Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Giant in Rimba

In my new job, I am just beginning to discover new things. One, I did not realise that there will have to be lots and lots of walking. Two, my predecessors talk about bringing work home and I was thinking over the last 2 days, there is more than ample time to complete everyday's work. It was today I realised that the second thing, because I will be doing lots and lots of walking, there ain't enough time for me to do the work in the office. Anyway, I was accompanying the TM visiting houses in Lambak Kanan and Rimba.

The state of some houses especially in the first phase of the housing resettlement development is quite bad. I thought to myself, somone ought to be screwed for this screw up. Apparently it was explained that the contractor was not entirely at fault. Some of the concrete problems were due to water usage. In the late 1970s and early 1980s when development started, there was no piped water in the area and the contractor applied and received permission to use river water. But river waters can get salty especially during the dryer season when the saltier water would get into the river. Hence when used to build concrete, caused concrete to crack in the long term. Salty waters were at first even thought to be good for concrete especially in those years. So the government has been repairing houses and even destroying too badly damaged houses.

We visited the Rimba Housing and I was quite impressed with the newer two storey design. We also dropped into the new Giant Hypermart and that I have to admit impressed me more. The hypermart will be around 140,00 square with an additional 40,000 square feet for the mall. It will be the biggest in Borneo when it opens in March. There are about 600 spaces for cars, so that should give us ample parking spaces. The Management said they need around 1,200 workers of which 90% will be local. They have adertised in all the press as well as accept walk ins. So if you know of anyone looking for a job, you know where to go.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Early Brunei Papers

People asked me where I get my materials from. I said the same places where everyone get theirs - through reading journals, articles and whatever I can get hold of - and believe it or not, I also read history textbooks both primary and secondary and I have them in my bookshelves.

Articles about Brunei have been written during the Chinese Dynasties and that goes some 1,500 years ago. The more recent western ones were written in the 19th century mostly. One of the earliest was written by Hugh Low, entitled Selesilah (Book of the Descent of the Rajas of Brunei) which was published in June 1880. Another was a similar one written by WH Treacher entitled The Genealogy of the Royal Family of Brunei published in June 1885.

In the early 20th century we have the A Brunei Code written by RO Winstedt published in 1923 and A Sketch of the History of Brunei by HR Hughes-Hallett published in 1940. Given that the Brunei Museum Journal which contained all the historical writing about Brunei, was not published until 1969, so where were all these old articles published?

They were in fact published in the Journals of the Straits Branch, the Malaya Branch (JSBRAS) and later in the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (JMBRAS). The Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society has collected all these papers and compiled 12 articles published in those journals and compiled them in a book entitled "Papers Relating to Brunei". This in fact was published in 1998 and is also getting harder to find.

Some of the earlier papers about the genealogical lineage are interesting. There is a debate as to whether Sultan Ahmad was the Chinese who married a princess and became Sultan Ahmad or was he a royal who married a Chinese princess and becamse Sultan Ahmad. All these came from the various versions of the tarsilah. Of course when you deal with matters more than 600 years ago, it's a little bit hard to be accurate. I have not seen this book in Brunei, I think if you were to bring it in, it probably would cost about $100 a book, a price not many people are willing to pay. But I have been told that they are available in Australia second hand book stores. So do search for this and you can even in it a copy of Manuscript A and Manuscript B of the Brunei Selesilah (written in old Malay).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Kampong Tanjung Nangka - Treasury Trove

[note: The article below was printed in last Sunday's Brunei Times under the usual Golden Legacy article. I arrived back on Thursday from Qatar and only had a couple of days to do this. The article is a merger of two blog pieces I wrote in 2006, so it did not take that long. For the photographs, I had to drive into the Kampung and take them. The one with the wooden house was interesting. I took the photograph from the back as it looks old and I wanted to give a 'tucked away' sense but when I went to the front of this house, it had a couple of huge satellite dishes! So, never ever judge a house.]

Many people using the Jalan Tutong route from Bandar Seri Begawan sometime fail to see the areas beyond Sengkurong. This is because the double carriageway ended at the junction of Jalan Tutong and Jalan Jerudong and then carried on at Jalan Jerudong.

Hence many motorists preferring the modern road and the highway rather than on the old single lane Jalan Tutong would proceed to use Jalan Jerudong and go on the highway if they wish to go to Tutong and beyond.

As a result, most people failed to realise that there is an interesting village just after Sengkurong. The village is called Kampung Tanjung Nangka.

As usual, the kampungs in Brunei either have a few names for it in the past or the kampung itself has many place names and one got chosen to be the name of the village. According to sources, Kampung Tanjung Nangka has 3 previous names, none of which survived.

No one really knows the origin of the kampung. Looking at the location of it and the history of Brunei, you will be surprised to actually find people wanting to stay there to begin with in the past. It is very far from the capital at Kampong Ayer and in the early 20th century, there was no road from the capital to the village.

The first of the three old names of Kampung Tanjung Nangka is Kampung Temiang. Temiang is the Brunei word for one of the bamboo species of which a lot of that bamboo grew in the kampung previously.

Another name was Kampung Kayu Tinggi which is derived from an extraordinary tall tree around the area. The bark of the tree is said to be coloured red, green and black and of course, no one knows the identity of the tree.

The last name is Kampung Binjai Kumit. Binjai is the name of a local fruit, the same family as the mango. In this case, the Binjai tree belonged to a man named Kumit. Again the tree was said to be extraordinary - its fruits nicer, its size bigger and the tree taller than the usual binjai trees.

The final name Kampung Tanjung Nangka was derived from a Nangka (jackfruit) tree found in the area. Again the tree was said to be much bigger than the usual Nangka Tree (it was said that the girth was twice a man's hug), the fruits much bigger and described to be as big as the Chinese salted eggs vase and can weigh as much as 50 katis (30 kg).

The tree became so famous that many people around the outlying area came to see it. It was said that a few people got attracted to it and decided to stay there in the hope that the area might be lucky for them.

The kampung also has an interesting story about a water well called Telaga Raden Bisa. An orphan family whose mother died soon after giving birth to the youngest child once stayed there.

The children were called Raden, Ugang and Musa. One day, while boiling sugarcanes to make sugar, the father found a plant growing in the fire called pohon balik angin which is said to bring fortune to those who owned it.

The children divided the various parts of the plant - Raden took the roots, Ugang the stalk and Musa the leaves - and the father suggested that they eat the parts.

When they grew up, Raden became very toxic to other people but not his family. He can poison people by touching them and when he walked, the grass will die. He became known as Raden Bisa.

Ugang became a very strong man and Musa became a hardworker and they both left the village to become wealthy.

Raden Bisa stayed on to the consternation of the other villagers and they petitioned to the two brothers to ask him to leave the village as well as he became too toxic to the point that he could no longer even go into the river as the fishes will die. He agreed to leave the village and live in the forest.

In the forest he felt so lonely and asked his brothers to end his life. The brothers complied only after he threatened that he will kill them and everyone in the village.

They killed him by spearing him from afar. It was said that his blood trickled into the nearby water well. Villagers later discovered that the water from the well now polluted by Raden Bisa's blood, instead of becoming poisonous, can heal many illnesses if they bathe in it or drink the water. According to people in the know, the well is still there but you do have to search for it.

A recent Brunei Museum discovery has thrown some light into how old Kampung Tanjung Nangka is.

Sometimes it is indeed surprising how long some of our villages have been inhabited.

We know for a fact that along Sungai Brunei, the Kota Batu areas, Bruneians have lived there for hundreds of years.

But for the most parts, most of the interiors of Brunei are not habited by anyone until very recently. Of course, there are some natives which live earlier in the interior parts of Brunei. However it is debatable as to when they started.

