Monday, February 28, 2011

Tales of Bananas, Dragons and Tigers

[My article below was published in Brunei Times on 13th December 2010]

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THE GOLDEN LEGACY

The Tales of the Bananas, Dragons and Tigers
by Rozan Yunos

One of the most interesting facts about animals is that the entire Borneo Island of which Brunei currently occupies a small percentage has no tigers. No one knows why. And yet for a country without tigers, it is quite surprising to note that a few caves found in Brunei are said to be Sawang Harimau or Tiger’s Caves.

It is indeed surprising that there are at least two caves in Brunei, one in Muara and one in Kilanas are known as Sawang Harimau. With names like that, one would expect to find that these caves were at least once used by tigers even if they are no longer used by tigers today. But then there were no tigers in Brunei, so why the name Tiger’s Caves?

Bukit Tempayan Pisang in Muara housed one of these tiger’s caves. From the top of the 500 metre high hill, one can have a panoramic view of the beautiful beaches around Muara especially the Meragang Beach. One can also have an aerial view of the Muara Town, the deep water port and ships plying and berthing and its surroundings from the peak. Even the off shore drilling wells can also be seen.

(Photo: Bukit Tempayan Pisang taken by SangAji of Virtual Tourist)

The name Bukit Tempayan Pisang can be loosely translated as Banana Pots Hill or Banana Vases Hill as tempayan can mean vases, pots and urns and pisang are bananas in English. How did the hill get its name?

According to the local oral legends, the hill was once used by fairy princess to play and have fun. Their game consisted of playing with seven dragon stones (kumala) or seven giant jewels balls. Every fifteen days when the moon is full, the top of the hill would be lighted up by these dragon stones which were being tossed into the air by the princesses.

One day, a quarrel broke out between the princesses of the hill and the princesses or inhabitants of the Mount Kinabalu. These two groups apparently had a long distance warfare where each group attacked each other. So, in order to defend themselves, the Mount Kinabalu group fortified themselves with pestle and mortar (alu lasung). The Hill princesses apparently used banana tree trunks which were stored in huge pots and vases.

During the battles, the Mount Kinabalu group managed to grab five of the dragon stones belonging to the princesses. Hence the Bukit Tempayan Pisang princesses only had two of the dragon stones left. According to the village folks up to the 1940s, these two dragon balls were played by the princesses every time there is a full moon. Presumably the hill was less bright compared to when the princesses had seven dragon stones.

To digress slightly, it is interesting to note that one of the legends of Mount Kinabalu was that there was only one dragon stone. This one dragon stone was kept by the one and only dragon which was tricked by Ong Sum Ping. He managed to steal the stone by leaving behind a colourful Chinese lantern lighted up by a candle which the dragon thought was his stone. However when the dragon discovered that it had been tricked, it immediately chased after Ong Sum Ping’s junks. Ong Sum Ping told his men to heat up one of the cannon balls and fired that at the dragon. The dragon thought it was his dragon stone and swallowed it. It sank under the sea waters.

The name Bukit Tempayan Pisang was derived from those banana tree trunks which were preserved or kept in huge vases during the battle between the folks of the hill and their much larger mountain counterpart.

What about the Tiger Cave?

Just under the peak of the Bukit Temapayan Pisang, there is a cave which has its own local legend.

Once upon a time it was said that there was a couple of husband and wife who lived in the area who were known as Awang Mawang and Dayang Mawar. One day, for whatever reason, the couple took shelter in the cave. They did not realise that there was a tiger which lived in the cave who was also the protector of the cave.

The tiger pounced upon the couple who did not know that they were trespassing in the tiger’s domain. The tiger’ sharp claws killed Dayang Mawar. However Awang Mawang managed to escape from the tiger’s attack. He ran back to the village and by the time the villagers formed a rescue team to save Dayang Mawar, she was already dead.

It was said that Awang Mawang was so aggrieved by the death of his wife. He also felt guilty that he was unable to save his wife and rather than faced the humiliation of the villagers, he decided to commit suicide. He threw himself onto a wooden stake and killed himself.

According to the local folks, Awang Mawang’s body was brought down to Kampong Tanjung Kemuning and he was buried in that village. It is said that his grave can be found till today near to Sungai Sengkutai in the village of Kapok.

Interestingly enough, in the Kampong Tasek Meradun, there exist too another of these Tiger Cave or Sawang Harimau.

Somewhere not far from the traffic light junction of the Jalan Tutong and Jalan Bengkurong, on a nearby cliff there is a water source or a Wasai as it is popularly known in Brunei. Kampong Tasek Meradun is said to be named after a lake or series of lakes around the area. According to some folks, the wasai formed several lakes along the cliff.

Similarly to Bukit Tempayan Pisang, a cave can also be found at the cliff of the hills. A number of people had managed to trek up the cliff and discovered that cave. This cave was also known as a tiger cave or Sawang Harimau. According to one of the local residents, the tiger who lived in the cave was not a real life tiger but rather a harimau jadian or in English a were-tiger, a folklore animal not unlike the Western’s werewolf.

