Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Collection of Jong Sarat

I spent the whole day at Rizqun yesterday at the Mall in Gadong. No, I am not on leave. I was attending an executive forum on central banks’ reserve management. The speakers were from the World Bank Treasury. It was full of phrases like ‘strategic asset allocation’, ‘standard deviation of volatility’, ‘asset classes’ and ‘efficient frontiers’ – sounds interesting? Ya, if you are into it. Reminds me of finance classes when I did my MBA. At the end of the day, the message was that central banks should not maintain conservative investment policies but should add other asset classes as this will give a higher return at about the same risk level.

Anyway, spend a whole day listening to this, one needs to take a walk to rest one’s brain and being at the Mall, there lots of things to see, if not do. I drop in at Solitude, the Islamic Book specialist cum internet cafĂ© in Brunei. Solitude’s specialties are Arabic and Islamic books, not just the religious kind but also that of more world matters such as economics, legal, jurisprudence and management. However, Solitude has one corner which is always a favourite of mine – that of Brunei books. I think I have bought a number of Brunei books from there than anywhere else. It has many publications from the Museums Department and some of these go back to the 1970s and earlier. You cannot get them from anywhere else.

Yesterday, there was this book there which I was willing to pay the earth (well, not the earth but some indecent amount of money) which I last saw in an exhibition last July. The book contained the various patterns of Brunei’s traditional ‘jong sarat’ – the hand woven piece of cloth which male Bruneians would wear with their ‘baju melayu’. The book is like the equivalent of the encyclopedia of those designs and a primer to the designs and patterns.

I saw the book being used as a reference point in one exhibition and I asked whether I can buy it. They refused as they say they canot get hold of the book anymore. I know the author, an elderly lady, and asked my mother to ask her as she knows her quite well. My mother got a copy of it but my sister, an artist, also loved the book. The book was in full brilliant colour and showed the various patterns and designs of the woven jong sarat. Names like ‘bunga berkarang puncak mahligai’, ‘bunga bersusun cermin pualam’, ‘bunga berkembang indah terjurai’ and ‘arap gegati bunga api belitang rantai’ abound in the book. Prices of the woven jong sarat depends very much on the complexity of the design of the pattern which can range from $250 for a plain jong sarat to about $2,000 for the more complicated ones.

The book printed in 2003 entitled “Koleksi Kain Tenunan Tradisional Brunei” (Collection of Brunei’s Tradition Woven Cloth) is written by Hajah Kadariah who was the first teacher of handicraft at Brunei’s Handicraft Centre. She designed patterns and designs for the Royal Family, cabinet members, foreign service, UBD, the Yayasan Sultan and also used by Heads of States and Governments in APEC 2000. She has been awarded an ASEAN handicraft award in 1993. The book is bilingual and has a foreward written by HRH Princess Masna. Here is the interesting piece of information – Solitude sells the book for $2.00 for a hardcover and $1.00 for a paperback. Mind you, the book is in full blown colour – every single 158 page is in colour, all the designs are in colour. The photography is in colour. And for such a book, you pay such measly sums? I did not mistype the prices. In fact I asked whether they misprinted the price and the answer was ‘no’ that was the price. So, come to Solitude, get that book because the next time they reprint it, given the current stock must run out, it won’t be at that price anymore.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Kampung Sungai Bunga

There are three modern Kampung Ayer resettlement villages - Kampung Sungai Bunga, Kampung Bolkiah A and Kampung Bolkiah B. These three resettlement villages are the ideal (by today's standards at least) of what the houses should look like. No doubt, aesthetically there is much to be desired as the houses each looking like the other becomes rather characterless and aesthetically challenged but at least these houses are safe - unlikely to catch fire and fire is unlikely to spread to other houses as there is now a standard distance between the houses.

Of the three, Kampung Sungai Bunga at Pulau Berambang is the more visible one. If you drive along Jalan Kota Batu, you will find a huge carpark filled with cars but not a single house around the area. If you look closely, all the houses are on the other side of the river bank and the only way to get to those houses is by boat which will probably take around 10 minutes. There are 112 houses, each a four-bedroom house with a police post, clinic, shop, playground, water tower and several small bridges. The houses were completed in May 1997.

The origin of the name of the Kampung Sungai Bunga is very interesting. The Kampung obviously is named after the river Sungai Bunga (Flower River). It was said that at certain times the river would emanate the smell of the jasmine flower. The smell was sharpest especially at night. However if one was to search for the sources of the smell, one can never find it. Locals believe that the sweet flower smell came from ‘Orang Kebenaran’ or ‘Orang Bunian’ or suffice to say, the little invisible folks who lived in the river. (Could be the kin to the same folks who ran off with my golf club.)

Pulau Berambang also has a historical site. It has the mausoleum of Sultan Muhammad Hassan, the ninth Sultanof Brunei. He died in 1598.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A Tutong Wedding

I was in Kampung Penanjong, Tutong for the wedding ceremony of a relative yesterday afternoon. I haven't attended a wedding in Tutong for quite sometime, so this time round I was watching the ceremony closely. The first thing I noticed was that after the usual 'pusing naga' (the three circles) the groom had to break a couple of bamboo pieces at the entrance of the house before going in to sit at the wedding dais beside the bride.

Later the newly wed couple was taken outside for the 'basuh kaki' (literally 'washing feet') ceremony. Most Bruneians would know that if you attend a wedding ceremony in Tutong, there would be a ceremony where close relatives and friends would be asked to partake in the washing the feet of the groom and bride ceremony. Though in this case, it is not a true cleansing but merely pouring water over the feet of the two of them.

Yesterday, the couple sat with one foot each over the other and a number of people would pour the water over their feet. Their feet are placed over a piece of stone usually a stone knife sharpener (batu pengasah) and below that would be placed a 'parang' or a large knife or to be more exact a machette. Before or after each pouring, the well wishers would give a little present to the couple in the form of an envelope filled with money into a little basket or they would put pieces of notes into the basket directly.

What most people don't know is that, after the ceremony, apparently tradition dictates that all those presents and money collected during the 'basuh kaki' ceremony must be counted and presented to the couple. I volunteered to be the auditor and my uncle did the counting.

Now, most people would assume that all these are just 'adat' or customs that people follow over the generations. There are actually reasons for doing so. In the old days, when a Tutong couple gets married, they are not allowed to leave the house for 40 days. And in those 40 days, they are not earning anything and the money collected was supposed to tide them over those 40 days. In the older days still, it is not just money that was placed in the basket. Sometimes the gifts take the form of a land title deed (grant tanah as some would say), or a cow's horn - this would indicate that the giver will be presenting a cow to the couple, or a coconut - this would indicate that the giver will be presenting a coconut tree to the couple, or any fruits - where a fruit tree will be presented to them and the fruits from that tree would forever belong to the couple. Gifts can be anything and not just money.

Why the machette and the stone knife sharpener? According to what I can gather, the machette and the stone knife sharpener are substitutes for what should be the actual tradition - the bride's and groom's feet should be placed over a stone and below the stone should be a piece of metal. The stone is of the earth and said to be 'cooling' to help the newly wedded couple go through life together while the piece of metal is said to be 'strong' and as a base for the future of the newly wedded couple. Thus the water is said to bring all these elements together. Nowadays, most people put stone knife sharpener and the parang as substitutes without realising why they are doing it. They just follow tradition.

Oh yes, why break the bamboo pieces? That was to symbolise that the groom is entering into the domain of the bride's family and whatever other symbolism that you can think of - think fertility.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Old Main Roads of Brunei

For today, not much words are necessary. I thought I will post photographs of the beginning of the various main roads in the main city and towns of Brunei. The first one is obviously Jalan Sultan in the capital. I am not sure what year this is but the Customs Building at the end of the road has been built. Though all the shophouses remain intact as compared to the shophouses of today.

This is Jalan Pretty in Kuala Belait. I am not sure what year this was and judging by the lack of cars, this must have been pretty early in the 1950s when the shophouses have just been completed.

This is Seria as it is being constructed. I have been told that this view is taken from where the Marina Theatre is.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Short History of Brunei Aviation

According to observers, the first airplane to fly over Brunei was a seaplane spotted over Tutong in 1922. Prior to the second world war, there was no airfield in Brunei. The first runaway was built by the Japanese during the second world war at the current Old Airport Government Complex. After the end of the war, that runaway was improved upon and a proper airport was built. The first commercial air transport in Brunei only began in 1953 with the establishment of air service links connecting Bandar Brunei (Brunei Town) with Anduki in the Belait district. Initial flights were to Malaysia which was to accommodate travellers from Labuan in Sabah and Lutong in Sarawak.

