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 ...