Were-tigers similar to the werewolf are humans who transformed themselves into tigers. The transformation can be due to the use of spells and charms. Sometimes the power to transform or shapeshift is inherited. Normally the transformation was undertaken so that the human can avenge something that has happened to him or his family or he became a protector of the people.

It is possible that for a country without tigers, beliefs in the existence of the were-tigers were sufficiently strong that these caves can be associated with these tigers at least for them to hide themselves or for them to use when they shape shifted from their human form to tiger form and vice versa.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

The Value of Brunei Money

Many people asked me what is the best book to get if you collect paper money or coins?

The answer to that depends on which country's money you are collecting. But if you are focused on collecting Brunei's currency, then the best book to buy is this one - the Standard Catalogue of Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Coin and Paper Money.

The catalogue is produced by a Mr Steven Tan and as you can see it is in its 19th edition. Steven is almost 73 years old today and had been in the business for the last 50 years. He is one of the most experienced person in today's numismatic world.

If you happen to have the old Brunei money, the catalogue priced it as follows:

'Begawan Series' (uncirculated)

$1 is now worth RM 160
$5 is RM 360
$10 is RM 450
$50 is RM 1,600
$100 is RM 2,200

'Hassanal Bolkiah 1st series'

$1 is between RM20 to RM42 depending on the year of production
$5 is RM 120
$10 is RM 175
$50 is RM 450
$100 is RM 800 to RM 1,200
$500 is RM 3,000 to RM 3,500
$1000 is RM 5,800 to RM 6,300

'Hassanal Bolkiah 2nd series'

$1 is RM 9 to RM 15
$5 is RM 35 to RM 50
$10 is RM 60 to RM 80
$50 is RM 280 to RM 300
$100 is RM 430 to RM 600
$500 is RM 2,400 to RM 2,600
$1000 is RM 4,200
$10000 is RM 32,000

If you happen to come across any of Brunei's old paper money, you know what to do. Don't spend it! They are worth more than their face value.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What His Majesty said for 27th National Day

Assalamu’alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

Alhamdulillahi Rabbil ‘Aalameen, Wabihee Nasta’eenu ‘Alaa Umuriddunyaa Waddeen, Wassalatu Wassalamu ‘Alaa Asyrafil Mursaleen, Sayyidina Muhammadin Wa’alaa Aalihee Wasahbihee Ajma’een, Waba’du.

Semua perkara adalah berpunca daripada Allah. Nikmat daripada Allah dan musibah juga daripada Allah. Semua ini berlaku dengan hikmah dan sebab-sebab yang tersendiri.

Kerana itu sayugia diingat, dalam apa pun perkara, kita jangan melupakan Allah, termasuk ketika menyambut dan merayakan ulang tahun Hari Kebangsaan.

Tidakkah kita ingin mengimbas kembali detik bersejarah perisytiharan kemerdekaan, di mana kita telah membesarkan Allah di dalamnya? Kita telah pun sama-sama melafazkan ‘Allahu Akbar’, dengan tujuan, untuk mendapatkan restu Allah serta keberkatan dan pemeliharaan-Nya jua.

Alhamdulillah, tujuan ini tercapai, dengan kemerdekaan yang telah berumur 27 tahun itu sedang membuahkan nikmat dalam bentuk pelbagai kemajuan di semua bidang.

Namun, di samping menerima buah kemerdekaan dengan lebatnya, kita juga tidak lupa terhadap tanggungjawab memelihara kemerdekaan itu dengan amalan-amalan berhemah yang berpaksikan syukur.

Di antaranya, kita sekarang dalam langkah membudayakan amalan berjimat cermat dan berbelanja menurut kemampuan, sebagai salah satu usaha ke arah mengatur kewangan kita melalui perancangan kewangan atau financial planning.

Tujuan yang tersirat ialah untuk melakar perubahan sikap dan mentaliti menyeluruh, supaya rakyat terbiasa dengan cara sederhana serta tahu pula menghargai nilai.

Misalnya dalam menghargai subsidi kerajaan, kita perlu bersikap dan berfikiran seimbang, dengan berterima kasih di samping pandai memanfaatkannya melalui amalan mengelak pembaziran dan penyalahgunaan.

Ini, meliputi semua jenis subsidi, terutama keperluan-keperluan utama, seperti perubatan, pendidikan, jalan raya serta juga komoditi asasi, seperti perumahan, air elektrik, minyak, beras dan gula.

Kesemua perkhidmatan dan keperluan ini amatlah penting dalam menyumbang kepada kesejahteraan rakyat. Pada realitinya, semua ini adalah bergantung kepada ekonomi dan kemampuan kewangan negara, yang pada setakat ini banyak bersandar kepada hasil minyak dan gas.

Maka dalam kedudukan ini, kerajaan sangatlah berhajat untuk mempelbagaikan ekonomi negara, agar pada masa hadapan, kita tidak hanya semata-mata bergantung kepada minyak dan gas sahaja.

