Welcome to my private journal generally on Brunei issues. Any opinions expressed are in my personal capacity. All rights to the articles are reserved.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Brunei: Stronger Links

The Oxford Business Group reported on 2nd December 2010 the following news:

Brunei: Stronger Links

The 17th ASEAN summit in Hanoi in October saw Brunei Darussalam taking steps to improve economic ties with several of its partners in the 10-member organisation, as well as with non-member states. The summit, the second held under Vietnam’s chairmanship, came at a crucial time for ASEAN as it seeks to build more internal economic integration while also strengthening its geostrategic role.

Compared with other ASEAN nations, Brunei Darussalam is relatively small, both in terms of size and population. As ASEAN is a key forum for articulation of the smaller nations’ views and interests, strengthening ties with the organisation has long been one of the Sultanate’s key foreign policy objectives. Indeed, the summit provided an opportunity for Brunei Darussalam to reinforce its ties with its neighbours while strengthening relations with other regional powers.

On October 28 His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah met with Nguyen Tan Dung, the Vietnamese prime minister, who proposed that an investment protection agreement and memorandum of understanding (MoU) on fisheries between the two countries should be signed. His Majesty Bolkiah also proposed further cooperation in fisheries, trade, investment and agriculture, with the Vietnamese stating on the latter point that they were ready to export rice to Brunei Darussalam.

Agriculture was also top of the agenda in discussions between the Bruneian leader and the Philippines President Benigno Aquino III. According to the chief Filipino presidential spokesperson, a broad discussion on agricultural issues took place between the two leaders, with this likely to be the first step toward a bilateral agreement that would supply Filipino foodstuffs to the Sultanate.

The focus for these potential future imports was the southern Filipino island of Mindanao, which is part of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMPEAGA). The potential for the island as a future hub for halal food production was raised by the Sultan, according to the Filipinos, with the proviso that this objective would likely be realised after a lasting peace settlement on the troubled island.

Brunei has had a strong commitment to the peace process on the island for some time, sending a contingent from the Royal Brunei Armed Forces as part of the peace monitoring effort. There has been a decades long conflict there between the Filipino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front over autonomy and human rights.

Brunei also sent a representative from the Brunei Investment Authority to the upcoming public-private-partnership conference being held in Manila later in November. The conference aims to drum up more foreign investment for the Philippines.

In addition to relations with its immediate neighbours, Brunei has also been keen to strengthen ties with other important countries in the region. In this regard His Majesty also praised ASEAN’s relationship with Australia and New Zealand at the ASEAN summit and at the associated ASEAN-Australia summit, which was attended by newly elected Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He also highlighted the importance of ASEAN’s links with Russia at the ASEAN-Russian summit, which was held during the time of the meeting in Hanoi. Russian President Dimitry Medvedev attended this meeting, where the Sultan welcomed Russia’s inclusion in the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN 10+8 defence ministers’ meeting.

The EAS, which met during the ASEAN summit, also saw the participation of the US for the first time, while the meeting of ASEAN+ 3 (Japan, South Korea and China) also took place. India was also present in Hanoi, pursuing its new “Look East” policy at the eighth ASEAN-India summit, an event which saw a further strengthening of trade links and which promises the establishment of a free trade agreement (FTA) after 2016.

Brunei Darussalam supports an inclusive series of agreements and dialogues between ASEAN and other regional players, seeing these as ways to strengthen both prosperity and political stability. The FTAs are expected to boost trade levels and the need to focus on comparative advantage will be more pressing than ever when they take full effect. The Sultanate’s decision to move toward more value-added industries is likely to be an increasingly necessary strategy if Brunei is to benefit from more open trade with mass manufacturing economies. Welcoming in all the neighbours may give the Sultanate a chance to show its unique qualities to an ever-wider world.

“We should further undertake comprehensive measures to ensure ASEAN centrality in an evolving regional architecture,” Vietnamese premier Nguyen said at the opening of the summit, addressing a key underlying concern of many member states. Vietnam had held the rotating chair of ASEAN this year, with this position handed over to Indonesia at the end of the summit.

