Wednesday, February 28, 2007

You can't do that!

Last year, I was attracted to a book called "Don't sit on this book" written by Philip Cheong. It was an interesting book as it is a collection of Chinese taboos and superstitions. The things the Chinese can or cannot do. Philip Cheong is a Master at the Fung Shui Academy in Malaysia. He pointed out that one of the interesting things about taboos is that as they are passed down from generations to generations, almost no questions were asked and no logical explanations were given. But surprisingly they have a nasty habit of staying in our minds.

Similarly for the Brunei Malays. There have been many times in the past when I have been told not to do certain things and when I asked why, the usual answer of 'andangnya, nda kuasa tu' is certainly far from satisfactory. But as one grows older, sometimes one gets into the same exasperating phrases when one addressed they younger generation. Why do we do that? With all these taboos - there must be some explanations about them - and you would have thought by now someone must have written something about them.

I have been searching for an equivalent of Philip Cheong's book and I found it last Monday at the DBP booth at the Book Fair entitled 'Pantang Larang Kitani'. The book written by Hadijah Haji Hassan and printed by DBP (2001, 2006) costs only $7.60. It contained 115 taboos of Brunei Malays ranging from the more ghostly taboos like 'Bermain tapuk-tapukan di dalam rumah kelak ditapuk hantu kalindahau' to the more horrifying taboos like 'melangkahi sesaban kelak mati kena cencang'. I have to admit some of the taboos listed in this book are new to me and I did not realise that they existed. Some obviously are so common that everyone knows them.

What the book tried to do was other than to list them down but also to explain the reasons why there was this taboo and also to list down what the taboo is trying to teach. Though the book also gave up on some taboos like 'bergambar bertiga kelak pendek umur' stating that there is no particular reason why this taboo exist and it can be 'kurafat' if one was to persist in believing it. For the non-Malays, 'kurafat' loosely means it is against religious belief if one believes in it. I checked this particular taboo - it also existed among the Chinese. Philip Cheong tried to explain it by saying that this belief started in the days when camera first started and the Chinese then believed that the flash will take away one's soul.

In most cases, taboos or pantang larang existed to teach us. Sometimes they may sound riduculous or far fetched, but in general most hold some measure of truth. The most important thing is that we should have an open mind and respect our elderly advices but not follow them blindly without asking why. A sound judgment will beat taboos in any situation.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Brunei Book Fair

The Book Fair is finally here. Book fairs in Brunei are a mixed affair. I don't know whether this is a reflection of our society as a whole or is it because of our small size or something else. I have been to book fairs in other parts of the world. There all I see are books and many and many more books. In Brunei, I see books but I also see computers, compasses and carpets among the book sellers. Well.... One can stretch the definition of knowledge to include computers but one would really be hard pressed to think how other items can constitute part of book fairs.

Anyway, has written a nice piece about the book fair complete with nicely taken photographs (like the one I borrowed here), so you can link here if you want to see the fair in pictorial form and deciding whether you want to come. This year the book fair in Brunei is a dual purpose place. You can see books and you can workout at the same time - the place is turning into a sauna - the indoor stadium's aircond compressors are not working. It was that humid.

That aside. Even though in Brunei, I have stopped commenting about the poor selection of books and like me, most Brunei readers have turned to the internet to shop for their books despite the high postage costs - but believe it or not, there are still gems to be found at the book fair. The one thing you will never find on the internet are local books on Brunei and there are plenty to be found here at the Book Fair. For instance, you can get the entire 27 year series of the Brunei Museum Journals for $120 enabling you to capture at one shot what has been done in the Brunei's archaeological world ($80 for the 1969 to 1988 series) and the remainder 1989 to 1997 series are at $7.50 each). The Museum Department has also revamped their books - the newer ones are more modern looking and their contents too are worthwhile reading.

The Historical Centre also has many interesting books at their booth but I have bought every single one of them over these years. I managed to find a gem - the History of Mosques in Brunei printed in 1993 - at the Pusat Dakwah Islamiah booth. This three inch thick hard cover book is full of historical photographs about the history of mosques in Brunei. It even has photographs of the mosque officials and I was pleasantly surprised to see my late father in law's photograph in it. For such a book it only cost $10.50.

The Dewan Bahasa booth is one of the largest booths. I have talked about Dewan Bahasa before, so I won't talk about them again. The DBP has tried hard to sell local writers' books. I have read a few though I have to admit that I have not turned into a DBP Malay novels convert just yet. But I love the reference books which DBP has churned out lately. Did you know that you can now buy a Tutong-Brunei language dictionary ($5.40)? Or Kedayan-Brunei dictionary ($4.50)? Or even a book about the Belait language (Struktur Bahasa Belait by Noor Alifah Abdullah for $4.00)? Or the names and descriptions of local fruits (Glosari Nama Buah-Buahan $8.40)? Or how many Begawan Sultans were there in Brunei since 1363 (Ririsej Brunei Darussalam by Yura Halim for $2.50)? There are many local gems like that in the DBP booth.

I have almost got everything that the Book Fair has to offer over the last two days. I still have a list of local books which I saw but I have not yet bought. I still have until 6th March, and that means you have until 6th March too. See you there.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Is Bukit Beruang (Bears' Hills) full of Bears?

I was at Bukit Beruang yesterday to attend another wedding. For those who sort of vaguely remember seeing the name - it's a resettlement area on the way from Tutong to Kuala Belait. Bukit Beruang was originally a small village until they turned the nearby area into another perpindahan or resettlement area. It's populated mostly by Tutong people and a few other non-Tutongians who applied to get a house there.

I couldn't find an old enough person to tell me whether the name Bukit Beruang which is Hill of Bears or Bears' Hill was named because there used to be many bears around the area. So that has to remain a mystery. I did meet someone who said that the names do not necessarily reflect the names of animals even though it is obvious enough.

According to him, Bukit Ambok is one. Ambok as you know is the Brunei Malay word for monkey. Presumably Bukit Ambok is Monkey's Hill or Hill of Monkeys and used to be lots of amboks or monkeys there for that hill to be name so. However he said this is not so. Bukit Ambok is not named after a monkey but a fruit. 'Ambug' is an old Tutong word for buah mata kucing - mata kucing or cats' eyes is a type of longan like fruit but smaller. On this hill, there used to be many 'ambug' trees - so the hill was called Bukit Ambug. But over time, Bukit Ambug becomes Bukit Ambok.

