Sunday, October 23, 2011

Falling in love with Brunei's landmarks

An Asean meeting on social issues and services, including housing, sent Darlene Marie B Berberabe, chief honcho of the Philippines' premier housing fund institution, to Bandar Seri Begawan last week.

Darlene's yearning for Brunei food prompted Brunei Pag-ibig Representative Arlina D Feliciano to bring her to the sultanate's showcase of Malay cuisine, Terindak D'Seni Restaurant and Cafe, on Jalan Residency, Brunei's oldest street.

"I'm sold on the view alone," said Darlene, looking at the panoramic view across the Brunei river of the rows of stilt houses standing in the centuries-old Water Village, of which Italian chronicler Antonio Pigafetta wrote, in the first detailed European description of Brunei in the 16th century: "The city is entirely built in salt water, except the houses of the king and certain chiefs.''

Today, the Brunei government is mulling the building of 420 low-rise, vertical housing units in a 47-hectare site near the Lambak Kanan mosques for its citizens.

In 1952, Kampong Ayer villagers moved to Kampong Bunut in Mukim Kilanas under the government's first national housing resettlement programme.

In 1906, when Jalan Residency was opened and named after the first British Resident's house, the 12-roofed Bubungan Dua Belas, the government encouraged Bruneians to move into dry land and build their houses away from the water.

Jalan Residency, where the jetty going to Temburong is located, leads to the Arts and Handicrafts Centre, a $22 million, 10-storey Malay style building opened in 1984, to train locals in making handicraft like traditionally woven sarong, using gold thread called jong sarat, used for centuries for royal ceremonies, hand-made silverware and ornaments, the snake-like dagger called keris, traditional bronze castings giant decorative wooden spinning tops, colourful cover dishes made of plaited leaves, and native baskets, on display and for sale.

Very near the centre's location was a factory producing cutch, a brownish red, sticky substance used to dye nets and sails, colour clothes khaki and tan leather. Mangrove trees growing along the riverbank were cut for its barks, which were crushed and boiled to make cutch, which were exported as hard blocks or balls, to Britain, US, China and Japan.

After commercial oil was found in 1928 and oil revenue gushed into Brunei in the late 1930's, the water community became officially known as Kampong Ayer and the capital on land as Brunei Town.

Tucked behind the Arts and Handicrafts Centre is the two-storey Terindak Café and Restaurant, offering the best in Brunei cuisine since 2009. Melanaus, the people of the river and Sarawak's earliest settlers, wear the terindak, the conical sun hat stitched from nipa leaves and reinforced on the outside with bamboo strips. A mini version used as a food cover is called tudung dulang in Brunei.

Pulau Terindak was an enclave in 12th century Brunei, 200 years before the era of Brunei's first sultan. Located beside Kampong Ayer in Kota Batu, blue and white plates, and jarlets mostly from China during the Ming dynasty were dug up in the 250 sq-m man-made island elevated 3.64 metres from the sea level.

Darlene Berberabe is a University of the Philippines-educated lawyer who gave up a promotion in Singapore for a multinational firm to be the chief operating officer of the Philippine government's Pag-ibig Fund, a shelter agency which channels savings for housing financing needs.

Pag-ibig, (meaning love in the Filipino language), is an acronym for helping each other for the future: you, the bank, industry and the government. It is symbolised by the bayanihan spirit, the Filipino version of gotong-royong: a house literally carried by several persons to be transplanted to a permanent site.

The Philippine government housing agencies aims to provide 1.5 million houses for its informal settlers and poor dwellers in 2016. From January to July 2011, 1.2 million Filipino Pag-Ibig members benefited from multipurpose loans, mostly for school-related expenses and tuition fees during the month of May.

After lunch, the Manila visitors motored to the largest and most magnificent mosque in Brunei, the Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque in Kiarong. Known as the Kiarong Mosque) it covers 20 acres.

Darlene and her inseparable classmate since Primary 2, and now Chief of Staff, Nanette Abilay, who celebrated her birthday in Brunei, were awed by the mosque's 29 marble domes and 29 white marble steps, the symbols of His Majesty Sultan Hj Hassanal Bolkiah as the 29th ruler of the 600-year-old Bolkiah dynasty, one of the world's oldest ruling monarchies. Before the house of worship's large, gold-topped domes, striking mosaic patterns, manicured landscaping and gushing fountains, the visitors had their pictures taken for posterity.

On the way to Brunei's first green building, the Philippine Embassy in the Diplomatic Enclave, stand the infrastructure landmarks "the country's pride", architect Edgardo Feliciano, working with Architect Abdullah Ahmad, helped erect during his 16 years' stay here: Magistrate's Court Building, Mabohai Condominium Apartments, RIPAS Outpatient Department, Kiulap Commercial Complex, and Pusat Da'wah Islamiah, the New Convert's Hostel.

Having experienced the comforts of the opulent Empire Hotel in Jerudong, viewed the historic Water Village and tasted the hospitality of Terindak the self-described Manila visitor said: "I'm single, available and willing to relocate in Brunei."

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin Sunday

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