The architecture the prime minister was talking about is not evolving in a vacuum, but within the context of growing interest in the region from outside, notably from China. Other powers, such as the US, India and Russia, all have interests and initiatives under way in South-east Asia. Moving forward, Brunei Darussalam looks set to continue on a path of increasing cooperation with states both within and outside of the ASEAN region.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Time Traveler?

I was very intrigued when I read a news article about a film-maker believes he has found evidence of time travel in footage from a Charlie Chaplin film premiere shot in 1928. You can go to youtube or the still as above.

George Clarke, from Belfast, says he has been puzzled for more than a year by the film which appears to show a woman talking on a mobile phone. He has posted the video on YouTube where it has notched up more than 2.2 million hits in just ten days, reports the BBC. Mr Clarke was checking the extras on a Chaplin DVD box-set and began watching a clip of the 1928 Hollywood premiere of The Circus.

"As I sat back to watch it I realised in the first 30 seconds there's a lady strolling by with her hand up to her ear which looked quite familiar in today's society," he said.

"So I wound it back and watched it again, zoomed it in and slowed it down and got other people in to check it out. Everybody had the same reaction - it looks like she's talking on a mobile phone."

He has since showed the clip to a number of people, including the audience of a Belfast film festival but says no-one has been able to provide an explanation. Since posting it on Youtube, the clip has provoked nearly 18,000 comments, divided between those who believe in the possibility of time travel, and that someone also pointed out that this is not an uncommon item in 1920s.

A quick check at Siemens website that in 1924, Siemens had a patent for a compact, pocket size carbon microphone and the photograph of a middle aged man holding which looked like a mobile phone in 1924 which looked like this:-

According to the Siemens website, for a while, the carbon amplifier patented by Siemens played a major role in hearing aid technology and significantly raised the volume of hearing aids.

The electrical energy controlled by the carbon microphone was not fed to the receiver directly. It first drove the diaphragm of an electromagnetic system connected to a carbon-granule chamber. Current was transmitted across this chamber from the vibrating diaphragm electrode to the fixed electrode plate.

The amplified current produced mechanical vibrations in the electromagnetic hearing diaphragm that were then transmitted to the ear as sound.

Which do you believe?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

BEDB Houses at Pandan, Kuala Belait

Yesterday was our second MOD visit to Kampong Pandan to visit the 2,000 houses that BEDB is currently building for us. Sometime last year, we visited them with the former Minister and at that time, other than a few sample houses, most of the houses were in various stages of completion. Unlike yesterday, it is the other way around, most of the houses are nearly completed.

We even visited the inside of the houses where two of the houses were actually fully furnished.

Complete with proper interior decoration and nice furniture, I thought the houses looked very nice. Altogether there are 2,000 houses being built. Currently around 1,700+ houses have been completed and there should be another 200+ houses left to be completed. There will be 800 semi detached houses of around 1,300 square feet area and 1,200 terrace houses of around 1,200 square feet area. The colour schemes for the interior of the house is very nice. Our own officers even want to take photographs inside the house.

How about the outside?

I have to admit it does look plain and simple despite the grand colours. First timers might find themselves lost as the houses are not differentiated. The houses are divided into 6 precincts with each precinct having aound 200 to 400 houses. The semi-detached houses are grouped together with the entrance from the highway whereas the terrace houses can easily be found by using the entrance from Jalan Singa Menteri.

Any other caveats? None as far as I can see, except that people living in the houses have to realise that their sidewalls are cement and not bricks. The brick walls areas are where you can put the aircond.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Value of Brunei's Undistributed Stamps

I was really surprised to see this set of stamps. This set of stamps was supposed to be released in 1970 but it was never released. The stamps were supposed to have been destroyed but I guess with these sets in the market, someone somewhere decided not to destroy every single one.

I came across this set sometime early this year when my dealer in Singapore showed the whole set and I paid around S$800 for the entire four stamps. When I told one of my friends in Brunei who specialised in antiques, he said I overpaid for it. It's difficult to estimate what the value is as these stamps do not come up for auctions that often.

