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Faces of Bandar Seri Begawan

I began to see Brunei as a rich country in another way.


Bandar Seri Begawan, May 15th 2012

Last night Jolina told me to come to Body Shop at 11:00 AM, go to the information desk in front of Body Shop, and borrow their phone to call her. "Would that be okay?" I asked doubtfully.

"Sure!" Jolina answered. "Just tell that you are a tourist."

What a generous country, I thought to myself.

Nevertheless, the information desk was closed when I came there. I had already sent a text message telling that I was on my way to Body Shop. No reply. An attendant from Body Shop said that Jolina had told her that she would come late, because she overslept. "You can look around and return here later," she told me.

I looked around Yayasan Complex. Nothing special in particular. So I went out into the heat again to search for something more interesting for my eyes. "Yayasan" is actually a short form of "Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah". The complex faced another side of Sungai Brunei which is also a gateway to Kampong Ayer.

The park that ran from Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah between Sungai Brunei and Jalan McArthur reminded me a lot of Sisowath Quay and Tonle Sap in Phnom Penh. The only significant difference is the people. It's so quiet here and there are no kids begging. I didn't see even one beggar or homeless while in Brunei.
It's really hard to believe that a place like this does exist in Asia. I mean, a capital city, not to mention 2nd richest to Singapore in Southeast Asia, where the word hectic seems not be in their dictionary.

This is just a collection of my pictures of the shop signs in Brunei. It looks like that you can make great money through billboard business. Look, at least 2 languages -- often more -- are needed to identify a shop or product. Even the simplest brand or name would need more than the minimum material and size. Signs written in 3 languages: Arabic, Chinese, and Malay (or English), are common sight in Brunei. Although Indians are frequently seen in Brunei, I can't remember seeing a sign written in Hindi like in Kuala Lumpur. Maybe adding Hindi to the signs would make the signs look like giant dictionaries instead.

I returned to Body Shop. The shop attendant who told me that Jolina would be coming late wasn't there. There was somebody else. She looked at me with a rather weird look I would have to say. She asked in Malay, "You are looking for Jolina?"

"Yes, I am."

"Have made an appointment?"

"Well... yesterday she told me to meet her here at eleven."

"I haven't seen her since morning."

"It's alright," I answered, although it wasn't really so. I didn't have much time in Brunei. I had taken a leave in order to travel Brunei. If I had known, I could have make my plans. Anyway, for a favor free of charge there's nothing to complain about.

I searched for a restaurant that had the most local look. Purpose number one: Budget. Purpose number two: Budget. This restaurant I had lunch at looked much like the Restoran Padang in country. For all this, I paid 3 BND. The best part of this meal was the ice water. A jar of water with ice cubes inside was laid next to my glass. Although living cost in Brunei is high (for me) and tap water is undrinkable, I appreciate it a lot that plain water refill is free. I nearly drank the whole jar of water.

In this just decent restaurant, a huge TV hung from the ceiling. NatGeo Wild was playing. Two waitresses stood with their heads held up towards the TV. They watched the program with full enthusiasm while discussing it among them. In my country, let alone a restaurant waiter watching National Geographic, the channel itself wouldn't exist! I began to see Brunei as a rich country in another way.

I returned to Body Shop, but Jolina still wasn't there. I text messaged her telling that I'm leaving on my own, just in case she was still thinking I was waiting for her. This time I got an instant reply. She said that she suddenly had a meeting to attend and suggested me to meet her at Gadong. Wow... I thought she overslept. Hmmm, yesterday she told me Gadong is a shopping center. Ah... there are already too many malls in Jakarta which I have not yet visited.

I walked back to Le Gallery. This time it took much faster because I've found the shortcut across the river. Exhausted, rather disappointed, I sat at the desk in my room and played scrabble using the hotel's free WiFi. Honestly, the news my neighbor sent me last night had put a big weight on mind. It was about the city water company's game on me. Aaargghhh. The encounter with Jolina seemed to make matters worst. My happy feet had started to blister, but my mind was far more weary. Finally I let myself for a nap, a thing I rarely do during traveling.