A recent Museum Department publications reported an excavation work which they did at Kampung Tanjung Nangka. The excavation was done along the Damuan River. Damuan River is about 2 kilometers away from the main road Jalan Tutong.

The Damuan River was recently widened and a lot of dredging was done along the river bank. The sands that were dredged were placed alongside the riverbanks.

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

What was pretty clear is that the area around the village has been inhabited a very long time ago which is roughly around the 10th to 14th Centuries and continued until at least to the early 20th century.

In those days, rivers were the main communications and transportation channels, and it is not surprising that there are settlements as far inland as that found in Tanjung Nangka.

However judging by the amount of potteries found which is considered as small by archaeology standards, it is more likely that the settlements there were very small.

But it still indicated that the area around there despite the fact being considered far to some people have been settled, if the potteries evidences are correct, about 1,000 years ago, and that's how long people have been living in Tanjung Nangka.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Old Photos

I posted this postcard at the beginning of the month asking where anyone knew where this was. I guessed Jalan Sultan. Nobody was able to confirm that. Someone told me it is not even Brunei.

Yesterday, one Minister said that this is Jalan Sultan in the 1930s. And it is confirmed by our national historian that this indeed was Jalan Sultan. These very Westernised looking buildings were unfortunately bombed to smitherens by the Allied Forces when they wanted to take over Brunei from the Japanese in the second world war. The Allied Forces also bombed our main mosque. I find it disturbing that the Allied Forces had to carpet bombed the entire city. This was indeed a pity as those buildings and the entire Jalan Sultan looked quite refreshing in those days. This photograph came out of a book entitled 'The Postal History of British Borneo'. It's quite a useful book if you are interested in the history of the postal services.

Another interesting photograph from that book is this one on Kuala Belait. Taken around the 1930s, this photograph showed the older side of Kuala Belait.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Brunei Break-ins

Yesterday was a most eventful day. Despite my new job title, I still had to carry out the inspection of the customs officers parade for the International Customs Day celebration 2008 as I had already agreed to do it months before. I have never inspected a parade before and it was quite fun really as the officers did put up a show. Theoretically I could stop and literally inspect an officer's uniform if it is not put on properly but I decided to give that a pass. The kawad was not bad either for a non-military organisation.

After the parade, we had a coffee break and I had a chance to speak to the senior police officer representing the Police Force about the recent break ins. According to him their MO is different. Instead of sneaking in, there will be a group of about 7 to 8 burly men forcing their way into the house and normally they try to grab a kid as that would make the adult parents give up any fight. They would also do surveillance on a house before hand and note the number of people staying there. Now, that is scary.

How many of us actually bother to see who has been loitering our area whether or not there are people out there looking at our behaviour and patterns and family numbers? I remembered when I was at university, I stayed in the halls of residence and we had a policy of asking strangers in the halls of who they want to see and what we can help them with. People are surprisingly quite scared of being asked and will normally run away. I guess that's what we should do, open your eyes to note any strangers and ask questions.

B-mobile had a partial solution yesterday. Their new service Mobi.eye can allow you to see your own homes via your phone, anytime or anywhhere else in the world. I sure hope you are hooked up to another service which allows police or a security agency to be called and catch those burglars if you happen to view the robbery though your mobile phones. I guess you can always use your phone to call the police. I know of another company that takes care even of the calling of police. The defence of our family is something we all need to do and like it or not, we need to study all the various options.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Thank you

For those in the know, you heard the announcements last night. It was a surprise announcement. So I will use this entry to thank everyone that I have worked with at the Ministry of Finance. I enjoyed working with you all and I will miss the familiar surroundings but now it's time to face new challenges. It's going to be sad leaving friends and colleagues. Thank you to you all and I hope that we continue to work together for the development of Brunei Darussalam.

Thank you too to all those who have congratulated me. I look forward to your continuing support.

And as a blogger - my apologies to those expecting a regular blog entry - I will be back tomorrow with a proper one.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Brunei - The Next 30 Years

I was glad to hear that the Economic Planning and Development Department finally announcing the publication of the long awaited Brunei's Long Term Development Plan when I was away. I was even more glad to see the hard bound copies of the plan in my in-tray when I returned back to work yesterday afternoon.

The plan contained the government's vision of what Brunei should be in 2035 - Wawasan Brunei 2035 - and outlined the plan how to get there. The foreword from His Majesty in the book is particularly apt: "My government is not only responsible for our people today. It must also help fulfill their hopes for our next generation. To do this, it must listen to them and offer clear-sighted, realistic plans for the future that can be implemented with skill and professionalism."

This plan was prepared by the Council for Long-Term Development Plan and talked to a number of Bruneians, not just in the government, but also in the private sector and other sectors as well and asked them what kind of country they wish Brunei to be 30 years on and have identified many of the all encompassing demands with regard to personal, social, spiritual and economic challenges.

After consulting this wide cross section of the Brunei's society, what we as a country had hoped for was:

a. To maintain the political stability Brnei continues to enjoy
b. To preserve our social, cultural, spiritual and historic values
c. To help our people meet the practical challenges of the modern world successfully
d. To give our families and communities confidence in the future

As a result, this plan was produced which identifies the critical aspect of national planning and reflected the broad aims set out as aove, the policy directions for the government and the specific programmes and projects that are required. The book is divided into three parts - the first part summarising a vision for the future that will fulfill our long term hopes and expectations - the second part lists 50 policy directions for the government to follow over the next 10 years and the third part sets out specific proposals and projects for the government over the next 5 years.

If you can only afford one book this year, then I would suggest get this book. It's available in either English or Malay and priced at only $15 (for a soft copy) or if you feel a bit richer, get the hard copy for $25 from the Economic and Planning Development folks at Block 2A, Jalan Ong Sum Ping. I was told you can get it at all Bismi and Pustaka Remaja bookstores as well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

International Agreements Made Simple

[Note: This entry will serve for both today (Wednesday) and tomorrow (Thursday) as I am flying later this afternoon back to Brunei and will only arrive in Brunei in the latter half of Thursday.]

I thought I will share this photograph of me and the other head of delegation after completing our negotiations. We had to turn around as the lady officers wanted to take a photograph of us away from another group on the other side.

Alhamdulillah, we have completed the negotiations and agreed on the final text after two days of negotiations. The agreement can now be signed after it has gone through the approval process by both countries. In the next few months, hopefully it will be signed by whoever is appointed by both countries to sign - usually the Minister of Foreign Affairs or Minister of Finance depending on who is available.

How do two countries decide to sign an agreement and what are the processes? Someone asked me that and I thought this will be a good opportunity for me to reply.

Usually the two countries will contact each other through their diplomatic representatives and the countries' Ministries of Foreign Affairs that they want to complete an agreement. The two countries will send their own versions of what the agreement should look like. Even though the two countries had agreed on the agreement topic, the two draft agreement texts would vary taking into account the priority needs of each country. So a date would be set so that the two countries can take a look at both texts and try to hammer out a new text with common provisions that both countries can agree on. Depending on the complexity of the agreement, the mood of the negotiators and other factors, some agreements can take more than a few rounds. Each round takes about 2 to 3 days. If you take into account the flying time and other factors, it can be quite tiring to complete an agreement.

Once the two countries agree on the final text, the approval process for signing comes into place. For Brunei and similar to most countries, the agreed text would be sent to the Attorney General for legal clearance and translation to Malay (other countries translate to their own languages too). After legal clearance, it gets sent to the Cabinet for approval. Once approval is received, the document is now ready for it to be signed. Normally the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised the best time for it to be signed. It could be signed during State Visits or Official Visits where a Minister will be designated to sign it or if there is an urgency, the Ambassador can be designated to sign.