Dengan negara mempunyai pelbagai ekonomi dan pandapatan yang lebih luas, serta ditambah pula dengan kadar pertumbuhan yang tinggi, maka peluang kita untuk terus makmur dan mewah adalah cerah.

Untuk mencapai matlamat inilah, kerajaan beta sangat menitikberatkan kemajuan pendidikan bagi tenaga-tenaga muda kita. Bagi sebuah negara yang kecil dengan penduduknya yang sedikit, kita sangat memerlukan rakyat yang berpendidikan tinggi dan mempunyai pelbagai kemahiran strategik

Tidak cukup dengan pendidikan tinggi semata-mata, anak-anak muda kita juga perlu memiliki sahsiah daripada calak Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB) dan jiwa murni daripada asuhan sempurna.

Untuk inilah, kita mengadakan sekolah, pusat latihan dan pengajian tinggi, tanpa mengabaikan juga pemberian biasiswa kepada lebih ramai penuntut yang berkelayakan sebagai pelaburan utama dalam memajukan human capital.

Turut menjadi utama ialah Perkhidmatan Awam. Ia adalah jentera dan pemudah cara untuk kerajaan melakar kemajuan. Pada masa ini sahaja, skop dan tahap hajat orang ramai terus meningkat, di mana Perkhidmatan Awam perlu menyediakan ruang yang luas, termasuk penyediaan dasar-dasar dan pelaksanaan yang cepat lagi berkesan.

Perkhidmatan Awam berkewajipan mengenal pasti sebarang kelemahan yang ada, serta menyediakan mekanisme bagi mengatasinya. Kelambatan atau kegagalan melaksanakan program-program kerajaan, sepatutnya tidak boleh berlaku, kerana ia berisiko tinggi boleh menjadikan persaingan kita lemah untuk menarik pelaburan asing.

Dari faktor-faktor semula jadi, kita sudah memiliki kekuatan-kekuatan tersendiri, di antaranya faktor ketenteraman dan kestabilan politik, ditambah lagi dengan asas ekonomi yang kukuh yang telah dikurniakan oleh Allah kepada kita. Ini semua menjadi aset penting untuk lebih menarik lagi pelabur asing ke negara ini. Tinggal sahaja lagi, kita perlu pandai memelihara dan mempertahankannya.

Maka untuk itu, semua pihak, dari sektor awam dan swasta, perlulah meningkatkan lagi kesedaran mereka dalam usaha mengekalkan aset yang berharga ini.

Dengan itu nanti, insya-Allah, ia bukan sahaja akan meningkatkan lagi keyakinan pelabur-pelabur asing, malahan juga mampu untuk mengekalkan kemakmuran negara.

Akhirnya, beta dengan ikhlas merakamkan ucapan penghargaan dan terima kasih kepada segenap lapisan rakyat serta penduduk negara ini termasuk semua peringkat, ahli Perkhidmatan Awam, pasukan-pasukan keselamatan serta mereka yang berkhidmat di sektor swasta di atas segala bentuk pengorbanan dan sumbangan mereka kepada negara.

Beta juga merakamkan ucapan penghargaan dan terima kasih kepada ahli-ahli Jawatankuasa Tertinggi dan lain-lain Jawatankuasa Sambutan Perayaan Ulang Tahun Ke-27 Hari Kebangsaan, dan semua peserta serta petugas yang turut berusaha untuk menjayakan perayaan ini.

Marilah kita sama-sama berdoa, semoga kita dan negara akan sentiasa terpelihara dan mendapat perlindungan daripada Allah Taala jua. Amin.

Sekian, Wabillahit Taufiq Walhidayah, Wassalamu’alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

11th Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution

The 11th Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee Meeting on Transboundary Haze Pollution which took place in Singapore agreed to continue to be vigilant and prepared for any occurrence of transboundary haze from fires during extended periods of dry weather in the coming months. Representing Brunei Darussalam at the meeting was the Minister of Development, Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Indera Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Suyoi.

The Ministers noted the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre's weather outlook of occasional periods of dry weather over the next two months. With the possibility of the prevailing La Nina weakening to neutral conditions in the second half of the year, drier weather may be expected during the coming traditional dry season between June and September 2011.

The Ministers also expressed their appreciation to Indonesia for its enhanced and new efforts in implementing its Plan of Action in Dealing with Transboundary Haze Pollution. Eight action programmes under the Indonesia-Singapore collaboration in Jambi Province have also been successfully completed. Singapore intends to continue with its efforts in Jambi and explore possible collaboration with another fire-prone province to be agreed upon by both parties.

The Ministers also noted the successful implementation of the Indonesia-Malaysia collaboration in the Riau Province. Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to continue the collaboration. The Ministers adopted the Strategic Review of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee Programmes and Activities which contain recommendations on cooperation in enhancing haze control management and ensuring sustainable peatland management.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Greetings from Singapore

Greetings from Singapore. I am attending several meetings, the 11th Meeting of the Sub-Regional Ministerial Steering Committee on Transboundary Haze Pollution, the 5th Brunei-Singapore Joint Committee on the Environment as well as the 5th Brunei-Singapore Annual Exchange of Visits over the last three days. It ended at noon today and we will be flying back later tonight.

