history of the kueh as to when it changed to become the more socially acceptable name of Puteri Mandi.

Kuehs and food changed names over the years. Some appear out of fashion, nowadays, there are a number related to the AF3 singer Mawi, even though he is not a Bruneian but a number of biscuits and cakes are sold with his name. I saw a Laksa Johor Mawi on the menu this morning at the Amanah Harath in Jerudong, a famous eating place in Brunei. Some names are in a transition. Another Brunei kueh, up to now, I am not sure what to call it - I heard it being called Jelurut but at times I also hear Selurut. This is the green stuff they sell in a cone shaped banana leaf. One kueh definitely has changed name. When I was a small boy, I used to accompany my dad to the tamu and his favourite was the Apam Balik which I was told is a Malaysian kueh but I am not sure about that. What I do know is that it is sold by a Malaysian lady at the Tamu. Nowadays I can't find anyone calling it Apam Balik. Everywhere I look, it is now called Kueh Malaya. So someone out there better start compiling these original Brunei kuehs and their names before they too become something else in the future.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Brunei Darussalam in Colour

Our beloved country has its share of coffee table books. For those who don't what a coffee table book is - let me use an official definition by wiki - A coffee table book is a style of hardcover book designed to rest on a coffee table or similar surface in an area where guests sit and are entertained, thus inspiring conversation or alleviating boredom. They tend to be oversized and of heavy construction, since there is no pressing need for portability. Subject matter is generally confined to non-fiction, and is usually visually-oriented. Pages consist mainly of photographs and illustrations, accompanied by captions and small blocks of text, as opposed to long prose. History, art, entertainment, and biography are popular genres. Okay?

Brunei coffee table books are mostly pictorial books about Brunei produced by private publishers or by the government. Each of these books are worth a blog entry each but for now I will lump them all together and probably will write separately later. In the late mid 1990s and early 2000s, there was a proliferation of these books. Among the more well known ones that you can see in the bookshops are the "Abode of Peace: Brunei Darussalam" with the photograph of a young Brunei lady in white tudong. This one was a project where 25 of South East Asia's photographers spending a week in Brunei Darussalam in 1992 during the country's Silver Jubilee of His Majesty's Accession to the Throne. This was coordinated by Brunei Shell and it depicts photographs from the interior of Brunei Darussalam to the modern world.

Another was the "Golden Legacy: Brunei Darussalam" published by Syabas in 1993. It had the photograph of the Jame Asr in the twilight as the cover. This book was written by Sharon Meyers, Wendy Moore and Joesph Yogerst with photographs by Ian Lloyd. This book is interesting as it covers Brunei from various angles. It also had me being interviewed about the wedding practices in Brunei. Wendy Moore (Muslim name: Siti Khadijah) is married to one of my mother's Malaysian cousins and she wrote one of the chapters in the book. I find this book more dynamic than the others, not because I am in it, but because the writers and the photographers are non-Bruneians and they focused on the aspects of Brunei Darussalam they find more interesting.

One of Brunei's well known photographer, Hj Mohd Haranadi bin Hj Buntar or better known as Nadi also took all the photographs for another book entitled "Brunei Darussalam: Pearl of Borneo". Produced in 2000 by Rakan Tiga Media, the book was written by Dato Sumadi Sukaimi with Mohd Amin BPKDP Hj Sirat. This book is probably the only one among the major Brunei coffeetable books which is produced and contained photographs taken from the Brunei angle. If you have the other two, you can contrast the photographs and the writings about Brunei with this one.

Another locally produced book is "Brunei Darussalam: Diversity and Challenges" written and designed by Alias Matnor. The book was printed by Brunei Press Sdn Bhd with photographs taken by 'assigned foreign and local professional photographers and award winning amateur photographers'. This was also produced in 2000. This book had a special feature in which there are a number of Bruneians being focused on. Of course 7 years down the road, some of these individuals are no longer where they were. But it was an interesting cross section of Brunei's senior officials. It also featured interesting aspects of Brunei's royalty and culture - for instance you can find a whole chapter on His Majesty Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien or a whole chapter on the wedding practices of Brunei as well as focus on the wedding of HRH Princess Rashidah.

