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Another entire week has passed, and we are still in Brunei. . .
 
Young TJ appeared on the Brunei scene last Wednesday, and can't believe he's only been here a week. . .
 
We fortunately had some beer for him when he arrived (our departing ex-switch tech, Terry, had left some for us), so we didn't have to go for a beer run until Saturday.  It was "cut over" weekend, so the boys were supposed to work, but as it is such a small project, there really wan't anything to do.  So, for the very first time, we took a weekend jaunt on a cutover. 
 
Jumped the 4:40 ferry to Labuan Saturday, stayed at the Sheraton Hotel this time, didn't see Charles while we were there, and came back on the 3:30 on Sunday.  It was nice, if not too quick.
 
Just been business as usual this week, trying to make the time go by.  Took TJ to the border last night (we were out of beer AGAIN!), and have a golf game lined up for Friday afternoon (it's going to be HOT HOT HOT).
 
Other than that, Mike and I leave Saturday for a "much needed" vacation in Bali.  We will only be there a week, then return to Brunei to wait to catch our flight to Bangkok on the 3rd.  We will be home on the 5th in the AM, after an overnight in Chicago.   No idea where we are off to next, looks like options are Albania, Syria, Naimbia, and Calcutta. . . or who knows, maybe someplace else.
 
So probably won't post again until we are in Bali, unless I get a chance on Friday after our Golf game.  We are going with the RSO (Resident Security Officer) up to the coast to the Empire Golf Course (http://www.empire.com.bn/golf/golf.htm  for those interested in looking at golf courses online).  Should be really nice.  This is the hotel where the Sultan entertains his visiting heads of state, but the RSO is a member there, so shouldn't cost us an arm and a leg.    
 
Here's a few miscellaneous pics from the last couple of weeks.
 

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Mike and TJ enjoy a beer in Labuan

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Market in Bandar Seri Begawan

Wednesday, March 15, 2006
 

Had a terribly unexciting weekend in KK, with a few highlights.  Arrived late Friday night, grabbed beer, went to bed around 1 AM.  Saturday morning I awoke with a pounding headache and upset stomach (not a hangover, I only had 3 beers, and this headache has been reoccurring for about a week), so I laid in bed until 2 PM!!!  Finally, got hungry enough to get up and we went for lunch downstairs, then out for a walk about to find someplace for dinner. 
 
As we were walking back to our hotel we passed a place called the Jesselton Hotel.  Before KK was known as Kota Kinabalu, it was called Jesselton, and this building was erected in 1920 (not quite as old as Angkor Wat, but still. . .) by the British.  It was quite a stately building, and the hotel was established in 1953 (same age as my husband!).  It looked so out of place and quaint that we decided to stop in for a drink that evening.
 
After a steak (!) dinner (you wouldn't believe how hard and expensive it is to get a good steak in this part of the world, any beef worth eating has to be brought in from New Zeeland), we walked down and entered into old colonial Britian at the Jesselton.  They had a small, comfy bar area in the lobby with a VERY old bartender.  Kiddingly, I said to Mike, "that guy's probably worked here since they opened," and after he brought us our first round, I asked him how long he had worked there.  His reply?  "I have worked here 43 years, ma'am.  I have put in long service to this hotel." 
 
Holy crap.  Can you imagine working in a hotel lobby bar for 43 years in Malaysia?  The things this man must have seen and heard in his time.  I wish we could have sat there for hours and heard his tales.  We did go and look at a guest room, very nice and cheaper than the Hyatt.  If we return, this is defintely where we would stay!  The hotel even owns and operates a legitimate London Cab. 
 
A very cool place.
 
Sunday we did a little shopping and nosing around, had a late lunch, bought our souvenir beer and flew home.  Unfortunately, my headache came with me, and is still hanging around.
 
Our switch replacement dude, TJ, arrives today!  It will be fun to have him around, although there is nothing to do.  Probably sit in our room, smoke, drink and watch movies or play cards.  Oh well. . . fresh meat at least.
 
