Sunday, March 28, 2010

Another View from Rio

One of the famous views of Rio de Janeiro, rather obvious as you can't miss it is what is called the Sugarloaf Mountain (in Portuguese, Pão de Açúcar). It is a peak situated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. Rising 396 metres (1,299 ft) above the harbor, its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar. I am not sure how but I guess sugar in those days were kept in a mound.

If you are a James Bond fan, you would remember this. Roger Moore fought against a character called Jaws played by Richard Kiel. Roger Moore with Dr Goodhead (can't remember what happened to her) were up the cable car at this Sugar Loaf when Jaws whose strong point was that his jaw and teeth are made out of steel bit the cable that held the cable car. That movie was called Moonraker, if you are interested in searching for it. Can't remember what year, my guess around the late 1970s or early 1980s.

Anyway, that mountain is only one of several monolithic morros of granite and quartz that rise straight from the water's edge around Rio de Janeiro. A glass-paneled cable car (in popular Portuguese, bondinho - more properly called teleférico), currently capable of holding 65 passengers, runs along a 1400-metre route between the peaks of Pão de Açúcar and Cara de Cão every 20 minutes.

At the mountain, there is an exhibition of the cable cars. The original one carried around 15, the second carried around 75 and the present one, a reduced 65. It is quite scary as 65 people in a tiny cable car are quite cramped and from my point of view, a tad too heavy for my liking.

The original cable car line was built in 1912 and rebuilt around 1972/1973 in its current form. The cable car goes from the base, not the peak of the Babilônia mountain, to the Urca mountain and then to the Pão de Açúcar mountain.

To reach the summit, you take two cable cars. The first one ascends to the shorter Morro de Açúcar, 220 meters high. You have to walk out and go out to the other side of the mountain to take a second cable car. This second car takes you to Pão de Açúcar. The second ride is the scarier one. The first one is from down to up. The second goes from the summit of one mountain to the other higher summit. The perambahan we use is you can feel your ***** shrivelling! Each ride is less than 5 minutes, but it is the longest 5 minutes of your life.

The fare for the entire journey is BR44 each about B$35 our money. The views of Rio de Janeiro are worth every single centavos.

[Note: this is an automatic posting of blogs which I wrote a few days earlier.]

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Farewell from Rio de Janeiro

Farewell greetings from Rio de Janeiro!

By the time you read this, I would hopefully be on the Air France flight from Rio to Paris. The flight coming in was not comfortable and I am dreading the flight back. But it was the only flight available to us. The other one I wanted to use was British Airways to London but the strikes forced us to use the alternative Air France flight. It is a 12 hour flight non stop.

After that a three hour layover at Paris CDG Airport before connecting with the Singapore Airlines to Singapore. That's an A380, so not much complain there other than it is also another 12 hours non stop. It will arrive on Monday morning and I will be waiting 3 hours in Singapore before catching the RBA flight back to Brunei. That's about 27 hours total on three different aeroplanes and nine hours waiting time at four different airports. Something not to look forward to!

Yesterday was our last day and it was the closing ceremony. The Fifth Session of the World Urban Forum drew to a close in Rio de Janeiro with all the speakers hailing it as the most successful one. Including the 4 of us from Brunei, more than 13,718 participants from 150 countries around the world attended the Session. The American Secretary of State Mrs. Hilary Clinton (televised) was full of praises for the Forum saying it was a unique venue where people from different backgrounds shared ideas on how to cope with the challenges of urbanization.

In her closing and farewell speech, UN-HABITAT Executive Director Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka also challenged us to think long and hard on the kind of future we wanted to leave behind for the generations to come. Mrs Tibaijuka was appointed by Mr Kofi Annan, the previous UN Sec-Gen and had outlasted him as well.

In his address, Brazil’s Minister for Cities Mr. Marcio Fortes said the success of the meeting could be gauged in the fact that most of the time, the meeting rooms were turning away some participants because of being fully packed. My argument is that the rooms were not big enough and they seriously underestimated the number of people attending!

We learned a lot of things both in terms of policies and implementation issues with regard to housing and planning especially the latest thinking and the best practises highlighted by the speakers and during roundtable discussions during the forum. The challenge would be how to implement the same thing back home in Brunei. On a personal note, I was introduced to the writings of Henry George, the 19th century American economist and would be studying more about him and the Georgism philosophy and economic theory.