When I saw it on ebay, I was surprised and put up a bid for it. I was the highest at one stage but towards the end, there were just too many bidders, serious ones too. When the dust cleared, the stamps were sold for US$935 which is even way way what I paid for. Whoever bought it, congratulations, I do hope no more of these stamps will appear suddenly any more.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Stopover with Majesty

[This article was published in Australia's Sydney Morning Herald on 24 October 2010]

Steve McKenna swings from royalty to rainforest in one of south-east Asia's most underrated destinations.

MY HEART is beating faster than normal as I approach the Sultan of Brunei. We're in the lavish surrounds of his 1788-room palace, standing beneath a ceiling coated in crystal and, although it feels like a dream, I don't have time to pinch myself.

Smiling and looking genuinely pleased to see me, his majesty shakes my hand. It's neither a wet fish nor a bone cruncher. It's just right, in fact, though I'm not surprised by his expertise, considering the amount of practise he gets.

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The sultan will greet about 50,000 people in the course of the weekend as part of the celebrations for Hari Raya, an annual festival that follows the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. For three days, Bruneians and foreigners can visit the palace, where a buffet bulging with treats is laid on, compliments of his majesty.

Bellies full, men then queue to meet the sultan and male members of the Bruneian royal family (including eccentric playboy Prince Jefri). Women are shepherded to another opulent room, where the queen and princesses await. Later, everyone leaves with a gift. This year, it's cake.

A sovereign state swimming in oil on the north coast of the island of Borneo, Brunei boasts far more than just regal splendour and black gold (more than 1 billion barrels' worth of oil has been pumped out since the resource was first tapped in 1929).

In four days, I'm won over by the country's jewels: tropical jungles teeming with wildlife, atmospheric villages, sublime Islamic-influenced architecture, delicious, spicy Malaysian-style cuisine and friendly people - many of whom speak fluent English as well as Malay, the official language.

Brunei was a British protectorate from 1888 to 1984 and still bears a few influences - driving on the left-hand side, for instance. However, religion holds greater sway: Islam arrived here with Arab traders in the 14th century and the sultan is part of a dynasty that claims direct descent from the prophet Muhammad. On his watch, Friday prayers are near-sacrosanct, aspects of Sharia law are in force and alcohol is essentially banned (though foreigners can bring 12 cans of beer and two bottles of wine or spirits through customs for private use).

Yet Brunei is no fundamentalist backwater and instead lives up to its full name, Brunei Darussalam (Abode of Peace). Various religions flourish here, violent crime is virtually non-existent and Bruneinan women wear a mix of Western-style clothes and traditional Malay outfits and headscarves. Brunei's capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, is small, clean, green, low-key and laid-back. Also shorn of pesky street salesmen and choking traffic jams, it's a fine base for exploring the country.

As well as two huge, beautiful mosques and a clutch of intriguing museums, Bandar offers Kampong Ayer - a collection of "floating" villages that have huddled here, in some form, for a millennium.

Home to about 20,000 people, Kampong Ayer was mentioned in the chronicles of Antonio Pigafetta, a member of Ferdinand Magellan's 16th-century round-the-world expedition, which passed through Borneo's waters.

Treading the boardwalks linking Kampong Ayer's wooden stilt homes, workshops, schools and medical centres, I chat with locals.

Most homes have satellite dishes, while the government's oil-rich coffers means healthcare and education are free for all citizens, there's no income tax and petrol is cheap (about 30¢ a litre). Much of Brunei is covered in rainforest and on a water-taxi tour of the jungle-fringed waterways around Bandar, I spot proboscis monkeys and macaques swinging between branches and crocodiles sunbathing in mangroves.