If you were to visit the Government's Printing Department at the Old Airport Complex (that's why the area is called the Old Airport Complex as the old Brunei Airport was there), that department now occupies what used to the Brunei Airport Terminal Building including the tower. I remembered when my father was the Director there in the late 1970s, the top tower was his office. Returning to his office was quite nostalgic as in the 1960s, my mother and I used to fly to Singapore to visit our family in Johor almost every year and we had to fly via Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) to catch a connecting flight. At first it was the Malayan Airways using De Havilland Rapides aircraft that operated flights between Brunei Town, Anduki, Miri and Labuan with over 4,300 passengers using the Brunei Airport in 1955. The Brunei Airport only served airplanes like the De Haviland, the small Douglas DC3s and later the Foker Friendships.

The Anduki Airport in Seria in the meantime played a very significant role in the aviation history of Brunei. Constructed soon after the end of the second world war, it served the Shell company operating there. It was completed sometime in 1951 and the first plane to land there was a Vickers Supermarine Type 309 (VR-SOL) or better known as the Sea Otter. The Sea Otter is a versatile airplane, it can land both on the water as well as on dry land.

Before Anduki was built, the Sea Otters were flown from Lutong in Miri - from an airport which the Japanese built during the War. One of the interesting things for British expatriates coming to work in Shell in Seria is that their first ever flight tended to be in Brunei. After the World War and the 1950s, the expatriates and their family would arrive by ship in Labuan. Then the Sea Otters would fly them from Labuan to Belait and for many that would be their first ever airflights. The Sea Otters played a very significant role in Brunei aviation before being replaced by the Percival P.50 Prince (photo of aircraft in Anduki Airport photograph). In addition to the that was the small Auster J5B Autocar.

In the 1970s there was a very significant growth in popularity of air travel. The old Brunei Airport was swamped with activity, operating beyond its capacity and prompted the authorities to scout for a new site to build a modern airport, in order to cater to the needs of the growing number of users. The new Brunei International Airport which we all use currently, began construction in 1970, was completed in 1974. Our own Royal Brunei Airlines was also born in November 1974. Ater a year of service RBA 2 Boeing 737-200 jets managed to fly 36,000 passengers. Twin turboprops Fokker (see photograph) were also used. Later Boeing 757-200s and the long range wide bodied Boeing 767-300 replaced all the 737-200s. By 2002, Airbus A319 and A320 were added to the fleet to replace the 757s.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Glimpses of Authority

Once in a while, I run out of ideas of what to write. Not that there is nothing to write about - there are just too many things about Brunei that no blogs in the world can cover it. So for today I thought I will share with you the views from my office. I took the title of the posting from the links of a recently started blog about the Maktab Sains Class of 1979 which labelled The Daily BR - Glimpses of Authority.

This view is from the 17th floor of the tallest building in Brunei. The position that I am in overlooks the Bandar and Gadong areas. Since there are four of us on that floor, each one of us get a different segment to look at. One of my senior colleague gets a view of the Berakas area, the other gets a view of the Delima area and my other colleague gets a view of the Jalan Kebangsaan area. So I guess I am pretty lucky.

Part of the view is what you can see in the background are the new Legislative Council building on the way to being completed as well as the Immigration/Labour Building, Royal Customs and Excise building, the National Archives Building, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and part of the Bahirah Building housing Audit, Petroleum Unit and Management Services Department.

In the foreground is the new recreation park currently being worked on. The park is a project of the Environment, Parks and Recreation Department. The park will be on one of the original landfill area. I was told that the area is not stable enough yet to build anything on but it is okay for a park. Most people have forgotten that the road running across the whole area now named Jalan Menteri Besar used to be known as jalan sampah not 20 years ago.

If you were to look further, you can make out the Istana Nurul Iman, the Hassanil Bolkiah mosque and the various building in Gadong. You can see more of the Gadong area in the second photograph including part of the sea.

There is a third segment which shows part of the airport and the DST Tower.

Unfortunately I am using only my handphone Nokia N70 to take the photographs, so the photos are far from perfect and do not actually show the grandeur of Brunei seen with your own eyes. To give fair justice to the scenery, maybe one of these days, I ought to bring our many photobloggers up here. Imagine what scenes they can shoot from this high up.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Origin of Kampung Keriam

The first school I attended was the Sekolah Melayu Muda Hashim at Bukit Bendera in Tutong. It was on top of a hill and in those days I can see monkeys and squirrels swinging by on the trees behind the school. Most of the students spoke Tutong and I think I caught a few words here and there. After Primary 1, my family moved to Bandar, otherwise I would have been a fluent Tutong speaker. So Tutong does hold a bit of a soft spot for me.

Tutong is actually an interesting district. I wrote a little about it a few weeks ago when I talked about the origin of the Tutong language. Tutong used to be part of the Melanau government in the 14th century before becoming part of the Brunei Sultanate in the 15th century.

Among the many villages in Brunei, the Tutong villages have interesting beginnings. I thought I will focus on the origin of one village in Tutong - Kampung Keriam. This village was occupied since 1920s and became quite developed when the main road was built across it then.

The origin of the village was said to be when a Dusun family came over from Sungai Bera in Belait to another village in Tutong called Kampung Panapang. The head of the family was called Si Rium. They became very prosperous in Panapang until one day they were told by a shaman that their son will be in danger from a crocodile. So in order to protect their son, they then moved to this new place.

In this new place, they still managed to do quite well. They built a house to stay in and Si Rium would go fishing everyday. And everyday Si Rium would bring back a basketful of sand from the sea until the mound of sand surrounding the house became quite huge - that mound is still visible now with the sand much different compared to the sand in the area. However one day while their son was asleep, a bag made out of crocodile skin fell on the boy and the boy then suffered from a strange illness. He lingered on without a cure and he passed away.

Over the years, many people came from the surrounding area to build houses around the area of Si Rium's house. Eventually as more houses were built, the whole area became known as Kampung Si Rium. That name would have stayed on but in 1926 the name of the village was changed to Kampung Keriam. In 1926, the then District Officer renamed the village as Kampung Keriam on the basis that Keriam was easier to pronounce than Si Rium.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Brunei's Diehard Football Fans

I am not a diehard football fan. The world does not end when my team doesn't win but I guess when you support teams that are not expected to win most of the time, any win is a bonus but losses are not painful. I supported a couple of fairly unsuccessful teams which I mentioned a couple of posting ago but I didn't realise the extent of English football support in Brunei currently.

When I was on the IM, I was asking one of my 20+ old junior colleagues to clarify a point he brought up the day before on the topic of football rivalry. He mentioned that and I quote 'people in Brunei have cliques based on which football team you support... thus the 'rivalry' that I was talking about.' It seemed that the various cliques tended to tease or pester the other side's supporters after every loss to the point that some people don't turn up for work or social functions beacuse they don't want to face 'the verbal torture' of certain colleagues. Case in point was the recent Liverpool's 2-0 victory over Chelsea or Arsenal's 2-1 victory over Manchester United two nights ago.

From what I gather the rival members teased each other - (taken from actual conversations) - talking about how crap the team is - how crap the players performed - how ugly some players are. They also call or send sms's to rival fans when their team loses too that some 'tutup telefon' because malas kan melayan the numerous amount of calls or messages.

Is this a male thing only or is it age specific? I am pretty sure it is among the 'younger' generation as I don't see it at my age group or this is maybe because because I don't include Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal among the teams I supported. There was one Liverpool supporter's comment on the shout box which said "...actually, when I was in Liverpool, the local taxi driver asked me why I supported Liverpool since we don't even come from the place? So I was stumped at the time..." Why then do we support the teams we supported? I am sure the sociologists out there would have the answer to that. I know it's some kind of tribal thing.

It's a pity we don't have the same amount of enthusiasm and fervour for our national team. I was told by BorgKingKong that in the sports section of the Guinness Book of World Records, Brunei holds the record for the fastest hattrick to be scored against it in any international competition. The record was created when Japan's Masashi Nakayama scored the hattrick against the Brunei team in the space of 3 minutes and 15 seconds. We lost 9-0 that day on February 2000 in the Asian Cup qualifying competition. To rub it in, the record before that had stood for 62 years when England's George Hall scored the three goals against Ireland in 3 minutes and 30 seconds. The only consolation to us seemed to be that Bhutan was obliterated 20-0 against Kuwait in that same competition. The Kuwait goalkeeper also managed to score in that game.

Imagine if there were football fan cliques at international level - I wouldn't have wanted to receive any sms or calls of reminders over that one!

