Learning about Brunei.
14.05.2012 - 18.05.2012
Bandar Seri Begawan, May 15th 2012
If you are thinking of taking a boat tour around Kampong Anyer, just go to Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah or look for this monument. By a lot of chance you would get some offers. The boat that's called a tourist boat, has a roof on top. I was offered a very expensive price like 50 BND or something. I was just too shock to remember. But interestingly, the tour guide was kind to suggest me taking a water taxi in order to get a lower price.
So I stood beside the river. Surely enough a boat came to my direction and offered a tour. He offered the same price as the tourist boat tour.
"By that price I'd better take a tourist boat then," I replied.
"Okay, 30 dollars for one hour (or did he say 'one and a half hour'?) to water village and mangrove forest. You can see proboscis monkeys. The monkeys with long noses."
"20 dollars," I bargained.
"20 dollars for Kampong Ayer only."
"For how long?"
"Forty five minutes."
He persuaded me unceasingly but did not lower his price. I wasn't interested in proboscis anyway. A year ago I already had plenty of proboscis.
"Did you see them in Sabah?" he asked.
"Yes, in Labuk Bay."
He seemed to have nothing to say to that. Yeah, I had been to Labuk Bay. Platform A, platform B, platform C, all complete. I didn't just seem them from afar, I fed them, I had pictures with them. I was so close that I was very tempted to feel proboscis' fur.
I left that side of the river and explored along. I thought if I would take a tour boat, I would take it a bit later when the sun is near to set.
LOL! A supermarket's trolley cart again! I examined the expressions of the people getting on and off this water taxi terminal. None seemed to look surprised at this cart. So this must be common sight here. What an interesting city this is, really.
On the other side of the river I saw 'modern' houses being built, but still on water.
Rainbow! I couldn't believe my eyes. How good GOD is to me!
As I was about to aim at the rainbow, a water taxi approached again. I pointed at the rainbow. "I want to take a picture of that rainbow."
"Oh." He stayed there.
After clicking on my camera, I heard him again, "Okay, now, water village."
I really hate it when someone disturbs my concentration, especially when it comes to capturing a rainbow that usually doesn't last long.
"No, I'm not taking a tour."
The water taxi driver didn't go away. He stayed on the water below me while looking sharp at me.
"Can you leave me alone, please?"
"Can I what?"
"Can, you, leave, me, alone, please?"
"Okay, miss! Don't be angry!" He drove away, at last. I felt bad actually for talking like that to him. But the rainbow surely wouldn't give time for a conversation. The rainbow really did vanish within just minutes.
At last, when the sky was at dusk, I got on a water taxi. it's another water taxi. 20 dollars for one hour around Kampong Ayer. I asked the driver to promise to stop the boat whenever I wanted to take pictures. He kept his promise faithfully.
It was an evening of blast for me. Azmi, my water taxi driver, was a pleasant guy to make a conversation with. Azmi served as a good tour guide as well. I don't think I would get this if I had taken the first water taxi driver who made an offer to me. The guy didn't look like one.
"My hotel is over there!" I pointed ahead, telling him like a kid telling her uncle.
"Have you been there?" He pointed at the bridge along the main road that I had thought was the highway.
"Yes! I walked from there to my hotel yesterday, because I couldn't find the shortcut path." I told him proudly. Yay, luckily I got lost yesterday. Now I have something to be proud of. Should I show him my blistered happy feet?
"Are there crocodiles here?" I asked Azmi.
"Yes, there are."
"Yes, crocodiles live here."
"No wonder. This morning when I took a walk, I saw a baby crocodile crossing the road."
"Ah, that must have been a biawak."
"Biawak? This long?" I stretched my arms.
"Sure. Why not?"
"I thought it was a baby crocodile."
"Crocodiles naturally don't enter people's home," Azmi explained.
"Look!" Azmi shouted.
"There are cranes resting on the school's roof."
Hahaha... they look like kids ready to play after a day's school.
From Azmi I learned that Kampong Ayer actually consists of several villages despite the meaning of "kampong" as "village". Each village has their own school. One can only enter the school in their own village.
"What if the father is moved to be stationed in another village?"
"In that case, moving to a school in another village would be permitted."
Rocks like this were occasionally seen on Sungai Brunei.
Blurry. Yes, I know. Although Azmi had already stopped the boat, the water beneath was still moving. This is where Sultan Bolkiah was born. This was a palace built in 1919. Nobody lives here now.
This is the first mosque built in Kampong Ayer. It was in 1960.
"The first mosque?" I asked with much surprise. "Hasn't Brunei been a Moslem country since long, long, time ago?"
"How come then that only in 1960 the first mosque was built? Before that, where did the people of Kampong Ayer go to worship?"
"They went to other mosques on land."
"May one visit a mosque outside his village?"
"So it's only school that's restricted for residence?"
"That's similar to my country in the case of public schools."
"I heard," Azmi said. "The Chinese in Indon speaks Indonesian. Is that so?"
"Yes, that's correct."
Azmi just looked at me. So I continued with a short history lesson of my country. "The situation differs from Malaysia and Brunei." was my closing.
"Yeah, we aren't like that," Azmi responded at last.
This is another school. Blurry again, yes. Surprisingly, most of the schools I saw had buildings that looked very so-and-so for a country called rich. I had been to schools with much better looking buildings than these. However, they weren't free. Not at all. In Brunei, education is free.
The moment I had been waiting for, finally dashed in front of my eyes.
That's the roof of Sultan's palace, Nurul Iman. According to Azmi, the palace doesn't stand alongside the river. Therefore if we row our boat closer, we wouldn't be able to see the palace at all. Furthermore, I learned that everytime a new sultan ascends the throne, he would build a new palace. So said Azmi, so said Wikipedia, Nurul Iman is the biggest palace in the world. Is it? Honestly, it doesn't look so to me.
Just a water taxi stop.
Azmi, my water taxi driver and also my tour guide.
Azmi received and made frequent calls during the last minutes of my tour. But he kept paying full attention on me and kept his promise for a one hour ride.
This is another better looking water school.
"Azmi, is it a national holiday or something here? Why is it so quiet?"
"No, it isn't a holiday."
"Yesterday evening I thought, maybe because it's considered late already here. But this morning till afternoon, it was still as quiet."
"It's like this everyday in Brunei. Sepi dan aman. Quiet and safe."
"This morning when I took a walk through the village, most of the doors, if not all, of the houses, were shut. And it still seems so now. Are the people not back from work yet or something?"
Azmi looked at me for a moment, with a question mark on his face. "Shut?"
"Yeah. See? All the doors are close..."
"Errr... to protect kids from falling into the river," Azmi uttered. But his voice didn't seem sure. "It once happened. A kid fell down into the river."
"I see." But I didn't really. In my country, in dense residence like this, it would be a nature common thing to see neighbors, especially women, sitting on the porch chatting (gossiping, mostly) with other neighbors. This morning I had taken a walk on foot and now I cross through water, I had seen none of those sight. None. For the next few days, using the shortcut, every time I went through and forth my hotel, I had to cross through part of Kampong Ayer. I never saw women chatting on the porch, or standing by the door talking to neighbors. Never. That to me is a huge contradiction to my country. Sorry to mention that.
Too bad it was dark already by the time we arrived here. This is the floating gas station. Every Monday a ship carrying gasoline would come here to supply the station.
Azmi, terima kasih banyak!