Monday, November 21, 2011

Brunei Flying High

[The Oxford Business Group on 14th November 2011 reported the following news.]

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Brunei Darassalam: Flying high



Brunei Darassalam’s skies are set to get more crowded and its international airport busier, with an increasing number of airlines looking to serve routes to the Sultanate and the country’s own flag carrier positioning itself to maximise returns by sharpening its focus on the regional market.

Having built up an enviable reputation for quality and service since being founded in 1974, Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) has encountered some difficulties in recent years, coming under increased pressure on some of its more lucrative long-haul routes and seeing lower returns on some of its less frequented runs. In particular, soaring fuel costs have reduced the airline’s earnings, prompting a review of operational practices and routes earlier this year, after which it was decided that RBA would cut a number of its well-established routes – including to Auckland, Brisbane and Ho Chi Minh City – by the end of October.

To support its decision to realign its priorities, RBA released data showing that only 9% of its passenger journeys on its long-haul routes either originated or ended in the Sultanate, with the carrier saying that had become “impossible to justify the continuation of the route network in its entirety, where RBA is effectively providing subsidies to over 90% of the traffic while creating little or no economic value either for the airline or the country”.

While paring back some of its operations, RBA is looking to expand others, strengthening its short-haul capacity and ramping up services in the region, where traditionally the carrier has sold the majority of its seats. By increasing its profile in its home region, RBA hopes to boost revenue and add value to the country’s economy by bringing in more visitors from nearby states.

This new focus will lead the carrier to make a number of changes to its fleet, with industry analysts saying it is likely RBA will dispose of at least some of the long-distance Boeing 777s it leases from Singapore Airlines, while adding more short-haul aircraft to its inventory. The airline has said it is looking to add at least one Airbus 320 to the fleet in the first half of 2012 and has five Boeing 787-8s on order.

The attention of other airlines, meanwhile, is being drawn to the Brunei Darassalam market. On October 21 Munirah Omar, MAS executive for Malaysian Airlines’ short-haul subsidiary MASwings, said the regional carrier was keen to operate out of the Sultanate, and was even considering using it as hub for flights. Subject to final government approval, MASwings planned to fly from Brunei Darassalam to Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah, and to Kuching, the main aviation hub for Sarawak, Munirah told the Borneo Bulletin. Adding Brunei Darassalam to its schedule would not only boost the Sultanate’s tourism and trade prospects, she said, but would also help improve the traffic at Kota Kinabalu.

“By having these services in Brunei Darassalam, we hope that it would attract easier international connections out of Kota Kinabalu,” she said.

Cebu Pacific, the Filipino budget carrier, is also increasing the frequencies of is services to the Sultanate, announcing in early October it was adding an additional flight every week to its Brunei Darassalam-Manila route. The new flight schedule will come into force in the beginning of 2012, according to the airline’s vice-president for marketing and distribution, Candice Iyog.

Further flights are likely to be launched between Brunei Darassalam and Nanning, the capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in 2012. On October 24, during a visit to the Sultanate, regional governor Ma Biao said he had already raised the possibility of inaugurating scheduled cargo flights.

“Through this flight, it will be easier for us to import products from Brunei Darassalam, like vegetables, fruits and seafood,” Ma said in an interview with the Brunei Times on October 24.

There have also been calls for direct air links connecting the Sultanate and one of its biggest trading partners, Japan. Masakazu Toyoda, the chairman and CEO of the Institute of Energy Economics, said in late September that such a move would boost both business and tourism if there were flights from Brunei Darassalam to Japan’s main aviation hubs, Narita and Kansai International Airports.

“If you have direct flights, I think it will only take five hours, which is also good for short meetings for both the people of Brunei Darassalam and Japan,” he said. “Brunei Darassalam is an important country to Japan, and hopefully Japan is an important country to them as well.”