Photo Credit: Brunei Darussalam Pearl of Borneo

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Brunei's Street Lamps in 1960

Out of the blue, I received the following email from a Mike in London who wrote that:-

"Although I have yet to visit Brunei, and I have friends there, thanks for posting the old photos of Brunei - it's a strange world, but I have recently being doing some research into old British streetlights - I told you it was strange - and there on those 1950s/60s photos are some old UK style concrete lamp columns! I suppose in many ways it's not a surprise (Singapore used similar ones), I'm now researching to see if they were imported or made locally!

If you want a fascinating snapshot of 'old' Brunei I recently bought a secondhand copy of the 1960 State of Brunei Annual Report, published by, no-less, the Colonial Office. In the true tradition of bureaucracy it even lists the total numbers of geese and ducks in the country, even if it admits it is a bit hazy as to the number of human deaths because of the complexity of having them reported to the correct authorities! If you get the chance you should look the series up!"

I wrote back and told him that I will be looking up the 1960 series if I can find it. I also asked him to share his findings about the street lightings. He replied:-

"Goodness! Well, you never know it might take your enjoyable site up one of the great backwaters of history - I mean, I wonder whoever stuck those concrete 'monstrosities' (there was a great debate here in the UK in the mid-50s led by the Royal Fine Arts Commission about the design of such things) up in Bandar in 1950 - whatever would they have thought that 50 years on it would have even been recalled! Yes, I'll certainly let you know what I discover (if anything!) By the way there were 570 street lamps in Brunei in 1960, 285 in Brunei Town, 168 in Kuala Belait, 93 in Seria, 19 in Tutong and 5 in Bangar - the joys of historical research!

Anyhow, thanks for adding to cyberspace - and it just goes to show that web-pages and postings can have the most unlooked for consequences!"

Well.... That's the thing I like most about doing the Daily BR. I get to know that little bit more about Brunei from other people who have the knowledge.
PS. The photo was taken in 1968 showing the old Tamu at Jalan Sultan Lama with the street lamp and Masjid SOAS in the background.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Made-up Words in Brunei

I was watcing Juara Lagu on TV3 last night when the presenter reminded that the word 'kugiran' is actually a made up word - kumpulan gitar rancak thus the first syllables of the three words making up kugiran. That reminded me when I first heard of the word many years ago about the days of the Beatles who spearheaded the boys band and in the Malay world, we had many other 'kugirans' following suit. Though honestly I cannot recall a single name now.

Made up words are interesting. Indonesians to me are masters of this. I remembered ABRI which stands for Angkatan Bersenjata Republik Indonesia and DEPLU - Departemen Luar Negara. When I was in Surabaya, we were taken to one of their tourist attractions called 'Monkasel'. It is actually a real Russian submarine which was bought by the Indonesian Navy and saw action when it fought against the Dutch in the Arafura sea battle freeing West Irian from the Dutch. The submarine has now been turned into a monument and 'Monumen Kapal Selam' is 'Monkasel'. Another famous attraction in Jakarta is called 'Monas'. The National Monument tower built in 1961 (completed in 1975!) symbolized the fight for Indonesia's Independence. What most people don't know is that at the flame-shaped bronze at the top is 35 kg of gold plated on it. Anyway, I am digressing, 'Monas' is short for 'Monumen Nasional'.

How many made up words are in the Brunei vocabulary? I am not sure really. Similar to Indonesia, most ministries have their shortforms, either their initials becoming a word or into a made up word - M.F.A. or now MOFAT, MINDEF, M.O.C, M.O.D., K.K.B.S., M.O.F., - the only ministry that hasn't yet made up a word is Religious Affairs. However not all departments have their shortforms - J.K.R. has one. TAP is another. In the early days I championed T.A.P. rather than TAP but nowadays TAP is widely used. The 'new' agency A.i.T.i is the most interesting of all shortforms as that one has both capital and small letters. It creates havoc when you type the word.

Of non government words, I know of two Brunei words which readily comes to mind. 'Awda' is one. 'Awda' made up of 'Awang/Dayang' was coined much earlier but popularised by RTB - and started to be used by the presenters around 1970s. Even though this word is primarily used by RTB, I noticed that more and more notices are using it. Though it has not reached official status yet - the word is not included in the Kamus Bahasa Melayu Nusantara.

Another word is 'Tadika' which most people know stands for 'kindgergarten'. Kindergarten is a German word which literally means Children's Garden and that got transformed into English usage. The original Brunei word was 'Taman Bimbingan Kanak-Kanak' whose syallables made up the word 'Tabika' but the Malaysian usage 'Taman Didikan Kanak-Kanak' which made up 'Tadika' becomes widely used.

The other day on a Malaysian program, they talked about 'Andalusia' which I can assure you is not a country. It is a more up to date word for 'Andartu', both words are rather sensitive to unmarried single ladies, so I will not expand either one any further.

What you are reading is also a made up word - a blog which comes from the word 'weblog'. The word 'weblog' itself was coined by a Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The shorter form, 'blog' was coined by Peter Merholz in April 1999. This was adopted widely as both a noun and verb ('to blog," meaning "to edit one's weblog or to post to one's weblog'). Another word which hasn't yet reached the status of blog is 'vlog' which is a blog with a video. Another is 'webzine' which is web magazine. With many Bruneians into photographic blogs, I am surprised 'plog' has not caught on yet. So, what makes a made up word catch on?
PS. I received a number of reminders that we should (to quote ad verbatim) "give credit to one of our elder statesmen, Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Setia Negara Pengiran Haji Mohd Yussof (ex-Ambassador to Japan amongst his long list of governmental positions held previously) for that particular word, "Awda", that was coined by him originally before RTB adopted it." I have made the appropriate correction in my original post.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

5 Things Meme

If you are expecting something about Brunei today, I am sorry. I was tagged by Ms Maurina to do a 5 things meme(?). At first I am not sure what a meme is. I thought of reading the wiki entry on it but when I saw the mile long entry, I thought to myself - hei, I got better things to do than that. So I thought I will just read what everyone's meme is all about. Apparently the idea is to get to know the other side of the people we spend so much time interacting with online. Though honestly speaking that seemed to be so far from what is the official 'meme' explanation in Wiki.

I am supposed to write 5 things and I thought, 5 things ain't that hard but place my fingers on the keyboard - they didn't move. So it is that hard. But after thinking about it, afterall I am more than double or even triple most bloggers' age in Brunei - I should have more things to write. More saltlah katakan. So I thought I will just type what comes to mind. Here they are:

1) I am probably one of very few Bruneians who can claim to have lived in all four districts in Brunei - born in one and lived in the other three. I have also lived in my mother's hometown in Johor for a couple of years, in Singapore for 6 years (my secondary schools) as well as 4 years in a small village in England (Keele - for my first degree) and a year in an American City (Cambridge, next to Boston for my Masters).

2) I waited for buses at 5.30 in the morning in Singapore to go to school and go back at 6.30 in the evening and have taken public transportation throughout my growing up life. I have sold charity flags on Orchard Road, Shenton Way and Geylang Serai in Singapore as well help paint old people's homes, clean the area of a blind person's home and taught at two primary schools in coal mining areas in Staffordshire where children come to school in interesting smelling clothes. I am always sympathetic to people who faced hardships.

3) Let me see. Among others, I have seen interesting places and probably done interesting things - watching aeroplanes being built and kitted out in Airbus factories in Toulouse, France and Hamburg, Germany as well as at SwissAir Technics in Zurich, Switzerland; watching ships being built in Kobe, Japan as well as cars being assembled also in Japan. I smelled the sulphur of Rotorua, New Zealand; I rowed through a hot lake in a crater, where there is an island topped by another mountain which has another crater and a lake in Taal, the world's smallest, but most dangerous volcanoes in the Philippines; I walked up the steep hills of Auckland; and I have been chased by demonstrators who thought I wanted to take their photographs in Islamabad, Pakistan.

I trampled the streets of Beijing for miles because my wife and I wanted to see Beijing up close (and yes I also have been up the Great Wall of China); trampled a few miles in London because the tube was on strike; and on the streets in Harlem and Brooklyn searching for halal food stores. I had a hundred children closed in on me in Vientianne because I made the mistake of giving only one of them a dollar. I had stayed in a 500 year old monastery turned hotel and didn't sleep the whole night as I kept thinking how many ghosts now occupied that building.

4) I went on board the Japanese vessel the Nippon Maru for a 6 week Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program. I stayed with 6 different temporary foster families in Bangkok (devout Buddhist and I got to give monks their morning rice), Penang (a caterer), Jakarta (a businesswoman), Manila (a rich and wealthy Makati banker), Singapore (a chiropractor) and Japan (in Fukushima - an apple farmer). I had a narrow escape in Quezon City had my original foster family came over to pick me up. Their house got bombed in the evening when I would have been staying there.

