Sunday, October 31, 2010

BEDB Houses at Pandan, Kuala Belait

Yesterday was our second MOD visit to Kampong Pandan to visit the 2,000 houses that BEDB is currently building for us. Sometime last year, we visited them with the former Minister and at that time, other than a few sample houses, most of the houses were in various stages of completion. Unlike yesterday, it is the other way around, most of the houses are nearly completed.

We even visited the inside of the houses where two of the houses were actually fully furnished.

Complete with proper interior decoration and nice furniture, I thought the houses looked very nice. Altogether there are 2,000 houses being built. Currently around 1,700+ houses have been completed and there should be another 200+ houses left to be completed. There will be 800 semi detached houses of around 1,300 square feet area and 1,200 terrace houses of around 1,200 square feet area. The colour schemes for the interior of the house is very nice. Our own officers even want to take photographs inside the house.

How about the outside?

I have to admit it does look plain and simple despite the grand colours. First timers might find themselves lost as the houses are not differentiated. The houses are divided into 6 precincts with each precinct having aound 200 to 400 houses. The semi-detached houses are grouped together with the entrance from the highway whereas the terrace houses can easily be found by using the entrance from Jalan Singa Menteri.

Any other caveats? None as far as I can see, except that people living in the houses have to realise that their sidewalls are solid cement and not bricks. The brick walls areas at the front and the back of the house are where you can put the aircond.

Additional Information:

ALLOCATION - BEDB will surrender the houses to Housing Development Department once they are completed around April 2011 and HDD will allocate the houses to the applicants in the Belait District similar to other houses which HDD build themselves. Currently, all the Belait applicants are required to update their personal details with HDD.

HOUSE PRICES - HDD has not decided on the prices yet. I looked at the the size and based on the current house sizes, my best guess is the houses should be around $70,000+ for the semi-detached and around $50,000+ for the terrace houses.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brunei's Undistributed Stamps

I was really surprised to see this set of stamps. This set of stamps was supposed to be released in 1970 but it was never released. The stamps were supposed to have been destroyed but I guess with these sets in the market, someone somewhere decided not to destroy every single one.

I came across this set sometime early this year when my dealer in Singapore showed the whole set and I paid around S$800 for the entire four stamps. When I told one of my friends in Brunei who specialised in antiques, he said I overpaid for it. It's difficult to estimate what the value is as these stamps do not come up for auctions that often.

When I saw it on ebay, I was surprised and put up a bid for it. I was the highest at one stage but towards the end, there were just too many bidders, serious ones too. When the dust cleared, the stamps were sold for US$935 which is even way way what I paid for. Whoever bought it, congratulations, I do hope no more of these stamps will appear suddenly any more.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

View from Bukit Salilah

I acquired this photograph off the internet the other day. When I first saw it, I immediately thought to myself, this must be the view from Bukit Salilah. That hill is about the most accessible from town and if I am not mistaken even before the second world war, there used to be built up there a telegraph tower.

Though with all the old houses and buildings at the bottom of the hill, I am not really sure whether this is taken from there. Why don't you study the photo and let me know.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Borneo as the Homeland of the Malays

This book is a recent addition to my library. I bought it at Select Bookshop in Singapore for me to read on my trip to Melbourne and Brisbane recently. I have been reading up on the various papers on the origins of the Malays. It was not until recently that the experts have more or less agreed that the origin of the Malays were from South China in Formosa Island (Taiwan).

The Proto-Malays as they were known migrated to the Philippines about 3,000 years ago. They moved slowly downwards towards Sulu and Borneo. This is where the Malay language departed. One group went eastwards towards Sulawesi and the Oceanic Pacific islands. The other group went to Borneo and settled there as well as go down the Borneo Island and ending up at Sumatera and the Peninsula Malaysia. Remember this process took years. By the 7th century, Sumatera had risen up and slowly too were the states of Malaysia. Influenced by the Indians and the Chamic empires, the Malay states rose too. By the 7th century, the first Malay empire stated to rival those of the Indian and Chamic empires.

These proto-Malays are known now as Deutro-Malays started to repopulate the coastal areas driving the original Proto-Malays deeper into the jungles and deeper parts of the Borneo island.

