Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Long Time

I've not blogged for a long time because I'm beginning to find this mode very tedious. Makes me wonder how some people can faithfully update their blogs. Perhaps, they have a much more colourful, eventful life than mine.

We were back in Singapore for some time. Business for Larry, leisure for me. Mistake: I was in Orchard Road on Day 1 of the GSS. My niece wisely reminded me that GSS was the Monster created to come after people like me. Ok, Monster, you win. Oh, I wasn't the only defeat. Larry lost to Food. He gained 4 kg during his 2 weeks in Singapore. Now, he is trying to shake it off, diligently. He played golf every other day and when there's no golf, he thrashed the treadmill and splashed the pool with menacing diligence.

We attended the Philippines National Day reception held by the ambassador here in Brunei. It was a welcome difference from the many functions we had attended thus far. The performances put up were impressive. The Philippines people are indeed very talented. But what surprised me was the dress code of some guests. I was shocked when I saw some came in bare-back or spaghetti-strap outfits. In Brunei? I thought this is disrespectful to a country where most women dress modestly. Nonetheless, this is only my perception.

However, the stated dress code on the card was 'National dress'. Of course, I was obedient. I wore my new Nonya Kebaya. Yes, I was another convert of the recently telecast 'Little Nonya'. I toyed with the idea of wearing my cheongsam, then I remembered I wanted to blend with the locals.

Since coming back to Brunei, we have been busy with dinners, both official and private. Oh yes, we are heading back to Singapore for another week soon. I hope this time both of us will not be defeated agian.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Culture Induction

Yesterday was my first culture induction here and a hilarious one, too. I attended an almost authentic Malay wedding. 'Almost' because I was told an authentic one is one conducted at home with kampong folks. This wedding was at a huge convention hall, like the Singapore Expo halls, with more than 2,000 guests.

Just in case I tread beyond the OB markers, I shall not reveal the host of this function. Suffice to say, he is someone important here. Naturally all his 'horses and men' were at the reception and this is enough to make the numbers. Not to mention relatives and foreign diplomats like ourselves. I think all 26 missions were invited.

As a rule, we make it a point to arrive 10 minutes before the stated time. The invite stated 'from 11 am to 12 noon'. So we were at the convention hall at 10.50am. We were surprised that we were among the first ten guests. Of course, the hall did not look empty because the receiving party is almost hundreds. They all dressed in purple color traditional outfits. Actually it was very beautiful. (I was so inspired that the very night, I bought purple silk to make a purple kebaya. Crazy, I know.)

We were showed our respective seats as the hall was divided into 2 halves: men on the left and women on the right. This, I was told, is MIB (Melayu Islam Beraja). Only at about 11.30 am did the guests start streaming in. Some even arrived at 12 noon. But the card stated clearly, 'wedding reception from 11 am to 12 noon'!

When all the guests were properly seated, the groom arrived and only the groom. There was no bride throughout the reception. A Datin, sitting next to me, told me that the bride is having a similar reception at her side at the same time.

Now the interesting part: the groom followed by his father, grandfather, uncles, brothers, etc (basically a long line) went around to shake hands with the male guests, ONE by ONE, and at the same time collected gifts (ang pow, actually). And his mother, followed by grandmother, aunties, sisters, etc (another long line) did the same with the female guests. Wow! I saw her assistant walking with a huge bag of 'ang pows'. By the time this was done, it was 1 pm.

As usual, a long discourse in Malay, which I did not understand, followed by prayer and it was time for lunch, i.e. eat. Boy, was I hungry by now!

Ha, the hilarious part is this eating. Everyone jumped at the food as soon as the prayer was over. We were seated at 'table-served' tables, which meant there were waiters to dish food for us but everyone at my table was so hungry, nobody gave the waitress a chance to do her work. I remembered clearly, lunch started at 1.15pm. Everyone ate as though they have not eaten for days. Propriety has no place here. It was FAST and by 1.30pm, I saw people heading for the exit. Being slow, I did not even have enough time to eat my rice and most at the table were almost gone. Feeling embarrassed, I stopped eating. I waited for 2 hours, did not even get my 'reward'. I had instant noodles when I was home.

Lesson learned: never be punctual at weddings, Malay or Chinese. Never mind what the card says.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Hobby

Ok, I'm getting tired of this "all meals, dishes, laundry, cleaning done for me' lifestyle. So, I found a new hobby. Started on it today and it took me half a day to complete one piece. I must say it was satisfying.