While RBA is in the process of scaling back some of its more far-flung operations under its cost-cutting and rationalisation programme, the government will want to ensure that the national flag carrier does not get squeezed out of its home market. Though other airlines are eyeing Brunei Darassalam routes, it is unlikely that the Sultanate will grant landing rights to too many overseas airlines, especially as it will take time for RBA to consolidate and then spread its wings on routes closer to home.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

New Bridges in Brunei?

[The Oxford Business Group reported the following news on 7th November 2011.]

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Brunei Darussalam: Building bridges



Brunei Darussalam’s construction sector is set to benefit from a number of new infrastructure projects coming off the drawing board in the next year, two of which will have particular significance for the Sultanate’s domestic economy and integration with its neighbours.

On September 13, officials from the Sultanate and Malaysia signed a series of agreements that laid out the terms and conditions for the construction of a bridge spanning the Pandaruan River, which forms part of Brunei Darussalam’s border with Sarawak, Malaysia. Though the river is just 20 metres wide, those travelling between Temburong and the Limbang district of Sarawak must use a ferry service with limited capacity, which causes long delays during peak hours.

The joint committee established to oversee the project should be calling tenders for the construction in December, with five contractors from Brunei Darussalam and five from Malaysia to be shortlisted to bid for the work. Construction is scheduled to begin in April 2012, with the official opening listed for one year after that. The project will include the construction of a five-span bridge and approach ramps of some 200 metres across the river, as well as the connecting roads from both Temburong and Limbang.

According to Alaihuddin Orang Kaya Digadong Lela Utama Mohd Taha, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Communications, the concluded agreements cover the design and specifications of the bridge, as well as ensure the smooth realisation of the project. The Sungai Pandaruan Bridge is very important to both countries on more than one level, he told local media.

“The bridge not only mean[s] providing connectivity [and the] opening up [of] economic, business and tourism opportunities between the neighbours – it also has a deeper meaning, bridging closer silaturrahim (relationships),” he said.

The project will bridge political and social divides, as well as have a substantial impact on the Bruneian economy, improving the flow of goods and services and allowing local construction firms to win a slice of the building contract when the project is tendered out in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the Brunei Economic Development Board recently signed a 36-month, RM318.9m ($101.9m) contract with TRC Synergy, a major infrastructure developer, to modernise the Brunei International Airport Terminal. The work will be undertaken by a joint venture between TRC Synergy, which has a 51% stake in the project, and Swee, a local contracting and building company, which has a 49% stake.

The Sungai Pandaruan Bridge and airport improvements will certainly bring major benefits, but the sheer scale of another development currently under consideration will dwarf these projects. International engineering firm Arup has been commissioned to determine the feasibility of constructing a 10-km bridge linking Temburong with Brunei-Muara, the Sultanate’s northern-most district. The proposed bridge, which would span the Bay of Brunei, would be part of a much larger project involving the construction of some 30 km of roads and associated power and water services.

The $2.2m contract for the feasibility study, awarded in September 2010, specifies that the social, economic, environmental and political impacts of the construction project be assessed along with suggested routes. The results of the survey are due to be released in early 2012. If the project is adopted it could be one of the largest infrastructure developments in Brunei Darussalam’s history.

The Temburong district is an enclave of Bruneian territory surrounded on three sides by Sarawak, Malaysia and bordered by the Brunei Bay to the north. Locals must either travel by boat or traverse the stretch of Malaysian land separating Temburong from the rest of Brunei Darussalam if they wish to visit the capital or other districts.

Boosting transport links to Temburong would help the Sultanate achieve its economic goal of increasing agricultural output. The region is highly fertile and has been targeted by the government for development, particularly for rice and other primary production but has suffered from an absence of direct access to the rest of the country. The construction of the bridge to Brunei-Muara would facilitate the movement of produce out of Temburong, promoting higher levels of growth.

But there are no guarantees the Temburong to Brunei-Muara link will actually be built, at least in the short term. Such an undertaking would incur vast expenses and the government will have to weigh the estimated costs against the likely economic and social returns.