I also venture deeper into Brunei's interior by motor boat, to Temburong, the smaller, eastern slice of Brunei. Split from Bandar, and its more populated western part by Malaysia's state of Sarawak, Temburong is home to Ulu Ulu, a rainforest eco-resort where you relax to the sounds of chirping crickets and cicadas, or tackle a raft of jungle-based adventures. Early next morning, I'm woken by a guide and embark on a sweaty, humid 30-minute trek to a vantage point overlooking the misty rainforest canopy. The prize is seeing a magical, almost ethereal, Borneo sunrise. My last night in Brunei is spent at the sumptuous Empire Hotel and Country Club, said to be a favourite hang-out of the sultan, his polo-playing friend Prince Charles and Bill Clinton. Built a decade ago on the fringes of the South China Sea for a reported $1.1 billion, the club is a riot of Italian marble, gilded columns and shimmering chandeliers, with a spa, pools and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

As I enjoy a glass of red on my balcony, I toast Brunei. Australians are spoilt for choice when it comes to stopovers in Asia and although the sultanate lacks the fame of Hong Kong or Singapore, the country is every bit as rewarding.

The writer was a guest of Royal Brunei Airlines.

Trip notes

Getting there

Royal Brunei flies from Brisbane to Brunei priced from $620 return, with connections to other Asian cities and London (alcohol-free flights). (07) 3860 6700, bruneiair.com.

Staying there

Radisson Hotel in Bandar has double rooms priced from $Br165 ($130) a night. +673 224 4272, www.radisson.com/brunei. Empire Hotel and Country Club rooms are from about $Br400 a night. + 673 241 8888, theempirehotel.com. A night at Ulu Ulu Resort, including transfers, activities and meals, is from $Br350 a person, twin share. + 673 244 1791, uluuluresort.com.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Brunei's Connections

The Oxford Business Group reported on 30th September 2010 the following news:


Brunei's Connections

The arrival of a flotilla of traditional Filipino balangay sailboats in Brunei’s Muara harbour last month was not only a colourful display of seamanship – the boats are on a 14,000km journey around South-east Asia – it was also a reminder of the Sultanate’s plan to deepen trade and transport links with neighbouring nations.

A significant contributor to the enhanced cooperation is the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) initiative. Launched in 1994, it seeks to boost economic activity between Brunei and peripheral states of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, since the states are economically distant from their countries’ main growth centres.

The multilateral grouping includes the states of Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan in Malaysia, the provinces of Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku, West Papua and Papua in Indonesia, and Mindanao and Palawan in the Philippines. Around 1.6m sq km is covered by the BIMP-EAGA, with a combined population of some 57.5m people.

Brunei, which currently possesses the only international air gateway in the sub-region, Bandar Seri Begawan Airport, has long been a firm backer of the plan.

Thomas Koh, secretary general of the Federation of Transport and Stevedoring Brunei Darussalam, told reporters and sector insiders at a presentation in August that improving trade and transportation, particularly logistics, was key to the BIMP-EAGA vision.
Air links were strengthened in August with the Filipino low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific launching its first direct flight from Manila to Bandar Seri Begawan. The Brunei Tourism Board hopes that this will see a jump in the number of Filipino tourists and foreign visitors.

Cebu Pacific’s Vice President-Marketing and Distribution Candice A Iyog told Bruneian reporters soon after flights began that they enjoyed a 98% passenger load factor in its early days. Part of the route’s popularity is that it connects well with domestic Filipino destinations that the airline flies to.

An early morning flight from Bandar Seri Begawan to Manila allows for an onward journey the same day, connecting the Sultanate via the Filipino capital to airports such as Davao, the capital of Mindanao, and Puerto Princesa on Palawan.

Cebu’s arrival brings the number of international airlines using Brunei’s international airport to four – the other three being Royal Brunei, Air Asia, and Singapore Airlines. Media reports suggest Air Asia’s Indonesian operation is also eyeing a link between the airport and Jakarta. The budget airline doubled its daily number of Bandar Seri Begawan-Kuala Lumpur flights from August 25 to two.

The Malaysian low-cost carrier is also talking of opening a budget hotel as part of its Tune Hotel chain in Bandar Seri Begawan, to go along with the flight expansion. Tiger Airways, the Singaporean budget airline, still has no plans to add Brunei to its schedules, though it was given permission to do so back in 2006.

Overall, the number of international connections into Brunei is now increasing. There is also hope that sea connections will improve too, with the addition of a Muara-Labuan route to the itinerary of the roll on-roll off car and passenger ferry Shuttle Hope, which currently plies the Muara-Kota Kinabalu route.