Anyway, the Sixth World Urban Forum in 2012 will be in Bahrain. That luckily enough does not require 27 hours flight time and nine hours at four different airports.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Affordable Housing

Greetings from the 5th World Urban Forum here in Rio de Janeiro.

I was attending a talk on Affordable Housing when the Panel invited a representative of an NGO to present the NGO's views. I was quite intrigued as many of the NGO's representatives are all over the conference venues. The members were wearing green tee shirts which say 'Shack/Slum Dwellers International'. This group apparentlty even had a international song or rather international sound or probably better described as their 'war cry'. I can't even described it but it does sound African.

The lady representing the NGO was very vocal, to say the least, and very passionate about her work. I guess she would have to be as SDI probably represented millions of people who lived in slums throughout the world. One of the thing that I pick up from her argument is that the poor can pay their own way - of course not to the level of the non-poor - but they are still able to pay their way. What was more important is that the poor wants to be regularised. In other words, acknowledge them. Give them their rights. Give them an address. If they build a house, provide the house with an area name and a proper address. That alone will allow them to open a bank account etc. That struck me a bit. We try to help everyone but does everyone need our help? I didn't even realise the human rights issue of not having an address. That will have be part of our work then.

In Rio, we see many of these slums. From far, you are actually quite fascinated to see these houses being built right on the hill slopes. Here in Brazil, the hillside are generally granite and thus you can build right at the edge of the mountain. These lots are called 'favela' in Brazil and each favela is home to like thousands of people. They have water from the mountainside but hygiene is a still poor. The garbage are normally dumped by the roadside. I see a lot of ongoing and recent efforts by the government. Many facilities are being built.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The 5th World Urban Forum

Greetings from Brazil especially from the City of Rio de Janeiro, the January River. I guess not many knew that or bothered to know that. Apparently Guanabara Bay where the river flows to was found on 1st January 1502 by the Portuguese and hence the river was named January River and in Portuguese Rio de Janeiro.

One thing I can tell you is that the city is a totally European city in the middle of South America which is not surprising. It even served as the capital of Portugal when Napoleon invaded Portugal and many Portuguese migrated to Rio and reestablished the capital here making it the most unusual of capital of a European country. It was not in Europe.

What am I doing here? If you have been keeping track, I am here to attend this:-

The 5th World Urban Forum organised by United Nations Habitat. The World Urban Forum is the largest gathering of policy makers and practitioners of planning and housing. It's held every two years. I attended the last one in Nanjing in 2008. The amount of knowledge available and the amount of discussion were tremendous.

This is the opening ceremony. The organisers seriously underestimated the number of people turning up. In most of the talks or forums we attended, there were not enough seats. The event is being held at converted old warehouses and the airconditiong is next to attrocious. On the second day, most of us turned up minus coat and tie and everyone blended in with the Cariocas (the Rio people).

Unlike our solemn opening ceremony, here the opening ceremony is loud and very musical. Despite the heat, people can still dance and sing. The maximum temperature yesterday was around 40 Celsius.

I guess recycling at its height.

Finally, President Lula of Brazil going up to the do the opening ceremony.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bruneian Postgraduate Symposium 2010

Greetings from the Copa Cabana Palace Hotel, Rio De Janeiro. But I am not going to write about that. I will write about last Saturday. Remember, last Saturday, I was here at this symposium.

Right here at the Brunei Gallery at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies. This is the view of the main entrance of the building.

The unflattering sideview of the Brunei Gallery which unfortunately is what you see when you drive to the building from Russel Square.

A picture is worth a thousand word. The following are several thousand words courtesy of

Last words. At first I was not sure what to expect. But I thoroughly enjoyed the symposium. After listening to the presentations by the postgraduate students (one or two were way above my intelligence level), listening to the questions that they asked, things certainly augur well for Brunei. These are our young and bright future. I wish there were more of them. I wish there was more time to sit down properly and talked about the future of Brunei together. Perhaps the next time.

Congratulations to Kathrina Haji Mohd Daud and your BPS team for the excellent arrangement of the 2010 Bruneian Postgraduate Symposium. Well Done!

Thanks to Jin Yang for the book 'Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air' written by David MacKay. It certainly opens one's eyes. Professor Mackay is a Cambridge University Physicist and he is the Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change. You can download the book yourself at but the printed copy (GBP 19.99) is always nice.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Day in London

We arrived yesterday at about 8 in the morning. I didn't sleep much on the plane and I know the whole day will just be one groggy day suffering from jet lag. I never liked long distance travel, luckily nowadays I only have to do the occasional odd one per year. But since we were in London, and my next appointment was with a British Library curator and the Organising committee, we decided to fit our schedule around the places we wanted to go.