5) I tried to learn the piano at age of 24. After three months, I can play a few children songs including Old McDonalds, a skill which I completely forgot within a week of stopping the lessons. I still loved to blast my stereo loud when I drive my own car playing old 80s heavy metal songs but keep a very dignified silence when I am in my official car being chauffer driven. My music knowledge ended somewhere in the very early 1990s and I have no idea who the current top singer is. Everytime I am on the thread mill at the gym and the MTV switched on in front of the machines, I have no idea who the singers are (but I know some of the songs - rehashed from the 1980s).

I supposed I could go on. I could talk about the one time I had dinner with the Sultan of Johor sitting at the same table or the times when my voice does a disappearing act whenever I talked to the top man in Brunei on a one to one basis or the times when I had to run up stairs to keep up with the Minister (in a lift) I was accompanying. There are many stories but I am only allowed 5. When you are my age, you have done many things and you see many things too.

Anyway, you know more about me than most people - it is now my turn to tag a few more people. These few people that I chose are probably horrified to be tagged as their blogs are relatively unknown and hidden in the world but they do write interesting stuffs. So, please divert your attention for 5 things meme from the Investment Expert Kamakazzi; the Singing PR Manager Moon; the Artistic Cousin; and last but not least from one of my favourite persons in the world hiding in 'distant mirrors'. Enjoy.

The National Football Scene

I got an email from the webmaster of Brunei's Manchester United Football Club wishing to exchange links. I checked out their website and found that the club is active and has just recently recruited its 100th member. That does indicate something. At least MU is a winning team and has its fair share of supporters in Brunei. I was wondering whether to reciprocate the link as MU is not exactly my favourite team - I supported two English teams - both of which have not been doing well ever since I supported them - Ipswich Town and Newcastle United. Ipswich attracted me as a small team struggling against the giants and doing well in the 1980s and Newcastle was a giant name who despite having Kevin Keegan in those days never won anything much.

Despite our fondness for English and European soccer and can even discuss the whos, the whys and the whats of them - most of us know next to nothing about our national soccer scene. I remembered someone wrote an entry about Brunei football a couple of months back - was it Jack? - where I share his sentiments about not knowing much about Brunei football. Is it because we don't know much because no one told us anything or is it because they are not winning?

In the 1980s when we first took part in the Malaysia Cup, I was still a student in Singapore then and there was one match that I remembered - Brunei played Singapore at the Padang in Bandar. There was no satellite tv and we listened very closely on the shortwave radio to the commentary of the game. We didn't have our stadium yet in those days and matches were played at the Padang and it wasn't the best of any football fields. Singapore was riding high up in the Malaysia Cup league and we shocked them despite having Fandi Ahmad by beating them 2-1. That was about the most memorable thing that happened then. I still remembered some of the players and they were household names then such as Pg Tajuddin - the giant in the defence team and Ak Zamani - our national striker. [*Fandi Ahmad was offered to play at Ajax Amsterdam but he rejected it and joined FC Groningen where he scored goals against such giants as Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan.]

When the National Stadium was officially opened sometime in 1982 or 1983, the state team entertained Sheffield United - I think Sheffield sent out their reserves against us and we lost a game in the morning and drew another in the evening. What I remembered the most was the current PS at MIPR, Dato H* who played left winger scoring a goal. He was an active and gifted football player in those days.

In 1999, Brunei had an interesting run in the Malaysia Cup surprising everyone by reaching the final and winning the final against - I can't quite remember - was it Sabah or Sarawak? What I remembered was the sellout crowds during that run in at the stadium, close to 30,000 everytime Brunei played and a couple of thousands actually made it to Stadium Merdeka for the final. All it shows that if the team does well, there will be supporters.

Since last year, Brunei has been respresented by DPMM FC in the Malaysia Cup. So far they have done well, maybe not as well as we had hoped but they have been doing much better than our state team over the last few years anyway. I really do hope that they can keep up their consistent performances and go all the way.

I tried looking up BAFA's website if I can find anything new. But unfortunately their website has gone the same way as our national team. So I got my information from other sources such as FIFA, AFC and Wiki. I found out that Brunei FA was formed more than 51 years ago - 15 March 1956 and at that time was known as the Brunei State Football Amateur Association (that's where the word BAFA came from). It has been a member of FIFA since 1969 and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) since 1970. In 1993, the word "Amateur" was dropped, and since then, the FA has been known as the Football Association of Brunei Darussalam. Brunei's experience of international football has been more or less restricted to regional Asian competitions, such as the South East Asian Games and the Tiger Cup. Brunei has played in the world Cup qualifying competition a couple of times as well as the Asian Cup.

According to Wiki, our first international was an 8-0 defeat by Malaysia in Bangkok in 1972, our biggest win 4-1 against Philippines in Brunei in 1985 and our biggest defeat was 12-0 against UAE in Brunei in 2001. Our FIFA ranking is 175 and the highest ranking we ever got was 145 in August 1993 and the lowest was 199 in December 2004. But another rival football ranking organisation ELO ranked Brunei as 212 out of 228 even way much lower than that of our lowest in FIFA. The 16 countries below us (some of them I won't even consider as countries) include Turks and Caicos, Northern Marianna Islands, US Virgin Islands, Monaco, Federated States of Mirconesia, East Timor, Montserrat, Anguilla, Vatican, Niue, Bhutan, Tibet, Kiribati, Eastern Samoa, Guam and Palau.

Jack was right -- someone PLEASE do something about our national fooball!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Maal Hijrah 1428

Tomorrow or rather this evening will be the beginning of the New Islamic Year, the Hijra of 1428. This evening, the celebration will be held at the Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah where the doa for the end of the year and the beginning of the new year will be read. I think there is also a presentation that will be done - the Hijra awards to the Tokoh Ugama - those who have contributed the most to the development of Islam in Brunei.

When is the year Hijrah Year 1? The beginning of the new Hijra year took place in the year when Prophet Mohammad SAW migrated to Medina. It was the year of 622. It was in the month of September and the hijrah most likely took place around 9th September 622 when Prophet Muhammad left Mecca and reached Yathrib around the 20th. The first year of Hijrah was not formally declared the first year of Hijra until the year 637, 16 years after it took place. This is when Saidina Umar formalised the Prophet's custom of dating events from the Hijrah, the moment of the establishment of the first Islamic State. Though the Arabic calendar was still used and technically the first day of Muharram of Year 1 Hijrah which occurs around 16th July 622 was not the actual day of the hijrah.

Hijrah literally 'the migration' is the emigration of the Prophet from Mecca to Yathrib (later called Medinat an-Nabi, the City of the Prophet or Medina). Prophet Muhammad SAW who had been preaching Islam in Mecca for the last 12 years had been facing greater persecutions from the people in Mecca especially with the death of his protector uncle, Abu Talib, to the point that his life was in danger, had no choice but to leave Mecca. He was offered sanctuary by the people of Medina, who had pledged loyalty to him called the pledge of Aqabah.

Prophet Muhammad SAW left Mecca with Saidina Abu Bakar on a camel with a flock of sheep driven behind them to cover their tracks. They hid in a cave in Mount Thawr and were never found by their searchers as an acacia blocked the entrance, a spider web which was spun over the opening of the cave and a dove's nest with an egg in front of the cave with an egg in front of the cave, seemingly indicating that no one had entered the cave. The Prophet reached Medina after several days joined by some seventy other 'muhajiruns' (emigrants). By the ninth year of Hijrah, delegates would have come from all over Arabia to accept Islam from the Prophet.

The context of Hijrah means migration from one place to a better place but also migration from one state of mind to a better state or from one character to a better character. It means movement to any improvement. Generally Hijrah is divided into three (a) Al-Hijrah al-Ammah (b) Al-Hijrah al-Daimah and (c) Hijrah al-Qulub Wa al-Dhamair. The first is the hijrah of the Prophet. The second is the Hijrah of migrating from any country which threatened a Muslim to another country. The third is the emigration of the heart, the belief and the mind so as to better those. To continuously cleanse one's heart to be cleaner, purer and to understand deeper about the religion. This is the hijrah that Muslims look for.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ahuta Sar Mata Seri Buhana

When I raided my dad's collection of books last weekend, I found one which I think should be read by those who are very interested in Brunei culture and which I really really hope that Dewan Bahasa will reproduce or reprint or whatever but at least make it available to the public again.