Besides, I do not want to mislead anyone (who may not have a sense of humour similar to mine) into thinking I am, indeed, living a derogatory lifestyle. Nonetheless, it is very relaxing and refreshing for us in this new place.

Brunei is quiet, slow and 'non-eventful', which we are grateful. I figured Bruneians should be enjoying quality family life because there is nothing much to do at night, except meeting friends and families. Of course, there are amenities for leisure e.g. movies, dining-out, shopping, etc but certainly nothing close to Singapore. We, too, dine-out quite a bit with new friends we have made here.

To allay the concerns of our caring churchmates, we do have a church life here but you will notice we don't blog about it. This being a public platform, we don't want to touch on religion.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Golf and Dinners

It's another busy week for Larry. If you're familiar with our entries, you'll know that a busy week for Larry means golf games and dinners. And if you read the newspapers, you'll know the reason, too.

Our helper has arrived and, so far, processing her work permit has been smooth. This may sound derogatory, but since her arrival, I have been getting up late. All meals done for me and all dishes, laundry and cleaning taken care of. As Larry often exclaimed: What a life! Alright, before you passed judgement on me, note that I've done my share. Perhaps, it's time to enjoy the fruit of my labour, rather the fruit of my better-half's labour.

I've rented a car because I cannot decide on which car, what car to buy. In this indecisive state, rental is my best option. However, driving in Brunei can be nerve-wrecking. There are only 2 types of drivers: very fast and very slow. Most roads are 2-lanes, you can imagine the frustration. And there are so many roundabouts, you can be giddy if you've to drive all day.

Sequel to my 'disappeared dress': I saw the same design/size/color dress at Rauol in Paragon. If you know me, you will know the outcome.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A 'fine' week

2 days in a row, I had 2 fines! This coupon system needs upgrading urgently. Like my friend said, it's my contribution to the Singapore economy.

Went to Mann Hong, intending to get some medication for the frozen shoulder, ended spending the night at SGH. What a week!

Besides the necessary physiotherapy for the frozen shoulder, I also delighted myself with retail therapy. Good for the soul!

What a contrast to my experience when I came back just before the CNY. There are so many great discounts all over Singapore. How could I resist! I better get back to Brunei soon, someone may be panicking already.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Embarrassment vs Pride

A friend was at the HSBC CNY open house last Sunday. The 2 emcees for the event were Fiona Xie and Michelle Chong from Media Corp. Predictably, I should feel a sense of pride to hear that my fellowmen (women) were popular to be invited. But as I listened to my friend's recount of the event, I was embarrassed. I guessed you know what I mean.

I was actually quite surprised by this friend's criticisms because she is often a very polite and gentle lady. She works for the French embassy here and knows her diplomacy. She was very apologetic but stressed that she was very disappointed with the 2 ladies' performance. She is a great fan of Singapore, especially MM Lee.

By the way, MM Lee is coming to Brunei as a guest-spearker of the University. Now, this one I'm proud of as I overheard this lady-friend advising our Kenyan friend not to miss the talk. I quote her "You MUST listen to Lee Kuan Yew, he's worth listening to. I've great respect for this man." I may not be related to MM Lee, but I felt that sense of pride when a foreigner praised a fellow citizen. We're Singaporeans.

Aiyah! I got an invite to MM Lee's talk but I'll be in Singapore. So sad!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Laugh it off

Ha, ha more funny encounters.

Experience 1:
I sent a dress to the laundry for dry-cleaning last week. when I went to collect yesterday, I was told it was lost! How many of us have our clothes 'lost' while in the hands of the laundry? Even my driver laughed in disbelief when I told him.

This is the laundry's explanation:
It could have been given by mistake to another customer, who decided to keep it. How convenient an explanation! Always blame someone for your mistakes: the essential skill Adam passed on to us.

But the counter staff told me the dress was missing even before the dress was ready for collection, because when she tried to collate all my items, she discovered it was gone. Did someone like my dress so much?

The owner of the laundry called me personally to apologise and offered a full compensation for my dress. I went shopping after that and bought myself 3 new outfits. Thanks to the 'kind soul' who kept my dress. Enjoy wearing it.