At the time the feasibility project was launched, the minister of development, Kaya Indera Pahlawan Setia Suyoi Osman, said the report’s findings would have to be overwhelmingly in favour of the project for construction to proceed.

“They will have to be very convincing because they are looking at all aspects in terms of financing the whole project, and the environmental effects because we are very concerned about our mangrove swamps [and] want to protect [them] as much as we can,” he said.

If the government is convinced, the country’s construction industry will undoubtedly play a major role in the project, though given the scale of the development, international firms will most likely also be offered a piece of the action. Even so, Brunei Darussalam’s contractors should be able to cash in on the expected building boom in a newly connected Temburong district.

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Hari Raya Aidil Adha and Past Practices

[I first wrote about Hari Raya Aidil Adha way back in 2008. I thought I will rewrite it with fresh material and published it in my Golden Legacy column on The Brunei Times edition 7th November 2011.]

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EID UL Adha (Aidil Adha) is Hari Raya Haji to Bruneians. Moon sighting at various locations in Brunei would be held at the end of Zulkaedah to determine when the beginning of Zulhijjah would be and hence would also affect when Aidil Adha will be celebrated in Brunei. In the past the moon sighting for Zulhijjah was not practiced and Zulhijjah was determined using hisab or calculation.

However the Aidil Adha celebrations in Brunei are not widespread compared to Eid ul Fitr or Hari Raya Aidil Fitri to mark the end of the Ramadhan fasting month. Aidil Adha celebrations in Brunei are rather muted compared to most other Muslim countries.

Nowadays, after the Aidil Adha prayers at the mosque, many do not do anything. In most other Muslim countries, the Aidil Adha celebrations would be celebrated by visiting relatives and friends. In Brunei, there might be one or two families inviting their relatives and friends to come over for Aidil Adha open houses, however, this is still relatively rare and has not caught on with most Bruneians.

The one major change has been the korban or sacrificial slaughtering of the cows and sheep. In the past, this was not often done. The years after the World War Two had been difficult years for many Brunei people. It was only around the late 1970s that korban were more widespread. By then, Brunei people were fairly well off and could now afford to sacrifice those animals. Today, practically every Aidil Adha celebrations would be celebrated with these sacrifices.

However other aspects of the Aidil Adha celebrations have not been a tradition in Brunei whether now or in the past and there ends this article about the differences between Aidil Adha celebrations in the present and in the past. However many Bruneians did other things during this month of Zulhijjah mostly all in the hope of assisting their brethrens performing the haj in Mekah.

The Brunei Muslim faithfuls who are now performing the Haj in Mekah, must carry out their rituals and do nothing that would disrupt the Holy pilgrimage of their brothers. The Haj, is a sacred requirement of all able-bodied Muslims, one of the five pillars of Islam.

In the past, going to perform the Haj was a very difficult journey. Not only would it take months but the chances of one returning back to Brunei were considered slim. Going on Haj was hazardous. Thus whoever made it back to Brunei alive was feted and revered by all those who waited for his or her return. Those who returned were considered sacred as sacred as the Haj he has just performed.

Many practices in Brunei were born because of this belief. The practice of holding prayers for their family members had continued from the past. Some families continue to hold weekly prayers while many others only did the prayers during the period the pilgrims were performing the wukuf in Arafah. This practice is very much encouraged.

However, there are other practices which are not encouraged even though they were done in the same spirit of trying to help out their family members. Some of the practices are still carried out. Even though a number of these had been labeled as khurafat or "deviationist practice" by the authorities but that has not stopped from it being carried out by some small groups of people.

In the past, the Brunei people whose family members were in Mekah, did interesting things. One such practice was giving out food and other snacks on upside down trays. Keropok or prawn crackers would be served on upside down trays. The idea was that with the upside down trays, it is hoped that the pilgrims would feel very light in performing their pilgrimage.