We were lucky that on Thursday night, the Singapore organisers invited us to visit the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, you know the famous three tower hotel with a connecting plate on top. That connecting plate on top has an interesting swimming pool (see above) where you can see the entire Singapore. I am not sure whether I would like to swim in that pool. Being up there already gave me the jitters.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Houses and More Houses


I was presiding over the selection of houses last week for both the National Housing Scheme (RPN) and the Landless Scheme (STKRJ) for 160 houses at Rimba and Sungai Buloh. For most recipients this pengundian ceremony is the best as this is the time they actually get the keys to their houses. But of course the most memorable occasion would be when His Majesty hands them the plaque to commemorate the ceremony and for a lucky few, get their houses visited by the monarch himself.

During this ceremony, we hold a drawing session where every applicant gets to draw which his house would be his in that area. Many bring their spouses and children and ask their children or their other half to draw on their behalf. A number would be shaking when they open their draw. Some might be lucky and get corner units or houses at the end of the road etc. There was one time when we all saw that one applicant would be getting a relatively larger area compared to the others because of the shape of the land and because the house was right at the end. The person who got eventually it was a worker who works at the cemetery. So we all thought this is the Al-Mighty's gift to him.

Anyway, here are a couple more scenes from the majlis pengundian:-




Every time we do this exercise, many people would ask us what year is this? Meaning of course what year of RPN or STKRJ applicants are currently being given houses. The next question would be when would be their turn. If you go to Department of Housing Development website, the information is there telling you when the projects are completed and how many houses per area etc.

I have to admit we are still a bit slow in providing the house but we have now speeded up our production that by the end of 2012, there should not be any problem in Belait District as the number of houses available would exceed the demand there. So if you are in Belait, do not worry. For Tutong and Temburong, the year would be 2014 when it faced the similar situation in Belait. Unfortunately for Daerah Burnei, by end of 2014, there should be enough houses for all applicants up to the year 2001. So waiting list would be down to about 10 year. However we would be building very fast in the next RKN so every applicant up to 2010 would have their house before the end of the next RKN of 2017.

For those in the Brunei Muara District curious enough to know where they would be staying here are the facts about house applicants and houses being constructed:-

RPN 1991 (remainder) : 181 applicants
RPN 1992-1993 : 1,168 applicants
RPN 1994 : 1,410 applicants
STKRJ 1992-1994 : 786 applicants
TOTAL : 3,550 applicants

Houses under construction completed between now and 2012:

RPN Meragang Area : 1,583 houses
RPN Tanah Jambu Area : 2,136 houses
STKRJ Tanah Jambu Area : 356 houses
STKRJ Sg Buloh : 181 houses
STKRJ Rimba : 140 houses
TOTAL : 4,396 houses

So applicants up to 1995 in Brunei Muara District can rest easy, their houses would be completed by next year. For those from 1996 onwards, there are several smaller areas in Lugu and other spots as well plus the 4,000 houses built by BEDB at Mengkubau that would be completed by 2014.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Remembering Past Maulidur Rasul in Brunei

Maulidur Rasul celebrations in Brunei's past histories:











Monday, February 14, 2011

Brunei 1950s

I acquired about 10 or rather exactly 10 photographs from ebay recently. These black and white photographs were quite small and equivalent to today's 2R size. I had problems recognising several of them. Here are two I recognised. The first is a photograph of the Brunei Wharf and the second is the obvious Kampong Ayer and note the relatively calm waters of Kampong Ayer compared to the choppy waters of today.



Sunday, February 13, 2011

Maulidur Rasul / Maulud Nabi

If you google on the internet, there are many arguments about the maulidur rasul or maulud nabi celebrations. I am not knowledgeable enough in Islamic theology to argue one way or another.

Last year when I was researching the material on Maulud Nabi in Brunei, I came across another article written by Gabriel Haddad and published in Brunei Times about the history of the Maulud Nabi celebrations in Makkah many many years ago. With the upcoming Maulud Nabi celebrations, I thought I will reproduce what I wrote based on that article.

(Photo: This is a very old photograph supposedly showing where the Prophet (S.A.W.) once lived.)

One account written by Gabriel Haddad and published in the Brunei Times in 2008 was the following description by Ibn Jubayr (540-614) in his Rihla (“Travels”): “This blessed place (the Birthplace Mosque of the Prophet) is opened, and all men enter it to derive blessing from it (mutabarrikin bih) on every Monday of the month of Rabi al-Awwal, for on that day and in that month was born the Prophet.”