Nobody really knows this is what happened. There were no records. The only records were our language. The shifts and the changes to the words we used in the various Malay languages and the languages related to us. The hyphothesis both lingusitic and archaeological were discussed in a colloquium in KL in 2000. This book recorded the major 4 papers. If you are interested in the past of where you came from, get the book.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Ariani's Shawls - Malaysia's Hidden Treasure

My auntie introduced me to this shop yesterday somewhere near Masjid India in KL. I guess if you know KL, you know where this is, it's the place where most Brunei ladies go to if you go to KL. I told my auntie, I wanted to get some tudung and she said the best place to get it is from this place. The place otherwise known as Ariani apparently is the in-thing to get today's tudung.

I remembered my better half mentioning about it but it didn't really click until I saw the shop which has apparently expanded from one pintu to about three pintu now. According to my Malaysian auntie, she has seen Bruneians buying tudung here by the bag loads. So I went in. I was a bit speechless as those Bruneians who have been buying them by the bag loads are clearly earning several salary scales higher than mine. The prices I saw ranged from about the affordable RM60 to the sky high RM2,500.

Ekin, Mawi's wife is their ambassador. Though when I was there, the shop ladies were talking about Datuk Siti buying their products as well. I guess with endorsements like that, what else can you say.

I went into their exclusive room and bought my wife something like this, one with swarovski crystal beads. I won't mention what the price is but I was immediately entitled to get a platinum benefits card. I told my uncle that I am still shell shocked by the price and he said that he felt the same way but he got over it already by now.

I have to admit the range of colours that Ariani has is really amazing. It's no wonder that they are the market leaders and that ladies, Bruneian or otherwise will continue to flock to the shop.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Briyani Gam

Day 4 in Kuala Lumpur. We completed our meeting yesterday which ended around seven in the evening with the closing ceremony. Today we had the field trip. There were three choices, one was to sanitary landfill in Bukit Tagar, the second to a Community Service Recycling Centre at Shah Alam with a visit to Jaring Metal Industries, and a third to the Integrated Centre for Scheduled Waste Management, Negri Sembilan. We split ourselves visiting the various sites. The landfill at Bukit Tagar is said to be the most premium of all landfills in the region and it showed. The second was interesting and I firmly believed copyable - the community has to be involved. The third is interesting too.

In the evening, my Malaysian Uncle and Aunty took us out. This time we had another local favourite at a restaurant called Annur Briyani at Kampung Baru. Kampung Baru is interesting. It is a local kampung in the middle of KL and there are lots of food stalls here. Very interesting place.

What I wanted was as a half Johor person is Johor's favourite briyani called Briyani Gam. Apparently when they cooked the briyani with the chicken or lamb, they literally glued (or gam as they called it in Malay) the cover so that all the flavour stayed inside the pot.

Personally I still think the Nasi Briyani Bukhara was the nicer of the two.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Greetings from KL

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur!

I took a two weeks leave after Hari Raya so that my better half and I have time to visit our elderly relatives. We managed to visit quite a few of our elderly uncles, aunties and siblings. Some of them which we had missed over the last few years. I was glad I took that leave. Unfortunately I had to cut my leave short last week. I had to fly to Australia and Singapore with my other hat on as a member of the CSPS Board.

The CSPS have two major projects this year, one was the Alternative Energy Study and the other is the Optimisation of Land Use Study. It was the latter project which I am involved in. That's why if you had been trying to visit updates for the last few weeks, I have not been able to update the blog as often as I would have. I was away on leave and then flying off to Singapore, Melbourne and Brisbane.

I came back for just one day work and I had to fly to KL to attend the second meeting of the Regional 3R Forum in Asia organised by the Malaysian Housing and Local Government Ministry and co-organized by the Environment Ministry of Japan and United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD) with support from the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ). We are here to discuss ways to promote the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) towards achieving what the organisers said "resource efficiency and a sound material recycling society."

It had been ages since I came to KL for any meeting. About three years ago, my better half and my then 7 year old boy came to KL and stayed at the Sunway Resort. Today I am here all alone with three days of meeting and discussions. But KL is a place I always look forward to. Compared to most places, food is the easiest of all places that I have to go to around the world.

So, these are the two food I had to go have in KL which many Bruneians I know go for. The first is the famous Nasi Briyani Bukhara at Syed Restaurant Bistro at Petaling Jaya. The second is the Satay Kajang at Haji Samuri's Restaurant in Kajang. I leave the photos for me rather than for you to enjoy as I don't think I will be coming to these two places again for a long long time. Sigh....

