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Shazza's Escapades Light hearted look at my travel escapades

Brunei Dec 2011

BRUNEI DARUSSALAM | Wednesday, 28 December 2011 | Views [721]

Not the type of place I normally visit. It’s a tiny country almost similar to most South East Asian country but with one difference. It’s the richest country in the world with the richest monarch in the world. So I had to go and see for myself seeing as I was so close by.

My first thoughts were disappointing, boring and dull. This eventually changed but nevertheless my time in Brunei was still dull especially the night life.

I arrived in Bandar Seri Begawan expecting a flash airport with limos lining the ranks outside it but no it was a tiny hub with the usual taxis out front. It didn’t seem spectacular to me, nothing rich about the place. I could have been anywhere in Malaysia and nobody could tell.

Bearing in mind the capital city being so small it was quite difficult to get around without a car. It’s not really geared for tourists although it does try very hard with tours and information at the airport. I expected as I was staying in the city I would be able to walk everywhere. It proved difficult without your own transport as I found that public transport was not very reliable and all stopped at 5pm...even taxis!

I joined a couple of tours, one was a basic city tour which I normally do on my own but the places of interest were far and wide apart from where I stayed which seemed strange for me as I assumed being the smallest country in the world the capital would also be the smallest in the world and practically walkable. Again I was wrong.

We did the usual mosque tours, the library and then the museum. Then we visited the floating village and stopped in one of the houses for tea. I was impressed by the village especially their water taxis which whizzed past in every direction with no traffic lights to guide them. No accidents so far I’ve been told. They even get satellite television and internet in these villages.

I also took part in a mini boat safari along the mangroves to search for Proboscis monkeys. They are monkeys with very long and wobbly noses some might say penis shaped noses. We did get to see them in their natural habitat and the boat ride was lovely and you got to catch a glimpse of the hidden palace. This palace is the biggest in the world but nothing is allowed to tower it so there are not picturesque views of the palace from any height. You can just about see the solid gold dome and the rest is hidden by trees. I did ask why there were no pictures or photos of the palace not even on a postcard but the answer I got was confusing. I guess the Sultan is very private and does not want anyone to see his palace. At least I got to see the entrance and his guards but that was it.

I began to learn that you didn’t have to be poor to live in a village. In fact there were not that many poor people in Brunei. Even if you are poor it didn’t matter as everything in subsidised by the very generous King. From what I hear about Sultan Haji Sir Hassan al-Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah the more I like. He is very generous to his people.

Everything from petrol to housing is subsidised. If you buy a house half will be paid by the government. If you buy a car half will be paid the government. If you go to university you will get a monthly allowance given to you by the government. Medical and hospitals are free for all citizens. It seems so good that I might want to emigrate here. Unfortunately they don’t take too kindly to immigrants, they are sent packing. If you are lucky enough to stay it will take you 15 years of working to become a full citizen or you can marry one.

When I say government I do mean the King. He pays for everything. In fact he is so rich that sometimes he offers free petrol to all his citizens. Would you believe that this offer is passed up? What kind of place is this? Oil makes this country rich but the King looks after his people so everyone seems happy. High crime rates are unheard of. What crimes? Prisons have only cigarette and alcohol smugglers and the odd guy who didn’t wear his seatbelt. It is said the best job to have is in the Police because they don’t have anything to do. Nobody seems to commit any crimes.

Is this propaganda relayed to me by guides? I met some locals who also laugh at the fact that there are no hardened criminals in their jails. It’s kind of like a utopia maybe.

Maybe some of you think that what I’m hearing are opinions of people who are scared to talk against their government. It is true that in most Islamic state this is the case, just look at the past year alone. But I can genuinely tell you that the people I met have spoken in kindness about their ruler, government and about how happy they are and I believe them.

If I’m wrong then I’m sure Brunei will be another country beset by riots trying to rid themselves of another autonomous ruler sooner or later. We’ll see.


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