One of my officers who is undergoing a course at the Royal Institute of Public Administration suggested that we all have lunch here:-

Not bad. Buffet at 9 pounds each.

My first appointment was with Dr Gallop, the Head of Asia Pacific Collection at the British Library. We talked for a while about books and she gave me some very valuable materials. I have never been to the British Library but I was very impressed with what I saw:

My last appointment was luckily at a restaurant for dinner. My body clock was telling me that this was 2 in the morning and not 8 at night. The Organising Committee was there and we talked about the Symposium while they briefed us of what's going on the next day. Enjoyed the dinner eating Malaysian food here:

In between the library and the dinner, our driver took us to this all in one shopping centre in the centre of London. My officer and I went in, took one look at it, note its similarity to most other shopping centres in the world, went to a cafe and sat down. We were too tired. If you are in London and you are interested in shopping, forget Oxford Street. Here is the better shopping all under one roof shopping:

Friday, March 19, 2010

London Greetings

Greetings from London!

What am I doing here? Just arrived this morning and the first thing was to unpack my laptop and check all the emails. Actually first thing was to find the cable which the hotel has cleverly hidden and with the help of the porter we searched the entire room only to find that my little room has another little room with a small study table with the internet connection.

I must admit it's nice to be in London, the place hasn't changed much despite the many years I have not been here. The streets were just getting clogged up as we were coming in and the sirens are still as noisy as ever. The temperature not too bad, up in the teens. The weather knew I was coming. The airport has changed though. Arrived using Terminal 4 instead of 3. Less busy but then I was on the fast track lane with the high commission official helping us.

I just checked into the hotel. The last time I came here was in my PMO days and that was in the height of winter. I was still the PA to the RBA Chairman and were were on our way to Zurich to bring home the last Airbus A320 for RBA. That must have been a good 6 years ago. The hotel looked tired but it looked much better now.

Anyway, what am I doing here? I arrived today to give this talk tomorrow:-

On Sunday, I will be in the air again to Rio de Janeiro for this:-

Monday, March 15, 2010

A New Book?!

Last May when I brought out my book 'The Golden Warisan Volume 1', it was one of the defining achievements of my life. I have often wanted to have a book and to really have one with your name written on it, man.... You can't imagine the satisfaction. Volume 2 came out a couple of months later and I was as proud of it as I was with Volume 1, the satisfaction was not the same.

The reality was whether there is actually a market out there. I printed only 500 books of Volume 1 and when I tried to sell the books through Best Eastern and Bismi bookshops, they only wanted to take 100 books each. I gave away or sold the others at my own special prices. A couple of months later, the two shops came back and asked for more. By then I only had a few copies left and I decided to do a second print of 500 copies. Up to now, I wonder about the sale. However the other day, Best Eastern asked for more copies. I looked through my house and discovered that I only had copies left. I am thinking hard whether to do another reprint. Maybe I will just keep quiet and hope that sooner or later, it will become a classic.

Volume 2 unfortunately did not do as well. Given the experience of Volume 1, I printed 1,000 copies of Volume 2. Even though it was thicker, it was a bit pricier. Most people given the choice between Volume 1 and Volume 2 chose Volume 2 because it was cheaper and because you wanted to read the first volume first. I sure hope you go out and buy Volume 2 now.

Why am I talking about books? I am now on the verge of publishing another book, and no, I am not calling it Volume 3, the book will be a third compilation of all my articles for the year 2009. I won't be calling it anything yet but definitely not The Golden Warisan Volume 3. I do need a bit of help when it comes to designing the book cover and the title. I was hoping that readers of this blog and the book can come out and give me suggestions of what the book cover should looked like and the title. A free copy of the book and the other two books will be on the way to you if your design is chosen.

By the way,, a Singapore internet bookseller will be able to send you both volumes should you need to buy them.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Legislative Council - A Story

[Note: This short piece is extracted from my much longer article to be published in my column, The Golden Legacy in The Brunei Times this coming Monday about the history of the Brunei Legislative Council]

The magnificent blue domed building overlooking down a hill situated at Jalan Kebangsaan in Berakas is certainly a sight to behold in Brunei Darussalam. The huge Legislative Council Building edifice represents the future of Brunei Darussalam. In it, members of the Legislative Council representing both the people and communities of Brunei and the Government of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah debate issues of the utmost national importance.