After signing, the agreement is not yet in force. The agreement has to be ratified and goes through a ratification process. Most countries do it through the legislative assembly and a new law or legislation is prepared as that agreement will now supercede the country's legislations. So if there is an agreement on taxation and exemptions are given under the agreement, that agreement will override the country's tax laws even if that tax laws do not contain the exemption provisions.

The ratification process includes preparing a new law to be approved by the legislative assembly of that country. In Brunei's case since the legislative assembly is currently only approving appropriation bills (budget and spending laws), the ratification process goes back to the cabinet. After the agreement is ratified, then only it will enter into force. The agreement will now become a public document and can be accessed by anyone. In Brunei it will be gazetted in the Government Gazette which you can buy for $5 from either the Printing Department or the Legal Department.

So, there you go. Now you know what I do everytime I disappear for a few days from Brunei. It is not to have a holiday but to have an agreement that will benefit Brunei and its economy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Official Dinner

Last year whenever I attended dinner at the Palace, I tried to capture the essence of the food and atmosphere there and shared them in this blogsite. There are always two reactions - critics and condemnation by those who are taken aback by the opulence of it and adulations and salutations by those in the trade and especially those who worked hard creating it and appreciated that someone out there is admiring their handiwork. Believe me if you see some of the food design, you would really be impressed. But whatever it is, when you think about it, take out the glamour of it and strip out the opulence, it is just one guy giving dinner to another in honour of that person's visit. So, here is a snapshot of what was served during the official dinner for Myanmar's Prime Minister's visit to Brunei Darussalam sometime last week:-

In case you really wanted to know, the menus is made up of:-

Pumpkin and Chicken Terrine served with Grilled Leek with Coriander Creamy Sauce

Cream of Spinach and Beet Root

Lobster Medallion Ragout
Grilled Fish Fillet marinated in Herbs and Spices
Lamb Chops with Mint Sauce
Spicy Roasted Chicken
Crabmeat with Mixed Vegetables
'Tumpeng' Rice
Steamed White Rice

Longan Parfait and Curaco with Blueberry Coulis


Petit Fours

Monday, January 21, 2008

Family Relationship Monikers in Brunei

[Note: This article of mine was published yesterday in the Sunday Edition of The Brunei Times (20th January 2008). This is actually rewritten from two earlier blog entries which I wrote sometime 2006. That is also why the language of the article was more informal than the normal articles I write for Brunei Times. I thought I will share them once again with the new readers of The Daily BR. The photograph accompanying the article in BT is my own family's photograph - me as the baby, my great-grandfather standing far left, my grandfather standing in the middle and my father standing far right.]

IT IS tough being a first time parent, there are many things to think about. One of them is what you want your children to call you. For non-Asians, sometimes this is straight forward. "Daddy" and "Mummy" suit most Western parents, becoming "Dad" and "Mum" as the children grow older. "Father" and "Mother" are seldom used except in the formal written sense or as a third party usage.

In Malay society, it is less simple. For Bruneians especially, even if some more Westernised families will use the above epithets, there is a variety of other usage.

Brunei parents nowadays tend to be called "Babah" (the standard Malay is "Abah") and "Mama" (the standard Malay is "Emak"). "Bapa" and "Mama" are also used, though not as widely as before. Sometimes some Brunei families use "Babu" for their mothers. Some would use the Arabic "Umi" for their mothers. "Ayah" and "Ibu", "Ayah" and "Emak" or similar combinations are more commonly used in Malaysia rather than Brunei.

Malays are pretty unusual too in having specific titles for uncles and aunties. There are not that many other cultures which make a distinction between the different uncles and aunties though some do differentiate even between the uncles and aunties on the father's and mother's side.

Uncles and Aunties are generally translated as "Pa Cik" and "Ma Cik" in standard Malay. Though in Brunei, these are seldom used for calling one's uncles or aunties but they are used colloquially.

Officially, according to the Kamus Bahasa Brunei and as verified by Kamus Nusantara, the titles that you should call your uncles and aunties (if you are a Brunei Malay) should be in the following order from oldest to youngest:

1. tua ("oldest")
2. anjang
3. tangah or angah (from the word tengah or "middle")
4. iring
5. uda
6. amit
7. bungsu, usu or uchu ("youngest")

Most families would get the oldest and the youngest correct. Most others would get some of the "in between" titles mixed up. Some would make them up as they go along. Some would run out of titles simply because there are too many uncles and aunties. The official numbers here only go up to seven but there are a number of families in Brunei whose siblings' number exceed that.

Some families would repeat them, so the male uncle may be called "tangah laki" and a later female auntie called "tangah bini". The only problem is when they get married — the wife of "tangah laki" should be called "tangah bini" and vice versa but the title would have already been used!

In some families, titles got split. For instance, "Uda" may evolve into "Uda Hitam" and "Uda Putih" — in reference to skin colour or any other combination any family can think of. So there can be myriads of usage including combining their names. Some may use "Tangah Rosli" or "Bungsu Rosnah" or something like that. Some even used the name of where they lived like "Tangah Mabuhai" (because they live in Mabuhai).

To say whether the above official order is correct is indeed debatable. But that is the official usage by the dictionary as according to the dictionaries and that makes them as official as can be.

The Malaysian Malays are slightly different, using "Long" for the eldest instead of "Tua", "Ngah" for "Tangah", and one seldom hear them using iring or amit.

They also used the prefix "Pak" or "Mak". So you would get "Pak Long" and "Mak Long" as opposed to the Brunei usage which would be "Tua Laki" and "Tua Bini". One set of parents are called "Pak Teh" and "Mak Teh" — one would have trouble working out what number that title is — until it is revealed to one that it refers to the colour white and hence the title "puteh". So they decide to use that.

As for the more elderly titles of grandparents and beyond, in English, the language tends to be a little bit easier — grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents and so forth depending on how far back you want to go. It's simple but less creative, some would argue. Some would equally argue, "why bother?".

Beyond great-grandparents, a lot of people would have difficulty remembering or knowing who they are anyway. That is a pity as Brunei society struggles to remain close-knit; and knowing your ancestors may help us be closer to each other. Unfortunately, we are finding our relationships with each other going further apart.

What are the Brunei Malay titles? This is quite amusing as whoever he was that invented these titles must have a great sense of humour.

We first start off with the usual grandparents who in Brunei context are called "nini", you would get "nini laki" (literally "male grandparent") or "nini bini" ("female grandparent").

For great-grandparents, Bruneians use the word "datu". This is not to be confused with the Malaysians' usage which uses "nenek" as the female grandparent and "datuk" as the male grandparent. So for people with Malaysian connections, things sometimes get confusing.

After "datu" comes "moyang" which is great-great-grandparent. In standard Malay literature we always say "nenek moyang" to refer to our ancestors but Brunei Malay literature has "datu nini" to refer to our ancestors.

The next two words are the fun bit. By the time people ask you who your "moyang" or great-great-grandparents are, you would be struggling to give an answer unless someone in your family happens to collect your family's genealogical lineage of as a hobby. For myself, I think I may have the name of my great-great-grandparents somewhere.

But my great-great-great-grandparents (the parents of my moyang) are unknown — and because this probably applies for most people, the Brunei word for great-great-great-grandparent is surprisingly a typical word we say when we don't know something: antah, which literally translates to "I don't know" (or the standard Malay entah which is "tak tahu").

That's the title. Your great-great-great-grandparent is "antah".

And what comes yet before "antah"? What would the parents of your "antah", that is, your great-great-great-great-grandparents, be called, when you already used the expression "I don't know" and therefore cannot say "antah" any more? You would shake your head, right? Well, the Malay word for shaking your head is "geleng-geleng"; and that's the Brunei title for your great-great-great-great grandparent.

