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Showing posts from July, 2008

What happened to Bruneians? (Again)

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I read the many comments on my previous posting of what happened to Bruneians. Interestingly enough, yesterday noon when I was at Athirah, someone approached me and said 'minta duit pengiran'. He was a young man, looks fit and somehow does not strike me as someone who is unemployed. But looks can be deceiving and he asked me for money because he thought I was someone. I was with my son today and I saw him again but this time he did not ask for money. Yesterday I had a tie and today I only had a tee shirt. Anyway, what bothered me was this 'begging' is not the first time.

In the 1990s, I remembered when I used to park at the Customs wharf when I used to work at MOF which was at IBB building. I used to walk from there to IBB which is about a 10 minute walk and I used to be accosted by a man, a nicely dressed elderly one (guessing around 50+), who always called out 'Pengiran, minta duit'. He usually gets a couple of dollars from me and the few other people he stopp…

The Sultan's 40th Coronation Anniversary

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I am writing a special article on the Coronation of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah. Most Bruneians know the Coronation as the Perpuspaan. This article will be part of Brunei Times special feature on the Coronation this upcoming 1st August 2008. On that day will be the 40th Anniversary of the Coronation.

One of the interesting things I have discovered was that even though the Sultan ascended the throne on 4th October 1967, his title was the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam. Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah became the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam only after the Coronation. Similarly for Raja Isteri, the Raja Isteri's title can only be used after she undergoes a separate Coronation rites at the Palace (the Sultan's traditional Coronation rites was at the Lapau).

There are more interesting things but I will leave that for you to discover in my written article.

Tanaman Hiasan in Brunei

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The other day I got this book from Dewan Bahasa. It's a really thick book about 440 pages thick. But it certainly is a goldmine or treasure trove of all the decorative trees that you ever want to know that exist in Brunei Darussalam.

A few years ago, I wouldn't need such a book and I guess most of you out there don't need one. But once you have your own house, there is always this instinct that you need to start decorating it especially the lawns around your houses. You start noticing what your neighbours planted and you start to frequent the Horticulture Centre at Rimba. Pretty soon, you started asking for people's plants whenever you drop in during Hari Raya. One thing about plants is that once you are really interested, you don't feel shy about minta the benih or even for the plant itself.

But surprisingly most times, you wouldn't know the name of the plants. Some plants have local names which makes it easy. Most times you go to the Horticulture Centre with a …

The Origin of the Keris

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For my Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times tomorrow (Sunday), I will be publishing about the kris, the Malay dagger. The accompanying photograph is that of Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien with a kris tucked into his sinjang. This photograph was taken during His Majesty's Coronation in 1951. Please go and buy tomorrow's Brunei Times if you want to read more. In the meantime, a couple of paragraphs from tomorrow's column:-

What is the origin of the kris? No one is sure how the first kris came into being. There have been a number of tales, most of them supernatural. One story widely told in Brunei is of two brothers who went on a journey. One had a bamboo staff and the other a crude blade. Both weapons were given to them by their father. Both are said to possess supernatural powers and could turn into anything the brothers wished for.

One day, they came across a palace. They saw a beautiful princess weaving a piece of cloth on a loom. The first brother commanded his staff to t…

What happened to Bruneians?

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I was really outraged when I heard from my colleague at Health. We were in Bangar, Temburong yesterday for His Majesty's Birthday Celebrations there. While waiting for lunch, we had a chat.

It seemed that someone tried to steal the copper cables at RIPAS Hospital. When he tried to do something to there power, the whole thing tripped up and caused a massive blackout at RIPAS. One of the patients affected was a baby who was in the incubator. Yesterday, the innocent baby was still fighting for his life. He was fighting for his life because of the high price of copper (around US$3.50 nowadays). This is not the first time that life may be lost because of the irresponsible act of the thieves.