The ones produced by the government are not easily available to the public but are given out during the official occassions. Among these included one produced for His Majesty's 50th Birthday celebrations entitled " Sentiasa Bersama Rakyat/A Caring Monarch". Another two are the imaginatively entitled "Brunei Darussalam" and "Brunei Berdaulat". All the books focused on His Majesty and the various aspects of Brunei from the official angle. Another smaller one was for the Crown Prince entitled "Setulus Kasih Rakyat Menjunjung" which was produced on the occassion of HRH being made the Crown Prince.

There were a few others produced by government agencies. The one that I would like to highlight is one produced by UBD entitled "Brunei Darussalam Fruits in Colour" published in 1992. The book contained all the local fruits (some inedible ones as well) that are available in the country and is written by Dr Serudin Timbang. It contained fruits such as Sungkit (a rambutan without hairs), Arut, Bayong, Lakang, Surapit, Pitabu, Killer Kapayang or Pengalaban. How many people know Pengalaban is related to Avocado? This book will tell you about the local fruits in Brunei and more! I don't know if this book is available anymore but the copy I have is going to cost you about a million dollars if you want to get it from me.

The special book in my collection is entitled simply "Brunei Darus Salam: A Pictorial Review of the Land and People" - note the separated word in Darussalam. I found this book among the book collection belonging to my late father-in-law. This book produced in 1969 by Brunei Shell was published in commemoration of His Majesty's Coronation. It showed not only the photographs during His Majesty's Coronation but also the many development that were taking place in 1968. This book is really a tour of Brunei as it was then. A very nostalgic book for some of our elder Bruneians. My father in law wrote in the book that he bought it for $10 on Saturday, 16th August 1969. I wonder how much it is worth now?

There are a few others I know out there which I don't have even though I have tried to get my hands on every single Brunei book there is. But each and every single one that I highlighted above are really worthwhile. Get them if you can find them. They are good heritage especially for our younger generation to realise just how lucky they have been in living through the progress that Brunei Darussalam, the Abode of Peace has attained throughout the years.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Sometime very late today or early tomorrow morning the counter on the number of visitors will reach the magic 100,000 mark. That means since 11th March 2006 (245 days ago), that all of you faithful and loyal readers out there have clicked on for 100,000 times. This is excluding 14,000+ visitors on my predecessor blog on spaces.msn.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank you for making time in your day to visit this site. Some I know visit the website early in the day, some during office hours (it's alright I won't tell), some during lunch time, some late in the afternoon and a few at night. I checked the IP addreses every once in a while and sometime I am quite surprised to see where you are coming from. The vast majority are Bruneians in Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, UK, Australia and New Zealand with some other Bruneians in places such as Ireland, Japan, Switzerland, USA. Other visitors come as far away as from Iceland to Taiwan. There are others who drop in regularly too including someone from the USA State Department. I sure hope you are not formulating US government policy on Brunei based on this blog's entries. Brunei Times and Borneo Bulletin IP addresses also turn up on a daily basis and a couple of other newspapers as well.

My biggest thank you is to someone who you all know as RanoAdidas. His plug in April pushed the readership hovering below 100 to around 300 to 400 a day. Ranz, I owe you lots. The other event which triggers the rise to the average of 700 today is the entry on the new salary increments on 17th July 2006. That brought in lots of new readers and things have not stopped since. Readerships webbed and ebbed throughout every week. The weekdays see the most and the weekends see the least number of readers. Sundays usually the worst. I guess those free office internet connections which are only available during weekdays are partly the reason.

I started blogging for no reason other than to write and to express my thoughts. Doesn't everybody? I have always love writing even when I was at school but really have no avenue to explore. I wrote a few pieces for the Pelita Brunei short article under my better half's names and won a few $40 prizes. I stopped doing that as I thought it was a bit unfair of me when that $40 are meant to encourage younger writers. I then wrote a few articles on a get to know your children's toys series based on my son's toys but never bothered to get them published. If you ever see articles circulating talking about Ultraman, Power Rangers, Barbie, Sailormoons etc - most likely they are mine. Eventually, I found some blogs I like, lsm's, maurina's were two of them and I thought why not? The first few blogs started which at first are basically extension of my main website and functioned as a sort of what's new feature for that website.