Surprisingly, that short nap refreshed me and my mind. I got my excitement for the trip back. On the shortcut across the river I was back crossing once again. I haven't found the bus terminal yet. I'm going to look for it now and find information about the destinations I've planned in my itinerary.

"Excuse me." I heard a sweet voice behind me. I stopped and turned around. There were two school girls that looked very Chinese. "Are you lost?" one of them asked.

"Not really," I answered. "I'm just looking for this place." I showed her my map.

They didn't seem to understand my map quite well. Ah, see? It's not my poor sense of direction.

Finally, they both decided that I had walked into the opposite direction.

"I thought I could take this way." I swept my finger on the map.

"No, you can't."

"Okay, thanks."

After several steps, I heard her voice again behind me. "Ehmmm..."

"Yes?" I turned my head.

"Enjoy Brunei!"

"Sure! I will."

According to my map, the bus terminal was near the Embassy of Canada. Once again I expected to find a grand building with a wide yard of green grass, security guards in front, and a Canadian flag striking in the middle, just like the embassies in Jakarta. Nothing similar to that seemed to be in sight. Along the road where only shops, mostly own by Chinese. The Embassy of Canada turned out to be inside an office building. No security guards were seen outside.

The bus route map displayed at the bus terminal was pretty understandable. From a vendor inside the terminal I got information about which bus to take to get to the ferry port for Labuan. She and her assistant were very kind and helpful. Feeling uneasy because of their sincerity, I bought a box of rice from them.

But when I asked them about Pantai Seri Kenangan, they appeared not to have even heard the name. Pantai Seri Kenangan also didn't appear on the route map. But besides all the purple buses, there were 2 buses that wasn't purple and had not numbers. I went there.

This time luck was on my side. A lady worker from my country (Jogja) happened to be waiting for her bus. She told me that I could take the bus heading to Seria to get to Pantai Seri Kenangan. Kindly she provided me information about the fare and about other destinations. We chatted for awhile until her bus was about to leave.

This is one of the city buses in Seri Bandar Begawan. After I tried several destinations, Brunei appeared to be not as small as it seemed to be. Too bad is that public buses don't operate at night. Mostly up to 6:00 PM the latest. Other than buses and water taxis, public transportation is not really convenient in Brunei. Outside of Bandar Seri Begawan, public buses becomes more a rare thing. It looks like that most people use private cars.

Because of this inconvenience of public transportation, a day or two only becomes inadequate to explore Brunei. I can imagine spending one whole busy week exploring Brunei. Maybe I can describe for you why, much better in my next posts to come.

In the evening I took a water trip through Kampong Ayer for 20 BND one hour. But that will be another story and another album of photos. So that's for next post, also.

After doing the boat tour I sat down for a moment at Yayasan's park. There, Kopi Tiam Cafe was shining brightly tempting me right in front of my eyes. Ah, if only I had more sheets in my purse... I picked up my camera intending to return Kopi Tiam's colorful smile with a shot. But... as I set my camera and looked at my live preview... my heart stopped. The color tone on my live preview screen was different. Did I damaged my camera? Where and when did it happen? How? Did the river water splash on my camera? How come I didn't notice? I was very nervous. I sighed and turned up my head.

What?? The color in front of my naked eyes had changed as well! Now, something wrong with my blood pressure? Cholesterol? Heart attack? A thousand thoughts. And a minute later, the color changed again! Finally... I came to realize with great relief that the lights are changing constantly every now and then. It's not my camera, it's not my eyes.

I turned around... and wow! The lights along the park are changing accordingly! So cool, BSB!

Meeting so many Chinese in Brunei with Mandarin characters everywhere, I thought I might find the Nescafe I bought in Wuhan here. To my super great surprise, I found my favorite Vietnam coffee!!

I turned round the package to make sure it was really a product of Vietnam. It was!!

There was also another type of Vietnam coffee.

I think this is my first time seeing a trolley cart with an advertisement hung above. A creative method of marketing.

Posted by automidori 23:07 Archived in Brunei Tagged brunei badar_seri_begawan

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