But surprisingly another animal place name in Tutong does not sound like an animal place name unless you know the Tutong language very well. Lamunin is derived from two words. Lat and Munin. Lat apparently means hill and Munin means musang or fox. Lat Munin the original name, means Fox's Hill or Hill of Foxes as there used to be foxes around the area. Over time, the two names merged and became Lamunin and thus concealing its animal connection.

Bukit Markucing in Jalan Subok is another one. I wrote about it in June last year. The name is derived from kuching liar or wild cats which came to eat leftovers of travellers travelling across the hill. Another interesting animal name is somewhere off Jalan Tutong called Krakas Payau. Payau is a stag deer and krakas refers to either the trails or sound it makes. There are a few more animal derived name places in Brunei. More of that in the future.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

National Day - the aftermath

There was a lot of nationalistic feeling yesterday judging from what I read and all the people I talk to. I certainly enjoyed myself marching with 112 people from my agency in front of His Majesty. The performance on the field despite having seen several rehearsals and knowing what to expect, was still as exciting as ever. I know the things that had to be done to get everything to go like clockwork on the actual day. Those are the headaches that one does not one to have. But at the same time without the dedication of those involved, the trainers, the participants even the crowd, national day celebrations would not be the same. Congratulations to all who took part. And a special congratulations to the people in the photo above! You did good.

I thought I will highlight a few things from yesterday's event.

The main highlight of the show was the giant baloon at the end with four banners streaming under it. The four banners came from the four districts of Brunei with thousands of signatures from youths throughout the country for each one. Each of the banners were 4 feet wide and 50 feet long.

More than 8,000 people took part in the field performances. The performances were divided into four segments. The first was the 'warna-warni negara' - the colourful Brunei highlighting Brunei's natural local resources. The second 'rentak 7 puak' - highlighting the harmonious multiracial of Brunei. The third segment 'tanah airku' and the fourth segment highlighting the theme 'iltizam memperkasa keupayaan bangsa'. The performances were indeed all lively and very colourful.

This year's ikrar readers are made up of many who are involved in businesess with the main reader (born on 1st January 1984) being the johan qari in the Southeast Asian Musabaqah Quran. The others came from the various government agencies and AiTi, Young Entrepreneurs Association of Brunei, Brunei Shell Marketing, Maktab Teknik Sultan Saiful Rijal, Dewan Perniagaan Melayu, DST, TAIB, BIBD, HSBC, Majlis Wanita and Majlis Belia.

Finally, there is a small team who made all these possible. A few people deserved the credits - Pehin General Mohammad, the Minister for all his inspiring words at the end of every rehearsal and his pantuns at the end of the show; Dato Jemat, the PS who tirelessly worked throughout the entire scenes and still smiling; Haji Ahmad, the DPS who despite being new to KKBS has taken up the post like duck to water; the Creative team - Dato Mahmud; Pengiran Zainin (konseptor & pereka estetika - I wanted to translate these but...); Awang Hanafiah Zainal; Haji Suhaili; Tizan Jamudin (the Choreographer); Pengiran Aziz & Amirul Shukri (the equipment and supplies coordinator); Faridah Mohammad (the layout and graphics designer) and Hj Jaafar Ering (the photographer). Thank you and we will see you all again next year.

And finally, finally, the National Day scenes from

Friday, February 23, 2007

Defining Moments in Brunei in Books

I thought I will share two books with you on the day of our 23rd National Day celebrations. These two are written in Malay and and one is written partly by our own Brunei historians. Both are published by Dewan Bahasa Pustaka Malaysia and both surprisingly published in 1995, though one of them has been republished in 2001. The two books entitled “Sejarah Brunei Menjelang Kemerdekaan” written by Prof Sabihah Osman (UKM), Dr Hadi Abdullah (History Centre) and Sabullah Hakip and entitled “Sejarah Sosioekonomi Brunei 1906-1959 written by Assoc Prof Jatswan Sidhu (Univ Malaya) wrote interesting perspectives – one prior to Brunei’s independence in 1984 and the latter prior to Brunei’s 1959 proclamation of the Brunei Constitution and prior to self rule.

“Sejarah Menjelang Kemerdekaan” available from Mega Bookstore for $24 hardcover goes through the entire Brunei history from the earlier ‘golden’ years of Brunei, through its downfall, the war years, losing independence and gaining independence again in 1984. The book is divided into ‘themes’ and unlike many history books written about Brunei by non-Bruneians, does not focus solely on Brunei’s previous achievements and its downfall but rather focus on a few themes which are important to understand the basis of the future of Brunei namely that of 1959 constitution, the Malaysia Brunei movement, the PRB and the 1962 Rebellion. It focused too on the role played by Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien in the handling of the many challenges in maintaining Brunei Darussalam as an independent Islamic Malay Monarchy nation.

What was clear was that it was pretty much the regional events and interplay the 1950s and 1960s which defined the political makeup of the country today. We failed to appreciate the regional tension in the defining South East Asian politics between the bigger nations and the smaller nations like Brunei caught in the regional power struggle between the bigger countries. Some have said that the spillover of the tension between the various countries culminate in the 1962 event when that became the proxy battle.

“Sejarah Sosioekonomi Brunei 1906-1959” also available from Mega Bookstore for $14.40 focused primarily on the years when Brunei was governed under the 1888 and 1906 treaties by the British Resident. By 1906, the first British Resident McArthur was in the country essentially taking over Brunei which by then had reached its lowest depth in recorded history. Brunei by 1906 was down to our knees. We had nothing. Even Britain was ready to give us up.

The lesson on the rags to riches story is one where young Bruneians have to take heed. Prof Jatswan focused on both the economic and social aspects on the many changes brought in by then. The book is interesting as we looked at the changes in the economic situations of Brunei. In the early 20th century, cutch, coal and rubber provided some 90% of Brunei’s exports. By the 1930s, it was rubber which provided up to half of Brunei’s total exports. But by the 1950s, it was oil providing some 90% until now. In terms of expenditure, in 1932 we owed some $389,000 to Malaysia but by 1959 we were running budget surpluses of $100 million a year. The changes to the socio-economic makeup such as the growth in education, health and medical, housing and the change in demography was also described. The blessing that we get from oil and by virtue of our small size has enabled Brunei to become what it is today.

Read both books – you will get an interesting combination of the political process as well as the socio-economic process which defined Brunei as a country today.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Join the 23rd National Day Celebrations!