Experience 2:
My sister-in-law visited us and I brought her to an 'upmarket' home decor boutique, wanting to show her some real expensive stuff in Brunei. I visited this shop 4 times, but have yet to buy something, and on all 4 occasions I was the only shopper. Guessed what? While we were busy checking and commenting on the exquisite displays, HRH Princess Sarah walked in with her ladies-in-waiting and we did not even know! We crossed path but she was so casual in her attire I did not even take a second look. On the contrary I noticed the ladies-in-waiting and thought something was unusual. We only knew she was shopping in our midst when our driver told us. How I wished I had taken a look at her instead of the displays because this Princess is very pretty. Her casual attire misled me! She is a real beauty and can easily robbed the tiara off any beauty queen!

Now, our driver is not a nosy person. He told us only because we saw the convoy of HRH Crown Prince Billah (husband of the Princess) on our way back to the embassy. Really chu meng yu gui ren for my sister-in-law. Her first visit to Brunei and both the Prince and Princess were out to 'receive' her.

And yes, dear friend, thank you for reminding me that I hold a pink not red IC. You see, I only need to use my red passport here.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Crazy! I was literally shocked out of my sleep by the explosion of fire crackers. Yes, early in the morning. With this strange tendency, I am eternally grateful that fire crackers are banned in Singapore. You have to experience this sudden explosion to know what I mean. After 911, Mumbai, Hard Rock in Bali... these sudden explosions can send imaginations wild, albeit Brunei is a relatively safe place.

All things said, Larry and I could not resist this opportunity set off a few explosions. We paid $8 for 2 packets of fire crackers and a box of 'rockets'. We must be the most stingy players in the neighbourhood. Our neighbours set off fireworks, which cost $90 for a small box and $140 for a big one. We were dabbling with kiddy firecrackers.

For a country with more than 80% non-Chinese, the CNY celebration is large. There are more lion-dance troupes, more media coverage in the press. The Crown Prince together with his princess and little prince attended some open houses, mainly homes of the more established Chinese here.

Some friends I met back home while I was back for the CNY had this misconception that I'm living a 'tai-tai' lifestyle here. Honestly, nothing near it. Into our third month now and still no live-in maid. I do all the housework everyday. A part-time help comes once a week to help with the 'big' jobs. It helps to have a husband who is an expert in ironing clothes. If everything works as planned, our maid should arrive next month. Praying.

One concerned Chinese friend asked why I had so many complaints in my previous entry. Take heart, 'hao peng you', I'm still a Singaporean deep in the core. Even if prices hit the roof, Singapore is still my home. I read Dr Lee Wei Ling's column last Sunday, and I think those who have spent some time living in another country will appreciate Singapore more. And by overseas, I mean it includes the 'much sought after' USA.

During our stay in the US, that 'Singaporean' feeling was stronger and deeper. Of course, in the enthralling US the urge to travel was stronger then. I remembered we visited NYC, Boston, Orlando, New Orleans, Arizona, Seattle, Denver, Salt Lake City, New England, St Louis, SF, LA, Washington, Niagara Falls... I can't recall all of them but I do remember traveling at least half of the time we were there. We were brave enough to venture to Switzerland and Israel before we finally flew to the US. Then Larry was a student and we had more time. (maybe even more money to have done all those places!)

Now, I don't even want to go to Miri, a few hours drive from home or KK (only 25 min flight). Perhaps, we have learned the pleasure of simple leisure. In fact, I'm not keen to go anywhere except back to Singapore. I missed my sons, very much. Singapore is always home because my family is there. I will never willingly give up my red IC.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Poor Singaporeans!

Everything in Singapore is so EXPENSIVE! Ok, I'm comparing it to Brunei. I paid $11 for a promfret in Brunei, which is fresh from the fisherman's basket at the beach market, but the fishmonger in Bedok market wanted to charge me more than $90 for a same sized promfret. The same brand and volume of olive oil is $16.65 in Brunei but $17.90 in Parkway Giant. Even if the retailers are cashing in on the festive season, the price difference is hard to stomach.

Petrol is fixed at 53 cents/litre, parking is free, car is cheap. The Lexus GS300 is only $83000 in Brunei. Water is almost free. The pastor in our Brunei church, who lives in a rented flat, told us his water bill is so low the authority won't even bother to bill him! He has not paid for water for years.

After a few months of simple life in Brunei, I can understand why Bruneians are not envious of the Singapore life even though most of them enjoy coming here, quite frequently, for their shopping trips.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Wedding

Finally, it's over! Official duties done and I'm going back for CNY tomorrow.

As I expected, guests at the wedding were mainly foreign dignitaries, government officials and a princess, too. She is the sister of the Sultan and the acting foreign minister. If the crown prince was not in Singapore at the same time, I think more royal family members could have been there.