Gabriel Haddad narrated several other accounts including consolidating eyewitness accounts by three 10th-century authorities: the historian Ibn Zahira from his Jami “al-Latif fi Fadli Makkata wa-Ahliha”; al-Haytami from his book “al-Mawlid al-Sharif al-Muazzam”; and the historian al-Nahrawali from “al-Ilmam bi-Alam Bayt Allah al-Haram”:

“Each year on the twelfth of Rabi al-Awwal, after salat Maghrib, the four qadis of Mekah (representing the Four Sunni Schools) and large groups of people including the jurists and notables of Mekah, Shaykhs, zawiya teachers and students, magistrates and scholars, leave the Mosque and set out collectively for a visit to the birthplace of the Prophet, shouting out zikir and tahlil (a statement that there is no god but Allah).”

“The houses on the route are illuminated with numerous lanterns and large candles, and a great many people are out and about. They all wear special clothes and they take their children with them.”

“Inside the birthplace, a special sermon for the occasion of the birthday of the Prophet is delivered. Hereafter the doa for the (Ottoman) Sultan, the Emir of Mekah, and the Shafii qadi is performed and all pray humbly. “

“Shortly before the Isyak prayer, the whole party returns to the Great Mosque, which is almost overcrowded, and sit down in rows at the foot of Maqam Ibrahim. In the mosque, a preacher first mentions the tahmid (a statement that all praise only be to Allah) and tahlil. Once again the doa for the Sultan, the Emir, and the Shafii qadi is performed, followed by the Isyak prayer. “

(Photo: I was informed that the house has been torn down and a public library was built on its site)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pai Ti Kong

Last night was the Hokkiens' Pai Ti Kong. What is it?

This is an excerpt from the Chinese New Year article which I wrote for Brunei Times 31st January 2011 edition and the photograph from a blog called leafmonkey.blogspot.com who wrote about the same event in Penang in 2006:-

This is the Pai Ti Kong celebrated by the Hokkien Chinese on the eve of the ninth day of the Chinese New Year. The prayers to the heavenly supreme deity Jade Emperor was said to have occurred because of one legend. Three different versions have been told.

One version said to have occurred during the Song Dynasty, was during a time when the Mongolians attacked Southern China. Hokkien or Fujian Province was especially targeted where the Mongols wanted to kill all the inhabitants in the province during that time. It was a time of great fear. What was left of the tribe hid themselves in a sugarcane plantation in the hopes of being spared from the Mongols.

It was on the ninth day of their hiding that the Mongolians finally gave up searching for them. This is said to coincide with the ninth day of Chinese New Year. The province inhabitants believed that the gods in Heavens were looking out for them. This started the tradition of praying to the King of Heaven on the eve of the ninth day of the New Year.

Another version was to have occurred during the 16th century. It was a time when ships abound and there were pirates operating on the east coast of China. On a Chinese New Year during that era, the pirates were raiding the east coast of Fujian Province. These pirates invaded the east coast from all direction and killed everybody who they came across.

The inhabitants felt so hopeless and were just about to give up, when suddenly, a sugarcane farm suddenly appeared in front of them. They were all saved by keeping themselves hidden in the sugarcane farm. That day was the 9th of the first lunar month. Again, the survivors believed that this was because they had help from the Jade Emperor. In order to present their faithfulness to the Jade Emperor, the Hokkiens started the practice of celebrating on the 9th day of the first lunar month with sugarcane.

The final version involved General Meng. Meng was said to have had a special ability of being able to speak and understand the local dialect simply by drinking the water in that province. During that time, he was assigned to eliminate all non residents in any province. He relied on his special ability to determine if the people were local or outsiders.

During his visit on Fujian Province, his servants mistakenly brought him water from other province. He therefore could not understand the dialect spoken by the Fujian residents. That made him believed that the Fujian residents were outsiders. Based on this he sent an order to kill all the residents. The carnage took place until the ninth day of the first lunar month. He drank the local well water and suddenly mastered the Fujian dialect. It was only then he realized that he had killed the wrong people and stopped the carnage. From then on, Fujian residents rejoiced on that day and believed it was a miracle from the deity Jade Emperor.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lion Dance in Brunei

I wrote the following article for my column, The Golden Legacy which was published on Brunei Times on Monday, 7th February 2011.


The Lion Dance in Brunei

The only known description of how Chinese New Year was celebrated in Brunei Darussalam can be found in the book written by Peter Blundell entitled “City of Many Waters” which was published in 1923 in England. Peter Blundell wrote about Brunei Darussalam at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. He was an engineer with the cutch factory in Brunei. Cutch then was the equivalent of today’s oil exports for Brunei Darussalam.

In his dealings in Brunei, Peter Blundell came across all segments of the Brunei society. He wrote about them and was very honest about what he wrote about.

About the Chinese New Year, Peter wrote “... the Chinese opens the New Year proceedings with processions in which dragons, serpents, devils and other creature figures. He lights paper lanterns, lets off fire-works, and pays great attention to his joss. He feeds, till he bursts almost, on birds’ nests, sharks’ fins, duck and beef, mixed with many curious vegetables. And if he wishes he may gamble all day long without paying any fee or license ...”