This morning as was yesterday morning, I will be at the Padang for the National Day rehearsal. Yesterday morning was the first time I was able to come and I got to see what everyone will be seeing on Saturday. It was a full dress rehearsal but our team was not yet wearing our full suit. I was told that mine is still making its way from a factory in KB plus the fact that the Admin Head Honcho wanted to keep the track suit design a surprise until the actual day (I can tell you it’s a dark blue Nike look alike with a red logo by our sponsors *thanks guys* in front and our agency’s name at the back).

I am not doing much for this National Day other than do a 10 minute walk from in front of Shop No.5 at Jalan Sultan towards the end of the track in front of the dais, leading the ministry’s 115 member team into the Padang. The last time I was really involved in a National Day celebration was in 1990 when the Ministry I was in then was organizing it. In the first 10 years or so of the National Day celebrations after independence, ministries took turn to host it, and despite being inexperienced, always trying to outdo the previous ones. It was a six month affair more or less and preparations were much more complicated as in those days, celebrations were at the National Stadium.

Nowadays the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports are the permanent organizers and they are so much experienced by now plus the shows nowadays get less complicated. The performances on the Padang yesterday for instance did not show much movements compared to some years I can think of when performers had to perform dances and make complicated patterns on the Padang.

But this year’s, despite the less movements, will be as equally enthralling as other years’ what with the very colourful paraphernalia and other ensemble that the performers will be using. With the patriotic songs in the background and the many Brunei flags being waved, standing up listening to everyone and singing with them our national anthem, the National Day celebrations is the day, I get to feel really belonging to Brunei and that Brunei Darussalam is our country.

So, come Saturday, come to the Padang. More than 15,000 people with about 3,000 school children had been practicing for the last month or so, so that we can celebrate our national day. Our 23rd of being an independent modern nation again.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Makam di Luba

If you drive along Jalan Tutong, immediately past the Shell Filling Station at Kampung Bunut, you will see a simpang entering into Kampung Bunut with a sign that says "MAKAM DI LUBA". For the non-Malays, Makam means a grave normally associated with royalties or great men and women. I like many countless others have passed by that road sign so many times ever since we build a house further up along Jalan Tutong but have never gone in to see what it is. I have said to myself that I would visit that place one of these days. In fact I have gone into the Bunut area many times, when my son was much younger, the Health Clinic was in that area. A late colleague of mine whom I always asked to accompany me, used to live even nearer the actual simpang to the makam.

But it wasn't until last Monday that I actually drove in all the way to the Makam and actually saw the Masoleum. The drive from Jalan Tutong is less than 5 minutes. Once you enter the simpang from Jalan Tutong, you drive straight all the way to the end of the road, you will be passing by the Bunut Post Office, the relatively famous Nasi Kandar Restaurant (authentic Nasi Kandar from Penang), past a ready mixed cement company and at the end the road will do a 90 degree turning to the right and just follow that road until you see two abandoned police trucks and you will see another "MAKAM Di LUBA" sign. Turn into that road and you will see a little carpark and a little pedestrian bridge.

The makam is actually on an island called Pulau Luba. The island separated the two rivers, the Damuan River and much larger Brunei River on the other side. The pedestrian bridge is for you to cross the Brunei River. Across the river, you can see the makam halfway up a hill. I walked halfway across the river, took a couple of photographs and walked back as it was very late when I got there. I am unable to describe what the actual makam looked like inside.

The makam is the grave of Sultan Husain Kamaluddin, Brunei's 16th Sultan. He was the second son of Sultan Haji Muhammad Ali, the 12th Sultan. In those times, it was a fairly tumultous time in Brunei's history. The civil war occurred then and it was during those times that Brunei probably lost control over the Eastern half of Borneo allowing Sambas and Sulu to become independent and setting up the loss of Sabah at the same time.

Sultan Husain was probably very old when he took over the throne from his cousin, Sultan Nasruddin. But he was said to be a very pious man and supposed to posses supernatural powers. He was the only Sultan to have ruled twice. He ruled from 1710 to 1730 before abdicating in favour of his son in law, Sultan Muhammad Alauddin and then took over the throne again 1737 to 1740 when his son in law died. He died in 1740 and was known as Marhum di Luba.

Surprisingly for such a period in Brunei's history, it was during his and his son-in-law's reigns, the Salasilah - the Brunei's Royal Genealogical Tablet was done. I always think that both were aware of what was happenning to the Sultanate - the beginning of the loss of the coastal regions of Borneo. In another surprising matter, both him and the son in law were credited with creating Brunei's first currency known as the Pitis.

This Makam like Sultan Bolkiah's Makam in Kota Batu is probably one of the easiest royal grave to visit. There are a number of other royal masoleums but not as easily accessible or signposted as this one. It's a good half day visit and with this one you can even see the relative quiet life of the Brunei River as an added bonus.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Visit Brunei Year 2008

My little boy, my better half and I spent our public holiday yesterday visiting some of our more touristy places. It was partly for fun as it has been ages since we last went there; partly for my 7 year old, a new interest in museums after watching ‘A Night at the Museum’ and partly for me, it was duty as these areas fall under my purview for funding and with the upcoming VBY2008, I have to be prepared. Our itinerary was - early morning, Damuan Park; morning, Museum at Kota Batu and the nearby Malay Technology Museum; noon, SOAS Mosque and later afternoon, Makam Di Luba; and a short stop to see the BSB 100 years’ exhibition.

Damuan Park has managed to maintain very much all the improvements made over the last couple of years, though a couple of the ASEAN Sculptures looked a little bit jaded. The metal sculptures look alright but the ones made out of stone/concrete looked somewhat broken and needs repairing. It was the Singapore's structure, the staight column one, if I am not mistaken.

The ASEAN Sculptures are probably one of the more unusual displays in Brunei as we don't seemed to have a culture of maintaining sculptures in Brunei. If you have been traveling around Brunei, the major sculpture in Brunei is in KB - that huge kettle. So the ASEAN Sculptures at Damuan are unique. Damuan Park is still a great place for tourists to take photographs of Istana Nurul Iman.

The Malay Technology Museum has not changed much since 16 years ago when I first went as a newly married with my better half. I didn't appreciate the cutch processing machines display at the museum's car park before. But having realised since then that cutch was one of Brunei's main exports prior to oil and gas, those displays take a more important look. Perhaps more explanation can be given other than a curt display board. The museum was a little bit flooded when we came in, the stairs were wet as there was a leak which looked as if it was a design flaw - too many windows and not enough roof cover - not so good in our torrential rain weather. I can't say much about the displays - they have not changed at all - they were still informative but perhaps some improvements could be made.