It would indeed be a pity if all these ties and their titles were no longer used by the Brunei Malay society in the future.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Huge Jamrah at Mina

My uncle and my sister were two of a number of Bruneians who performed the haj and came back last month. What surprised me is the number of photographs that they were able to take almost anywhere even including at the Masjidil Haram. I remembered when I went for my haj in the late 1990s, my wife and I could not even bring a camera into the masjidil haram area. Our photos are limited to outside the mosque and areas outside. Even then we were very cautious, as we have been warned that it might be confiscated if the police saw you.

What really struck me is the ease that today's pilgrims in stoning the devil in Mina. The Jamrah which used to be like this in the 1950s:-

had become this huge wall like this by 2006:-

which is almost impossible to miss!

My sister says with the scheduling in place, pilgrims do not have to rush anymore. So they are even able to pose in front of the jamrah while other people are still stoning them. Do that 10 years ago, you probably end up in the hospital or worse. I looked at their facilities and I have to admit that our government and the Saudi government have indeed spent a lot of money improving today's haj pilgrims.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


For those suddenly addicted to the Daily BR and find it not updated and wondering why - I am currently away to a Middle East country (starts with a Q) on government business and will try to update this blog whenever I have the time. The last time - that was way back in April last year - I become a travel blog, someone wrote that I should not be showing photographs of places I have been because it might be miscontrued that I am having a holiday instead of working. So I won't be doing travel blogs no matter how exciting the country that I am visiting.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Another View of Jembatan Rangas

Over the years, I have purchased and collected many old Brunei postcards as an extension of my paper money and stamp collections. This not only makes me a numismatist and a philatelist but also a deltiologist! Deltiology is the study of postcards.

Anyway, when I saw this postcard on ebay, I was quite surprised. I had to have it and this postcard arrived yesterday. This view of the Jembatan Rangas or Clifford Bridge could only have come from one vintage point - the SOAS Mosque. But when was SOAS Mosque built and when was Edinburgh Bridge built? So this must have been around the time when SOAS was under construction and Edinburgh Built was not yet under construction. SOAS mosque was completed in 1958.

I have an older photograph of Clifford Bridge here.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Textiles and Identity in Brunei Darussalam

I saw the news of this book when it was launched at UBD while reading BT. I thought that looks like an interesting book to have and I immediately made arrangements to have two copies of the book, then not realising the book costs some $55+ each. However, this book is worth every single penny of that $55+ which I paid for the book.

So, what do you get for $55? First of all, you get a book written by Siti Norkhalbi bte Haji Wahsalfelah, the Deputy Director of Brunei Academic Studies at UBD. She holds a PhD from University of Western Australia and has written extensively on Brunei Darussalam. This 132 pages A4 size book is printed at White Lotus Press in Bangkok. Uh? Why Bangkok? My guess is that the editor wants it published there as this book formed part of an 11 studies series in Material Cultures of Southeast Asia. And it has 75 colour photographs!

This book examined the traditional role textiles have played in modern Brunei. Handwoven textiles are an important of Brunei traditional culture. It examined the types of textiles and the roles that they have played in different situations, such as serving as signifiers of social status, wealth, and political prominence. It also focused on how locally woven textiles have been used to express and construct identity, especially Brunei Malay identity and Bunei national identity. It is a worthwhile book to know more about Brunei. Go and get it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Brunei-Bahrain Agreements

(From MENAFN - Bahrain Tribune) The Ministry of Finance (MOF) yesterday (14th January 2008) inked two agreements with the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam the reciprocal promotion and protection of investments and the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and on capital.

The signing ceremony was held at the Ministry of Finance premises by Shaikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, the Minister of Finance and Pehin Dato Haji Abdul Rahman bin Haji Ibrahim, Minister of Finance II of the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam.

The first agreement reflects the willingness of the two countries to create favourable conditions for greater economic co-operation, particularly regarding investments of investors of each country in the territory of the other. It also marks their belief that the encouragement and reciprocal protection of investments through international agreement is conducive to the stimulation of business initiatives and increasing prosperity in both sides.

The second agreement ensures that residents of both countries will not be subject to double taxation with regard to income and capital taxes levied by either country.


This week Bahrain and Brunei signed two agreements - (i) On the Reciprocal Protection and Promotion of Investments; and (ii) Avoidance of Double Taxation. What does these two agreements mean and what benefits do they bring?

The first agreement is where both countries agree that in order for investments by nationals of both countries either Bruneians in Bahrain or Bahrainis in Brunei, their investments will be protected by the two governments. In other words they will be allowed within the law to invest in either countries and to return their profits to their own countries. Their investments will not be seized by the governments and even if they are, they will be able to have compensations. At the same time in the agreement will also be ways on how to resolve any dispute which normally involves the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington.

The second agreement is where both countries agree that there should not be any double taxation. If a Bahraini company was to operate in Brunei and make in profit and pay taxes in Brunei, that company does not have to pay the tax for the same profit back in Bahrain and vice versa. There are other things in the agreement but that's the main crux of it.

These two agreements are basic infrastructure investment and taxation requirements for most countries around the world and international companies look for these. Most good corporate international companies are willing tax payers and investors but they generally want to make sure that their investments are protected and they do not have to pay double taxes on their profits. So the more agreements like these, the more companies are willing to consider countries which their own country have signed agreements with, for their investments. For us here in Brunei, these agreements are needed so that those companies find it comforting to invest in Brunei and at the same time, it also opens up opportunities for our own companies to consider expanding into those countries.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sungai Kianggeh 1960s

You know in the 1960s, the Sungai Kianggeh was still wide enough that not only small boats can go in, even the big tongkang can go in. Before that it was even wider. The government ask anyone who wants to help in with the widening of the Jalan Kianggeh by coming up with some earth and get paid for it. People started bringing in earth by the boatfull and dumping it to the side of Sungai Kianggeh thus enabling the Kianggeh road to be built. That narrowed the river somewhat but it was the latest project in the 1970s that narrowed the Sungai Kianggeh to what we see today.

Anyway, this postcard showed the Kianggeh river in the mid 1960s when it looked wide enough. What's noticeable is the small hut in the middle of the river. This is where pigs used to be slaughered. There are a couple of buildings to the left of this hut. That's where Immigration Department used to be - this is the place to get your IC.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Foreign Postage Stamps in Brunei

People ask me what I did from April to December when I didn't do daily entries to the Daily BR. I did a lot of things - work obviously is no 1. I managed to get my official golf handicap too during that time. But it also allowed me to catch up on my hobbies. One of them is catching up with my stamps, paper money and coins collection. You can read about my entries on them here on my other blogsite

During the Japanese occupation of Brunei, the Japanese used the unused Brunei stamps captured during the occupation and overprinted those with the word Japanese Government. But once the Allied Forces took over Brunei, they could not use Brunei stamps and they decided to use North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak stamps and overprinted those stamps with BMA (British Military Administration). The stamps used for Brunei are very difficult to find as you have to find either the Sarawak or North Borneo stamps with the postmark "Brunei" clearly visible on the stamps.

This particular specimen (above) is one example of the BMA usage and the letter was clearly registered in Brunei in 1946. The usage of Sarawak and North Borneo stamps overprinted BMA lasted for slightly more than a year (53 weeks). This particular rare letter has a value of around US$475.00 if anyone wants to buy. You can get it from a rare stamp dealer at in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

HSBC 60th Year in Brunei

HSBC is celebrating its 60th Anniversary in Brunei this year. Many people remember HSBC as the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank because it was the first bank set up here in Brunei soon after the War in 1947. In that year, HSBC set up its offices in Bandar, Belait and Seria but Tutong did not get its own office until 1975. Since then, they have opened up a number of branches throughout the country. HSBC also set up its own finance company, the Mortgage and Finance Berhad which later became HSBC Finance. In 1983, HSBC established the first automated teller machines in Brunei Darussalam. It moved into its new HQ building at the corner of Jalan Sultan and Jalan Pemancha in June 1974. (The above photo was HSBC Building in 1961.)

