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He only went out for some milk A blurb of monstrous proportions - it was only supposed to be a couple of lines and the odd photo.

Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB)

BRUNEI DARUSSALAM | Monday, 16 July 2007 | Views [4695]

Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque - catchy name

Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque - catchy name

An extraordinary rich royal family, a prince who misspends $15 billion, a cattle farm in Australia larger than the country, a country where alcohol is illegal and home of maybe the most Islamic country in S.E. Asia (yet only 67% of the population are Muslims).  I remember being completely surprised, when i discovered only recently that Negara Brunei Darussalam (Brunei) wasn't in the Middle East but in Borneo.

I've been looking forward to this visit.  I'm told it's an affluent general population who have free medical and health care, free schooling, subsidized fuel and housing and the highest number of cars per head of population in the world.  Maybe i won't be the rich, white wallet for once?  I've only got 3 days to find out.  I had to specify how many days i would be here.  Lets see, for someone who was going to avoid flying; I've missed a flight, been delayed several times, caught flights with only seconds to spare, had a flight cancelled, had one disappear (strange but true) and now I've had one that won't check me in unless i have an onward flight for the next country I'm visiting.  They insist Brunei will stop me once i get off the plane and send me back.  It's a good job I'm at the airport early for once.  I have to run around finding a (cheap) flight that wil show that i will be leaving Brunei.  What crazy notion is this?!  Having a ticket doesn't mean that I'm going to use it...madness.  Needless to say I never get asked to show my ticket when i reach Brunei...

BSB is quite modern, it has a great bus network - $1 gets you anywhere in town, it's clean, and it has wide, pristine roads, that usually have a pavement. Bizarrely it doesn't have much traffic, and much to my surprise, it isn't full of women wearing burkhas.  It is however dominated by the golden domed Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque - it's a nice reminder of the wealth here.  If you look just beyond the mosque to across the river you see Kampung Ayer.  This is home for a large part of the city - around 32,000 people, who live in makeshift, ram shackles on stilts.  The arrangement of pipes, wires, and of course satellite dishes feeding these homes is a work of archaeological wonder in itself.  Another wonder is the water taxi's, aka speeding coffins that zoom everywhere at a painfully, bumpy pace.  The houses aren't exactly the picture of wealth i was expecting - especially not in the shadow of that mosque.

A big problem is what to do at night - there are no clubs or pubs and the like, most places close early and there isn't a lot to see.  The Lousy Planet says the national pastime is walking around pristine shopping malls in the evening.  They've got that wrong...a lot of the people could do with the exercise.  The national pastime is eating, and while you are at it throw in smoking visiting and hubbly bubbly places...ironic really.  I'm lucky, as on one of my nights here it's the Sultans 61st birthday, and there are going to be major celebrations.  Woo Hoo! - lets go wild and drink lots of...tea and...walk around a bit.  The celebration is actually half the city stood around in groups all day, with nothing to do, (it's a national holiday), and then stood around stalls all evening.  Of course the stalls are all selling food.  There are no stages, no music, no shows....nothing.  The food is a gastronomic treat: beef burgers, chicken burgers, egg burgers, and if you are really adventurous - beef burgers with egg and cheese.  Wow, I'm so glad i didn't miss this celebration.

It's been an interesting few days.  I've often thought that no alcohol would be a good thing - after all people can't control themselves.  After 2 nights of being bored out of my mind, where getting blotto would have been a welcome relief...I've changed my mind.  It is a city worth visiting though - apart from the nightly boredom it's been a welcome change.

 

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