Last month, I was visiting the housing estate in Katok (near Mata-Mata) where there was already built about 7 substations. The houses are to be built soon but the engineers were telling me that the substations were useless. They have all been stripped of any valuable metals. It takes about a quarter …

Photographs Request

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There was a request in the box for a signing of the Brunei Constitutiton photo. As far as I can tell the Constitution was not signed in public. The constitution was and is part of Brunei Laws. However what was signed at the same time of the launch of the constitution was the 1959 Brunei-UK Agreement which replaced the 1906 Agreement. This replaced the British Resident with the new British High Commissioner. This Agreement mirrors the changes in the Constitution and allows for internal self rule with the exception of defence and foreign affairs.

The second request was a photograph of Japanese soldiers. I am not sure what was requested but I do have this photograph of Sultan Ahmad Tajuddin together with the Japanese Army High Command that was here. Though this photogprah was more for public relations by the Japanesea occupying force. The Sultan and his family was forced to run for their life to Tantuya as the Japanese became over bearing in their occupation of Brunei.

Brunei Stamps during Japanese Occupation

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When the Japanese invaded Brunei in 1942, they occupied the entire country. They still need a postal service. Being practical, they went to the Post Office and discovered that the British conveniently a large number of unused stamps. All the Japanese had to do was to overprint the stamps with the words Japanese Imperial Government.

I thought I had the entire set, and it was only lately that I discovered I had a missing 1 cent stamp which I had since tracked down and obtained. The above is the entire set that was used by the Japanese. There is another 3 cents stamp (which I would love to get my hands on) which was later overprinted and that for the time being became the most expensive Brunei stamp valuing at about $20,000.

The 8 cents and 15 cents stamps were not used during the British rule. They were procured early but unused until the Japanese came. So these two stamps were only used between 1942 to 1945.

Majlis Ilmu 2008

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Last night was the final rehearsal for the opening of the Majlis Ilmu. The Majlis Ilmu which is an annual gathering now since about 2001 has showcased many knowledge products. It will be officially opened by His Majesty this coming Saturday at the International Convention Centere in Berakas.

The main programme will be the 'Negara Zikir' seminar. Several prominent speakers will deliver the lecture including State Mufti Pehin Dato Seri Maharaja Dato Paduka Seri Setia (Dr) Ustaz Hj Awg Abdul Aziz bin Juned. And I was told that one of the speakers for the Majlis Ilmu will be the Malaysian Astronaut Datuk Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor. That would be interesting to hear him talk.

Memories of Iran

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After the morning event yesterday, I spent sometime going through and rearranging my digital photographs collection and I came across my photographs while I was in Iran last April or May. I was attending the Asia Pacific Housing Ministers Meeting. I thought I will show a few interesting photographs during my trip.

Together with my officers, we dropped in at the makam of Ayatollah Khomeini who was Iran's spiritual leader. The makam was still under construction, the main dome has not been completed despite the 20 year period since he passed away. The makam is huge and the actual grave of Ayatollah Khomeini is in another smaller enclosure. He was buried there together with his son.




Many visitors donated money. In the second photograph we can see lots of paper money lying around the walls. There is a small opening in the glass walls you can put through. Every day the money is collected and given away to charity.

Around that makams, there are a number of other makams for other imams who w…

Sabah and Sarawak

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I am recycling some of my older blogs - I figure there are enough new readers who could not be bothered to go read some of my older entries and the old readers whould have forgotten about the old blog entries.

So I thought I will turn my attention towards our neighbouring states, Sabah and Sarawak, favourite holiday destinations for Bruneians especially in this month of December. I have written once about Sabah in passing when I was talking about how the name Istana Manggalela in Kuala Belait came about. I was going through my collection of books in the hope of finding something to write about today. In some days, writing comes easy but in other days, it takes a little bit of effort. I came across a book I bought many years ago entitled 'Asal Usul Negeri-Negeri di Malaysia' (the Origins of the States of Malaysia) written by Zakiah Hanum and published in 1989. I bought the book from the Times Bookstore - remember? We used to have a Times Bookstore in Brunei.