The HSBC Group is named after its founding member, The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, which was established in 1865 in Hong Kong and Shanghai to finance the growing trade between China and Europe.

The inspiration behind the founding of the Bank was Thomas Sutherland, a Scot who was then working as the Hong Kong Superintendent of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. He realised that there was considerable demand for local banking facilities both in Hong Kong and along the China coast and he helped to establish the Bank in March 1865. Then, as now, the Bank's headquarters were at 1 Queen's Road Central in Hong Kong and a branch was opened one month later in Shanghai.

Throughout the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, the Bank established a network of agencies and branches based mainly in China and South East Asia but also with representation in the Indian sub-continent, Japan, Europe and North America. In many of its branches the Bank was the pioneer of modern banking practices. From the outset, trade finance was a strong feature of the Bank's business with bullion, exchange and merchant banking also playing an important part. Additionally, the Bank issued notes in many countries throughout the Far East.

During the Second World War the Bank was forced to close many branches and its head office was temporarily moved to London. However, after the war the Bank played a key role in the reconstruction of the Hong Kong economy and began to further diversify the geographical spread of the Bank.

The post-war political and economic changes in the world forced the Bank to analyse its strategy for continued growth in the 1950s. The Bank diversified both its business and its geographical spread through acquisitions and alliances. However, it remained committed to its historical markets and played an important part in the reconstruction of Hong Kong where its branch network continued to expand.

In 1959 the bank completed two important purchases, those of The British Bank of the Middle East (now HSBC Bank Middle East) and the Mercantile Bank. The British Bank of the Middle East had begun life as the Imperial Bank of Persia in 1889 but throughout the 1940s and 1950s had extended its sphere of operations and pioneered banking in the Gulf states. The history of Mercantile Bank stretched back to 1853 - the year it was founded in Bombay (now Mumbai) - and by the 1950s it had a strong identity within Indian and other Asian markets.

In 1965 the Bank purchased a controlling interest in Hang Seng Bank, which had been established in Hong Kong in 1933. By the 1970s the policy of expansion by acquisition of subsidiaries with their own identities and specialisations was firmly in place.

During the 1980s the Bank concentrated on moving into those markets where it was not yet fully represented. Hongkong Bank of Canada (now HSBC Bank Canada) was established in 1981 and HongkongBank of Australia (now HSBC Bank Australia Limited) in 1986. In 1987 Marine Midland Bank (now HSBC Bank USA), based in New York State, became a wholly owned member of the Group and its principal subsidiary in the United States.

HSBC Holdings plc, the parent company of the HSBC Group, was established in 1991 with its shares quoted on both the London and Hong Kong stock exchanges.

The acquisition in July 1992 of Midland Bank in the United Kingdom created one of the largest banking and financial services organisations in the world. Midland was founded in 1836 in Birmingham and had grown in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through a series of mergers and amalgamations. In 1974 Midland acquired the London merchant bank of Samuel Montagu, whose own distinguished history stretches back to 1853. Samuel Montagu has been integrated into HSBC Investment Bank, as has James Capel, a leading London-based international securities company, which was acquired by the Group in 1986.

The 1990s have seen further expansion and consolidation of the various businesses of the HSBC Group. In the United States, a joint venture, the Wells Fargo HSBC Trade Bank was formed in 1995. Elsewhere in the Americas in 1997, a new subsidiary Banco HSBC Bamerindus was established in Brazil; the acquisition of the Roberts Group (now called HSBC Bank Argentina SA) in Argentina was completed, and a 19.9 per cent interest in Mexico's Grupo Financiero Serfin was purchased. In 1999, HSBC Holdings plc signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Korea for the acquisition of a controlling interest in Seoul Bank, one of the largest commercial banks in South Korea.

The HSBC Group now comprises a unique range of banks and financial service providers around the globe.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Bandar Seri Begawan's New Icon

I took the above photo last year during His Majesty's birthday celebrations in Bandar Seri Begawan. This was part of the exhibition of the new Bandar Seri Begawan.

This particular icon was part of the presentation. It is designed by a very good architect friend of mine who worked for the JKR. It is supposedly designed for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the formation of Bandar Seri Begawan on dry land. Remember, it was McArthur, the first British Resident who suggested that the capital moved to dry land in 1906.

It is an interesting design and would certainly lead to a lot of discussions as to the suitability of the design or where its location will be. At the moment, it will be placed at the wharf in between the two Yayasan buildings. So technically if you are in the middle of the yayasan (at the water fountain), one view will be the SOAS Mosque and the other will be this interesting icon. I am not going into the pros and cons of this thing but if you have any strong views about it, I guess you can comment on it. One thing I will say though, the views of Kampong Ayer from the water fountain will no longer be there.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Clifford Bridge, Brunei

One faithful reader of this blog is one who used to be my Chairman and is indeeed a respected member of the Cabinet, told me the other day is that my entry on a Brunei road scene is not one of Brunei roads. Honestly speaking I have no idea either except that the photo does come from a book about Brunei's postal history. He promised to ask someone to confim it.

For today, another old photograph. This one should be recognisable. No?

This is what was then known as Jambatan Rangas. Ring a bell? This photograph is taken around 1920/30s and this bridge crossed the river joining the town newly built along the banks of Brunei river to the Mile One area. In the 1950s, the Edinburgh Bridge was built next to it. And sometime in the 1980s a second Edinburgh bridge was built. It was over time this older Clifford bridge became known as Jembatan Rangas. If you drive into town and on the Edinburgh bridge, you can still see the remnants of this old bridge to your left. The bridge is still usable, I would have thought someone would have repaired or restored it and turned it into a historical attraction or something.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Awal Muharram 1429

Today is the 1st of Muharram 1429 Hijriah. And yet most of us may know the month, eat our bubur and not really know much about it. On CNN, in the next 10 days, they most definitely will show the clash between the Shias and the Sunnis as they celebrated the asshura. What's all this? I have taken this article written by Mufti Tafi Usmani. Perhaps we all can learn from it:

By Mufti Tari Usmai

Muharram is the month with which the Muslims begin their lunar Hijrah Calendar. It is one of the four sanctified months about which the Holy Quran says, "The number of the months according to Allah is twelve (mentioned) in the Book of Allah on the day He created heavens and the earth. Among these (twelve months) there are four sanctified."

These four months, according to the authentic traditions, are Dhul-Qa'dah, Dhul-Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab. All the commentators of the Holy Quran are unanimous on this point, because the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, in his sermon on the occasion of his last Hajj, declared: "One year consists of twelve months, of which four are sanctified months, three of them are in sequence; Dhul-Qa'dah, Dhul-Hijjah, Muharram, and the fourth is Rajab."

The specific mention of these four months does not mean that any other month has no sanctity, because the month of Ramadan is admittedly the most sanctified month in the year. But these four months were specifically termed as sanctified months for the simple reason that their sanctity was accepted even by the pagans of Makkah.

In fact, every month, out of the twelve, is originally equal to the other, and there is no inherent sanctity that may be attributed to one of them in comparison to the other months. When Allah Almighty chooses a particular time for His special blessings, the same acquires sanctity out of His grace.

Thus, the sanctity of these four months was recognized right from the days of Sayyidina Ibrahim, alayhi salam. Since the Pagans of Makkah attributed themselves to Sayyidina Ibrahim, alayhi salam, they observed the sanctity of these four months and despite their frequent tribal battles, they held it unlawful to fight in these months.

In the Shariah of our Noble Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, the sanctity of these months was upheld and the Holy Quran referred to them as the "sanctified months".

Muharram has certain other characteristics special to it, which are specified below.

Fasting During the Month

The Noble Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, has said: 'The best fasts after the fasts of Ramadan are those of the month of Muharram."