Many have come to view the building as a symbol of Brunei Darussalam’s progress. Many look forward to the Legislative Council meetings currently being held there where the honourable members representing the people asking questions not just related to their lives, their well being but of national interest. One remembers the announcement made by the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade II last year regarding the Limbang issue. Others remember the promises made by the Ministers to carry out policies and to enact laws. In fact, many policy decisions and concerns of the public are aired for debates at the council meetings.

Despite the modern trappings, the construction of the building has an interesting beginning. A beginning which perhaps is not modern but certainly an old practise, long forgotten, used for the present conditions.

Determining the site of the new Legislative Council building took quite a while. This is to ensure that the building which should be a symbol of the nation is sited at the right location. When the site was finally chosen, the building was going to be located in a thick secondary forest which has remained relatively undisturbed for quite some time. On the site was also a small lake. Taken together, the hill, the forest and the lake could mean that the place was already ‘inhabited’ but not that of the human form.

On Saturday, the 5th of March 2005, began a ceremony called ‘menetaki’ which literally means ‘to chop’ trees etc so that construction work can begin. However before the parang (machete) can be used, an agreement had to be made with the ‘original inhabitants’ so that work can begin in peace and the inhabitants moving to another place.

After negotiating with the ‘original inhabitants’, an agreement was sealed by pasting a $1 stamp onto a tree stump in the area. The tree stump with the $1 stamp was exhibited to the public during the opening ceremony of the building.

Not many remembered that little anecdote but it is clearly told in a book published by the Legislative Council to commemorate the new building. The book entitled “Susur Galur Majlis-Majlis Mesyuarat” contained not just the history but also other information related to the Council.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is everybody really fine?

On the flight to Brisbane, I was sitting with my colleague. RBA was playing a movie starring Robert De Niro but since I didn't put headphone jacks into those little holes in the arm rest, I didn't know what the movice was about. I saw Drew Barrymore as well as Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale. I didn't give it much thought. On the flight back, that same movie was on. I decided with that many well known people it must be a nice movie.

It was a movie which is a bit of a tear jerker. Robert De Niro stars as a father recently widowed and one who asked his two sons and two daughters to come home during the holidays. Not a single one did. He thought he would go out and invite everyone to come home for the upcoming Christmas. His doctor adviced against the trip very strongly.

Robert took buses and trains depending on what's available just to see his children and leave personal invitations to each one of his kids. I personally found this moving and touching. This is what happens to every single one of us. As we grow older, we will find that our children living their own lives. In Robert's case, the children clearly kept in touch with the mother but not with him. Even if he answered the phone, they would say 'Hi Dad. Where's Mum?' Do you do that?

The movie focused on the theme of 'communication lines' even having Robert play a retired communication line worker. His job was to fix the insulation line on telecommunication cables. Anyway since it was not Robert that kept in touch with his children, with her death, he's doubly cut off from family. When his kids all find excuses to skip a planned reunion, he hauled out his suitcase and boards Amtrak with the intention of dropping in on each of them: the tightly wound Chicago ad exec (Kate Beckinsale), the Denver musician (Sam Rockwell) who's supposedly a symphony conductor, the sweet Vegas showgirl (Drew Barrymore), and the Greenwich Village artist son who's nowhere to be found.

We eventually found that everyone of the children was living a lie. His wife has apparently told him that 'everybody's fine' but that was not so. His son was not a conductor but only plays a drum, his daughter having a troubled relationship with her husband and her showgirl daugher was not a showgirl even borrowing an apartment and hiring a stretched limo to impress dad. Robert had always pushed them hard to be the best and when the children did not reach that level, they lied to him.

What was really sad was that he did not know his artist son had died of drug overdose. The other three kept that secret from him.

Anyway, during that christmas, everyone did come (of coure, minus the dead son).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Australia's TRS

For those who had been to Australia - have you heard of the TRS? As for me, I have been to Australia a few times in the past. Let me see, there was the 2007 APEC Finance Miinisters, 2005 Executive Development Program and the 2004 Stopover to Auckland. But not one of these times, have I heard the term TRS.

Yesterday, we managed to stop by a small store specialising in animal skins called the Skin Thing. My colleague bought something and by the time he was done his shopping cost a fair bit. The manager said since you are spending this much, you can try to get the tax back. Similarly at another shop nearby specialising in opals. There we discovered that there is a TRS leaflet and the minimum spending is $300 per receipt.