I will concentrate o…

Kain Tenunan Brunei

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For my article on Brunei Times tomorrow I will be writing about Kain Tenunan and Jong Sarat of Brunei. When I did my research, kain tenunan Brunei has been in existence for at least 600 years or more. Two paragraphs from the article:

According to the Information Department’s handbook entitled ‘The Traditional Handicrafts of Brunei Darussalam’ published in 1994 argued that the earliest recorded mention of cloth-weaving in Brunei Darussalam can be traced to Sultan Bolkiah's reign from 1485 to 1524. Magellan visited Brunei sometime during this period and his official chronicler, Antonia Pigafetta, reported seeing beautiful examples of Brunei handicrafts in particular the woven cloth.

But according to Hajah Kadariah in her book ‘Collection of Brunei Traditional Woven Cloth’ published in 2003 argued that according to the history of China, during the Sung Dynasty (969 - 1279 AD), it was reported that the King of Puni (Brunei) wore a certain cloth around his waist (sinjang), known as Kain …

Katam-Katam again...

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It is still His Majesty's birthday celebrations and I was wondering whether to write about something serious or anything. I wanted to write about Harun Majid's book entitled 'Rebellion in Brunei: The 1962 Revolt, Imperialism, Confrontation and Oil' which is an interesting read. But I will do that review in the future.

I was searching for a topic to write for my Golden Legacy column and found something else which I should have put up for my 'gambling in Brunei' article two weeks ago.

In Peter Blundell's City of Many Waters, which I often quoted from I found a description about Chinese gamblers. One thing about Peter Blundell is that even though he wrote endearingly but his writings are sharp and hurts but I guess that's where the good writing lie. He calls a spade a spade and every races and every single strata of society gets written about in his book and most of them not exactly writing about our best sides.

He described a game called 'put and take…

The Brunei-Singapore CIA

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Last year, Brunei and Singapore marked its 40th Anniversary of Currency Interchangeability Agreement between Brunei and Singapore. When I was at MOF, we used to call the agreement the CIA. If you remember your history of currency notes, up to 1967, the three countries of Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore used the same currency notes issued by the Malaya and British Borneo Currency Board. Come 1967, all three countries decided to issue their own notes but kept the exchange at par with one another until 1971 when Malaysia decided not to keep it at par. Their economy was going strong at that time with the primary commodity market shooting high. Only Brunei and Singapore kept their CIA going until now.

Last year, to mark the 40th anniversary, the two countries issued a set of currency notes with similar serial numbers. The special issue notes sets went like goreng pisang and by the end of the day, none was left. This time round the two countries issued a set of currency notes with silver ingo…

Happy Birthday Your Majesty!

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His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah in a group photograph at the Royal Sandhurst Military Academy, United Kingdom as a Cadet Officer. His Majesty was later commissioned with the rank of Captain in the Coldstream Guards in 1966. Happy 62nd Birthday Your Majesty!

Brunei Honours System

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[note: Brunei Times published my article yesterday. This is based on an earlier blog entry in 2006]

On the occasion of His Majesty’s Birthday which is the fifteenth of every July for our current Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzadin Waddaullah, there will be a few very deserving people who will be getting their honours. For some of them, they will also automatically get a title that goes by receiving that honours.

The Brunei Birthday Honours is similar to the British Birthday Honours given by the Queen. The honours system is a means of rewarding the citizens and other individuals for their personal bravery, achievement, or service to the country. The system consists of three types of award: honours, decorations and medals:

• Honours are used to recognise merit in terms of achievement and service.
• Decorations tend to be used to recognise specific deeds;
• Medals are used to recognise bravery, long and/or valuable service and/or good conduct.

Historically, it is not known when the first…

Life without Oil

Someone asked on the comment box as to whether I can write about life without oil. I supposed I could given the amount of information that I have acquired through my working career. Though I have to say that I am still bound by the OSA and have to word my words carefully.