Although the fasts of the month of Muharram are not obligatory, yet one who fasts in these days out of his own will is entitled to a great reward by Allah Almighty. The Hadith cited above signifies that the fasts of the month of Muharram are most rewardable ones among the Nafl or voluntary fasts.

The Hadith does not mean that the award promised for fasts of Muharram can be achieved only by fasting for the whole month. On the contrary, each fast during this month has merit. Therefore, one should avail of this opportunity as much as he can.

The Day of 'Ashurah'

Although Muharram is a sanctified month as a whole, yet, the 10th day of Muharram is the most sacred among all its days. The day is named 'Ashurah'. According to the Holy Companion Ibn 'Abbas, Radi-Allahu anhu. The Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, when migrated to Madinah, found that the Jews of Madinah used to fast on the 10th day of Muharram. They said that it was the day on which the Holy Prophet Musa (Moses), alayhis salam, and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and the Pharaoh was drowned in its waters. On hearing this from the Jews, the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said, "We are more closely rotated to Musa, alayhi salam, than you," and directed the Muslims to fast on the day of 'Ashura'. (Abu Dawood)

It is also reported in a number of authentic traditions that in the beginning, fasting on the day of 'Ashura' was obligatory for the Muslims. It was later that the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory and the fast on the day of 'Ashura' was made optional. Sayyidina 'Aisha, Radi-Allahu anha, has said:

"When the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, came to Madinah, he fasted on the day of 'Ashura' and directed the people to fast. But when the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory, the obligation of fasting was confined to Ramadan and the obligatory nature of the fast of 'Ashura' was abandoned. Whoever so desires should fast on it and any other who so likes can avoid fasting on it." (Sunan Abu Dawud)

However, the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, used to fast on the day of 'Ashura' even after the fasting in Ramadan was made obligatory. Abdullah ibn Musa, Radi-Allahu anhu, reports that the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, preferred the fast of 'Ashura' on the fasts of other days and preferred the fasts of Ramadhaan on the fast of 'Ashura'. (Bukhari and Muslim)

In short, it is established through a number of authentic ahadith that fasting on the day of 'Ashura' is Sunnah of the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and makes one entitled to a great reward.

According to another Hadith, it is more advisable that the fast of 'Ashura' should either be preceded or followed by another fast. It means that one should fast two days: the 9th and 10th of Muharram or the 10th and 11th. The reason of this additional fast as mentioned by the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, is that the Jews used to fast on the day of'Ashura alone, and the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, wanted to distinguish the Muslim way of fasting from that of Jews. Therefore, he advised the Muslims to add another fast to that of 'Ashura'.

Some traditions signify another feature of the day of 'Ashura. According to these traditions, one should be more generous to his family by providing more food to them on this day as compared to other days. These traditions are not very authentic according to the science of Hadith. Yet, some Scholars like Baihaqi and Ibn Hibban have accepted them as reliable.

What is mentioned above is all that is supported through authentic sources about Ashura.

Misconceptions and Baseless Traditions

However, there are some legends and misconceptions with regard to 'Ashura' that have managed to find their way into the minds of the ignorant, but have no support of authentic Islamic sources, some very common of them are these: This is the day on which Adam, alayhi salam, was created. This is the day when Ibrahim, alayhi salam, was born. This is the day when Allah accepted the repentance of Sayyidina Adam, alayhi salam. This is the day when Qiyaamah (doomsday) will take place. Whoever takes bath on the day of 'Ashura' will never get ill.

All these and other similar whims and fancies are totally baseless and the traditions referred to in this respect are not worthy of any credit.

Some people take it as Sunnah to prepare a particular type of meal on the day of 'Ashura'. This practice, too, has no basis in the authentic Islamic sources.

Some other people attribute the sanctity of 'Ashura' to the martyrdom of Sayyidna Husain, Radi-Allahu anhu, during his battle with the Syrian army. No doubt, the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain, Radi-Allahu anhu, is one of the most tragic episodes of our history. Yet, the sanctity of 'Ashura' cannot be ascribed to this event for the simple reason that the sanctity of 'Ashura' was established during the days of the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, much earlier than the birth of Sayyidna Husain, Radi-Allahu anhu.

On the contrary, it is one of the merits of Sayyidna Husain, Radi-Allahu anhu, that his martyrdom took place on the day of 'Ashura'.

Another misconception about the month of Muharram is that it is an evil or unlucky month, for Sayyidna Husain, Radi-Allahu anhu, was killed in it. It is for this misconception that people avoid holding marriage ceremonies in the month of Muharram. This is again a baseless concept, which is contrary to the express teachings of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah. If the death of an eminent person on a particular day renders that day unlucky for all times to come, one can hardly find a day of the year free from this bad luck because every day is associated with the demise of some eminent person. The Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, have liberated us from such superstitious beliefs.

Lamentations and Mourning

Another wrong practice related to this month is to hold the lamentation and mouming ceremonies in the memory of martyrdom of Sayyidna Husain, Radi-Allahu anhu. As mentioned earlier, the event of Karbala is one of the most tragic events of our history, but the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, has forbidden us from holding the mourning ceremonies on the death of any person. The people of jahiliyyah (ignorance) used to mourn over their deceased through loud lamentations, by tearing their clothes and by beating their cheeks and chests. The Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, stopped the Muslims from doing all this and directed them to observe patience by saying "Innaa lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji'oon". A number of authentic Ahaadith are available on the subject. To quote only one of them:

"He is not from our group who slaps his checks, tears his clothes and cries in the manner of the people of jahiliyyah." (Sahih Bukhari)

All the authentic jurists are unanimous on the point that the mourning of this type is impermissible. Even Sayyidna Husain, Radi-Allahu anhu, shortly before his demise, had advised his beloved sister Sayyidah Zainab, Radi-Allahu anha, at not to mourn over his death in this manner. He said, "My dear sister! I swear upon you that in case I die you shall not tear your clothes, nor scratch your face, nor curse anyone for me or pray for your death." (Al-Kamil, ibn Kathir vol. 4 pg. 24)

It is evident from this advice of Sayyidna Husain, Radi-Allahu anhu, that this type of mourning is condemned even by the blessed person for the memory of whom these mourning ceremonies are held. Every Muslim should avoid this practice and abide by the teachings of the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and his beloved grand child Sayyidna Husain, Radi-Allahu anhu.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Origin of Kampung Bukit Udal

Most regular readers of this blogsite in April know that I stopped my daily blogs last April because of the difficulty of juggling my official work and then I just started my weekly column on The Brunei Times called The Golden Legacy. It's only now that I have been able to handle the time more efficiently - I don't know how long this equilibrium stage will last though.

Anyway, for this Sunday's Golden Legacy, I will be continuing my series on the origins of Brunei place names. You can read about them in my previous entries. What I have done was to compile the short entries and given that I have more space in my printed article, I can use more words. I have also added a couple of new place names in my articles. For this week, I am adding Kampung Bukit Udal and Kampung Bukit. Where do you think they come from?

