14.05.2012 - 18.05.2012
Seria, May 16th 2012
In a hurriedly I got off my "Sapu Teksi" which is the Brunei term for taxi without meter. "Hey!!" We greeted each other almost at the same time. He was the man I talked to yesterday evening in Bandar Seri Begawan.
"Had you been to Tasek Merimbun?" he asked excitedly.
"No. I only went to Pantai Seri Kenangan. I'm going to the oil company now."
"Ah... ya, ya! Oil company! You...uhmm... ?"
"It's that bus, isn't it?" I pointed at the bus across the street.
"Ah... ya, ya! It's that one!"
I ran cross the street and got on the bus. All passengers were male. The front seats were occupied. I took a seat next to a young man appearing fast asleep. The moment I laid my butt, the bus moved. Ooopsss! Had I kept everyone waiting? It was by the kindness of my taxi driver who told this driver to wait for me. But then instead of heading straight to the bus, I made a conversation with that man from Bandar Seri Begawan. I examined the driver's face through the rearview mirror. He was wearing a straight look. Indian music filled in our bus, again.
On whatever means of transportation, a window seat has always been my top priority. In the case of a boat, I would want to sit right next to the side and have the whole view to myself. I turned my head back in search of an empty seat. It was then when I realized that everyone, except the ones sleeping, were staring at me. O, ow.
"You are just being self-conscious," I told myself.
There was one empty seat on the second row from behind. I thought, once we arrive at a stop light, I'll move to the back. We never did. Well, why would you need a stop light on a road that just goes straight with only a few filling the traffic anyway?
I couldn't wait any longer. I got up and moved to the back. A smooth rustle interrupted the Indian music. The young men moved their neck and shoulders backside. Their eyes dropped on me. What's wrong? No lady rides on a bus like this? But there were women on this bus when I got on at BSB this morning. When I got off here, they didn't get off. That means I'm not the only woman taking this destination. So what? Because I'm wearing short pants? Is it really so? But their look doesn't say that I'm looking sexy. Neither are they looking at my thighs. Their eyes are pointed up, not down. Because I look Chinese? But aren't there many Chinese here? There were some Chinese passengers when I got on this bus this morning. Or is it against the rule to walk inside a bus while the bus is moving? But later a man sitting on the back seat got up and walked to the front while the bus was still moving. He talked to the driver, and then got off. So?? What's wrong with me?
Eventually the young men decided that keep on staring at me would stiffen their neck. Everyone turned their head and shoulders back to the front, except for one young man. Oh, well. I looked back at him. He turned his head away. I kept my eyes pointed on his neck. He looked back and saw me still looking at him. He turned his head back. He never looked at me again. Problem solved, questions remain.
From Pekan Tutong to Seria took about an hour. Along the way, these young men got off one by one. The atmosphere turned from tense to light, just for me. Luckily it was in the middle of the day. Else, I would have freaked out.
When I saw giant tanks lining up and a glow of fire in the air, I knew immediately, we have already arrived in Seria. Since there's no public transportation to Tasek Merimbun, I exchanged the plan with a visit to this oil company which is said to be the biggest reason of Brunei's wealth. So here I am, in Seria, out of curiosity. Because of the previous tense atmosphere, I had no courage to take out even my G12. I just wondered whether visitors were allowed to go inside. I found no signs of that. Once again, I was wrong. I'll tell you about that later. You know, it always takes time to make a confession. Sometimes... it takes forever.
Just after the big sign "Shell", our bus turned and eventually stopped at an almost empty terminal.
Except for these pigeons, no one was looking at me as I descended the bus. Auwww, Pigeon, hello! What a fascinating country Brunei is, really! I had admired the pigeons by the beach in Japan, the pigeons in the park in Vietnam, but never pigeons in a bus terminal. Moreover, the pigeons I saw in Japan and Vietnam flocked in for corns thrown on the grown. But the pigeons here, are here simply because they want to be here. Unlike the pigeons in Monas Park in Jakarta which are actually rare, these pigeons here stayed calm as I walked pass them. Obviously, no one has done them harm. Life is safe.
I just wondered. Do pigeons sweat? The sun was shining at its best. Furthermore, the asphalt beneath must be like hot tray from the oven.
Hmmph, the oil field has been several blocks away. I'm not a pigeon. I can't fly over there nor walk under this heat. Let me just make a capture of Seria. That's the police station over there.
Like almost everywhere in BSB, so does it seem here in Seria. Shops, and shops. Chinese, and Chinese.
Unmistakably Chinese stuff: Bacang wrapping. That's how I use to call it. In Chinese it's 粽子 zòngzi.
From one block to another I strolled along wondering, "Do these people eat pork? If they do, where do they get it and where are the pigs raised? If they don't, do they miss pork? How could they manage to live without pork? See? Who says you are not Chinese if you don't eat pork?"
This one, I took using G12, instead of N86, my cellphone. See the shops on the left?
Finally, I wore off. Mostly, because of the heat. At first I hesitated entering this restaurant for it looked rather luxurious. But I saw workers obviously from the oil company, entering this restaurant. I concluded, this restaurant must not be expensive, because workers can afford it. I could tell they were workers from the nearby oil company from their uniforms. They were wearing a one-piece long sleeves and long pants, just like the workers in the factory where I work. I simply forgot that people in Brunei don't look rich, but are rich.