Our main museum is in need of a major overhaul. The Islamic Gallery is fine and the 'new' sunken treasures Gallery are both okay being relatively new. The Oil and Gas Gallery can really be much much better than this. If you have been to the Petronas Gallery at KLCC where you can spend a whole day and still feel as if you have not seen all the exhibits and then come and see the gallery oil and gas gallery at the Brunei Museum, even my seven year old can see the difference. The Brunei History Gallery is still as fascinating but definitely the exhibition is also history. It looked as if it has not changed since the museum was officially opened in the 1970s! This one really need a huge makeover as many other findings have been made, KBII and Limau Manis are just two of them. Even the temporary BSB 100 years’ exhibition looks much more interesting than the Brunei History Gallery. The Brunei Culture gallery too suffers from the same tiredness. I know the department can do better as the fantastic exhibits at the Royal Regalia are looked after by the department as well. I missed the natural history exhibits and I do hope that one will make a reappearance one of these days.

I will continue with the second part in another posting.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Unusual Brunei Transportations

Today I thought I will share some very old photographs of unusual transportation in Brunei which for some reason did not catch on until today. If they were still around, it would be fun to see them.

Both of these were operated by Brunei Shell about 40 to 50 years ago. The first is more common in other countries. But unfortunately in Brunei, there were used in only two places - one was in Brooketon (Muara) to haul coals from the Serai Pimping area to Muara beach - the other was from Badas in Belait heading towards the Lumut Beach if I am not mistaken. I am talking about trains.

The one in Brooketon has a history on the engines published on a train specialties website but I can't find it at the moment, so when I do, there will be a slight correction on this entry. The engine in Badas, again if I am not mistaken actually is somewhere in Seria. I remembered in 1988 when I was visiting Shell, we actually took a photograph in front of the engine. If there is any BSPians reading this, do let me know where it is. Better still, a photograph would be nice.

The second mode of transport is rather unusual. In the earlier days, the oil rig was a lot closer to the beach as compared to the current oil rigs which goes out a few miles into the sea. So instead of using boats or anything, Brunei Shell actually strung a cable car from the beach to the oil rigs. I found several photographs of these cable cars and their stations. I was told that after they stopped using the cable cars, BSP used hovercrafts. I would love to get my hands on those hovercrafts photos if anybody has them.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái, Hóng Bāo Nálái

Happy Chinese New Year to readers celebrating it. You know it’s funny. Whenever it’s time to look at the new moon to decide the new fasting or end of fasting, people will bring up their Chinese calendar expert – ‘…mengikut bulan Cina, hari ani guarantee nampak anak bulan – bulan china 3 hari sudah…’ etc. Yet, nobody asked if the Chinese calendar is a lunar calendar like the Muslim, how come the Chinese New Year is always around the same date give or take a few days? Whereas the Muslim calendar, loses a couple of weeks every year compared to Gregorian Julian Calendar which we are using.

The Chinese calendar is not a pure lunar calendar. It is a lunisolar calendar, adding elements of a lunar calendar into that of a solar calendar. The Chinese solved the shortages of the few lunar days by incorporating an intercalary month every second or third year – sort of like a ‘leap month’ just like we add in the extra ‘leap day’ to make February 29 days every four years. That’s why the Chinese New Year stay fixed more or less around the same time. Unlike the Japanese calendar which has adopted the Gregorian Julian Calendar, the Chinese calendar remained intact and is used more as a cultural guide. When is the New Year? When is the most auspicious month for getting married? Or moving houses? Or travelling, etc.

Today is the first day of the year of the 豬年 (Don’t say I don’t know my Chinese). How did Chinese New Year begin? One legend talks about a beast called Nian, a man-eating beast which could swallow many people with one bite. People were very scared until one day an immortal god disguised as an old man came promising to subdue the beast. He tricked Nian into swallowing other beasts of prey and made the place safer for everyone. He told them to put up red paper decorations on their windows and doors at each year's end to scare away Nian in case it sneaked back again, because red is the colour Nian feared the most. From then on, the tradition of observing the conquest of Nian is carried on from generation to generation.

So the traditional custom of putting up red paper and firing fire-crackers to scare away Nian should it have a chance to run loose is continued. Most kids do it but they don’t know why and most people today have long forgotten why they are doing all this other than to see it as a ‘must’ for Chinese New Year celebrations.

The first celebration of the Chinese New Year probably was around the Xia Dynasty, around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago which makes the Chinese New Year celebrations one of the world’s oldest. There are a great many pantang larangs or dos and don’ts one has to comply with today. First you have to open the windows and doors to bring in good luck of the new year. You have to leave the lights on for the evening to scare away ghosts of misfortune, and be sure to taste candy so as to give you a ‘sweet new year’. Don’t buy shoes or paints, or for other reasons – do not have your hair cut; do not sweep the floor and do not talk about death or buy books on the first day of the Chinese New Year (assuming you can find a bookshop open). I don't know why. Have a Happy New Year!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cinema Memories in Brunei

In the 1960s and 1970s I remembered going to the padang in Muara watching movies being played there. There will be lots and lots of people there – all watching black and white movies. I don’t think the movies were in colour then. I remembered my dad used to own one of those home movie projectors and every time we stayed at my auntie’s place in Seria, he would play one of those silent movies and there would be lots of people watching it. It was unbelievable. Dad used to be one of the first to own a home movie equipment and we would get to see ourselves on screen after he has sent off the film for processing somewhere in the world. Today, in the days of 50 inch plasma television with multi media multi surround home movie equipment, those days were almost unthinkable. Though ironically, despite our new found wealth – we still buy $5 pirated DVD. But today’s topic is not about $5 pirated DVDs but rather on the growth of cinemas in Brunei.

For some reason, cinemas never found a strong foothold in Brunei. Before the first world war, there was one cinema but it was destroyed during the war. It was rebuilt as the Boon Pang and later on in Bandar, we had three - the Boon Pang, the Bolkiah and the Borneo, the latter two built in the 1950s. The Boon Pang is now gone replaced by the BIBD building. The Boon Pang had an interesting history. It was once used as a detention centre for a few months. After the 1962 rebellion, the army rounded up all the detainees and placed them in the open tennis court areas at the padang. The Police Station in front of the mosque was still there then. The detainees were eventually removed to the Boon Pang to keep them from being out in the open and while preparing the teacher training institute in Berakas as a detention centre for long term placements.