I asked a junior colleague as she came from there about the place names. She didn't know but she asked a friend who in turn asked her dad and a week later I got an email which says the following (I thought I will retain the actual email, otherwise the essence of the story telling will be lost):-

Masa suatu zaman, berlakunya natural disaster hujan turun tanpa hentinya yang mengakibatkan air naik. Oleh demikian habis kawasan di kampungg ani yang tanah rendah dipenuhi dengan air. Melihat keadaan tersebut semua benda bernyawa (manusia, binatang & serangga) lari menyelamatkan diri ke kawasan tanah tinggi (Bukit Kukub - kekal lagi kawasan tersebut walaupun telah beberapa kali tanahnya diambil (jadi ketinggian asal yang asli sudah nada) yang mana jua terdapat sebuah rumah banglo didirikan di kawasan tersebut). Memandangkan semua yang benda bernyawa berlindung di kawasan tersebut, masing-masing mencari makan sehinggakan rumput pun tiada tinggal lagi (jangan tah kan bermimpi ada pokok) hanya tanah saja. Jadilah kawasan tersebut bagi lapang yang tak berumput sebaik saja keadaan pulih seperti biasa. Pada awalnya orang tua-tua menamakan kampung ani Bukit Dudal (bukit berdasarkan tanah tinggi bukannya gunung - haha..) walaupun pada asalnya Bukit Badal (Badal nya orang kitani orang berkepala botak, nada rambut). Oleh kerana tak sedap disebut orang tua-tua dulu cara sebutannya diubah menjadi Dudal. Namun pada sekitar tahun 1940, Dato Paduka Bidin (Nazir Kerajaan Brunei) telah memperbaiki nama yang sedia disebut kepada Bukit Udal (D nya dihilangkan).

Mengenai Kampung Bukit, kalau orang Dusun dahulu menyebut Kampung Bukid (orang Dusun kaya dengan huruf D). Oleh kerana terpengaruh dengan sebutan Melayu Standard pihak tertentu mencatat nama Kampung Bukid kepada Kampung Bukit ketika mencatat rasmi nama-nama kampung.

So thank you to Cikgu Benson for sharing this with your daughter and for your daughter to share this info with us.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Workbooks and Stationery

Even in our land of plenty, there are still groups of people who needed assistance. The other day, our head honcho of the Investment agency mentioned that his agency's staff provides a collection to needy students. This year he already had a phone call from a Principal if they could help pay for 15 students' books and stationery requirements. Kudos to the agency's staff for making such generous contributions.

Last Sunday, I was at one of the bookstore buying my usual few copies of Brunei Times for me to distribute to my parents and relatives - this one had my article on 'Berjanawari'. Anyway, while there, I realised that there are assistance to needy students. The shop accepted the Crown Prince's Fund vouchers for books. Aha! the Crown Prince's Fund (Dana Pengiran Muda untuk Anak-Anak Yatim) has provided the assistance for orphans. I met a former staff and she was also buying books for her nephews and nieces (their father, her brother had passed away) using vouchers from Tabung Anak-Anak Yatim. Wow! I did not realise that there are already two huge donors in action for orphans. If you have not been contributing to the funds, I would urge you to do so. They do such fine work.

So there are assistance for orphans. But, there is a missing group here - the needy - those who are not orphans but whose parents find making ends difficult. According to my staff, even by going to free government school, there are still things that need to be bought such as exercise and workbooks, stationery and school uniforms - children grow up quickly. It still cost more than $50 per child, and if you have lots of children, that sum will add up quickly. Starting this year, civil servants get paid their bonuses early, so that helped. But not everyone worked for the government. Anyway, my point is - if there are any teachers out there reading this post, and you think there are needy ones among your students for books and stationery and who are not getting help, email me admin(at)bruneiresources(dot)com and I will see what I can do.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Information Department Calendar 2008

I never thought I will be talking about a calendar. But the new wall calendar issued by the Information Department caught my eye when it landed in my in-tray last Saturday afternoon. So okay it's 5 days after the New Year but I forgive this one.

The Information Department used 'imbasan' - looking into the past - as their theme for this calendar. Every month, there are 2 or 3 old photographs of Brunei asserting a certain theme, for instanace, transportation, and then a small modern photograph to show how far we have moved since then. Old photographs - my speciality.

I must admit the photographs are in good condition as Information Department must have got them closer to their origin but I do have most of them, apart from one or two which I have not seen before. But most people would not have seen these photographs. So the photographs themselves are worth a lot and this is one calendar which one should keep even after the end of 2008.

Anyway, you get my drift. It is a GOOD calendar. I am not sure how to get one, but it's worthwhile asking the Information Department for one. To Cikgu Murni (head honcho for Information) - well done!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Wanderer in Malaysian Borneo

It's Sunday. So, what do we do on Sundays other than attend weddings? Right! Off to Miri. Most people go to Miri because it is so near what with the bridge in Rasau and the bridge bypassing Baram. Most have forgotten the time when going to Miri was as bad as going to KK. There used to be a ferry at Kuala Belait and I remembered when I stayed at my grandfather's house along Jalan Singa Menteri, the queue for the ferry can stretch for a few kilometers.

I have forgotten about that time until I read the opening chapter of this book entitled "Wanderer in Malaysian Borneo" written by Pengembara (real name Gallop). A couple of years back he wrote about wandering in Brunei. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email a few weeks ago when he wrote to me asking for my address as he wanted to post me his latest book. I devoured the book as soon as it arrived.

The book contained Pengembara's Borneo Bulletin articles about his visit to Sarawak and Sabah while he was still based in Brunei (he taught in Tutong). The articles had aged slightly being mostly written in the early 1990s. But they do give wonderful insights about the places that he had gone - from the depths of Mulu Caves to the heights of Kinabalu. It's a wonderful read. The book is a wonderful read. I have no idea how much it cost - probably in the region of $10 but it is $10 well worth spending. If you don't want to buy this book, get the other one - Wanderer in Brunei Darussalam.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Looking at Brunei's Past

At my age, I realised that many young bloggers or blog readers do not appreciate a number of Brunei books which are sold on the market. When I was much younger too, I did not appreciate these books that much. It was much later when I discovered the hidden treasures that are in them that I realised just how much I have missed all this while.

This book by Haji Ahmad Arshad is one of them. Haji Ahmad belongs to my father's generation so that would make him much much older than today's younger readers. He was a journalist, he was also a reporter and I remembered in the 1970s when he used to do the reports for the Legislative Council meetings. About a few years ago he had a weekly column in the Pelita Brunei. What he wrote about are fascinating. If he had a blog and written in English, I am sure many would have flocked to it. But he wrote in the Pelita and many Pelita readers are more interested in the job vacancies advertisements rather than read articles in there.

His articles are short but very illuminating about our past. He talked about the time when Kampong Ayer water was still pristine that you can even see the coin that you threw in the water. He talked about his life on Kampong Ayer, about Brunei which we no longer see. He talked about a time which is not too long ago and yet is gone by today. His articles about the past is what I had been emulating in my weekly article for The Brunei Times. I hoped to continue where he had left off.

This book is a collection of those articles that he wrote from November 2001 to August 2003. It's published by Dewan Bahasa and cost a mere $6.40. That, my dear readers, is one hell of a bargain. Buy it. You will not regret it.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Brunei Road Scene 1930s

I was doing a bit of research on Brunei stamps and Brunei postal services by reading a book entitled 'The Postal History of British Borneo'. It's quite a useful book if you are interested in the history of the postal services.

There were a number of photographs in that book. However one intrigued me. It is a scene of Brunei in 1930s but I cannot quite place this particular scene. My best guess would be Jalan Sultan but it does not seemed so right. Any thoughts out there?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Brunei's Most Expensive Stamps

Sometime last week, someone bought an American 24 cent stamp which had an inverted plane for around US$825,000.00! Imagine that. But surprisingly that is still not the most expensive stamps ever. The most expensive is a Swedish 3 skilling stamp which was the wrong colour. That sold for around $2.5 million about 10 years ago. A number of other stamps could beat that if only they come onto the market.