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Brunei's Connections

The Oxford Business Group reported on 30th September 2010 the following news:


Brunei's Connections

[photo is from]

The arrival of a flotilla of traditional Filipino balangay sailboats in Brunei’s Muara harbour last month was not only a colourful display of seamanship – the boats are on a 14,000km journey around South-east Asia – it was also a reminder of the Sultanate’s plan to deepen trade and transport links with neighbouring nations.

A significant contributor to the enhanced cooperation is the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) initiative. Launched in 1994, it seeks to boost economic activity between Brunei and peripheral states of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, since the states are economically distant from their countries’ main growth centres.

The multilateral grouping includes the states of Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan in Malaysia, the provinces of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, West Papua and Papua in Indonesia, and Mindanao and Palawan in the Philippines. Around 1.6m sq km is covered by the BIMP-EAGA, with a combined population of some 57.5m people.

Brunei, which currently possesses the only international air gateway in the sub-region, Bandar Seri Begawan Airport, has long been a firm backer of the plan.

Thomas Koh, secretary general of the Federation of Transport and Stevedoring Brunei Darussalam, told reporters and sector insiders at a presentation in August that improving trade and transportation, particularly logistics, was key to the BIMP-EAGA vision.

Air links were strengthened in August with the Filipino low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific launching its first direct flight from Manila to Bandar Seri Begawan. The Brunei Tourism Board hopes that this will see a jump in the number of Filipino tourists and foreign visitors.

Cebu Pacific’s Vice President-Marketing and Distribution Candice A Iyog told Bruneian reporters soon after flights began that they enjoyed a 98% passenger load factor in its early days. Part of the route’s popularity is that it connects well with domestic Filipino destinations that the airline flies to.

An early morning flight from Bandar Seri Begawan to Manila allows for an onward journey the same day, connecting the Sultanate via the Filipino capital to airports such as Davao, the capital of Mindanao, and Puerto Princesa on Palawan.

Cebu’s arrival brings the number of international airlines using Brunei’s international airport to four – the other three being Royal Brunei, Air Asia, and Singapore Airlines. Media reports suggest Air Asia’s Indonesian operation is also eyeing a link between the airport and Jakarta. The budget airline doubled its daily number of Bandar Seri Begawan-Kuala Lumpur flights from August 25 to two.

The Malaysian low-cost carrier is also talking of opening a budget hotel as part of its Tune Hotel chain in Bandar Seri Begawan, to go along with the flight expansion. Tiger Airways, the Singaporean budget airline, still has no plans to add Brunei to its schedules, though it was given permission to do so back in 2006.

Overall, the number of international connections into Brunei is now increasing. There is also hope that sea connections will improve too, with the addition of a Muara-Labuan route to the itinerary of the roll on-roll off car and passenger ferry Shuttle Hope, which currently plies the Muara-Kota Kinabalu route.

However, the BIMP-EAGA initiative still suffers from the lack of direct flights within the sub-region, while the ferry project has met challenges in obtaining the necessary permissions from different national authorities. Unless addressed, this could limit the sub-region’s potential.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Brunei Darussalam 50 Years Ago

[This article was published in Brunei Times on 20th September 2010. I ran out of material to write and then I saw the 1960 Brunei Annual Report and had a lightbulb moment.]

The Brunei Annual Report of 1960, exactly 50 years ago had a very short general review. Not only is it short, it was also toned-down despite the fact that the new Constitution was promulgated the year before. It stated:

“The year showed a steady decline in the revenue of the State, due no doubt to the fall off in the production of oil and partly to the trade recession as a result of there being no new development plan being introduced by the Government. Retrenchment of staff in the Public Works Department has caused concern and until a new development plan is introduced this situation will not improve. The Public Works Department has virtually ceased all large-scale activities, and the two new hospitals which it was hoped to build have not eventuated. Brunei, under the new Constitution promulgated in September, 1959 acquired internal self-Government, and is administered by the Executive and Legislative Councils. Meetings of the Executive Council are held fortnightly.”

How much was the shortfall in oil in 1960? According to the exports data, in 1958, the value of export was $326,877,860 of which crude oil formed around $300,429,129. By 1960, crude oil only contributed $240,065,782, a drop of more than $60 million in just two years. The total exports in 1960 were $255,388,011, a drop of around $74 million. Surprisingly there was a rally of rubber exports, increasing from about $1,717,960 in 1958 to about $5,067,140 in 1960 but even then that was not enough to overcome the lower oil exports.