Other than the Boon Pang, the Borneo and Bolkiah are still there though I have never been inside either one. So I don’t know what the places look like. I don’t even know what movies are currently being shown there. The Bolkiah I have been told has been upgraded and one should go there at least to find out the better experience of watching a movie in a full size cinema unlike the miniscule ones in the Empire or the Mall. The Empire’s and the Mall’s multiplexes are today’s in-thing. We no longer have huge cinemas but small ones catering to smaller crowds. Though on a good day, these multiplexes would play the same movie spanning across three or four cinemas.

I thought there was an old cinema in Tutong but I could be wrong. I know in KB, there is the Marina and the Roxana. The Roxana has been razed down. If I am not mistaken the Marina is still standing but whether it is still functioning that’s another matter. Maybe someone from Belait can elighten me. The OGDC is now being used as a cinema which is good as at least people from Belait has someplace to watch.

Back to Brunei, I have been told that the Q-Lap Mall would have its own Cineplex. That would be good. More competition.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Chuchill Memorial Again

It took me a while but I finally got it - the elusive photograph of the Winston Churchill statute. It's here. The photo is from the back of the statute but at least for Bruneians who have never seen it, this is what it looks like. The statute was taken down sometime in 1991, almost 15 years ago. If you are aged 20 and below, you would not remember it even if you did see it in those days.

I found an interesting trivia about the Churchill Memorial Building. It was not built on an empty piece of land. It was built on the site of a few houses and one of which belonged to Sheikh Mahmud, the father of Sheikh Azahari, the guy who led the Partai Rakyat Brunei. In fact the house was used as a temporary headquarters for the party way back in the 1950s and very early 1960s.

One reader also pointed out that the C shaped building stands for Churchill. While the E shaped building of the State Secretariat Building stands for Queen Elizabeth II. I didn't realise that.

Another trivia, in front of the houses that were demolished stood two palaces. They were called Istana Sugara (also known as Istana Kaca) and Istana Cermin. One was used as a guest palace. But both have to be demolished to make way for the Lapau. I guess in those days we were never concerned much about keeping these palaces and other historical sites intact. I will write more about these palaces once I got all the information.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

100th Anniversary of the Capital on dry land

Yesterday, HRH The Crown Prince officially opened the Exhibition to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Brunei Capital moving officially to dry land. It was the first British Resident McArthur who suggested that the capital to be moved to dry land in 1906. The capital began to take place on dry land where it is now. I wrote about this earlier.

I have to admit the Bandar Seri Begawan Municipal Authorities outdid themselves in preparing the exhibition. When you first go into the exhibition, you will see a few wall size collages of Brunei's old photographs and new. If you are a young person, some of these sights you would never see before, Istana Kaca, Istana Mahkota etc. Even Churchill Museum if you have never seen it is also visible in the collages.

Past those collages, you would go into a small hall where there are actual size replicas of Kampung Ayer houses. In fact you would be walking on a bamboo walkway along these houses. You can peer inside the houses and actually see real life Bruneians enacting life as it used to be. You would see people playing congkak, lullabying their baby to sleep etc. There was also a group of people playing music using a gendang labik. All around the houses you would find wall size photographs of Kampung Ayer as it used to be in the 1920s.

You will then find yourself in another hall consisting of the recent Sultans of Brunei - short biographies, their achievements in modernising Brunei and also photographs of old palaces.

When you step out of the small hall, you would find yourself facing two huge dioramas - replicas of Bandar Seri Begawan and its surrounding areas. These dioramas are on two huge tables easily 30 feet by 10 feet. You will find miniaturised buildings (see attached photos) - and they look so cute. Look closely and you can even find a helicopter (fly size) somewhere over the hills. It's absolutely amazing the details that they did to build each and every single one of those buildings as near to scale as possible. Even if there is nothing else to see, these two huge miniaturised Brunei is worthwhile for a visit. Spend a long time on these tables and imagine yourself being Gulliver.

Around the tables are lots and lots and lots of old photographs. If you have always secretly wanted to build up a collection of photographs of old Brunei, this is the place for you. You would find photographs of buildings you have never seen before and have been destroyed in the name of progress. We have lots of heritage buildings but unfortunately in the 1950s and up to the 1970s, old buildings are considered as nuisance and most of them have been torn down. There are just lots of things to see. Do not ignore the columns as every column also has huge photographs of old Brunei. In fact try to see every little nook and cranny.

After that you will see the efforts of the Municipal Boards, the Town and Country Planning and the Ministry of Development in modernising Bandar Seri Begawan through their exhibits. The Municipal Board had a replica of the Royal Charter naming Pekan Brunei as Bandar Seri Begawan. The other two are not as interesting to me but they do provide a wealth of knowledge if ever you want to know about the progress of Bandar Seri Begawan.

So, go to the Commercial Centre at the Municipal Hall (in front of the Bus and Taxi Terminal). Bring a camera with lots of memory card spaces. Mine ran out halfway and I had to frantically decide which old photographs to delete. And enjoy yourself. Believe me, you will.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What do you know about Valentine's Day?

I wrote the valentine article exactly 12 months ago last year for my predecessor site on and prepared it sometime last week to republish it today. I didn't realise the Friday sermon would come first. The Imams are technically correct that Valentine's Day is named after St. Valentine. However even then, Valentine's Day was named to replace an even older pagan festival. Anyway, I thought I will republish the posting that I wrote last year as I am pretty sure not many people have read it as then the readership consisted only of me and my better half.

In most parts of the world, today is Valentine's Day. It has been estimated that throughout the world, approximately one billion valentine cards are sent during Valentine's Day, making the day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas; and that 85 percent of all cards are purchased by women!

Did you know that Valentine's Day began as a pagan festival? The Romans then engaged in an annual fertility rite in honour of one of their many gods named Lupercus where the names of young women were placed in a box and drawn by adolescent men. The resulting random matches became 'companions' for the following year. The Catholic Church tried to end this pagan rite and selected a martyred Saint Valentine to replace Lupercus. (An Italian priest named Valentine was said to be imprisoned by the Roman Emperor Claudius II for secretly joining young lovers in matrimony). Over time, the Lupercian lottery was replaced with the custom of Roman men offering women their admired hand-written greetings of affection on February 14.

Several other versions depending on sources said that Valentine's Day was established to abolish another European heathen village custom of boys drawing the names of girls on the 15th of the month in honor of the goddess Februata Juno; and another claimed that sending greetings to loved ones on Feb. 14 dates to the middle ages when it was believed that this day marked the beginning of the mating season for birds. So if you are celebrating Valentine's Day, it can be said that you are either commemorating some ancient gods or emulating the birds!