However, the BIMP-EAGA initiative still suffers from the lack of direct flights within the sub-region, while the ferry project has met challenges in obtaining the necessary permissions from different national authorities. Unless addressed, this could limit the sub-region’s potential.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Old World Charm

Published in the Asia News Network entitled Old world charm,

Revathi Murugappan
The Star
Publication Date : 02-08-2010


When tourists hear of Brunei Darussalam, they think of a country that is rich in oil and whose Sultan was once the richest man in the world before Bill Gates, Carlos Slim and others overtook him on top of the billionaire’s list.

But of course, there’s more to Brunei than that. The roots of the country can be traced to a little village by the Brunei River, where villagers fished for a living and skilled craftsmen fashioned handicraft from brass, silver and wood to be traded around the region.

All this began in an area in the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan called Kampong Ayer or Water Village where houses are built on stilts as they were a thousand years ago. It is the biggest water village in the world, comprising a cluster of little villages and stretching over 8km along the river.

Kampong Ayer houses around 30,000 inhabitants (that’s 10 per cent of the population), with each of the small villages of which it is comprised having its own chief, chosen by the people. Today, besides being a major tourist attraction, Kampong Ayer is designated as a national heritage site.

Italian scholar Antonio Pigafetta dubbed it the 'Venice of the East' when he travelled with Portugeuse explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his crew on their voyage to the Indies in 1512. Hence, the village is an important part of Brunei as it preserves the nation’s river dwelling origins.

A walk in Kampong Ayer may just bring back memories of yesteryear.

Intricate walkways and bridges connect the villages. Children sit on the pavement and play traditional games like congkak. A rooster may let out the occasional crow and another may respond. Artisans sit outside their homes carving wood, trying to keep alive the cottage industries of their ancestors. Old aunties and uncles sell snacks on the footpaths while others enjoy a cup of coffee.

Life is laidback and stress-free.

From a distance, the village may look like a squatter town but it is self-contained and equipped with all the amenities of modern living, including schools, shops, clinics, mosques, a police station and fire brigade. A postman comes daily to deliver letters while garbage collectors pick up trash from specific sites every day.

However, some residents still throw their rubbish out into the water so parts of the village stick out like a sore thumb.

The government also provides piped water, telephone lines and electricity. Residents depend on boats or river taxis to ferry them across to the mainland. But don’t assume they’re poor just because their houses are on stilts and they run around barefoot. Most villagers have good jobs, own cars and even speedboats, which are parked underneath their houses.

“Yes, we have cars but since our homes are on water, we park our vehicles on the river bank. When people go to work or there’s a need to go to town for grocery shopping, we take the boat, then drive our car out. Everyone has an allocated parking space,” says Masnah Masri, 41, from Kampong Setia 1.

The village is a unique architectural heritage of wooden homes with ornate interiors. The houses here are long and spacious with colourful walls and many doors. Flooring in Masnah’s house is a mix of squares and vertical designs but, surprisingly, it’s almost like patchwork because every area has its own blend of patterns.

Noting my puzzled expression, Masnah tells me, “It’s just fashionable! There’s no history behind the design. We just cut and paste the flooring to make it look nice.”

A photograph of Brunei’s ruler Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and his consort is prominently hung on one wall. On the opposite wall are the Brunei Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah and his consort, Pengiran Anak Sarah Pengiran Salleh. Masnah proudly shows us the many photographs of tourists who have visited her family home as her son quickly clicks our picture.

Just then, her sister Ambun Masri walks in with her brood of grandchildren and greets us. At 55, she has more than a dozen grandchildren from 13 children. And three of her youngest kids are still unmarried.

I cheekily ask, “Only one husband?”

“Of course, only one!” she chuckles.

Most village girls marry early, from as young as 15 and by the time they’re 35, they already have one or two grandchildren.

“You won’t find any girl in this village who is above 30 and unmarried,” she says while my travel mates and I exchange shamed looks.

Ambun complains that social problems among youths are increasing. She says, “Alcohol drinking is on the rise and these days, the police do their rounds three times a day. We try to punish the youngsters but sometimes, it doesn’t work.”