This blueberry kiwi shake together with the Sichuan tofu above cost 10,5 BND. It had been my most expensive lunch in Brunei. But the juice was fresh and chilling. The meal, although not exactly as the Sichuan flavor I had expected, was not bad at all.
An interesting atmosphere of this restaurant was that the man standing behind the stove was a tall Indian, the woman behind the cashier was a Chinese, and the girl that served me was Malay.
While indulging myself with the good meal, I opened "Brunei Times" which I had bought in one of the stores just now. Sitting crossed leg on the cozy sofa, I turned the pages searching for local news. I tell you, this was my first time buying a local paper in a foreign country. I never did partly because I won't understand the language, but also because I didn't care. This time I'm curious. On the first place I had picked up Brunei because of my childhood curiosity about people living by the side of the river but owning a Mercedes. After at last being in Brunei, the curiosity piled up, instead.
However, much to my shame, I read: "Five Indonesians charged for burglary". The men were each charged with between four to six counts of lurking house-trespass or house-breaking by night in order to commit offence punishable with imprisonment, each with one count of gang robbery and each with one count of house breaking, passport offence and immigration offence.
During the proceedings, each defendant admitted before the court that they have broken into three jewellery store and eight houses.
Wow! Another wow! What a crime! If these 5 professional robbers got shot and died, would my government make a hassle with the government of Brunei? Would my countrymen call Brunei a racialist? That already happened with Malaysia. Just recently. What a shame thing! To the greatest contrary, when the water-supply company played a game on me and I refused to dance to their flute by submitting to bribery, no one stood for justice for me. Phewww...
Feeling fresh by the air condition inside the restaurant, blueberry kiwi shake, and a satisfied tummy, I decided to walk to the oil field. The Brunei sun gave me a great welcome more than I had wished. I kept on walking, literally alone. A car or two passed by. I could see the passenger or driver or both, staring at me. "What on earth this woman with short pants and a backpack doing under the sun?" they must be thinking.
When I was actually just several blocks away from the Oil & Gas Discovery Centre, I turned around. I entered the alleyways but towards the bus terminal. It's the residential area. I wanted to know how Brunei houses looked like. Compared to the houses of the people called rich in Jakarta, these houses were plain. But they looked cozy. Pots of cute plants and colorful flowers colored their porches.
I arrived back at the bus terminal only to learn that the bus to BSB was not going to leave until 45 minutes later. Apparently there are only about six buses in one day. Three in the morning and three in the afternoon. This morning I was just lucky to arrive at BSB bus station several minutes before the bus was leaving. So was it when I returned to Pekan Tutong. If I had come at the wrong time, I would have had to wait for a long time, like now. I also learned that there's a bus that goes to Miri from here. Ah... Miri, that's my future destination. On road, from Brunei.
Meanwhile, the pigeons were chirping, hopping, as lively as before. "Taxi Only" says the sign. But Pigeons took over.
As if defeated by the Kingdom of Pigeons, one taxi parked across Pigeons' territory. Oh yes, I know, that's for the sake of the shade. I was just fantasizing.
I went back to the shades of the shops. What shall I do now? Continue reading Brunei Times? I can do that in the bus. Aha! There's a travel agency. It's on the second floor. Who knows they have a map of Brunei.
The office was cozy and pretty spacious with only two staffs behind the desk. One was on the phone, and the other was looking serious on her computer. In the corner on the right was a book shelve. The shelve was filled with many colorful interesting looking brochures and magazines about... mostly China. And then rank number two I think was Malaysia. That's not surprising. Next were Singapore, Korea and Japan. Some others were about Australia and Indonesia. It seemed that Brunei people carry special interest on Jogjakarta. It was written also in the Brunei Times I read just now. I think I know why. You do, too, don't you? The Sultan.
However, there were only one or two on Brunei. Even so, it was just about Bandar Seri Begawan.
"Are these free?" I asked the lady when she hung up.
I selected two items on Hongkong and Chongqing. Funny isn't it, returning from Brunei with information about China?
"I take these two."
"Please. Take it." She gave me a big warm smile.
Now I regretted I didn't have more time to relax on the sofa next to the book shelve while going through all these brochures. These two ladies seemed not to be bothered with my being there. Not at all, although I clearly didn't look like intending to buy anything from them.
"Do you have a map like this but about Brunei?" I showed her a map on Singapore from the book shelve.
"Ah Brunei. We don't have," she answered.
"Maybe you sell one?"
"No, we don't have it. Sorry."
On the way back to BSB, I made a video recording of the oil field. This is a snapshot from the video. I really regret I didn't make a recording of the other side when I came. There was a huge sign Shell.
That's it. My curiosity doubled because of it. The oil field doesn't look bigger than the ones I had seen in Cirebon and Cilegon, in my country. Is this all that makes Brunei second rich to Singapore in all Southeast Asia? Unbelievable. My country has several of this. Even more huge ones, I think. How come we never get rich?
On my way back to BSB, no one seemed to bother about me. The passengers were mixed between age, sex, and races. But the driver was an Indian, again. No music this time. Maybe because it's just the right time to take a nap.
The bus took approximately 2 hours until BSB bus station. Before the bus left Seria bus terminal, the driver collected our fare. 3 dollars each. We stopped at Pekan Tutong. Some passengers got off, some got on. Before leaving Pekang Tutong, the driver collected another 3 dollars from us. Pekan Tutong is like the center of the route. One hour from Seria to Pekan Tutong, and another one hour from Pekan Tutong to BSB.
I'm not done yet with Seria. I'm coming back.