Back at the hotel, I read the leaflet through. I discovered the part about the bit about the products must be carried on board. But there was nothing in the leaflet about what to do with heavy or big items. In Singapore, there was a little customs post just before you check in and so you can show the purchases to the Custom and claim the refunds. I asked at the ticketing about the carry on rule. They just said go son in and so I did.

Inside the Brisane airport, we had to search for the counter. It was not that difficult. Eventually we found it just before you enter Gates 84 and above. However when we tried to claim, the officers won't let us. She said you must have the goods on you. We said, the sheepskin rugs came in big boxes and we can't carry it with us as hand carry. She said you should have gone down to the ground floor and show it to a custom officer. We said we didn't know. Even the leaflet didn't say. Besides departure was on Level 1 and not on ground floor. Besides even if we showed it to the Customs Officer, how would he know that I would checked it in. We even told them if in Singapore the Customs would be on the same level as the departure, We argued to and fro, ours is more frustration but the Aussie Customs won't give up ground. We clearly thought this is their fault for not being very clear. They clearly thought we were stupid.

So there, lesson for you guys. One, if you buy more than $300 in the same store in Australia, collect all the receipts and ask for a tax invoice. Bring that tax invoice to the airport. If you are going to check what you bought in and not a hand carry, find a customs officer and have the tax invoice chopped and the ggods verified by that officer. After check in, find the counter and have fun with the claims. The Customs apparently do not give out cash like in Singapore. They will return the balance via your credit card or they will give out cheques.

With all these hassles, I am just wondering why the Aussie customs bother with the policy when they are not making it very easy for you to get your tax back.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Cliff Hangers of Brisbane

My last day in Queensland and flying out tomorrow. We spent the whole day checking out the way planning is done for the various cities and towns of Queensland before returning just after 6. Anyway, after dinner, our driver took us to see an interesting sight over on the other side of Brisbane across the river called the Kangaroo Point. From there, one can see all the tall buildings in Brisbane Central Business District Area.

What we did not realise was that while viewing the buildings, we found a group of students very busy untying ropes. We asked one of them, who happened to be a German transfer student about what the whole thing was. He told us it was the Queensland University of Technology students club called The Cliffhangers. I was wondering cliffhanging to what, when I realised that down the wall where I was standing was actually a cliff going down to the bank about several hundred feet high.

I took this photo from the club's website and you can see the tall buildings of Brisbane's CBD on the other side of the river.

Apparently just at the base of the cliff was a narrow strip of parkland and all sorts of activities were down there. I saw a few people practicing flame throwing etc. I just could not believe cliff hanging can actually be done in a city centre. It's just amazing.

I read later tonight that the Kangaroo Point Cliffs are not natural. They were created by a quarrying operation of female prisoners which mined the volcanic rock or rhyolite lava flows which form the cliffs. Mining occurred for 90 years between the 1880s and 1970s. These lavas were deposited in the Tertiary period about 230 million years ago and filled an ancient river valley. They currently form the banks of the Brisbane River.

I asked my colleague to find an equivalent site in Brunei and see whether we can do such a thing. Cliff hanging in the city at night. Adrenalin flowing. Wow!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Have you not been updating bruneiresources blog?

I was asked what have I been doing when I was at Gold Coast City Council yesterday. A strange question that given that it was an Australian asking me. I have to admit that the last three months have been fairly hectic. This month March is the worst. I still have not bought a new PC ever since my motherboard gave up on me. So I am using my tiny Sony VAIO which a few years ago was what I thought a good buy. It would be if your hands are not giant size like me and your eyes are not the close to 50 year old eyes like mine. The other excuse of course is my workload.

Anyway, where am I? I just been up to the City of Rockhampton in Central Queensland. It's a lovely little city (see photograph). What do you mean you don't know where Rockhampton is? It's a nice up and coming city and growing like crazy. Rockhampton is also a place like our Lakiun Camp in Tembuong, where the Singapore Army practices. I like the way they use the river as a water catchment and places a barrage over it. I was impressed when Singapore does it but apparently Rockhampton have been doing this for donkey years (commissioned in 1970). The barrage kept all the fresh water in and the city taps their water from it. The other side of the barrage keeps the salty water out.

When I was first told about Rockhampton, I thought we can just drive up to the city. Haha... Rockhampton is about 800 kilometers away from Brisbane and we had to catch a Qantaslink flight. The flight was about an hour and a half. Nice city.

The former Customs House overlooking the river.

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