It started with a long discourse in Malay. I did not understand a single word and I think I was not alone. I saw the bored expressions of the 'ang-mohs' standing around me. The reception was more like an embassy's function rather than a wedding. It was very business-like and formal. If you have been to formal receptions, you will know that when polished ambassadors are present, protocols will be observed, regardless of the occasion. Although it was a private function last night, those ambassadors were careful not to leave until the princess made her exit. Within minutes of her departure, the crowd thinned quickly. But for us, we had to wait for one more person: Larry's boss.

The Singapore entourage was a miserable 5 reps, including the 2 of us. The Malaysia entourage outnumbered us with about a dozen of them flying in, wives, junior officers, etc. The night before the wedding, we were at a tripartite reception. Poor me, I was alone seated with all their wives for the dinner. Fortunately, they all speak English. Every now and then, I lost them because they wandered into their comfortable language. This is why I am still trying to find myself a tutor in Malay.

And they 'karoaked'. I hate karoake. This remarkable karoake system even rates the singing and a score is given at the end of the song. I was praying very hard that neither Larry nor I had to sing. Phew! I remembered my most embarassing incident in Taiwan when the Taiwan CNV wanted a duet with me in Cantonese. Of course, I had to oblige. You see, what sacrifices wives of government servants had to made! Will my government give me a medal?

Ok, time to pack and go home.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tasek Park

There is plenty for nature lovers in Brunei. Tasek is one of many nature reserves, a pocket of rainforests right in the heart of Bandar. Very little development is done so as to retain the natural beauty of this park.

We were at the park last Saturday. The place is usually crowded in the evening. Joggers and trekkers flood this place in the weekends. But the crowd also makes exercising a lot more fun.

Larry is standing at the entrance to the park. Like many other attractions in Brunei: admission is free. The park closes at 6.30 pm.

This hut in the picture looks like a chalet for rental, perhaps. (I am not sure.) We saw a party-like set up while we were there.

For the less adventurous, there is only one paved road in the park that leads to the peak. Behind the fence is the lake, also the source of the waterfall.

If you have noticed, these pictures below were taken on a separate day.

We were deep in the trail. It was trekking with great faith. We had no idea where we were heading, no map, no signboards, no guides. We just followed some of the joggers and trekkers we met along the way. Most of them were so fast, we quickly lost sight of them.

A view of the park on higher grounds.

The descend was steep for me. Thankfully, wooden handrails were provided.

Finally, job done!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


It has been raining, and quite heavily too. When it pours in Brunei, flash floods at low-lying areas are norms. Periodically, the cable TV and Internet are disrupted, too. And fish is expensive when it rains heavily. Reason: fewer fishermen go to sea. Simple demand-supply logic. This is Brunei!

Shopping in Brunei is fascinating or frustrating, depends on how you look at it. The wet markets, for instance, are 'specialized' markets. That is, a seafood market sells only seafood, a vegetable market sells only vegetables. Chicken and beef are sold only in supermarkets. If we want really fresh fish, i.e. straight from the fisherman's basket, we can buy at the beach. There a market at the beach, like the wholesale in Jurong, that sells fresh fish, prawns, crabs; basically the catch of the day. Pork (babi) is sold here but in a separate room in the supermarket marked 'non-Muslim' products, hidden in one corner. How degrading, they put the dog food together with all non-Muslim products! I was told there is a shop that sells fresh pork, I've yet to check it out. So, you see, if you want to buy fresh products for a complete meal, you've to drive all around the country. Typically, I spend half an hour in a wet market back home for the whole week's supplies. Here, I have to spread it over a few days.

Larry was down with a soar-throat and running nose after a hectic week of golf and meetings. He blamed a young journalist whom he met last week; the guy came to the lunch meeting despite a bad flu. Lesson: when you have a flu, stay home. This week is a short respite as he prepares for another busy week ahead.

And I'm looking forward to going back for CNY next week.

The CNY mood here reminds me of home. Crowds are building up at all the shopping facilities.We went to the supermarket last night, our usual night activity, but it was crowded. The car park was full. It was chaotic at the car park. Don't expect any system here since parking is free.

I succeeded in baking muffins today. I know it's nothing to brag about. For those who know much about baking will know that muffins is the basic and simplest. Yet, for me, it's an achievement because I have never liked baking. I don't like the messy state of flour all over. On a separate note, I think my culinary skills have moved up another rung. I did a grilled chicken with stuffed potatoes, sirloin steak with abalone sauce and grilled chicken with BBQ sauce last week. All my own recipe, I mean my own version.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

This post is so disconnected I don't even know how to title it.