The book is entitled "Ikhtisar Budaya" which was first published by DBP in 1976 and have been reprinted in 1982 and 1986. It's a collection of essays by local historians and sociologists looking at the three aspects of Brunei culture from its customs (adat istiadat), the arts and its belief in animism. Among the essays, the title included the Adat Istiadat, Ciri Gelaran, Adat Menghantara Tanda Tunang, Naubat Diraja, Gulingtangan, Pertukangan Emas dan Perak, Perusahan Bertenun, Peranan Rumah Perkumpulan Dalam Masyarakat, Menangkap Ikan and Ukuran Senjata Besi. The essays are written by practically all the big names in Brunei's history and culture circles such as Pehin Jamil, Dato Mahmud Bakyr, Dato Dr Latif and Dato Ampuan Sabtu.

What I will be doing is to pick up the various topics over the next couple of weeks and share with readers about aspects of Brunei Culture which you may not know much about.

I have always wondered about a particular phrase which is always read out during the award ceremony of Cheterias and Pehin Manteris. I have always been curious about it as when that part is read - it really sounded very foreign. A number of our younger readers may have missed the ceremonies but over the last 14 years or so, we have had something like 3 ceremonies where new Cheterias and new Pehin Manteris as well as the upgrading some of those titles. The ceremony is very traditional and when these titles are awarded, a letter or Surat Chiri is read out to announce the title. I found that part of the Chiri and I am reproducing it here:-

"Ahuta Sar Mata Seri Buhana Si Cekap Perkasa Pera Sang Si Jaya Perbuhana Au Bajana Madanadika Bacubala Pera Kerma Kerta Maskalang Ku Permala Malai Warna Utika Ayuta Si Dewa-dewa Perbu Peri nama"

Apparently this is mostly written in Sanskrit many hundreds of years ago but with the conversion into Islam, it has been 'islamised'. The historical aspects are interesting as some of the words referred to some ancient kings of Brunei or has undergone historical changes throughout the ages. Loosely translated, that part of the Chiri is as follows:-

"Dengan nama Tuhan Yang Maha Melihat, Yang Maha Menerangi Alam, Yang Maha Cekap Perkasa, Yang berjaya menguasai alam. Oh! Tuhan Yang Maha Kaya, Engkau yang mempunyai kekuasaan yang melakukan sesuatu kehendak kepada seluruh alam, jadikanlah (orang digelar) kalung bunga kesayangan, sebagai kasturi yang harum semerbak, menjadi senjata yang diperbuat daripada permata yang berwarna-warni, untuk raja yang memerintah."

So if the next award is ever made in our lifetime, now we know what those foreign sounding phrase mean.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Managing Natural Disasters in Brunei

Yesterday was another long drive to get to the office. The landslide at Tasek Meradun is not that far from where I live and we found that the road in front of the house is deserted as the police has closed the road heading towards Tasek Meradun from both ends. The driver decided that rather than be caught at the Jalan Gadong jam, we should to go through Sengkurong, Jerudong and the highway and also knowing that the Rimba and the Old Airport junctions will be jammed decided to press on to the Berakas Link Road. Surprisingly reaching the office took less than half an hour. In the evening was another long jam at Gadong and the landslide debris still has not been cleared. I sure hope by the time I post this entry this morning, the road would be passable.

The hills on the left hand side of Jalan Tutong heading towards Bandar at the area are prone to landslide. The authorities have done much to contain the hillside all these years judging by the amount of work they have done over the last 10 years but after such unusual heavy rains, it is almost next to impossible to stop the inevitable hill slide. The interesting question would be - knowing the steepness of the hill - was it a shoddy road widening job and should anyone be blamed? The only thing I know is that the widening of the road was not originally done by the authorities - if you remember the saga during the mid to later 1990s, then you would know who. Of course having said that, the authorities are now responsible for maintaining it.

The other day I happened to meet one of the top brass of the PWD in one meeting I chaired. Basically his answer is that with the current rains which supposedly occur once every hundred year, it is almost impossible to cater for such eventuality. Theoretically we could. We could build the canals to such sizes and the hills reinforcements to such thickness that they can cater to everything but then they would be horrendously expensive. The best we can do is to cater for the usual disasters and then hope the one in a hundred year don't come during your lifetime. We have been pretty lucky that there has been no death casualties because of all these natural disasters. If something the size of Katrina in New Orleans were to happen here.... The choices facing the authorities sometime are not something that we want to face. Ours is a small country, imagine a bigger country with many more demands - despite what we have in this country, even then we are not satisfied with what the government have provided.

Once a disaster strike, the management and the containment of it is an issue. We have multiple agencies - all this while surprisingly the various authorities have coped. The authorities have realised that there is a need to coordinate the various efforts and now we have a new agency in town called the Natural Disaster Management Centre (NDMC). I was part of the working group that prepared the groundwork at my previous agency a couple of years ago. Towards the third quarter last year, the high level committee chaired by no less than the Crown Prince met and now the NDMC is officially formed. The NDMC located at the Old Airport and currently made up mostly of Fire and Rescue Services officials will now be responsible for the coordination of any rescue and other works necessary caused by natural disasters. Being a new agency, there obviously were teething problems and it was only lately that the NDMC took a much larger profile. Given that natural disasters have an uncanny ability to strike when we least expect it, hopefully the centre will be able to manage and coordinate the various efforts.

Photo credit: Borneo Bulletin

Old Muara Revisited

Does anyone remember the old Jin Tong's filling station at the end of the shophouses in Muara? It's no longer there as the Port has expanded right up to the edge of the shophouses. My better half told me that the late Jin Tong used to have another shop in front of Customs in Bandar. Anyway, I received an e-mail from a Muara resident or to be exact a Serasa resident when I posted the picture of old Muara and a couple of other old Brunei photographs. I liked the informal writing style. I have already received permission from the sender to reproduce the email and here it is (with some slight editing and removal of some sensitive material as requested):-

Firstly sorry for the intrusion, but I'd just like to thank you for posting the early pic of Muara town. I have never seen any photo older than that of Muara town. My family and I live in Seasa, so Muara is very close by and somewhere which I often go to. Anyway, my dad hail from Serasa. So I showed him the pic of the old Muara town, just to test his memory. Didn't tell him any details at all. After looking at it for a good minute he recognised it as as the old Muara town. The thing which gave it away was the rail track. My dad is 57 years old. The picture was taken before he was born. So you're right about the year when the picture was shot, 30s/40s.

My dad also remembers the shops on the pic. He says the shop house belongs to Hj M*. During my dad's time, the shop house didn't look as good as it did in the pic as a row of shop houses had already been opened and affected some of the business. I think. Although the original row of shophouses has long disappeared, it has been replaced on the exact same spot as the one which are currently still standing housing cafes, bakery and other shops. Sorry, I have this habit of digressing.

Anyway, back to the original story. So the shophouse which belonged to Hj M* used to even sell bullets for hunting firearms and stuff. By looking at the picture, I thought the house was at least partially made of concrete and thinking some remains could still be there. Apparently not. The structures were made of kayu bulian, hence when the shophouse finally gave away, no remains left of the house. The spot of this house is exactly where the bungalow shops are right now in the second pic. The wooden building next to the rubber depository was a row of shophouses as well.

Since my dad was in the mood of telling old stories, he also mentioned that, the rail tracks also came to Serasa right up to the Serasa ugama school junction. The reason for the rail track was not for coals though. They were there to carry tmber all harvested from Serasa. These timber were used in the coal mines, I guess to build arches and stuff. There was a station or a spot where all the coals were collected before it was exported. This spot was located around the area where the flats are close to where the Electrical Department building is now.

Also, I'm not certain when this was, but at around the the time when they were still mining the coal - according to my dad, there was a great white big house built on the hill just behind the Electrical Department old building (now the complaint section). This house has also long gone. But I bet the remains are still there as it was made completely or partially of concrete. This house belonged to the company mining the coal, which I think once belonged to Rajah Brook himself. My dad remembers there used to be many beautiful and interesting bottles lying around the area. I think they were alchohol bottles. heheh

Also just another info. Sorry if you already know all these and I'm boring you. I promise this is the last one. When the British Resident was still in Brunei, my grandfather used to work as a gardener for the house which became a temporary Istana before Istana Nurul Izzah was opened. The British Resident use this house as a retreat. Anyway, my story isn't about any of that but about batu kelikir (gravel). Did you know that the road leading to this house also had batu kelikir? My dad and grandfather used to collect them to sell as side income. The road was lined with Chinese and Iban houses who collected or mine the batu kelikir for a living. I guess there weren't that much of them and that they were not mined commercially.