With the commercialisation of the celebration, Valentine’s Day has become an institutionalised guilt trip for both men and women. But why would you need a special day to recognise your loved ones?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

So, is El Ninõ coming?

A couple of weeks back the media was talking about El Ninõ - how that would bring severe drought to Brunei over the next couple of months after the heavy rain in December. My mother in law was worried enough to ask for her water storage tank to be inspected. She was worried about the drought as everyone did. For the uninitiated, El Ninõ is a climatic phenomenon occurring irregularly, but generally every 3 to 5 years. El Ninõs often first become evident during the Christmas season (El Ninõ means Christ child) in the surface oceans of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The phenomenon involves seasonal changes in the direction of the tropical winds over the Pacific and abnormally warm surface ocean temperatures. For Brunei, it means that there will be less rainfall during the El Ninõ season.

Anyway as most Brunieans realised, despite the media hype on El Ninõ, the rains did not stop in January. Everyone would say wait till February, the rain will dry out and we will see full sunshine and more. Well, this is February. All we still see is water being poured down from the sky. So is El Ninõ coming?

The last El Ninõ weather we had was in 1997/1998. I remembered that came together with the Asian Financial Crisis and Brunei's very own financial crisis. I remembered then that everyday we watched the oil prices and watch it spiral down ever closer to the $10 a barrel mark and watch the government current budget deficit agonisingly get bigger and bigger. This was coupled with the haze that came from our neighbouring country. At times I could not see beyond 20 feet. Our forests caught fire too. There were not enough firemen to go round dousing all fires in Brunei. That was how dry it was and shows what the effects of El Ninõ can do.

I heard very recently the Brunei weather people have been telling us that the weather forecasters may have been a little bit off when they predicted severe drought this year. It is still expected that rainfall in February and March will be slightly lower than normal. However if there is any El Ninõ effect, it will be felt during these two months but the weather should return back to normal by the middle of the year. According to the weather models, the El Ninõ effect should be peaking right around now. Hence the effect on Brunei should be felt by February-March 2007 but the effect will at most be minor. It will not reach the intensity of the 1997/98 crisis.

Even with hotspots in Kalimantan and parts of Indonesia, we will not see the haze that much as the winds are still and expected to blow from the north east and will shelter us from the worst effects of the Haze. However according to WMO (World Meteorological Organisation) that there is also the slight possibility that El Ninõ may be in a cycle and that cycle might be on upwards between March to May period. If that does happen, there may be the possibility that the drier season will start later.

Overall our weather people think that the weather is going to be a little bit unpredictable over the next couple of months but otherwise agreeable and therefore we should not panic. That's what the weather folks are telling me. I don't know about you - but weather forecasters are just that - forecasters and they are not forseers. I will get that water storage tank checked, just in case.

Monday, February 12, 2007

National Flag and National Anthem of Brunei Darussalam

I was reading the program book that came together yesterday while attending the raising of the giant Brunei flag to mark the start of the 23rd National Day celebration. It contained a lot of information about our national flag and our national anthem. I thought I will share the information with everyone.

I have touched on the information about our national flag in my post about the flag in July last year. In a nutshell the yellow with white and black diagonals came about because of the colours of the standards of the principal signatories to the 1906 Agreement which were the colours of the Sultan (yellow), Pengiran Bendahara (white) and Pengiran Pemancha (black) while the red state crest was added on in 1959. Our national flag is 101 years old this year.

The information about the national anthem is equally interesting. After the end of the Second World War, a group of young Bruneians decided that just like any other country in the world, Brunei should have its own national anthem. Two of them were tasked with coming up with the song and the lyrics. The song was composed by Awang Besar Sagap (also known as Pengiran Ibrahim Pengiran Sagap) and the lyrics by Pengiran Haji Mohd Yusof (now known as Pengiran Setia Negara Pengiran Haji Mohd Yusof – he eventually became the Chief Minister or Menteri Besar from 1967 to 1972).

The anthem went through several refinements through the efforts of several Malay teachers especially Awang Haji Mohamed Sum. He was also credited to be the first to introduce the new national anthem to school children in the Malay schools in Pekan Brunei. Within a few weeks most school children were able to sing the national anthem.

Even though the national anthem was officially used in 1951 when Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien was the Sultan, it already received royal approval as it was unofficially used in 1947 when Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Ahmad Tajuddin attended a flag raising ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the establishment of what may be considered as the first political grouping in Brunei known as BARIP (Barisan Pemuda Brunei).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Victim of hit and run

Assalamualaikum Mr. BR,

This is a tough email for me to write...

Anyway, you must have read or listen to the news, a 41 yr old man was killed in a fatal road accident this morning, 10 Feb 2006. That man was attending to a flat tyre at the highway when he was hit by a pick-up truck driven by a foreign national. That man was Allahyarham Haji Hussin bin Haji Mustapa, he was my brother-in-law, i.e. my sister's husband...whom I loved like my very own brother....

It was in fact a very tragic accident, he succumbed to his injuries and died on the spot... and dengan takdir Allah, his wife was also going through the same road while on her way to send her son to Maktab Duli and taking her daughter to RIPAS for an appointment. While driving by, she caught a glimpse of the car and said to her children.."Macam kereta babah mu lai..." Having passed the spot, she made her way back to the spot and tried calling her husband's mobile phone...which went unanswered... and when she reached the spot she saw a body lying motionless on the road... and her worst fear was confirmed.. it was her husband..

Mr BR, i can still hear her shaken voice when she told us her husband had an accident..and I receive another phone call after that telling me my Abang Haji Hussin has passed away...We went to the hospital and I saw my sister who was heavily pregnant with blood all over her blouse..It all felt like a dream to me.. a nightmare...

Mr BR, he was such a nice man, a very loving father and a very generous person...he was one of the kindest man I have ever known....I have grown to love him so much like my own brother...It's 3.30 am, 11/2/2007 and I still couldnt sleep... I can still see his face, his smile.... terbayang-bayang masih.... I can still hear his voice calling me....

Mr BR, the reason I am telling you all this is hoping that you can mention him in your post and invite your many readers to recite Surah Al-Fatihah for him....

Awg Haji Hussin Haji Mustapa was survived by his wife, and his 5 children and a baby who is due to be born this April...Insya Allah...The action of the careless driver has left my sister widowed and her children orphaned

Bersama-samalah kita sedekahkan Surah Al-Fatihah dan berdoa semoga rohnya ditempatkan bersama orang-orang yang beriman...Amin..Al-Fatihah...
PS. I received this e-mail last night. I can never convey the same words as emotionally as the writer. I let his words speak for themselves. Al-Fatihah.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Clean Brunei?