Trying to get my airline tickets changed so we can go to Bali, but having a little difficulty so far.  If we can arrange as we would like we would leave here on the 25th, return on the 1st to Brunei, then to Bangkok on the 3rd, and home.  Although there is rumor that we might actually have some work coming our way, but nothing definite yet.  Would probably be in Albania, so would need to go home to get warmer clothes anyway, I suspect.  Either way, I think we will be home on April 5 for a few days, anyway.
 
Will be nice to finally get to Bali and cross that off the list of places to go before I die.  Things have seemed quite calm there lately, so hope that continues. . . (I shouldn't even say such things, Mike is more concerned than I about something happening there).
 
All the news fit to report for now, I guess.  Have continued our frantic movie watching and coffee drinking.
 
 

Friday, March 10, 2006
 
Well, we are going to officially be here for an additional week now, as they fired our switch guy (he's on his way home today) and we have to wait for our new switch guy to get here.  Very interesting turn of events, but means a little extra time on the payroll, as we still haven't heard what we are supposed to get up to next.  Took our ex-employee to the border last night for chicken wings and beer, put him in a little better mood.  And, I bought a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream at the border to sneak down to the coffee house with at night, make our evening coffee a little more exciting. . . :-)
 
Decided to go back to the Hyatt in KK (Kota Kinabalu) this weekend.  Our friend Charles from Labuan is taking his kids there this weekend, so hopefully we can catch up with him for a little while. 
 
Other than that, things just plodding along as normal.  Starting to learn the Muslim call to prayer. . . as we hear it five times a day, at least.
 
Very warm around here, too, if I failed to mention that previously. . .

Monday, March 6, 2006

Our Proboscis Monkey tour on Friday was definitely worth the money.  This is a new tour agency in town, and they have two pontoon boats that they run up and down the Brunei River for tours of Kampung Ayer, Sunset Tours and Proboscis Monkey tours.  We kind of had a combination tour, as we were returning to Bandar as the sun was setting.  Mike left work an hour early and we jumped on the boat at 4 PM with two other couples, one a "oil guy" and his wife from Texas who are moving from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, and the other couple from England in transit home from 2 weeks in New Zeeland.  Was nice to just sit on the boat and cruise up the river out of town. 

 

The Proboscis Monkey is a monkey that is native to Borneo.  He is a shy animal with a really big nose.  The males are extremely territorial (and the only ones with the big noses) and are about twice the size of the females, weighing up to 45 pounds.   They live in "harems" and apparently, the larger the nose, the more female monkeys in the harem.  Enough said. . .

 

I was amazed to see how well they can camouflage themselves.  They are fairly good size, tend to hang out in the tops of green trees and are very red in coloring, how hard could they be to see, right?  Well, if it hadn't been for our guide, I doubt we would have seen the male at all.  The females and children are very active, springing from tree to tree, playing around.  But the males tend to hold court in one tree, not moving much, keeping their eyes on the harem, and eating. 

 

As we were on the river in a boat and they were on the shore in the tops of trees it was rather difficult to get a good picture of them, but neat to see in their natural environment.    We also saw a sleeping monitor lizard in a tree and some smaller monkeys called Macats (? I googled this name and nothing came up, but I know that's what he was calling them).  There was a chance we would see some crocs, too, but alas, they didn't show their faces.  They are the only natural predator of the monkey.  So, it was cool, although I did get a few mosquito bites, and we really didn't venture that far out of town.  Sunset coming back was pretty, and we had dinner at the Italian restaurant on the river upon our return. 

 

Up early on Saturday to catch the morning ferry for Labuan.  Arrived at our hotel around 10 AM, had a quick brunch and hit the pool for a little while.  I basically stayed in the pool with my book for about an hour, but still managed to get quite a sunburn.  I spend all my time yelling at Mike to use sunscreen and I'm the one with a sunburn. . . go figure.