How about Brunei stamps? How much are they worth? I have never seen one come up in auctions. But the catalog values of a few of them, believe it or not, do reach a 5 figure sum. One of the most expensive is Brunei's 1906 stamp which is a Labuan overprint. In 1906 when Brunei wanted to set up its own postal service, its stamps did not arrived in time and the government chose to use the Labuan stamps and overprint on top of it the word Brunei and the value of the stamp. In a couple of cases, the word disappeared and the values got printed twice. This stamp would easily fetch $20,000.00. Another one is the Japanese overprints. When the Japanese invaded Brunei, they overprinted the Brunei stamps. However one particular overprints (see photo) is on the 1 cent stamp. This one is currently on offer at ebay for an opening price of US$8,850! This particular one has a catalog price of aound $17,500 because it has two Japanese overprints.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Customs Import Duties & Excise Duties

The authorities announced a good news and a bad news (see article from Brunei Times below). The good news was that import duties are being abolished for cars. The bad news was that this will be replaced by an excise duty with exactly the same rate. Impact - none to you and me. Slight administration adjustment to importers but otherwise absolutely no impact.

Why do this? It's the government's committments to WTO and to other international and regional agreements to bring import duties to zero or at least very low. Import duties discriminate against imports as home grown products are not dutiable. But if import duties are abolished and replaced by excise duties, then there will no longer be any discrimination between imports and home grown products. The theory is that imports can compete in any market and this will be better for everyone's development (except those industries which used to be protected which luckily enough for us, we do not have.)

Don't we gain anything? Well, there is the Brunei Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. Technically speaking with or without the Agreement, now that the authorities have reduced the import duties rate to zero, Japanese car exports will still be dutiable - excise duties. But, due to some technical quirks, car spare parts are still dutiable the same 20% under the import duties. But, with the agreement, car spare parts which are imported directly from Japan will be much cheaper because of the agreement between the two countries. So, buy Lexus. In the longer run, this is the only car which will have cheaper imports.

THE BRUNEI TIMES 1st January 2008

New tax plan for sin products, cars

THE government won't collect import duty on cigarettes, alcohol and motor vehicles starting today, but instead levy excise taxes on their sale in a bid to reconcile the sultanate's tax system under the trade deals it is pursuing with other countries.

The government assured since the excise taxes to be levied will be equivalent to the import duty collected previously, the public is not expected to feel any impact financially in their purchase of the said items.

Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Hj Md Rozan bin Dato Paduka Hj Md Yunos, yesterday made the announcement before the directors and senior officials of the government sector and representatives from the Brunei Automobile Transport Association and the Brunei Freight Forwarders Association.

To this end, the ministry issued Customs Import Duties Order 2007 and the Excise Duties Order 2007, which contain the changes. Under the rules, imports of motor vehicles and so-called sin product likes cigarettes, tobacco and alcoholic beverages will no longer be levied import tax. Instead, they will be slapped excise duty equivalent to the rates levied previously.

Both duties will be collected by the Royal Customs and Excise Department.

Assistant Controller of Customs, Ali Rahman Hj Tasim, said Brunei made the change "to fulfil the commitment of the country in reducing import customs taxes in the country, regionally and internationally in order to encourage trade among one another".

However, he added, the lowering of the rates should be made up for so that the government is not affected while providing services to the public.

Free trade deals usually require participating countries to gradually phase out import duties in a bid to spur trade. Once import duties or tariffs have been phased out, government loses out some revenues.

Both orders were made under the authority of the Customs Order 2006 and Excise Order 2006, which were released in 2006.

The orders also contain schedules stating the rates for import and excise duty to be imposed.

Under the orders, alcoholic beverages under Chapter 22 and involving 47 tariff lines, cigarettes and tobacco under Chapter 24 involving 29 tariff lines, and motor vehicles under Chapter 87 involving 640 tariff lines, will be imposed excise duties.

Under the Customs Import Duties Order 2007, the three schedules include Rate of Import Duty, Exemption From Import Duty, and Scheduled Persons.

Meanwhile, for the Excise Duties Order, the three schedules are Rate of Excise Duty, Exemption From Import Duty, and Scheduled Persons.

According to the Customs Import Duties Order 2007, duty must be paid for importing products into the country. While, Excise Duties Order 2007 requires the payment of excise duties which applies to products manufactured locally.

Those involved in the administrative changes such as motor vehicle importers will be given another briefing on January 2.

The Royal Customs and Excise department will also be holding a series of briefings on the issue.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

What New Year?

[Note: I wrote this for 1st January 2007 blog. I updated it and submit it to Brunei Times and it was published on 1st January 2008 under the title of 'Which New Year Did You Mean?']

By Rozan Yunos

Today is the first day of 2008 AD or to be nonreligious - 2007 CE (Common Era) as AD stands for the Latin word ‘Anno Domini’ - the year of our lord or as the Oxford Dictionary pointed out AD refers to 'of the Christian Era'.

So if you were not a Christian, why were you singing the old Scottish song Auld Lang Syne (written by poet Robert Burns and published in 1796) to celebrate the 'new year' last night?

In the middle ages, even the church was against celebrating new years calling it paganism. It was not until only about 400 years ago that the beginning of the AD new years were celebrated. Even then and now, not everyone celebrated the same New Year. Celebrating the New Year depended on which religion or culture one belongs to.

The Muslims will not be celebrating the New Year until the 8th January to mark the 1st day of the Muharram and the new year of 1429. The Jews will celebrate their Rosh Hashanah to mark the new year of 5769 in September. The Chinese for the Chinese New Year 4706, the Korean for their Seollal and the Vietnamese for the Tet will not be celebrating until the 4th February.

The Sri Lankans will celebrate their Aluth Avurudhu and Puththandu in April and a host of other cultures will celebrate their new years at different times of the year - Iran, 20th March for Norouz; Tamil, 13th April for Vishu; Telugu, March for Ugadi; Thai (for Songkaran) and Cambodia (for Songkan) on 13th April; Bengali, 14th April for Pohela Baisakh; and Gujarats in October a day after the Diwali festival unlike all other Hindus who will celebrate the New Year on the Diwali itself.

If you study the history of the calendar, even celebrating the New Year on the 1st of January is a bit off. The Gregorian calendar we are using today was based on the old Roman calendar and originally it only had 10 months - December stands for the decimal 10 and the original months derived from Latin, hence September the 7th month; October the 8th month and November the 9th month. So New Year was on 1st March!

However as the years went out of sync with the season, the months of January and February were added. Even this did not keep up and additional leap months were added from time to time to keep the calendar in sync with the four seasons.

In the older days, celebrating the New Year was not always done on 1st January. Some do it on 25th December (Christmas); some 25th March (Feast of Annunciation); some on the first Friday of April (Easter); some maintained it on 1st March as well as a number of other dates. Similar to today's multicultural and multi religion, the first of January does not always mark the beginning of the New Year.

The 'New Year' brings out the animal called 'New Year Resolutions'. I will be off to the gym sometime later today or maybe tomorrow where I will see one of the manifestations of these 'resolutions'.

I have been going for the last 3 years - not that it has done much to reduce my waistline but at least it kept my blood circulation running - where as usual this January, I will be seeing many new members - all with new year determination of keeping fit - and with the crowd, I will for sure definitely lose my favourite parking spot.

By February, some will continue to come but by March, I will get my parking spot back. The thrill of making New Year’s resolutions of keeping fit will be gone for most of the new gym members.

New Year’s resolutions sound so good when you make them. But keeping them is the hardest. Why? It's always the reality of reaching those goals. It's harder than you imagine. One reason is that we make them when we are down at the end of the year that we needed something to look forward to, to make up for what we thought was an abysmal year. But why is it so hard to maintain the resolutions?

A lot of the failures are because of the target settings that we chose. We give up because some of the New Year’s resolution did not produce an overnight change - lack of results. This is because there was a lack of planning. Making permanent changes in life requires planning.

We set unrealistic goals when they should be specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable and trackable. Reality sucks, big time. It is fun to imagine but so much harder to do. We do things in a big way - biting off more than you can chew.

That's the New Year. I will not say Happy New Year just yet. Maybe I will say it on 8th January or 4th February or any other days - depending on very much on who you are.

Inspirational Quotes