The other day the Brunei State Mufti was talking about dogs in Hyde Park in London. Caught your attention, didn’t I? Anyway, he wasn't talking about the dogs per se but he was talking about the dog owners. He saw them picking up after the dogs and actually putting the droppings into a plastic bag. He even saw one guy putting the bag into his pocket. His point was that these people are responsible. They are willing to even clean up after the dogs and not leave the park dirty. He asked why in Brunei we have difficulty in keeping the country as clean. After all cleanliness is half of iman.

I have to agree with him. A lot of the work keeping Brunei clean is due to the number of people employed by the Environment, Parks and Recreation Department (Jabatan Alam Sekitar, Taman dan Rekreasi - JASTRE). We don't normally see them. They work late at night when no one is looking. If you drive around during the evening, sometime you see them. Workers with motorcycles too are employed. They go round picking up the various cans and other litters dropped along the roadsides. Even our roads are cleaned late at night when the big trucks with the brushes come round. The workers are particularly effective during the huge crowds in any Bandar gathering. In the evening, you would see tons of garbage, plastic bags, lychee skins etc but by morning, things would be sparkling clean.

It gives the impression that Brunei is a clean country. However take out these people; we may be walking through seas of garbage. Why is it difficult sometimes to walk the extra few feet or even inches to place the garbage properly in the refuse bin? The other day I was at the hospital and across the corridors I saw this boy throwing orange peelings from the third floor all the way down to the ground in front of his parents. No reactions whatsoever from the parents. What were they thinking of? Garbage will disappear by themselves?

If you go round certain areas in the resettlement areas - you would see certain places being used as dumping sites. Our papers and media have highlighted these often enough. These people must have thought these places are magical. Dump something, watch the garbage grow slowly and one day the garbage will all magically disappear. If the garbage can disappear once, the next lot will disappear too, and the next lot and the next lot. We are caught in this cycle. Not cleaning up after them would mean that everyone would suffer. But cleaning up after them gives them the lesson that they can keep repeating the same thing.

Some have argued that there are not enough refuse collection points. Some have argued that there are actually enough refuse collection companies but these people are not willing to pay for the services and want the services for free. I am tempted to think it is more the latter though I could be wrong. Some of the refuse collection companies too are not as reliable as one may think. The one servicing ours sometimes disappear for a couple of weeks. It's not a perfect world. But we should all play our part in keeping Brunei clean and not wait for others to do it for us. The cleaner our country is the better impression we will give. We have to do our bit to support Visit Brunei Year 2008.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Ministry of Education's Strategic Plan 2007-2011

The Ministry of Education launched its strategic plan for 2007 to 2011 recently. I wasn’t able to attend the launching itself but our agency's representative was able to attend it and gave me a copy of the plan. The launching ceremony was quite huge compared to most launching of government ministries’ strategic plans. I thought among others, the Ministry of Education’s plan for the future is something of use for all of us to know, so despite the ‘no part of this publication may be reproduced etc…’ I am going to pretend I did not see that.

The strategic plan based on Kaplan’s Balanced Scorecard Approach (I wrote about this when Kaplan was here in Brunei in April last year) enables Ministry of Education “to clarify its vision and strategy and translate them into action. The BSC helps to provide feedback around both the internal business processes and external outcomes in order to continuously improve strategic performance and results. The balanced scorecard transforms strategic planning from an academic exercise into the nerve center of the organisation.”

I will not comment on the plan itself. You can download it and read it yourself. I have made a pdf copy of the plan which is available from the main library at With MOE’s vision of “Quality Education towards a Developed Peaceful and Prosperous Nation” and a mission statement which reads “Provides Holistic Education to Achieve Fullest Potential for All” – we will have to wait whether it can fulfill its measurement metrics or key performance indicators which includes increases at all level of examination, numbers of students enrolled in science stream or completing tertiary education or completing their VTE education plus 100% computer literacy of teachers and students. Other indicators include those of “success and transition”, “monitory of education” and “resources and structures”.

This being the most comprehensive and far-reaching plan ever prepared in MOE’s history which sets out a proper course outlining its objectives and mapping out its plans hopefully will be able to steer our education policy and our nation towards increased national development and greater progress. No doubt that some of you out there maybe a little bit sceptical - but we have to give MOE the opportunity to show that they can fulfull their plan.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

In memory of Brunei's Churchill Memorial Exhibition Building

I am writing an article for a travel magazine and one of the photographs I needed was that of the Churchill Museum. You remember? The famous Churchill Museum with the statute of Sir Winston Churchill and his famous two finger V shaped signature? (V actually stands for Victory but in the 1960s that two finger V shaped sign became a symbol for Peace.)

And guess what? I could not find a single photograph of that museum. I have been scouring through all the coffee table books, the annual reports, the commemorative books and whatever else that the government has published over the last 50 years in my collection and zilch, nien, nyet, nada.. Other than Churchill first day covers (and Lat's cartoon), not a single blooming photograph anywhere. It was still standing until 1991. I can't believe it.

The closest I could get was this aerial photograph of Bandar Seri Begawan in the evening celebrating either National Day or Birthday sometimes in the late 1980s. The museum was part of it and that's the closest I got for the last two weeks. You can barely make out Sir Winston Churchill standing in the middle of the courtyard of the museum.

The correct name for the building was The Churchill Memorial Exhibition Building but we tend to call it the Churchill Museum. It not only housed the Churchill exhibits but also Brunei's Aquarium and also a smaller exhibiton of Brunei's old dcouments. The statute of Sir winston Churchill was outside. When I was much younger I remembered Sir winston Churchill towering above me whenever we visited the Museum. He looked so big.

Anyway, I asked around. I also trawled the internet for the last two weeks. All I found usually was my own posting on the Churchill stamps and First Day Covers (after today, this posting will appear if you search for Churchill Museum). Nobody seemed to have any photographs of the museum. People remember having it and taking photographs in front of it but still not a single one came my away. I was finally given one yesterday and I was really looking forward to it but it turned out this one even though was slightly better and clearer than that aerial photograph but the statute was still too tiny. So I give up. I am half beginning to think there is a conspiracy to hide any memory of it.

