On Brunei and Surprises


(BRUNEI, Bandar Seri Begawan) Grilled fish at the Pasar Gadong. (Photo taken by the author.)

The best thing about visiting a country about which you know almost nothing is that there’s room for a lot of surprise. Today’s surprises, to wit, are:

  • Discovering that people living in Brunei speak with the same accent as people living in Malaysia and Singapore.
  • Discovering that the Filipino diaspora has hit a level where you can walk through a foreign country’s streets and hear not just the sounds of Manila, but the sounds of Cebu, Bacolod, Tacloban . . . etc.
  • Discovering that you can still eat extremely cheaply even in a fairly developed country. (Abbey and I gorged ourselves on pulut panggang [glutinous rice with meat fillings cooked and then grilled in banana leaves], satay [marinated, skewered and grilled meat served with peanut sauce], char kway teow [stir-fried rice noodles], and apam balik [local crepes filled with crushed peanuts, condensed milk, chocolate sprinkles and sugar] for less than PHP150.00 at the Gadong Night Market, with plenty left to spare. The only catch was the market didn’t actually have any dining facilities—locals simply double-parked their cars and bought takeout. Abbey and I shared a tree stump and ate our dinner one course at a time, to the amusement of the vendors.)
  • Discovering that some countries are simply not designed to accommodate pedestrians. (Abbey and I took sixty minutes to walk from the Gadong Night Market to our hotel simply because we had to circumnavigate a roundabout that involved crossing more than half a dozen highway lanes, only one of which had a stoplight and only half of which actually had sidewalks. To the question of how does a chicken cross a road in Brunei—the answer is: very, very hesitantly.)
  • Discovering that you can still encounter wildlife even in a fairly developed country—and I’m not talking about finding them in zoos. (Abbey and I ran across a snake while attempting to traverse one of the highways—yet another reason why a chicken would cross the roads here very, very hesitantly.)
  • Discovering that you can still find a dearth of streetlights even in a fairly developed country. (Abbey and I walked the last stretch to our hotel in mortal fear—it was pitch black, we were wearing black, there wasn’t a sidewalk, and the cars were fast. Brunei is a very safe country, but not if you’re a cheap pedestrian.)

Let’s see what surprises tomorrow brings.

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