Thursday, November 29, 2012

Brunei: not just another stamp

I found myself driving down a modern and newly paved highway from the Muara boat jetty to the city of Bandar Seri Begawan in a family station wagon. How did I get here? Well, on the ferry over to Brunei from Malaysia a young girl sat down beside me and introduced herself as Sighba.

She started conversation with me in perfect English asking about my travels and explaining that she was Pakistani but has lived in Bruinei with her family for the last 13 years. Sighba was only a couple years younger than me, very down to earth and forward thinking. It was a refreshing change to talk to a Muslim girl since normally they are very shy and never approach you on their own.

We talked about everything, making fun of the strange cultural differences in our countries and sharing our high hopes for our careers in the future. She was also eager to answer all my questions about Brunei and gave me a bit of insiders info on what to expect. When we arrived at the port we said goodbye and I went outside to catch a public bus into the city but after waiting some seemingly endless minutes in the mid-day heat I was approached by Sighba again. She was now with her parents who already heard the story about their daughter meeting a Canadian “bule”, of course.

They explained that there was almost no hope of me finding a bus at this time, despite the info in my trusty Lonely Planet book. They insisted that I would be better off catching a ride into town with them and I didn’t have any reason to argue.

We rode along smoothly with the AC blasting but I was still confused about the bus situation. When I asked why there was no reliable public transit in such a progressive city, they replied “Everyone is Brunei has their own vehicle. There are at least two cars or more for each family, it’s a hobby to collect expensive things here.”

It occurred to me then, that Brunei was a far wealthier country than it’s neighbours and I was in for a bit of an interesting change. It’s people were just as friendly though which was proven to me by Sighba and her family. They chatted away for the whole ride, giving me tips on what to see and do when I arrived in BSB. Lucky for me, the capitol city is small enough to explore in the waning hours I had left before sun down.

My first destination after checking into one of the only hostels in town was “Kampung Air” which translates to “water village”. A stark contrast to the clean and pristine downtown, Kampung Air is a town of it’s own where all buildings, including a school, mosque and even a fire station are built on stilts over the water.

From an outsiders perspective, Kampung Air’s battered wooded shacks can easily look like the dodgy slums of BSB, a huge separation from the gold detailed fences and BMWs just on the other side of the plank walk. As told to me on the ride over, however; no one is Brunei is poor.

Even the citizens of Kampung Air have high paying jobs but are compensated by the King to live in the water village to “preserve the culture”. It is hard to believe but walking through the houses you see that people have everything they need there and they seem to be doing just fine.

Continue reading (Incl. Pic) at: Brunei: not just another stamp