Other sedekah or giving out alms or presents were also done with the intention of helping the pilgrims. So the gifts given out would be food or drinks which were cold such as ice cream or iced water so that the pilgrims would not feel thirsty or tired during their pilgrimage.

Other gifts include umbrellas so that the pilgrims would be sheltered from the sun; or rubber slippers so that the pilgrims feet would be protected; or sugar canes so that the pilgrims would have enough water supplies; or apam balik so as to ensure a safe return; and calak lambai so as to "lambai" or wave the pilgrims back home.

One interesting practice was to give an egg to a sleeping child. The egg would be placed beside the pillow of the child and many children when they woke up were surprised to see the eggs next to their pillows. This was done quite often in the past.

The idea was by doing so, the pilgrims would be very much assisted or would find it easier to collect pebbles in Mudzaliffah which they would be using to throw at the various stone pillars in Mina.

During meal times, the family members in Brunei would be cooking the pilgrims' favourite food and meals. The idea was that the pilgrims would be able to "smell" these food especially if they were their favourites. The family felt that the pilgrims would be searching for those food and would add to their appetite and hence would aid them in the performance of the haj.

Throughout their pilgrimage in Mekah, pilgrims' rooms or beds were not supposed to be disturbed. Their rooms would be locked and no one will be allowed to enter.

In Kampong Ayer houses, this will be taken a step further. This meant that boats were not even allowed to go under the houses of the pilgrims or during low tide, no one is allowed to walk under the houses or rooms of the pilgrims. To ensure that this was done, the area under the house or the particular room would be "di babang" or cordoned off with ropes. The empty rooms would be lighted by a small lantern.

The pilgrims' last meal in Brunei too was sometimes saved. The leftovers from the last meal taken by the pilgrims will be kept and not thrown away. The leftover would be left to dry until they returned back from their pilgrimage.

There have been many practices done by the Brunei people related to the haj in the past. One sincerely hopes that those quaint practices while interesting are no longer practiced now.

What is important is that we should remember and honour those who went as the haj is after all as some described as "small death" you died and you are reborn after returning from the Haj. But we should not get carried away to the point that some practices become khurafat. To avoid the khurafat practices, one must deepen one's knowledge of Islam so that we will know what is right and what is wrong.

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Friday, November 04, 2011

Hari Raya Korban





It has been a while since I last showed Cuboiart's cartoon. Cuboiart is probably the single Bruneian I do know that can make this caricature come to life. The subtlety of his drawing is just unprecedented. This one depicts the Hari Raya korban. The one he did for Thursday's is even hilarious. Catch cuboiart on www.cuboiart.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Ketupat Basing at the Empire



This was sold by a village in Tutong. For those wondering what this is, this is ketupat made in the shape of a squirrel or tupai in standard Malay or basing in Brunei Malay. There are a number of sellers selling their village's products currently at Level 4 at the Empire Hotel outside the Indera Kayangan Ballroom. They were invited to do that as a showcase to how they can help transform their lives. The ASEAN Meeting currently taking place inside the ballroom is the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication. Currently the Senior Officials are still meeting. The Ministers will meet tomorrow after the opening ceremony done by the Crown Prince.

I was searching for this ketupat when I did my article on the history of ketupat. I knew this kind of ketupat existed. I wrote this paragraph for my article 

Ketupat is also used as a religious offering for some of the indigenous races. Elderly Dusun people called it "tebuu". However the ketupat is not encased in the traditional square weaved leaves but usually in the shape of an object such as the head of a bird or an animal. These ketupats are not eaten with beef rendang but usually with bananas and eggs.
 For those interested in the whole article, here is the link: http://bruneiresources.blogspot.com/2011/08/ketupat-and-hari-raya.html

There are many other products sold yesterday but this will end tomorrow. Do drop in and help the villagers.

Inspirational Quotes

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