Before I end this, please note all the facts and figures are not based on anything concrete. I have not done any research on them. Just passing you some stories from my dad's own childhood memories. So I hope you've enjoyed them and may find them helpful.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Old Brunei Coins

I think a number of postings had been made about Brunei money on this site as well as promoting the Brunei Currency and Monetary Board Gallery where visitors can come and see for themselves Brunei's currency throughout the ages where among others in the past, Bruneians were using miniature cannons and metal strips as forms of currencies. The cannons were not too bad as there are many other cultures that used other forms of currencies but I thought strips of metal takes the cake especially when it was used only last century (19th century).

Basically in Brunei, the old money before the usage of the Straits Settlement currency were used in Brunei, can be divided roughly into four chronological period or four forms. The first was the Chinese coins - this was no doubt in use since the earliest contact between Brunei and China. This was initially called Pitis as that term is a very ancient one. However with the introduction of the local Pitis, the Chinese coins were more commonly called the Kue. Chinese coins Kue stopped being used around the last half of the 19th century.

The second period was the usage of the local Pitis. This is generally confined to the type of coins where one side of the coin shows the state umbrella and the other side says "Ini-lah perintah kemuafakatan ke-atas belanja Negeri Brunei tarikh 1285" loosely translated as 'by the order of the administration of the finance of the State of Brunei 1285' - 1285 Hijra is 1868. There were also previous Islamic coins which are also called the Pitis.

The third form is the 'Duit Besi' or Iron Money. This is really true iron money as in those days iron was so valuable that it is used as money. One hundred flat pieces an inch square are so valued at a dollar and among the poorer classes, these iron pieces form the function of coins. It was also found that these iron pieces were cut at their own discretion. This was used throughout the 19th century.

The fourth form of currency is the 'Duit Bintang' or Star coin. This is made out of copper and was minted in Birmingham for the Sultanate in 1887 (1304 Hijra). This coin was taken out of circulation with the introduction of the Straits Settlements currency.

Despite the introduction of the Straits Settlement currencies, the previous local monies were still used with peculiar exchange rates in the earlier days. All the coins were called 'paku' or piece where 4 pakus make 1/2 cent and 8 pakus make one cent or one 'kayu' (sakayu). As for the iron money, 3 penggals or 3 metal pieces make one paku and 3 ela besi panjang or 3 yards of uncut iron make one kayu.

Other words which were being bandied and were widely used in Brunei customs in those days include terms such as sinantan (equal to $2), berian ($12), sapikul besar ($22), sapikul damit ($20), salikur ($21) and dua likur ($22). Ask your great grandparents.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Smart Girls Finish Last?

Yesterday, I only managed a cursory glance at the Bulletin and because of that, a string of articles which I thought was ironic caught my eye. Somehow I found them related to each other and in some sense can make one fairly caught in a bind as to which one we should follow.

The first was an article by our infamous Ignatius entitled thought yesterday's Weekend Bulletin Smart Girls Finish Last. Stephens talked about how Brunei women now well educated and well positioned are finding it increasingly hard to find a life partner. This is based on observations that many women now holding middle ranking positions, well educated and capable yet incapable in finding husbands. According to Stephens, there are many of these instances in Brunei. The article blamed men. A quote from a businesswoman - "Brunei men like submissive women. They easily get intimidated. They demand dominance. But this day and age that is getting not so easy." This phenomena is not limited to Brunei but is a worldwide issue. Though Stephens ended the article by pointing out that marriage may not be necessary. A number of doctors and psychiatrists hold the opinion that their unmarried women patients tended to be happier than many married ones.

The second was an article written by Suparman talking about how to find a partner (from the male angle) entitled For Love or Money. He started the article by asking "are you satisfied with your girlfriends?". An interesting start indeed. He asked whether to choose men have chosen carefully or always on the lookout for even better partners - beauty, wealth and love. He talked about the difficulty of finding partners. Where do you meet your loved ones?

The third was an article written by Saraziz entitled When the Magic Fizzles Out. This is about a man who after 20 years of marriage seemingly having it all - wife, kids and career. But But marriage, for him, is a big disappointment with the thrill going out of marriage. Everything has become a routine. His world rotating around a single set of rules: "get up, get ready for work, send the children to school, busy myself in the office, pick my children up, send them to ugama school, get home from work, pick the children up from ugama school, perform my prayers, have dinner and go to bed." To get the "sparks" the man eventually had affairs with others.

Finding partners have always been difficult. Last July when I posted two articles entitled Looking for a Partner in Brunei? (Part 2) and Looking for a Partner in Brunei? there were many comments and to date, those 55 comments for the two articles remained the biggest for any postings. In today's world, education and career have taken a more prominent role. Time passes by so quickly that by the time, one realises it, you are not as young as you used to be. So what happens when the biological clock is ticking against you? Is it time to get desperate or as Stephens and Suraziz says it - maybe it is not such a bad thing after all. I don't know. I have always been for procreation especially when Brunei does not seem to have enough people. But then what do I know.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Main Mosques in Brunei through the Ages

Brunei has been a Muslim country for about 500 years now. You would have thought that there would be lots of old mosques in Brunei. But the oldest I think are no more than 50 years old and most of the older ones have been demolished. Even then the older ones are not much older than say 80 or 90 years old. This is because practically all our older mosques are constructed out of timber so none has actually survived till today.

One of the biggest mosques we had was during the reign of the third Sultan, Sultan Sharif Ali. In 1578, Alonso Beltran, a Spanish traveller described it as one of five storeyed tall on the water but that maybe a slightly wrong description as the technology to build 5 storeyed buildings in the 15th century on water was not yet available in Brunei. Most likely it had five roofs to represent the five pillars of Islam (see artist's impression - figure 1). This mosque was unfortunately destroyed by the Spanish in June that same year.

Subsequent mosques on the water tended to have higher and bigger roofs to indicate the mosques' importance in the society. The tallest structure in the old photographs are the mosques. The first of these illustration was in the mid 19th century and influenced by Chinese architecture. It has also a tower probably for the 'bedok' (the drum). The second one is built next to the Istana of Sultan Hashim around 1880s. The Istana is in the middle and the mosque with the double roofs at the extreme right of the photograph. The third is a huge cone roof mosque built during the era of Sultan Abdul Momin around 1850s.

During the era of Sultan Mohammad Jamalul Alam II, the mosque was built on dry land. According to sources, the mosque was on the same site as the current Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque now. This mosque called the Masjid Marbut (Pak) Tunggal was built around 1924 and used the double roof structure. The tower looked like a rocket and divided into three. Most likely the bottom third was also used as an office. Concrete was also used as the pillars and the mosque was raised about a metre from the ground.

Another temporary mosque was the Masjid Kajang built in 1946, after the end of the second world war. This was built during the era of Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin and being of temprary nature, it looked more like a balai or a hall and can accommodate some 500 people. The site of this old mosque is where TAIB is currently located.

It was in 1954 when work first started for the Masjid Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin. The architect was an Italian, Cavalieri R Nolli and completed on 26th September 1954. This mosque is influenced by the Moghul's architecture in India. The interior was designed by His Majesty himself assisted by Awang Besar Sagap, then the Chief Draughtsman at the Public Works Department. Awang Besar also wrote the national anthem. The mosque built at a cost of $9 million can accommodate about 3,000 people. But during its heyday when there were not many other mosques around, many thousands of people prayed there especially during Hari Raya.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Brunei's Churchill Museum and Stamps

I wanted to write about the Churchill Museum today and searched for a photo of the museum. That's when I discovered I don't have a single photo of the museum. I will have to ask my dad later on today if he has one in his collection.

But what I do have are three Brunei first day covers depicting Churchill. The authorities clearly adored him in those days - the first first day cover was issued in 1966 to commemorate his death in 1965,

the second first day cover issued in 1973 was to commemorate the museum and

the third first day cover issued in 1974 was to commemorate his 100th birthday anniversary.

The Churchill Museum was an interesting anachronism in Brunei in those days. Churchill if you remember was the British Prime Minister during the Second World War and was remembered for leading Britain during the war. His famous sign was the two finger v shaped signifying V for victory. But later on that gesture became known as the peace symbol - I think it must have been brought on by the 1960s peace movement using that gesture.

The Churchill Museum in Brunei, now the Royal Regalia Building, had that statute of Churchill in the middle of the courtyard with the statute having that sign. It was the most famous of all Brunei's tourist symbol in those days. That Churchill Museum was at that time the only Churchill Museum in the world I was told. In fact in 2005 when the British opened their GBP6 million Churchill Museum, it was called the first major Churchill Museum in the world! I guess they didn't consider Brunei's a major Churchill Museum.