I won't answer that question directly but probably point to some figures and pointers that probably can be used to start the ball rolling. And I would be relying on information available on open source such as the figures that I gave sometime last week about how much the government's income-expenses. From the income of roughly $8.7 billion in 2007 you can see the following:-

Tax Income from oil and gas is around $5.1 billion
Non-Tax Income from oil and gas is around $0.9 billion

in which case makes the figure around $6 billion. Income from the other non oil and gas is around $2.7 billion. Our expenses is around $5.8 billion. That means that take out the income from oil and gas, our other income barely covers half…

The Padang Besar Again

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When I wrote the article on the Padang Besar, there was one photograph that I wanted to be published in Brunei Times. I remembered having a photograph of His Majesty, our Sultan playing football on that field. However I could not find it despite searching high and low for it.

Today when I was searching for something else in my library, I found that book which had that particular photograph. So I thought I will reproduce that photograph for you all out there. His Majesty was involved in many sports. But this particular one is interesting as we don't often see him as a soccer or fooball player.

Mile 0, Jalan Tutong

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Most people would know Kuala Belait is 67 miles from Bandar Seri Begawan. Where do they measure it from?

I had a light argument with my editor - I am helping write some television scripts for a historical documentary series - and this topic came up. I said I clearly remembered when I was a little boy there was a mile 0 stone sign outside the Post Office where everything was measured from. Mile 0 supposedly the centre of town is not in Jalan Sultan. It is in between the General Post Office building and the State Secretariat Building. I could not prove it.

Yesterday, I found in my collection of postcards the following postcard. And yes, mile 0 is there!

Hua Hui and Gambling Games in Brunei

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[Note: Brunei Times published my article on gambling in Brunei last Sunday.]


In the 1950s, Bruneians woke up to a new game of chance. This new game was different. It required a certain amount of skill and knowledge. It also appealed to the Malay sense of puzzle solving – solving a ‘teka-teki’ or word puzzle. But it was still a gambling game and it went by the name of ‘Hua Hui’.

Not many young Bruneians remember the name but those who grew up around the capital city of then Brunei Town would remember it very well. ‘Hua Hui’ was an easy game. For each draw which lasted around a week or more, a short word puzzle (known as the Ar-Chai) would be announced. The puzzle would read something like ‘… this (animal) goes out at night, and can be seen in the morning…’ A punter would have to place a bet in one of the 36 animals given and if he chose correctly he could win as much as thirty times what he had put up.

People were attracted to Hua Hui. Somehow the thinking was, this was not pure gambling.…

Brunei National Accounts 2007

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I received this from my colleague at PMO yesterday. This is the latest publication from the Economic Planning and Development Department (EPDD as my minister likes to call them) or Jabatan Perancangan dan Perkembangan Ekonomi (JPKE which shortform is usually used).

What's important about the national accounts? The national accounts give a variety of indicators about the health of our economy. The most important indicator is that it gives the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of Brunei. So for 2007, the GDP for Brunei is $18,512.3 million or $18.5 billion. Last year it was $18.2 billion and in 2005 it was $15.9 billion. In terms of GDP per capita, it was $47,467 but because the economy grew much less than population growth, that was lower compared to $47,587 for 2006.

For the last five years though, Brunei has had inconsistent growth rates. For 2003 it was 2.9%, 2004: 0.5%, 2005: 0.4%, 2006: 4.4% and 2007: 0.6%.

Despite the oil prices, the growth for the oil and gas sector has been more ne…

The 'spare' seat

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I was visiting one of the government's housing projects at Meragang. Meragang is a new resettlement housing for those who do not know what it is at Meragang. But more importantly it is also one which is located in Muara and along the highway.

When I was being briefed by the consultants, I saw this toilet seat. Well, it was in the room and I guess one can always used it as a spare seat! Not on that day though. There were enough seats to go round and nobody needed that 'spare seat'.

Not in my backyard

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I thought I will spend a bit of time on the rubbish dump problem that everyone is talking about nowadays. Sungai Akar Dump is interesting - not rubbish dump interesting but it makes a classic administrative failure case study.

