Dear Brunei

I came to you with certain goals in mind — with a list of places to see, foods to eat and things to experience. You were supposed to birth me into the wonderful world of overseas backpacking. I was to sleep in a hostel with strangers, I was to get lost on your streets, I was to frantically budget my limited funds. But alas, you had a different plan for me.

brunei (8)First off you aren’t very backpacker-friendly. You don’t have trains and your buses are only safe till 7 PM (not to mention they take a long time to leave the terminal due to scarcity of passengers). It’s not surprising that your public transportation is lacking because unlike in the Philippines where majority of the population commute on a daily basis, almost everyone owns a car in your country. Heck, even security guards drive around in Fords. Which isn’t surprising either given the fact that diesel in your country is half the price compared with the rest of the world thanks to finding petroleum and natural gas in your backyard.

brunei (38)SONY DSCEverybody warned me about your people, especially the males. They are used to women walking around covered from head to foot and I felt their stares like lasers. But the first Bruneian I met was a man. His name is Maddi and he was kind enough to drive us to the city proper (already mentioned that your public transpo system sucks) even if it meant sneaking because he was on duty. Honestly speaking, I was wary at first and I wasn’t keen on getting in a stranger’s car. Then I asked myself “Am I having second thoughts because He’s a (a) stranger or (b) man or (c) Muslim or (d) all of the above? If he was from another race or practiced another religion would I have thought as I did?”. I realized I was being a racist, felt guilty, told myself to screw every precaution everyone ever told me, and rode his car with Tin. Obviously I’m still alive and well. In fact, Maddi even told us to just roam around and skip the boat ride along the Water Village because the boatmen are naughty. What’s the point of this unnecessarily long paragraph? Trusting in humanity doesn’t always get you killed. But when a man warns you about other men being naughty, you listen. haha.

brunei (9)Good thing I was already in your territory when I heard the news about two Filipinas chopped into pieces after riding a colorum or illegal taxi because that’s enough shit to scare me into forfeiting my trip. Never mind the 1,700 pesos. You see, these kinds of stories just tick me off the wrong way and make the hair on the back of my neck stand because during my formative years in the 90s, a number of “chop chop lady” movies were made and shown in the Philippines (from Kris Aquino to Lorna Tolentino).

SONY DSCYour mosques are beautiful (a Muslim friend told me “Masjid” is a more appropriate term than mosque). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to enter one because my visits either coincide with prayer time or the heat of the sun is too much I can’t wait for another second to enter air-conditioned premises. My bad that I can’t remember any of their names because I suck at memorizing but a little Googling will do (plus tons of better quality pictures!).

SONY DSC brunei (11)They’re even more majestic at night my camera didn’t do them any justice.

SONY DSC

4You’re pretty clean pretty hot too and I didn’t mean the latter as a compliment.

22Aside from the Youth Hostel, your accommodations are pretty damn expensive. Take for example The Empire, a 7-star hotel facing the South China Sea. Yeah, you weren’t content with five so you went for seven stars. Despite that, I think it’s nice that roaming around the place is not that intimidating for plebeians like me. I can only imagine how lovely it would be to spend the night there.

brunei (20) 3 brunei (19) brunei (21) SONY DSCBut I’m not bitter because you accommodated me someplace a hundred times better than what I expected (I was ready to sleep in your airport if worse comes to worst), in one of the dormitories of your premiere international school. The best part? It’s for free. All thanks to Tita Lou of course.

SONY DSCThough I bet nothing beats staying at the palace of your royals. I wanted to see the inside of Istana. Unfortunately, it’s open to the public only during the annual Islamic celebration of Hari Raya Aidilfitri (the festival at the end of the Muslim fasting month). According to Tita Lou, during the celebration there’s a buffet and you can even shake the hand of the king/queen. She added that almost everything was made of gold. What luxury! As for me, I only came as far as the gates.

brunei (27) brunei (30)Most of your mannequins are dressed modestly. Which reminds me, I am really lucky I visited you in March because your Sultan announced that starting April 1, there will be nation-wide implementation of the strict penal code of Shariah. I actually didn’t know what the fuss was until it was explained to me. For starters, amputation of limbs for theft, stoning for adultery, and flogging for alcohol consumption, abortion and homosexuality are acceptable under the law. Also, everyone including non-Muslims need to dress more conservatively (No more leggings or shorts for you, Tin). Brunei was pretty lenient before. Now the country will start to take after nations like Saudi Arabia. It’s not entirely a bad thing because that’s your people’s belief and the head of your State thinks it will help you become closer to Allah.

SONY DSCAccording to Tin you have a lot of stray monkeys but I am relieved I never saw one during my stay. Also, I only saw one other tourist. Majority of foreigners in your country are there for work. Heck, more than half of the stores I went to are manned by Pinoys. Good for me because I get special discounts. hehe.

7I don’t know if this sign is hilarious or creepy but I had the feeling that it’s serious.

SONY DSCOh, and thanks to you, I met a Russian for the first time. They docked their ship in one of your ports in Muara and he toured us around.