These coming weeks will be busy weeks for Larry but fun, loads of golfing fun. This weekend, next weekend, golf, golf and more golf. Best part (for some), this is his job, too.
This means I'll be home alone for both weekends. Guessed what? The curtain contractor wants to install the new curtains during weekends! The owner is changing our video-doorbell system this weekend. Weekends 'pao tang le' !

We're invited to a most unusual Malay wedding scheduled for the following Monday. So unusual that 2 senior officials from Singapore will fly in to attend. You would have guessed right: a senior government official's daughter's wedding. I think it will be a wedding attended by the Who's Who of Brunei.

I'll miss my family's reunion dinner this year. A dinner I never want to miss. The food, the laughter, the long hours of chat... I would have returned earlier to catch this dinner if not for the Malay wedding. Have to perform some official duties. I'm sure it's the beginning of many more to come.

Last week I sent my Toshiba to a computer service outlet, a week later they called to inform they can't solve the problem! How difficult is it? If I have the recovery disk with me here, I would have done it. Computer technology here, if it exists at all, is like the 70s! Oh yes, they sell the latest computers. Sell, that's all. I think they should add a disclaimer: buy at your own risk!

One of our neighbours has been firing their fire crackers almost every evening. It scared me the first time. It sounded like burst car tyre. It went off another evening while I was taking my bath. Sounded like someone's knocking on my door. I turned off the tap and kept on asking 'What is it?', thinking that Larry was knocking on my door. I saw it, finally, the other night. It shot up into the sky like fireworks! Different designs and very beautiful, although not as great as those mega fireworks. Many thanks to my government, I dare not try the fire crackers even though I am greatly tempted and it's LEGAL here. Pray, lead me into temptation.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

So Close!

We were the 2nd car on the right lane, stopped for the red light. There were cars stopped on the left lane. It was a 2-lane road.

4 outriders on their iron horses breezed down the middle, waving one hand each, frantically getting the motorists to ease right or left. Hey, but it was a 2-lane road! Larry told me it's him as he recalled a similar incident a few weeks ago. I was thrilled; I would catch a glimpse of him. But we were been waved on. So close!

Then the white car in front of us did not move despite been waved furiously. Perhaps he was as thrilled as I. Still, the red sea parted. The cars on the left lane inched onto the pavement. All other cars stood still. The black car came up the road. I was sure. I got a glimpse of him. I think he looked my way too. He was driving his own car. He was alone in his car. Another car followed closely behind. Larry said he seemed to like to drive his own car.

The licence plate was some P... something. It was too fast. Not enough time for me to even say 'His Majesty.....'.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Food Again?

Food: not my favourite topic since I eat only to stay alive. I have not tried anything apart from those which I'm already familiar. Friends have brought us to various places to eat. Our Kenyan friend who has been here for more than 10 years, working as an oil-exploration consultant, brought us to Charcoal Grill. Good food but very large portion. Very American.

There isn't any food that is typically Bruneian. There are many cafes serving mainly continental-style food. Fried chicken is most popular but they eat it with rice, quite like chicken rice back home. Our Brunei friends told us that we must try the sago-flour dish. Apparently, this was what their older generation ate during the Japanese occupation. The dish reminds me of the starch, the gluey thing, we used in older days to starch the army uniforms. Of course, the flour must be eaten with curry or gravy.

Both of us have quite an oriental preference, hence we have been seeking out Chinese eateries. We found Teochew Porridge, Hong Kong Cafe (cha can ting), steamboat buffet, tim sum (minus the pork), vegetarian outlet, Thai food, genuine Chinese 'la mien' and Japanese food. Our favourite is a Malaysian-owned Chinese restaurant: Thiam Hock. While the food is reasonably good in most of these places, the decor (if any to begin with) is extremely simple. However, price is unbeatable. Fighting the economic crisis? Great savings here!

The CNY mood is everywhere, even though this country is mainly non-Chinese. Reason: the biggest chain of supermarkets is owned by a Chinese. Red, red and more red. The typical new year goodies are displayed quite like those in Sheng Siong or Giant. By the way, there is a huge Giant outlet here like the one in Tampines.

What fascinates me most is the fire crackers. I'm definitely going to try some this year. There are many different types I have never seen before. I wish I can bring some back, but ...