Interestingly enough it was only after 1906 that the Chinese opened up shops on dry land. Prior to that, their shops and business premises were at Kampong Bakut China which was in the middle of Kampong Ayer. Kampong Bakut China was on a sand bank (bakut in Brunei Malay). Today that village is known as Kampong Pekan Lama (Old Town Village) acknowledging the fact that it once served as the town centre or central business area.

The procession described by Peter Blundell could only have taken place on dry land as it would have been difficult to hold such procession over water.

Peter Blundell did not mention lions though lions presumably were among the dragons, serpents, devils and other creatures that he described. If that is so, then the lion dance in Brunei Darussalam is more than a hundred years old and would have been introduced to Brunei with the more recent migration from China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bai Qi Yi, a great poet of Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), described clearly about lion dance in his poetry book entitled “Xi Liang Zhi”. In the book, there were descriptions about people wearing masks of fake lions which were made out of wood with eyes gold in color, silver tooth and furry outfits. Their performances told a story. However, the lion dance was older than the Tang Dynasty.

According to the Chinese, based on their ancient records, the lion was originally from India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Lions in Buddhism then were considered as the holy guards of the religion. With the spreading of Buddhism into China, about the time of dynasties of Han, Wei, and Chin, lion dance flourished.

In China, there were elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism which contributed to the lion dance. The lion dance became a spiritual rite to be performed during important occasions and festivals. From the dynasties of Tang, Sung, Yuen, Ming and Ching; and from the kingdom’s palace to the mass people; farming societies and deities’ festivals; the lion dance was one of the main agenda the organizers must have.

According to Wikipedia, there was an old story that a monk had a dream in which there were many sorrows and evils plaguing China. The monk prayed and asked the gods how he could prevent these evils from occurring. The gods told him that a lion would protect them and fight back the evils. The Chinese had never see a lion before, but had heard stories that the lion was the king of all the other animals, so the monk combined all the lucky or magical animals he could think of and so made a lion.

It was told that the lion got too arrogant and told the gods that he was more powerful than all of them combined. The gods became angry, so as a punishment they chopped off his horn which was the source of his power and told him to fight off a thousand evils without his power. The lion could not perform his duties and people died. Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy took pity on the lion and so she tied his horn back on with a red sash and that is why today’s lions sometimes had red sashes tied to them.

Nowadays there are many variations of the lions and the lion dances. Though these variations can be broadly categorised into three styles, Chinese Northern, Chinese Southern, and Taiwanese.

According to another legend, Emperor Wudi of the Wei Dynasty launched an expedition to Hexi in the Gansu Province that captured more than 100,000 Mongolians. The Mongolians were ordered to provide entertainment for the emperor. Some of the Mongol warriors held wood-carved animal heads and wore animal skins while performing a dance. It delighted the emperor and allowed the captives to return home. He named their creation the Northern Wei Auspicious Lion, which eventually spread throughout China.

The origin of the Southern lion dance was said to be during the Qing Dynasty. Emperor Qianlong, during an inspection tour of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, dreamt about the pilgrimage of an auspicious animal with colourful hair. On his return, he ordered his men to re-create the image of the animal he dreamt about. He then ordered his people to use this image at festivals or ceremonies.

The Chinese Northern dance was used as entertainment for the royal imperial court and elsewhere. The northern lion is usually red, orange and yellow (sometimes with green fur for the female lion), shaggy in appearance, with a golden head. The northern dance is acrobatic and may include dangerous stunts.

The Chinese Southern dance is more symbolic. It is usually performed as a ceremony to scare away evil spirits and to summon luck and fortune. The lions had a wider variety of colour. It also has a distinctive head with large eyes, a mirror on the forehead (to scare demons away), and a single horn at center of the head. Lion dance costumes blessed before using them.

The Taiwanese dance integrated with martial arts. In addition to dance steps, the differences between the Taiwanese and the Chinese Southern dances lie in the lion appearance and music, the Taiwanese lion is less elaborate and can be either open-mouth lions and closed-mouth lions.

Nowadays, lion dances in Brunei had to be reserved to perform at houses or malls. Most of the lion dances raised money for their own charity and schools. In the old days, the lion dance troop would go to all residential areas and everyone would tag along till they have gone to all the houses in that area. Chris Chin remembered hanging an ang pow from the third floor apartment and watched excitedly as the lion climbed up to take the ang pow.

The lion dance is now a staple of Brunei’s Chinese New Year celebrations. The lion dance has become a tradition and without it, the New Year would be less festive.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Focus on Job Skills

The Oxford Business Group reported the following news.

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Brunei Darussalam: Focus on job skills

Brunei Darussalam is planning to strengthen its technical and vocational education system by increasing the number of institutions providing training, expanding the range of courses on offer and establishing exchange programmes with neighbouring countries.

Over the past decade, the base of Brunei Darussalam’s economy has become more diversified, with less dependence on energy production, both as a result of the state’s long-term policy of developing downstream industries in the hydrocarbons sector and via the reinforcing of non-oil-and-gas segments.