In an effort to provide villagers with a better life, the government began offering villagers concrete houses on the mainland (priced around B$46,000 or US$33,500) in the early '90s. Some who could afford it, took up the offer but most, even the younger generation, want to stay put.

Masnah says she wouldn’t turn her back on the village even if she did acquire a new concrete house.

“I applied for one in 1993 but still haven’t received any news. My daughter wants me to move but I don’t think I’ll stay on the mainland permanently. My life is here with my friends and extended family, so I’ll probably go there during the weekdays and come back here during weekends,” says Masnah.

The water village has a long history, and the government is highlighting this fact with the newly opened Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery.

Accessible by boat, the gallery allows a glimpse into the village’s past with exhibits, photographs, records and archaeological findings dating from as early as the 10th century AD.

If you happen to be in Brunei and have nothing to do, be sure to check it out.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Brunei Darussalam: A Class Act

[The Oxford Business Group reported on 30th March 2010 the following:]

Brunei Darussalam: A Class Act

30 March 2010

Brunei Darussalam is looking to add another layer to its already highly developed education system, with authorities considering plans to put in place a structured preschool network that would serve as a foundation for subsequent learning.

Education is one of the single biggest line items in the state budget, behind only defence and security and infrastructure investments in terms of allocations. On March 15, the Ministry of Finance unveiled its draft 2010-11 budget, with the Ministry of Education's slice being set at almost $450m out of total projected spending of $3.5bn.

Most indicators suggest that it is money well spent. The Sultanate's existing education system is already rated as meeting extremely high standards, with the World Economic Forum's most recent Global Competitiveness Index ranking Brunei Darussalam third overall among the member states of the Association of South-east Asian Nations.

With more than 25% of the country's population of some 400,000 enrolled in some form of educational activity, Brunei Darussalam already has an extremely high learning participation rate, one that may climb still further if officials follow through with the proposal to extend the formal schools system to the preschool level.

Currently, there are some 40,000 children in the five-year-old and under bracket, while the public education system only begins to provide schooling for children aged five and above.

While there are more than 15 nurseries and kindergartens already operating in Brunei Darussalam, with other schools offering preschool teaching alongside other levels of education, these facilities are privately run and have little direct input from the state in terms of curriculum. This is a situation that Hj Suhaila Hj Abd Karim, the deputy permanent secretary for core education at the Ministry of Education (MoE), believes must change.

In order to formalise the provision of preschool learning, ministry officials will be holding a series of meetings with relevant agencies and service providers to discuss the present situation, he said on March 1.

Speaking at the opening of a ministry-sponsored workshop entitled "Enhancing High Quality Early Childhood Educators", Hj Suhaila said that preschools should serve to help young children acquire basic communication, social and other positive skills in preparation for primary school.

While not yet in the business of providing preschool education, the MoE does educate those who do, with the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education, a faculty within the Universiti Brunei Darussalam, offering initial teacher training as well as in-service programmes.

"Effective teaching methods and teachers' commitment greatly helps to determine how successfully we manage to instil values, skills and attitudes," said Hj Suhaila. "Innovative teaching promotes pupil creativity and develops a learning environment that invites intrinsic motivation in today's children."

According to Hjh Siti Aisah Hj Mohd Ali, the acting director of the MoE's Human Resource Development Division, creating a high-quality early education system represented an efficient use of funds, as it would be an investment in the future. By developing a preschool network, Brunei Darussalam could begin a nurturing process of a skilled workforce that would keep the country competitive in the global economy. "I am sure that by providing a solid early learning foundation, it will help our children succeed later in school, while at the same time giving them an equal opportunity to succeed in life," Hjh Siti Aisah told delegates attending the same seminar.

Though the state is keen to expand its role in early education from a regulatory one to encompass the provision of formal teaching, there is as yet no clear timeline for such a move. Nor, at this stage of the scheme, has there been any firm indication as to how the extensive private sector preschool network will fit into any new early education system.