SONY DSC brunei (35)Again, meeting him made me realize that English really isn’t the language of the world. When he (I forgot his name) showed us their dining area, all he can say was “yum yum” with actions and I laughed because it was too cute.

brunei (36)Your shopping mall buildings look gorgeous on the outside.

SONY DSCI hate to break it to you but the insides are disappointing. Very disappointing considering how beautiful the facades are. Or maybe my standards are just high thanks to the Sys and Gokongweis and Ayalas. Oh, and rice is also a staple in your diet so I didn’t have any oryza-withdrawal symptoms during my stay. In fact, I love your food.

53Especially Mee-Goreng.

brunei (43)Loved it too much the only pasalubong I bought (aside from a couple of refrigerator magnets) are packs and packs of Mi Goreng. Even if it’s generally an Indo-Malay recipe and not orginially your own, you’re the one I think about when I eat it.

SONY DSCAlso there’s Nasi Lemak and Ayem Paynet. As long as there’s rice and your spicy, delicious sambal, I’m good.

SONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSCMy favorite is easily Nasi Katok, a dish that is distinctly yours. It’s just a combination of rice, sambal and a piece of chicken or beef. What makes it unique is the way it’s served, in a piece of somewhat water-proof brown paper. Nasi Katok translate to “rice” and “knock” respectively so I guess this originated from people knocking on the doors of vendors for rice back when 24-hour fast foods were unheard of. Anddd it’s cheap!

SONY DSCUp to now, I still think about your Tea C special and I’ve been frequenting milk tea shops (despite the fact that I stayed away from them beginning last year) in search of something that comes close. Sadly, to no avail.

SONY DSCFor the sake of Wi-Fi I visited Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf as well as the newly opened Starbucks Cafe. Not sure if it’s just me but your drinks didn’t taste as tasty as the one we have at home. Oh, and your cakes were really bad. I mean, being Halal has got t o do something about it because lard comes from pork.

SONY DSCBuying Royce chocolates in your malls didn’t make me guilty at all because it seemed easier to shell out 15BND than when you convert it to pesos which sums up to 500+. And so I had the luxury of eating these heavenly chocolates in an air-conditioned room while watching american TV shows. Also, I find it both amazing and wasteful at the same time that it’s common practice not to turn of the air conditioner even if there’s no one at home. I know your electricity is super cheap but that contributes to making the polar ice caps in the north and south poles melt faster.

brunei (44)I wish we had the same parks. No beggars and no fear that someone’s out there to rob you of your belongings.

SONY DSC SONY DSCPlus it’s really relaxing. Though the sun is very unforgiving during lunch and early afternoon, you get colder after 4 PM. Perfect for strolling around.

SONY DSC SONY DSCOne of the things I like about you the most is the low density of people. I only saw traffic once. When we went to the super market lines were nonexistent in the checkout counters. We were always one of two tables (three at most) whenever we eat out even if it’s meal time and many other things. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate people. I just want them to keep their distance, you know, personal space. Anyway, thank you for catering to the semi-claustrophobic me. Manila is so congested it felt really nice to be able to breathe and not inhale another person’s body smell for three days.

SONY DSCAnd I camwhored around your airport (which isn’t majestic in terms of airport standards, it’s not even huge) because the only people around are those that belong to the same flight as me.

brunei (46) brunei (45) brunei (47) 6Brunei, I went to you hoping I’d become a backpacker. Hoping I’d be alone. Hoping I’d go around wandering and having revelations about myself. In Urbandub’s song title, “soul-searching”. But you had another plan for me. Instead of going to all the places on my list which included museums and mosques and the billionth oil barrel, I went to places where the people who live there actually go to like supermarkets and Cathlic Churches. Instead of waking up early to explore, I was just chilling around most of the time, waiting for Tita Lou to be available because neither Tin nor I could drive a car. Instead of having once-in-a-lifetime experiences, I did the usual like cooking, washing the dishes as well as the clothes (in Brunei! haha) . Instead of hearing amazing backpacker stories from my supposed-to-be stranger roommates, I heard tales about my fellow countrymen and not all of them are happy ones. Most of all, instead of meeting foreigners, you led me into meeting my saviors, Tin and Tita Lou. It’s amazing how close people can be after only three days. It surely felt like I’ve known them especially Tin longer than that. Maybe the lie we fabricated about being friends in Manila for years has some truth in it.

111If there’s one thing you taught me, it’s the humility to accept help. Come to think of it, I’m the kind of person who as much as possible doesn’t want to ask favors from others. I am always embarrassed whenever someone saves my ass (for example Tita Lou paying for my 13 dollar Brunei Airport Tax because I ran out of dollars) because I’m supposed to clean after my own mess. I believe in exchange of values so I always always try to repay people because I hate having utang na loob. After this trip though, I realized that part of the reason why I’m like that is pride which is of course a deadly sin. And God is telling me to have the faith to receive. Because when I receive, I am giving the opportunity for someone to be generous.

Dear Brunei, thank you for the experience. Annnnddddd, you will always be my first.

 

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