Schemes such as the Brunei Methanol Company’s $450m production facility at Sungai Liang industrial park – which commenced production last year – along with other projects still in the pipeline, require trained personnel at all levels of their development, from the initial planning process through construction to the final operational stage.

As Brunei Darussalam’s economy expands, new and existing industries exploring new technologies are increasingly in need of more skilled personnel. While demand for skilled workers is growing, some observers say that vocational aspects of the education system are not keeping up.

On January 28, Ibrahim Hj Abdul Rahman, Brunei Darussalam’s acting director of schools, announced that the Ministry of Education (MoE) was considering ways of ensuring more students can obtain technical or vocational training to improve their chances of gaining employment. With a limit on the number of students the existing seven technical and vocational institutions can accept, the ministry was looking at establishing new training colleges, according to Ibrahim.

He announced the plan at a regional education conference as part of a presentation on Brunei Darussalam’s long-term plan for the development of the school system, the National Education System for the 21st Century (SPN21).

According to Ibrahim, one of the focuses of SPN21 will be bolstering the vocational and technical education system so that it better meets the needs of both students and the national economy. Students at the secondary school level who may not be suited to university will be encouraged to undertake technical or vocational studies, he said.

“In the past, technical and vocational subjects were seen as second choice as opposed to academic subjects, but not anymore,” said Ibrahim.

It is not just at the local level that steps are being taken to expand the technical and vocational education system. During a recent visit to Brunei Darussalam by Malaysia’s education minister, Tan Seri Dato’ Hj Muhyiddin Hj Mohd Yassin, the suggestion was floated that the two states discuss bilateral agreements allowing Bruneian students to undertake advanced vocational studies in Malaysia, taking advantage of the wide range of technical education facilities in that country.

Brunei Darussalam is always looking for opportunities to transfer knowledge and technology, as well as promote staff and student exchanges, Ho Mun Tai, the acting director of the Technical Education Department, said on January 26.

There is scope to improve Brunei Darussalam’s existing labour pool, certainly in the area of the manufacturing sector, Ho said in an interview with The Brunei Times, and would welcome cooperation with Malaysia, which would complement existing exchange programmes with Singapore and the Philippines.

Closer to home, the MoE is already working to increase the infrastructure for its professional training programmes, with construction beginning in late 2010 on a new $23m extension to the Institut Teknologi Brunei (ITB). When completed in 2012, blocks for petrochemicals and civil engineering, a mechanical engineering centre, lecture theatres and computer labs will all have been added.

Due to current restrictions, ITB can only induct 10 new students for its petroleum engineering degree programme and a further 10 for the chemical engineering course annually, well short of the number of graduates needed in the local labour market. With the increased capacity provided by the extensions, the institute will be able to graduate at least 40 students from its petrochemicals programme, rising to 60 by 2018.

The ministry has also approved a $12.6m upgrade of the Department of Technical Education’s Mechanical Training Centre, which will include new lecture theatres and four workshops for the automotive engineering, mechanical maintenance, vehicle body engineering and heavy construction machinery programmes.

It will take time for both the infrastructure and the new training schemes to be fully developed, but in the medium term they will help Brunei Darussalam better meet its own skilled labour demands while at the same time helping to create employment for the growing number of secondary school graduates.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Brunei Hotel


I saw this photograph of the newly refurbished Brunei Hotel on Brunei Times today. If it is as grand as the report, then I hope Brunei Hotel would be able to attract the crowd to come back to it. After all, it is the only hotel that is in the middle of the city, as compared to Radisson, Terrace or Jubilee which are slightly off the city centre.

Compare this to the original Brunei Hotel in this old postcard about 50 years ago:

Monday, February 07, 2011

Muara Town

I was editing my future third book last night adding photographs and correcting grammar etc, when I found this old photograph somewhere in my hard disk.

This is Muara Town or Pekan Muara before the Port was built. That row of shophouses is still the same row of shophouses but the old filling station at the end is no longer there. I remembered the old Muara very well. Today's Muara with the port's concrete walls looked as if it is now cordoned off from the main activities.

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Short History of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei

I bought this book the other day from ebay for about US$8. It cost me another US$14 to get it over to Brunei. I don't mind paying for expensive books and expensive shipping if the book is worth it.

This book unfortunately was not as exciting as I thought it would be. It does a decent enough job previewing the history of the three countries going as far back as the early history. The book did more of the Malaysian history, Melaka, Acheh, Johor etc but of Brunei, she only did it in passing. Mary Turnbull was at the University of Hong Kong when she wrote this book more than 30 years ago.

The book was published in 1980, a few years before Brunei's independence. Its last words on Brunei were 'a question mark hung over its future as an independent unit'. I guess the 27th National Day marking the 27 years of independence of Brunei had removed that question mark.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Happy Chinese New Year! Gong Xi Fa Cai! I remembered when I was younger, it used to be Kong Hi Fat Choi. I wrote this article for the Chinese New Year and got it published last Monday (31st January 2011) on The Golden Legacy column on Brunei Times. I hope you enjoy reading it.