Should the state follow through with its proposals, a public preschool programme could affect the private sector's operations, by draining off students from the fee-paying centres to MoE schools, which most likely will be free of charge, as is the case for primary schools operated by the ministry. However, these are issues that will be addressed in the discussions flagged by Hj Suhaila.

By putting in place a new rung on the country's educational ladder, Brunei Darussalam will not only be rounding off its school system, it will also be providing additional employment opportunities for teachers and strengthening the foundation of the Sultanate's future.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Anthony Burgess's on Brunei

Tim Kindseth published this article on Time (6th January 2009):-


Anthony Burgess's Take on Brunei

After less than two years of teaching at the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin College in Brunei Town, John Wilson, better known as the English novelist Anthony Burgess, nearly lost his mind. The tropical climes nagged him as much as his wife Lynne, whose zany behavior, like cursing out the Duke of Edinburgh, had turned them both into social pariahs. Add to that a bottle-of-gin-a-day drinking habit, and Burgess was pretty much pickled by September 1959, when an agreement was signed granting internal self-governance to Brunei, then a British protectorate. That month, Burgess one day crumpled like the empire around him onto the floor of his classroom. Later he would claim that he did it willfully, simply for existential kicks. But neurologists in London, where he was quickly repatriated, told him he had an inoperable brain tumor.

He didn't, thankfully, and lived to write A Clockwork Orange, the dystopian novel on which Stanley Kubrick's cult film was based. A year before it hit the book stores, he published Devil of a State, about his time in Brunei. He had begun writing the scathing send-up of British colonial life, which is an equally sarcastic take on local mores and hypocrisy, during the year doctors told him he had left to live — a period in which he wrote torrentially, hoping to leave a financial cushion for his widow-to-be. The glib novel is crazed with misanthropy, full of disloyal wives, derelict drunks, sexual assaults and riots — glimmers of what would come in the amoral, absurdist misadventures of Alex and his droogs in Clockwork.
(See the Top 10 Fiction Books of 2009.)

Devil of a State is now out of print, as hard to find as a bottle of whisky is in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei's capital. Barring the small amounts that non-Muslim visitors are allowed to bring in for their own use, alcohol is banned in today's Islamic Brunei. The present restrictions would have greatly dismayed Francis Burroughs Lydgate, the controller of passports, whom Burgess's book revolves around. Graying, thin, his teeth full of rot, 50-year-old Frank has married three times and hasn't been back to England in 24 years, working jobs from New Guinea to Dunia — the fictional East African uranium-rich caliphate, ruled by a cocksure potentate, where the novel takes place.

Dunia, a land of "palms and sweat and hot sauces" and stilt river villages, is clearly modeled after 1950s oil-rich, Anglophile Brunei. In Devil of a State a half-deaf U.N. adviser lives in the Residency, a version of the Bubungan Dua Belas, where British residents and high commissioners in Brunei lived until Brunei achieved full independence in 1984. Some streets in Bandar Seri Begawan retain their colonial names (Pretty, Stoney, McArthur), while the wooden House of Twelve Roofs is now a museum hung with photographs feting Brunei's "special relationship" with Britain. It helps to explain all the lingering British traces today: Queen Elizabeth II Street; a bright blue St. Andrew's Anglican Church; and red water taxis doubling as Manchester United hoardings, plying their choppy trade in the Brunei River in the shadow of the grand Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque.

The mosque — built of creamy Italian marble and English stained glass — and its golden cupolas were, for Burgess, symbols of royal vanity. (It's something visitors to the Royal Regalia Museum, dedicated to the life of the current Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and the many gifts he has received from international dignitaries, may well recognize.) Devil of a State ends with the consecration of a similar mosque, worked on by Paolo Tasca, a ruttish Italian marble cutter, and his gruff father Nando. Just before the ceremony, Paolo locks himself in a minaret to protest his father's imperiousness. Democracy activists take up his cause, sending him beer and curry. The latter you'll still come across, in shops run by Indians from Chennai. As for beer, you'll have to dream, like Lydgate, of the day you find your way out of town.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/travel/article/0,31542,1951949,00.html#ixzz0bs9oN0Nl