The Museum then housed the Churchill memorabilia and the one that I liked the most was the one where Churchill was a young boy and he had all these toy soldiers around him in formation. That was the display. Another one was the display where when you pressed the button it showed London being bombed during the London blitz by the Germans Lutwaffe. This was in the 1970s, those were the most modern techniques then. The Museum also housed the Brunei Aquarium. That was another fantastic display of the various fishes in Brunei. A number of people also said that there was another display on Brunei's reptile. I honestly cannot remember this display.

The museum was converted to become the Royal Regalia Building in 1992.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Golf Spirit at the Empire

What I am about to narrate here is something that if it happened to someone else, I would have dismissed it and probably said that that person's brain needs a bit of a check up. I have heard many stories at the Empire and the RBGCC in Jerudong and have smiled everytime I hear those stories. But this time you read and decide.

I am writing this immediately after I just got back from the Empire playing night golf. Ever since I started using a cane before the fasting month, I have not played golf that much. It was only last week that my cousin in law persuaded me to play a full 18 hole course at the RBA golf club. This afternoon, I was having lunch with my former retirement agency's investment manager and a Singaporean bank colleague when the subject of golf cropped up. They said why not play golf tonight - it has been ages since I last played at the Empire and I thought why not.

So we met at 6.30 pm at the Empire and after all 3 of us did the Maghrib prayer at the Club house, we started to tee off at hole #1. Timing wise, it was still Maghrib really but with all the floodlights we did not really notice. Well, fairly usual, golfers don't notice much other than the balls and the clubs. Tee off was okay, hole no #1 was fine. It was at the end of hole #1 before I got back into the buggy, I realised that my hybrid iron wood club #4 was not in my golf bag. I must have looked quite puzzled when my buggy partner asked me what's wrong. I told him I didn't have the #4 as I was pretty sure that no one has touched my bag at home and I don't think I left it as I did not use it. My partner offered to drive back so that we could search for it. It was a $500 Taylormade Rescue Club and even if it is now a well used club and has lost its value since, I still don't want to lose that club. But I decided against it and told him to drive on to Hole #2 and tried to persuade myself that I must have misplaced it at home or left it in my other golf bag.

At the tee off at hole #2 when I put in my driver back in the club, I checked all my clubs again and still the #4 was the only club missing and it was still until the end of hole #2. At hole #3, after the tee off, my ball was still some 200 metres away from the green and I normally would use my hybrid iron wood club #2 to get that distance. So I pulled out my #2 club and drive the ball to its usual distance with that club about 130+ metres in my case. When I wanted to put the #2 club back in the bag, I was very startled and taken aback. The #2 was already in the bag. I immediately looked at the club in my hand - it was the missing #4!

I looked at my partner and he looked at me and realised that something was really really amiss. He didn't say a word and I didn't want to say anything either. He understood what happened and it was a pretty sobering play soon after that. We tried to keep our spirits (I need to find a better word than that) by laughing fairly loudly at our golf antics. But suffice to say, the place suddenly looked eerie. It was worse when you have to go to the rough and stand all alone with the wood looming down on you.

I tried to reason it throughout the rest of the 6 holes but it was impossible not to have seen or mistaken the #2 or #4. You see - clubs are of different shapes and length. The hybrid iron wood #2 and #4 looked different than the drivers (huge and long clubs) or the irons (small and short clubs) - the #2 and #4 looked like small drivers but not as long as the drivers and at the same time #2 is about 3 inches longer than #4. In my case the #2's shaft is also different as it is made of titanium and the #4 even though the same brand is made of steel. You can tell that they are different and that there is no way to make a mistake with either one. Anyway - all I can come up is - someone 'borrowed' my club. Maybe to remind us that we should not be playing during Maghrib?

I believe in the supernatural world but normally still takes supernatural stories with huge pinches if not bottles of salt. But when my own golf clubs are being 'borrowed' and returned and changed while still being held in my hand has to take the cake. Maybe I ought to have my head examined. Maybe....

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

57 Reasons Why I Like Living in Brunei

I found this interesting list entitled "57 Reasons Why I Like Living in Brunei" on the internet written by who I gather to be an American by the name of Steve Ryan. It was written 10 years ago in 1997 and some references are slightly out of date. It gave a different perspective to Brunei Darussalam:-

1. Everybody drives on the wrong side of the road but head-on collisions are very rare.

2. If you wake up in a grouchy mood, it passes quickly when you see all the middle-aged businessmen marching around wearing black fezzes, bright green/purple/yellow/blue primary-colored pajamas, and gold-embroidered skirts.

3. You get an automatic wakeup call every morning from the muezzin at the mosque, even if you forget to set your alarm.

4. Peaceful. Only the military has any guns, and they never shoot them.

5. It's really a change to live in a country where the one guy worth more than $30 billion is a decent, polite, college-educated human being who is genuinely concerned about the welfare of others and not an evil, petty-minded, greedy monopolistic geek peddling lousy software.

6. It's a hoot to see cute giggly teenage Muslim girls wearing their head scarves and generally acting like, well, cute giggly teenage girls.

7. The Government can hang anybody they want, but they never bother to.

8. No obnoxious drunks. (OK! Very few, then!)

9. Very little crime. But they cane the HELL out of anybody who steals your stuff or vandalizes your new car.

10. Admission to the big Jerudong amusement park is free, and so are all the rides.

11. No rednecks, baseball, or tractor pulls.

12. Chinese, Malaysian, Bruneian, Thai, and Filipino girls are so cute.

13. Gurkha soldiers are pleasant chaps and smile all the time, even when marching in formation in the hot sun wearing throat-cutter kukris.

14. No poverty or homeless people spare-changing you.

15. Sultan has more airplanes than the national airline, and cooler ones too.

16. No irritating politicians, deranged TV evangelists, or tiresome election rhetoric.

17. Many amusing English mistakes in local newspaper every single day.

18. All Bruneian bigshots and Gov't Ministers drive fast Turbo Porsches, Mercedes, BMWs, and Jaguars so police never dare to run speed traps.

19. Only 150 Americans here so each of us is considered very interesting, especially to the local female populace.

20. Sultan will wave back to you if you wave to him on the street or while driving.

21. No American football, golf, or basketball shown on television. Traditional national sports in Brunei are spinning big wooden tops (no kidding) and kicking a rattan ball over a badminton net.

22. Kids wear the funny fezzes, pajamas, and head scarves too.

23. Police cars are all BMW 735i's.

24. Weird plants, bugs, and animals everywhere. Big troops of proboscis monkeys in the Temburong forest!

25. Free bananas and coconuts.

26. You can safely see creatures that would give Jacques Cousteau nightmares, just on a visit to the Fish Market.

27. Water taxis have rowdy drivers that enjoy splashing and rocking other boats with their wakes.

28. Fun to learn to shift gears and adjust the radio with your left hand.

29. OK to either A) drive like a maniac, or B) poke along at 15 MPH looking at all the weird stuff by the side of the road. Nobody gets mad; everybody does one or the other.

30. Geckos scuttling all over your house instead of cockroaches. They make funnier noises, too, like: "Chuck - CHUCK!"

31. Cobras and pythons generally stay in the jungle and not in town. But no problem to go find some to play with if you really want.

32. Three words: It's Not Houston. Three more: Or New York.

33. People like to set things on fire over here. It's ok to burn things in your front yard in huge flaming pyres, and nobody gets excited even when the roadsides catch fire, which they frequently do. You can also quickly spot roadside satay snack vendors by spotting the dense smoke and flames billowing from their grills.

34. Cops are polite even when they catch you doing something you're not supposed to be doing.

35. Monitor lizards walk funny, all bowlegged with their stomachs held up as high off the ground as possible.

36. Technical mistakes during local TV evening news are hilarious.

37. Get to see lots of funny-talking British expatriates and ridiculous-looking tourists wearing black socks and shorts.

38. Demonstration of even the simplest UNIX computer-hacking tricks draws genuine gasps of awe at your technical prowess.

39. They have no shortage of HBO, CNN, Discovery Channel, fast computers, and Jolt Cola.

40. Dirt-cheap pirated software and five-dollar bootleg first-run videos even in the big reputable department stores.

41. Funny to watch women who are 4 feet tall wearing head scarves and big sunglasses trying to drive huge Mercedes.

42. You can take up as many spaces as you want when you park and nobody will try to kill you.

43. Odd, interesting local language but everybody speaks English readily.

44. America considered a weird scary faraway place that few people are ever likely to go to.

45. Plenty of unusual odors you have never smelled before. (Some, you never want to smell again.)

46. At night every bush and hedge in your yard buzzes, chitters, hoots, chirps, croaks, whistles, creaks, moans, honks, rattles, hisses, hums, grunts, etc. etc.