It seemed that we don't really take photographs of our own attractions. The Churchill Museum might not be a good example of the Brunei's attractions as compared to the Royal Regalia Building. But you would be surprised that this is the kind of thing that attracts people to come. The odd thing. I remembered in 2005 when I was in Jeju - a Korean island made famous by a Korean drama which I have forgotten - it had one interesting museum - a Teddy Bear Museum, and not just any Teddy Bear Museum - it's the world’s largest museum that is wholly dedicated to teddy bears. What has Teddy Bears and Jeju got in common? Nothing. It is still an attraction. When I was studying in the States, the town I was living in was famous not just for its university. It has the world's largest Swatch Museum! Connection? Again, none. But people come. So I guess, building something for the fun of it sometimes work.
Photo credit and copyright: Lat's Cartoon from 'Lat and his Lot again' Berita Publishing 1983; first photograph - 'Brunei Berdaulat' Brunei Government; and second photograph - Information Department.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Unique Brunei Durians

During the end of a meeting yesterday, my senior colleague was talking about an old friend of his, now very much his junior, who is based in Bangar, Temburong. My senior colleague was talking about that friend getting him Durian Senokoh which he said is very nice. I am not much of a local durian connoisseur but I am pretty sure I have not come across that particular name. So I looked through my collection of durian books – I have a few, believe it or not. My brother in law used to head the agriculture agency and he gave me quite a few books on agriculture during his tenure.

There are indeed many Durian species in Brunei – both the white ones and the yellow ones. The white durians (scientific name D. Zibethinus) are generally imported from Malaysia and Thailand. The yellow ones are apparently Brunei’s specialties. The most common is the Durian Otak Udang Galah (D. graveolens Becc.) whose colour is highly variable and ranges from greenish, brownish yellow to yellow. The pulp has a range of colours from yellow to crimson red with all hues of oranges in between. The seeds are quite large, oval, brown in colour and glossy.

One rather unusual durian in Brunei is one which bears the durian fruits on the main trunks in compact clusters close to the ground. Most durians are fairly high up on the tree and one usually waits for them to fall but not Durian kura-kura (D. testudinarium Becc.) which bears the fruits at the trunk of the tree. The fruits are ovoid, green when young and yellowish brown at maturity and with widely spaced sharp and stout spines. The sweet and strongly aromatic aril (fruit inside) is faint yellow in colour.

Other durians include the small Durian Sukang (D. oxleyanus Griffith) whose aril is usually corn-yellow, smooth and sweet with a strong fragrance. Durian pulu (D. kutejensis Becc.) is much bigger and considered attractive with crimson coloured petals. The spines on the fruit is softer. Durian meragang (D. dulcis) is rare and only found in the interior jungle regions. The furits are packed with sharp red spines with a dark tip. Some other durians are hybrid such as Durian siunggong (probably a hybrid between D. zibethinus and D. graveolens). There are a great number of durians whose names do not match up with those of the ‘official’ durians in the book. Some include the Durian Senokoh as I mentioned earlier and another one which we sometimes buy called Durian Kepala Ambok (Monkey’s Head). The local names are probably variants of the species or variations of the names the durians.

From what I read, it seemed that Brunei Darussalam has the competitive edge to specialize in unique durian specie particularly the durian kuning species and Durian Pulu for the niche market. Something else to think about in this Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Pekan Brunei

On 21st August 1971, Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien, then known as Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan graciously consented to unveil a monument to commemorate the renaming of Pekan Brunei or Brunei Town as Bandar Seri Begawan at the Town Padang. That plaque still stands if you visit the padang. (By the way in that photo, you can also make out the old cinema, the Boon Pang in the background - that cinema site is now occupied by the Islamic Bank Building).

The year before that (almost 27 years ago), on 4th October 1970, the then Chief Minister Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Setia Negara Pengiran Haji Mohd Yussof with the consent of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzaddin Waddaullah announced that Bandar Brunei (Brunei Town) was to be renamed Bandar Seri Begawan. The name was chosen in honour of Almarhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien, the 28th Sultan who used the title Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan when he abdicated in 1967. The historic date commemorated the 3rd anniversary of His Majesty’s abdication.

Until the early 20th century, the residents of Brunei lived on the water. It was only in 1906 that the first British Resident McArthur suggested moving the capital to dry land. In the 1940s, Pekan Brunei was just beginning to develop when World War II broke out. Most of the shop houses including a cinema and a hospital were destroyed during the war.

In 1950, Brunei's 'Modern Architect' His Majesty Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien started the modern era of development. Modern infrastructure was built - many of today's current buildings were built then. Among them the government departments, Istana Darul Hana, Maktab SOAS, the Customs building, the General Post Office and the magnificient Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Ambuyat

The other night, our agency was hosting a bunch of international people here in Brunei. During dinner, I overheard one of my colleagues trying to explain to them about Brunei’s local food – the ambuyat – how it was prepared and where it came from. I realized that even though most of us Bruneians know what ambuyat is, and probably know a little bit of how it is prepared, some of us might know a little bit where it came from but a number has no idea at all.

Just in case, there are pockets of Brunei people who have no idea what ambuyat is. Look at the attached photo. The one in the middle is it. The ambuyat is eaten or rather swallowed using a two-pronged bamboo stick called a chandas. As it is quite tasteless, it is taken with a sauce made from sour local fruits like binjai (mango like fruit but very sour). The ambuyat is rolled around the chandas until about the size of a small fist (children’s size preferably unless you got a really big mouth – physically that is), immerse it into the sauce and swallow the whole thing without chewing. Of course, ambuyat is always eaten with vegetables and dishes of fish, meat or prawn depending on your preferences.

Ambuyat is made from pouring hot water into ambulung or better known as sago. Sago is derived from a tree trunk, believe it or not. The trunk of a rumbia tree (scientific name, metroxylon), a family of palm trees such as coconuts, are used to make sago. The trees are cut down. Then they are stripped of fronds and other coverings before being cut into several pieces. These cut pieces are stripped of their hard bark. The pieces are then scraped or grated by machine onto a sluice.

The scrapings with the impurities are sifted out leaving the sago in a wooden trough filled with water that will be drained away once the sago has settled down. The dug out is then filled with water once more and the mixture is stirred thoroughly. After the water is drained off, it will reveal the sago as white solids or lumps. These sago lumps are then packed in basket-like tampin woven from the nipah leaves before being taken to the market. Nowadays, processing ambulung is less labourious as machines have taken over most of the work. (The following photos is a sequence of events required to turn a rumbia tree into ambuyat, just in case you need to explain it to someone, one of these days.)

Inspirational Quotes