As I write, I realised that these entries can serve a higher purpose. Just like when I first started where I shared a lot of materials which I have obtained throughout my career especially conference papers etc - this blogsite is where I can share daily snippets of my knowledge on Brunei - tell you all the whats, the wheres, the whens, the whys and the hows of Brunei. I look at it as a public service - as a way for me to pay back my debts to Brunei. I seek no other benefit. All I have always ask for is - accept the writings and used them to gain knowledge - but do not look at who the writer is. It is true that my work experiences shaped my writing but I would have to beg to all to accept the writer as who he wanted to be and not as a very senior government official.

I welcome all comments and one of the main feature of this site is to allow annonymous and unmoderated comments. I have been lucky that there has been only one or two comments which I really have to delete. Some comments have been critical ones and some have been overly nice. It does serve a nice balance. Every so often I would get requests from readers wanting me to write about something. Some requests ask if I could write a lot more about something else. I try to comply where possible but I am at the end of the day a civil servant and I am bound by the OSA as well as other laws. I read in someone's blog that I am too much of a royalist. Well I do try to present the government's point of view if that is what is meant by that. But when I am critical of another government's agency's policy - I try to be constructive. Criticising without giving advice is the worst of all criticisms (here I do have to apologise to the espeed people - that entry I remember was a crictical rant without advice).

At the end of the day, even if only one of you readers managed to get some form of education about Brunei - where you come from - why you are here in Brunei and how you can help contribute towards the development of Brunei - at least you are better informed about Brunei by that much more everyday, I am happy. Like Maurina said, it makes all the hatemails tolerable. So today as we basked in 100,000 readers achievements - it is you out there that deserved all the credits. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you and thank you.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Arachnid Bruneians

A zoologist named Joseph Koh nickanamed Mr Singapore Spiderman wrote in "A Guide to Common Singapore Spiders" about the Rolled-Leaf Comb-Footed Spider with the Latin name of Acaearanea mundulum that hides in a leaf retreat suspended in the centre of the web and that the leaf is collected by the spider and carried into the web. It is fastened with silk threads at one end to form a tubular hiding place for the spider itself, and for its pink and spherical egg-sacs. Another is about a Scarlet Acusilas (Acusilas coccineus) which hides in a retreat made of a rolled leaf suspended in the centre of the web. Interesting. Our multi-legged arachnid friends seemed to belong to a different world out there.

By the way that same Joseph Koh is now among us in Brunei talking about spiders (of Brunei now) here in his capacity as one of the ASEAN countries ambassadors here. During lunch the other day we talked about His Excellency's passion - a zoologist by training - a diplomat by profession - about our eight legged fellow Bruneians - spiders. All of us have come across spiders before, some huge ones, some hairy ones, some brown, some colourful. The problem is not that many of us know or even bothered to find out about these creatures when we come across them. The most common reaction is that we will get a broom or a slipper or a shoe to hammer these creatures into oblivion.

Other non-Bruneians noticed the spiders much more. The Centre for British Teachers (CfBT) wrote in their website as a guide to expatriate teachers coming to Brunei that spiders and insects make up by far most numerous and diverse group of animals encountered in Brunei. According to them, all spiders are poisonous but very few have mouth parts that are tough enough to penetrate human skin. There are no spiders here that can kill but there are some that could give a nasty bite if handled. The commonest household spider is the Huntsman; it is pale brown in colour and the female is easily identified by the large, circular egg case which it carries slung beneath its body. It doesn't build a web but hunts its prey. It can grow quite large, up to about 4" across but they always run away if threatened. Okay. Hands up to those who knew the bit about all Brunei spiders being poisonous but cannot kill and how many even knew that we have one local spider which hunts prey instead of catching them from webs.

Unfortunately as far as I know, I could be wrong, other than that paragraph in CfBT, no one else seemed to have done anything much or let alone do an arachnology study or even to writing a guide book about spiders here in Brunei. So our zoologist diplomat spiderman has kindly embarked on one. He is now working with the local authorities on the spiders of Brunei in his spare time in pursuit of his passion. Unfortunately I am not able to publish anything yet as the work has just started. It would be very interesting to see the end result.