47. Royal Brunei Airlines stewardesses' uniforms. I can't describe it, you'd have to be here to believe it.

48. Karaoke restaurants heavily taxed and strictly regulated as public nuisances.

49. Fun to drive by the Sultan's Palace and watch the policemen in their little guardhouses trying not to look utterly bored out of their minds.

50. Get to surprise everyone by quickly agreeing with their criticisms of the USA's interventionist foreign policies, and then enjoy listening to them complain we don't do enough to help other nations.

51. Get to watch scratchy Indian movies on TV where the hero and heroine wail nasally and dance around each other grimacing in an amusing and incomprehensible manner.

52. All Muslim, Christian, Chinese, and other folks' religious, traditional, national, and what-not holidays are recognized as official days off for the government and the banks; since these employ over 50% of the people of Brunei, everybody takes these days off. This works out to every day being an official holiday from Thanksgiving to the end of February, and about half the working days in the other months. With so many cultures, it's always somebody's holiday.

53. They have real pirates over here, which adds a definite sense of adventure to any yachting excursion.

54. If your change comes out to somewhat more than fifty cents, they'll often round it off in your favor up to the next dollar, except in the big Japanese department store.

55. Jollibee has MUCH better burgers than McDonald's, and they have killer slow-burn chili sauce.

56. No 7-11s, Stop 'N Gos, K-Marts, etc. Stores tend to have more interesting and mellifluous names like (looking out window) - SYARIKAT PERNIAGAAN ANEKA TUJUAN.

57. Interesting, colorful money with little plastic windows in it and cool pictures of Sultan, airport, oil rigs, plants, etc., that seems to spend much more readily and less painfully than real greenbacks.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Gadong Wet Market by Bruneian

The Gadong Wet Market is situated near the famous Mall Gadong. It is a one stop shopping center for chefs and the likes. Loads and loads of raw material for them here, waiting to be processed.

Anakbrunei, zadm and I went there on Sunday to do a 50mm outing. It's a perfect place for it.

The fish mongers were a little bit shy at first. We can hear them shouting "nah kana gambar tia, ada mukamu arah Pelita ni" to the ones we took pictures. Translation: Your pictures will be published in Pelita Brunei (a weekly local newspaper published by the government).

Everytime we took a snap, they always asked where we are from, "Dari Media Permatakah?" (Are you from Media Permata?) - another local daily published Malay newspaper. Anakbrunei told them "inda, dari Majalah Juran" (no, I am not, I am from Juran magazine) - Juran is a magazine published by our neighbouring country specializing on fishing.

As we ventured deeper into the market, things got more welcoming. They offered to pose for us. It didn't take long for us to become friends with them. They started to wave at us and asked us to take pictures of their counterparts, stalls and fishes. I stumbled upon familiar faces - in fact, lots of them as most of them came from Kampong Ayer and we used to go to the same school together. Some lived nearby my house at Kampong Ayer. It's been ages. It was good to talk to them again.

After 40 minutes or so mingling with those friendly fishmongers, we moved upstairs. It was like visiting a totally different place. Oh, I forgot to mention that there are 2 storeys (floors). The ground floor was where all the fishes, meat, chickens and sort are sold. The first floor was where the fresh vegetables, fruits and daily consumables like eggs are sold.

Why is this place different? I thought it should be full of people as it was on the ground floor but surprisingly it was almost empty. Not many people ventured to the first floor. I wondered why? We could see all sort of vegetables and fruits available there but yet, the floor was almost empty. They also enquired where we are from hoping that we are from the local media. They would like for us to write articles about how bad their businesses are over there. Some even told us that they can't even a single dollar in a day. Now, that is really bad. We were there on a Sunday which is supposedly the busiest day for them but yet, we hardly saw any customer on the first floor. There are lots of them ground floor though.

I wondered why didn't they go and venture upstairs. Perhaps they didn't like to climb up the stairs? Or they didn't know the existence? Or they prefered to go to Tamu Kianggeh to buy vegetables? I also realized that there are no signages - descriptive of otherwise pointing to the first floor something like "Sayur dan buah-buahan segar di tingkat atas” (translated fresh vegetables and fruits available upstairs). Perhaps not enough signage or coverage for them?

We stumbled upon something interesting. An office! Right next to the stalls at the back-end. I convinced Anakbrunei to take a picture of the office together with the stall next to it. Couldn't get a good angle, since this is strictly a 50mm only outing. We needed wide angle lens! But, a promise is still promise... This guy told us that this is the Bandaran Office (Municipal Office). Well not their main branch but this office is used for administering the market. All those admin work specifically for the wet market. He told us that this is just a temporary office since their original one is taken over by the relocated fish mongers from Kianggeh floating market. I read that on the newspaper where all those floating boats at Kianggeh have now been relocated to the Gadong wet market. They are not allowed to sell there anymore.

Wait a minute, a thought strike. My father still lives in Kampong Ayer and he does not have a car. He only shops at the nearby Bandar Seri Begawan. A friend of mine that has a stall on the ground floor told me that they could use the public transport, the bus. Now, that's one thing that is alien to us. My father hates public transport. He rather walks from gadong. Simply because he does not feel safe, he told me. Well, he doesn't have to. That's what a son is for. I am just a call away from the wet market .. hehehe. The market is also accessible using water taxi, which is if it's a high tide. It was a low tide yesterday.

We ended the trip by having iced milo and kasturi ping kosong. There is a restaurant on the first floor. This is where the fishmongers fill their hungry stomach after a hard morning trying to sell their stocks. Interestingly enough, some of them brought their own fresh fish there and asked the ladies to cook their favorite dish for them. Now, that's something out of ordinary. Bring your own fish and we cook them for you.

PS. Today's guest, wanted to share this post with everyone as Pasar Gadong is our central market. Embedded in this post with the beautiful photographs are two messages - firstly, what will people who lived in Kampung Ayer who have no access to the market do; and secondly, what is the future of the vegetable and fruit vendors in the wet market. Should the authorities step in again?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Kampung Ayer: Heritage of Brunei Darussalam

I was going through a number of books in my collection searching for old Brunei photographs over the last few days. I have been scanning a number of them and to date I have about a 100 or more of them. I have made a small selection available in my previous postings. The oldest of them is as usual - that of Kampung Ayer. I did not realise that one of the earliest photographs of Brunei was that of an 1880 photograph of Kampung Ayer. Of course compared to the likes of photographs produced by David Cheok and AnakBrunei, the ones that I have are not as clear or as artistically done. I will try to upload these and make them available to everyone.

While doing that, one of the interesting books I found was this booklet which I had quite forgotten. The booklet entitled "Kampong Ayer The Water Village Heritage of Brunei Darussalam" was produced by the Home Affairs Ministry in 2000. It actually came in an album sized box comprising of this booklet, a big map of Kampung Ayer and a VCD. I found the booklet and the big map, I had no idea what happened to the VCD. If I am not mistaken the VCD was a recording of visits by the APEC Leaders' spouses and other dignitaries to the Kampung Ayer. I don't quite remember the cost, it cost either $20 or $50.

The booklet itself is interesting as it is probably one of a few or if not the only one written so far about the Kampung Ayer. It highlighted many interesting aspects of Kampung Ayer such as the existence of Batu Masap (Rock of Retribution) or Batu Kedayan, Jong Batu, Pulau Cermin and Lumut Lunting. Each of these has its own myth and legend as to how they were formed. For instance Batu Masap was said to be a sulap (a hut) turned into a rock because a group of Kedayans burst into fits of laughter while eating ambuyat and some ambuyat was flung out whereupon a thunderstorm caused the sulap they were in to be toppled and turned into a rock. The rock can be found at the tributary of Sungai Bunga. A photograph of the rock is available in the book.

However, the book is not as comprehensive as one would like. It covers only superficially the more interesting aspect of Kampung Ayer and focused more on the modern aspects of Kampung Ayer. The products of Kampung Ayer are highlighted - the silverware, the brassware, the wood carving, the woven cloth (kain tenunan), anyaman and the kuih kering - Brunei's traditional biscuits. The economic activities are also highlighted - the Padian and fishing activities; as well as the culture of Kampung Ayer such as the various traditional dances of Brunei and musical instruments. All in all, the booklet does try to cover much of Kampung Ayer but given the limited size of the book and probably the aim of it is much more geared towards the tourists market, it is not as comprehensive as a Bruneian would like. It would be more interesting if someone was to follow up and write a more comprehensive book about Kampung Ayer.

I am not sure if this book is still available but do ask the Ministry of Home Affairs. Hopefully if they get enough queries, they might consider publishing a more updated one.

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