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The Practises and Taboos of the Chinese New Year

In a few days time, it will be the most auspicious occasion for the Chinese community in Brunei and more than 1.3 billion Chinese around the world — the Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year celebrations are marked by new-year visits to kins, relatives and friends. Everyone will be wearing new clothes to signify a new year and most in various shades of red. To the Chinese, the red colour is the emblem of joy, and symbolises virtue, truth and sincerity.

Wearing red is not the only practice. There are many other practices and also taboos during the Chinese New Year. Almost all of the Chinese New Year’s practices are based on legends and stories that are told from many years ago. The origin of the New Year also began with a legend.

Many Chinese by now know the legend of the origin of Chinese New Year began with a fight against a mythical beast called Nien. Many years ago, it was said that Nien would come on the first day of New Year to devour livestock, crops including villagers especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers barricaded themselves and place food in front of their doors.

Over time, they saw that Nien could be scared away by the colour red as well as by loud noises. So every time when the Chinese New Year was about to come, the inhabitants would hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors. They also used firecrackers. These were said to frighten away the Nien.

What a number of Chinese do not know is another legend and hence which had led to another celebration during the Chinese New Year itself. This is the Pai Ti Kong celebrated by the Hokkien Chinese on the eve of the ninth day of the Chinese New Year. The prayers to the heavenly supreme deity Jade Emperor was said to have occurred because of one legend. Three different versions have been told.

One version said to have occurred during the Song Dynasty, was during a time when the Mongolians attacked Southern China. Hokkien or Fujian Province was especially targeted where the Mongols wanted to kill all the inhabitants in the province during that time. It was a time of great fear. What was left of the tribe hid themselves in a sugarcane plantation in the hopes of being spared from the Mongols.

It was on the ninth day of their hiding that the Mongolians finally gave up searching for them. This is said to coincide with the ninth day of Chinese New Year. The province inhabitants believed that the gods in Heavens were looking out for them. This started the tradition of praying to the King of Heaven on the eve of the ninth day of the New Year.

Another version was to have occurred during the 16th century. It was a time when ships abound and there were pirates operating on the east coast of China. On a Chinese New Year during that era, the pirates were raiding the east coast of Fujian Province. These pirates invaded the east coast from all direction and killed everybody who they came across.

The inhabitants felt so hopeless and were just about to give up, when suddenly, a sugarcane farm suddenly appeared in front of them. They were all saved by keeping themselves hidden in the sugarcane farm. That day was the 9th of the first lunar month. Again, the survivors believed that this was because they had help from the Jade Emperor. In order to present their faithfulness to the Jade Emperor, the Hokkiens started the practice of celebrating on the 9th day of the first lunar month with sugarcane.

The final version involved General Meng. Meng was said to have had a special ability of being able to speak and understand the local dialect simply by drinking the water in that province. During that time, he was assigned to eliminate all non residents in any province. He relied on his special ability to determine if the people were local or outsiders.

During his visit on Fujian Province, his servants mistakenly brought him water from other province. He therefore could not understand the dialect spoken by the Fujian residents. That made him believed that the Fujian residents were outsiders. Based on this he sent an order to kill all the residents. The carnage took place until the ninth day of the first lunar month. He drank the local well water and suddenly mastered the Fujian dialect. It was only then he realized that he had killed the wrong people and stopped the carnage. From then on, Fujian residents rejoiced on that day and believed it was a miracle from the deity Jade Emperor.

The Chinese have a number of taboos which is practised during the celebrations though some are starting to fade away. Among the popular ones include a taboo not to sweep the floor especially on the first few days. After that the refuse must be swept into the direction of one’s house as this symbolises fortune is not being swept away.

Another is not having hair cuts during the 15 days period. The reason given is that hair sounds like “prosperity” in mandarin, hence no cutting.

A third taboo is not to wash one’s hair in the first three days.

A fourth is not to say anything that is not nice especially swearing and cursing. This is clearly not auspicious.

A fifth is to eat vegetarian food only as the first day of the new year is said to be when all the gods meet and not every single one of them is a carnivore. The elderly also believed that anything bad that happens during the new year period is a bad sign for the rest of the year.

Another taboo still practised today is that the diners are not allowed to finish all the food during the reunion dinner. This is to ensure that they will continue to have “rezeki” or prosperity the coming year.

Celebrations must have the red packet or better known as Ang Pow — a gift from elder to the young. Only those married are allowed to give ang pows. However, despite the marital status one can give it to one’s parents or the elderly grandparents and uncles but not to the younger ones.

The red packets had to be filled with even numbers but not $4 as the number Four is a homophone for death. So for the less wealthy, the minimum ang pow would be $1.20 to make it an even amount.

Our best wishes for the Brunei Chinese celebrating their new year includes “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (wishing you prosperity); “Wan Shi Ru Yi” (may your wish come true); “Sen Ti An Kang” (wishing you good health) and “Lung Ma Jing Shen” (wishing you good spirit and good health).

Inspirational Quotes

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