The history of rubbish dumps in Brunei has always been where the municipal waste goes to. Once Brunei starts urbanising, that is when rubbish starts being created. Most of us who lived in the non city centre in the earlier days learnt how to deal with our rubbish earlier on which is mostly burning them. But in the municipal area, there are trucks and rubbish collectors who do the rubbish throwing for the residents. In the very early days, rubbish was dumped at Pusar Ulak being the first rubbish dump in Brunei. As Bandar grows bigger and encroached to Pusar Ulak, it was Batu 2 at Jalan Tutong where the second rubbish dump was created.

But even Batu 2 gets encroached by the enlarging Brunei Town, the third dump site was near where the City Hall is at the moment at K…

The Japanese Occupation of Brunei

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[Note: I wrote the following article for my Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times, 25th June 2008 edition.]

Details of the Japanese occupation of Brunei in the 1940s are neither easily available nor easy to find. This article tries to sketch that short history.

During the Second World War, 10,000 Japanese troops arrived at Kuala Belait. It was on 16th December 1941. Within six days, they managed to occupy the entire country. Despite the Agreement between the British and Brunei, the British did not defend Brunei at all. All they left was a tiny detachment of a Punjab Regiment in Kuching, Sarawak to protect the three territories of British Borneo.

Ironically even though there was no plan to defend the country, there was a contingency plan to deny the Seria oilfields to the Japanese. For that the British did use that tiny detachment of the Punjab Regiment in order to supervise the so called oil denial measures.

These measures included the filling in of all the oil wells with concrete and thes…

Brunei Public Finance 2007

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The Economic Planning and Development Department or better known as JPKE (Jabatan Perancangan dan Kemajuan Ekonomi) published the latest Brunei Economic Bulletin. For those who don't know this, this is THE government publication if you want to know about our country's economic review, outlook and recent economic developments. This issue covers all of 2007. You can go to JPKE website and download it or you can go to my main website to download the full pdf version of the bulletin.

In the report it is highlighted that our economic growth rate for 2007 is 0.6% which has slowed down significantly compared to 2006 when it was 4.4%. Our GDP was $18.5 billion last year. We have a trade surplus of $8.4 billion with oil and gas making up 96.2% of our total exports and 60% of these going to Japan and Indonesia. Last year the inflation rate was a very low 0.3%. Economic outlook for 2008 looks to be good given the progress of RKN projects and SPARK (Sungai Liang Industiral Park) and the ec…

Reminiscing TAP

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TAP recently celebrated its 15th Anniversary. I attended it as a former Managing Director but I was also one of its founders more than 15 years ago. I guess not many remember that now. In April 1992, Dato Metassan from the Prime Minister's Office, then plain Haji Metassan and I (I was then working in Telecoms as the Corporate Planning Manager - planning the corporatisation of Telecoms) were pulled out of our comfortable offices and placed in a tiny office at the Secretariat Building, given files from a working committee that had been in place for the previous two years and was instructed to set up TAP's operation. I think at that time both of us were a little 'bengang' if one may use the word and really had no idea what it is that we need to do.

Anyway, we set out doing what needs to be done which included spending sometime observing the CPF in Singapore and EPF in Malaysia. By November, we were already briefing changes to payroll systems and by January 1993, it was lau…

Awang Semaun

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[Note: I wrote the following article for Brunei Times edition 25th May 2008. The accompanying photograph is definitely not that of Awang Semaun. This is an illustration of what Brunei warriors look like in the 18th century.]

If one was to mention the name Awang Semaun to any Bruneian, he or she would conjure up a description of a strong brave warrior who has contributed to the existence of Brunei.

According to legends, Awang Semaun is said to be the younger brother of Awang Alak Betatar (who eventually became the first Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Muhammad Shah). Awang Semaun was made a Damong by his brother and he also later became the Pengiran Temenggong (one of the 4 wazir or viziers) who assisted the Sultan in governing the country.

Who was Awang Semaun? According to Brunei legends and one of the most famous epic poems which bore his name, Syair Awang Semaun, he was one of 14 brothers which included Awang Alak Betatar, Pateh Berbai, Pateh Mambang, Pateh Tuba, Pateh Sangkuna, Pateh Mangg…