What gets me is that is is always someone from outside Brunei who noticed what we have. We seemed to have a very rich biodiversity which we all acknowledged and even brag about. I came across a website which has this paragraph which one Richard Seaman wrote ".. Brunei has some of the best preserved rainforest on the island of Borneo, not because they're fervent environmentalists, but because they're so rich with offshore oil wealth that they haven't bothered destroying their forests .." I guess if we have it, whether we are fervent environmentalists or otherwise, no matter how it was achieved, we might as well make something out of it.

PS. Just after I finished writing the above, I sat down to have a look at the book which I wanted to blog in the future entitled "Belalong: A Tropical Rainforest" written by Earl of Cranbook and David Edwards, and guess what? It has pages and pages of Brunei spiders in Belalong! This included the large 'bird eating' spiders to the wolf spiders to spiders that mimic species of ants with such accuracy that even the trained observer can be deceived. The photo credit for today's entry of the orb-web spinning spider Nephila belongs to the authors of the book.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

After Birth in Brunei Society

My wife's niece gave birth to a baby girl yesterday afternoon. The baby makes us 9 time granduncle and grandaunty. I was first called nini uncle about 9 or 10 years back so by now I kinda get used to it already. Though for my sister-in-law and my biras, this makes them real grandpa and grandma rather than grandunc and grandaunt.

As usual in Brunei, a visit to the hospital whenever someone is ill or has just given birth etc, to the chagrin of the medical staff sometimes, must be done. So we did that last night. It was a natural birth so the mother looks fine apart from a little tired and the father looks ecstatic. This is always interesting as father's contributions towards the baby being developed and then born can probably be measured in tablespoonfuls if you know what I mean. It is mothers who had to do all the work!

Anway, what was interesting was not so much the birth but the conversation as to what he did with his baby's placenta or afterbirth or what the Brunei Malays called tebuni.

The new dad's mother on receiving the placenta cleaned and prepared it and instructed the new dad to bury it near a mosque. Of course, he chose the biggest mosque in Brunei and proceeded clandestinely to bury it just outside the gate. He told us that was whereabouts his brother buried his children's placentas as well. Okay.... Apparently there seems to be a whole bunch of people burying placentas at the mosque's ground or outside the mosque's grounds. Now I am beginning to worry. I didn't realise there was this new place and given that there are more than 4,000 births a year, that could add up to a sizeable amount, just outside the mosque's gate.

The interesting thing about all this is that there are actually a number of ways which one can dispose of the placentas and burying it near a mosque is one of them. In Brunei society, great care is usually taken of the placenta as it is considered as the child's "younger brother" or "sister". But this is also true in a number of societies and not just Brunei Malays, the critical importance of the placenta in determining pregnancy outcome is acknowledged by its special treatment after birth. By burying it near prominent locations such as mosques, is essentially a symbolic act in recognition of the fact that the placenta was an essential in utero companion of the baby. Numerous medical studies in transgenic mice have shown that placentation is a critical regulator of embryonic and fetal development (last two sentences copied from some website - I am not good enough to write it like that).

On the way home, my better half and I discussed about the myriad ways of how it is disposed. Mine was floated down a river somewhere, I am not sure what that is supposed to symbolise - be a traveller? My wife's family has the tradition of hanging it in a basket and pencils etc are placed in the basket as well, presumably to make the child to be a better scholar. My brother-in-law once joked that in today's modern world we should put a laptop in there instead. Burying it somewhere in the home's ground or under trees etc are also a more common option. Though the more authentic Brunei culture I believed is somehere in the Brunei Museum, if I am not mistaken, there used to be dioramas which showed glimpses of Brunei social traditions including the disposal of placentas in a bayung, a palm-leaf basket which is either hung on a tree or floated downriver.

If you are a parent out there, I would love to hear what you did with yours.

PS. In the comment box, Reeda pointed out that Jewelle wrote an entry about this sometime back. You can link to her entry at

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