What was not mentioned in the report was that throughout 1914 to 1960, Brunei’s only producing field was onshore in Seria. Between those years, 48 exploration wells were drilled. Prior to the Second World War, production had risen to 17,000 barrels per day in 1940. Despite the extensive damage to the field caused by both the British and Japanese Forces, post war production had peaked to about 15,000 barrels per day. 1960 was a worrying year in terms of oil production. It was not until 1963 that the South West Ampa field was discovered, thirteen kilometers off Kuala Belait’s shoreline.

Despite that, there were still surpluses and the savings were kept aside in the investments fund. In 1960, the government’s revenue was more than $127 million while expenditure was around $31 million giving a surplus of around $96 million. This was about $3 million lower compared to the previous year. By 1960, the government’s accumulated assets had exceeded $700 million.

The total population in 1960 had not even reached the 100,000 mark yet. There were 31,708 people in Belait District, 27,809 in Rural Brunei District, 10,710 in Tutong District, 9,702 in Brunei Municipal Area and 3,948 in Temburong District giving a total population of Brunei Darussalam of only 83,877. About 39,109 or around 46% of the population were below the age of 15.

In terms of racial division, the Malays make up 45,153 people, the Chinese 21,795 with the rest of 16,047 made up of the various indigenous groups. More than 4,105 births were recorded in 1960; however 284 of these babies died before reaching the age of 1. Of these 284 deaths, 56 were from Tutong. There were still a number of deliveries which were not delivered by the government midwives. The annual report noted that there is still ‘a hard core of refusals, with the result that there is a high maternal mortality rate.’

At the same time there were only 27 doctors throughout Brunei. In 1960, there were no private medical practitioners; all the doctors were either employed by the government or by Brunei Shell. As for the number of hospital beds, there were 160 beds in Brunei Town, 75 beds in Kuala Belait and another 120 beds in BSP Hospital. Despite the growing interest in nursing, the number of Bruneians willing to become nurses was not up to expectation.

Tuberculosis (TB) was still a worrying problem in 1960. There were 3,722 cases in 1960 alone. In the meantime, Malaria has almost been eradicated with the number of cases dropping from 3,062 in 1953 to only 16 in 1960. Typhoid fever was still endemic with most cases coming from Kampong Ayer. While in Tutong, there is an appreciable incidence of measles and gastroenteritis and filariasis. Whilst today we worry about the Bird Flu and the Swine H1N1 flu, in 1960 it was the Asian flu which was a concern with more than 3,665 cases.

In terms of education, the government invested a huge amount of money. By 1960, there were 16,679 students registered. There were almost 70 Malay Primary schools open throughout the country but only 3 government English schools. Private schools abounded in those days with 8 mission schools and 8 Chinese schools. In April 1960, the first Lower Sixth Form was started in SOAS College. The report noted that this was ‘an event of momentous importance as the hitherto the highest level of instruction of any school in Brunei was Form V.’

Brunei’s Supreme Court in 1960 was still the combined Supreme Courts of Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei consisting of the Court of Appeal and the High Court. There was only one High Court Judge (sitting 5 times in Brunei) and one Stipendiary Magistrate (from Singapore). Unfortunately there was no resident lawyer and anybody who wished to have legal representation was dependent on visiting counsels from outside Brunei.

There was still insufficient police force in Brunei then. They had to be assisted by a Volunteer Police Force (Oilfields Security Force), one platoon from the Sarawak Constabulary Field Force and a detachment from the Royal Federation of Malaya Police. The Police Force then also managed the registration of vehicles and the fire brigade.

Water supplies were still insufficient. In 1960, the water treatment plant at Sungai Basong was commissioned. The plant employing a microstrainer was the first of its kind to be used in South East Asia. Piped water finally reached Serdang, Katimahar, Kulapis, Mulaut and Delima. Many other areas beyond Brunei Town were still without piped water. Kampong Ayer too finally had treated water.

The Brunei Legislative Council formulated under the new 1959 Constitution met three times in 1960 whereas the Executive Council met about 30 times. The new Constitution meant that four important positions had to be filled namely the Chief Minister or Menteri Besar who was Pehin Dato Haji Ibrahim Jaafar, the State Secretary was Wan Ahmad bin Wan Omar, the Attorney General was Inche Ali bin Hassan and the Mr. MDB Graham was the State Financial Officer.

Most importantly, 1960 was the first full year that Brunei had internal self government. The British Resident post had been abolished and Great Britain appointed Mr. DC White as the United Kingdom High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam. Despite the rather somber general review to the 1960 Annual Report, 1960 can be said to mark the beginning of the modern history of Brunei Darussalam.

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