 

Had a decent dinner despite the really SMELLY fish Mike ordered and headed over to Uncle Phil's sports bar to see our friend Charles.  Home fairly early, we were tired, too much sunshine.  Made plans to see Charles for lunch on Sunday on our way to the ferry.  I am now addicted to Bok Choy with butter and garlic.  I forgot how much I like this little Chinese version of spinach . . .  YUMMY!

 

Grabbed our requisite duty free beer and a couple bottles of wine to get us through the week.  Charles and his children are going to KK (Kota Kinabalu) next weekend, so depending on Mike's work schedule, we may try and meet up with them there.  Maybe we can get that kick butt room at the Hyatt again. . . probably not.

 

Back in Brunei for all the Sunday night fun that has to offer (none).  Mike had cheesecake for dinner, but I opted for the Wasabi Prawn Salad from room service.

 

We left one month ago today.  Why does it seem like three?????

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Cruising by the Sultan's house on the way to the monkey's houses

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The elusive Proboscis Monkey, you can just barely make out his big nose

Thursday, March 2, 2006
 
How did it get to be March!?!?  Rainy and cloudy in Brunei today and yesterday, although it's supposed to be their dry season.  Not that it matters, given our activities. . . 
 
For those of you who were concerned, the laundry did manage to salvage Mike's clothing from the "Battle of the Prawn" last weekend.  I was amazed.  Looks like we are going to just take the ferry again to Labuan this weekend for our weekly beer fest.  We will leave on Saturday morning, return Sunday afternoon.  Not much of a getaway, but all that really works with our schedule this week. 
 
Tomorrow we are off on a Proboscis Monkey tour starting at 4 PM.  Will be able to see the sunset on the water, plus hopefully some monkeys.  Lasts about 2 1/2 hours on a pontoon boat.  A new company just opened up this tour this week!  Hopefully it won't be raining.
 
I just met a Brit working in finance here (at the coffee shop) who had a girlfriend in his "uni" days from Michigan.  Too funny.  I told him you have to watch out for us Michigan girls. . . heehee.
 
I wish I owned my own country like the Sultan of Brunei.  He's in the newspaper everyday.  Everytime he takes a pee it gets reported on.  Everyday they shove the Borneo Bulletin under my door, and everyday the Sultan is on the first or second page, smiling up at me.  He seems a busy dude.
 
Our favorite coffee shop (the Deroy@lle, where I'm at right now, that's the 24 hour one) is owned by a Bruneian journalist.  He just opened it 9 months ago.  We met him last night, his name is Ignacio, and he was telling us jokes about civil servants and Mark Twain.  Interesting fellow, but you can tell he's still a little nervous about what he's doing/trying to do here in Brunei.  Plus, there is another coffee shop right next door, would like to know which one came first.
 
Haven't heard a word on where we might be off to next.  We built in some "time-off" into my return tickets in hope we could take advantage of some down time and finally get ourselves to Bali.  We are only a 2 1/2 hour plane ride from there, and would be nice to go down for a week or ten days when we finish here.   Anyone need a vacation? 
 
Just another slow week in Bandar Seri Begawan.
 
 

Monday, February 27, 2006
 
Had another nice, it not uneventful, weekend in Malaysia.  Took a 25 minute flight to Kota Kinabalu on Friday night.   Arrived at about 10 PM.  We had reservations at the Hyatt, and I had called them and requested a late check in, but when we got there they were very busy, and very full.  They upgraded us to an Executive Suite on the 14th floor (we did have to give up our seaview, but was worth it, it was quite the room).  We walked in and I told Mike I hope he had fun back in Brunei, cause I was staying at the Hyatt!  Was THE nicest hotel room I've ever stayed in, was almost like having an apartment, except without that bothersome kitchen. . . .
 
Ran out to a bar across the street (next to the Burger King and KFC, hello old friends) called the Upperstar, where we were the only Westerners about, and had a couple quick beers because we COULD!
 
Our gracious host last weekend in Labuan, Charles, had said this was a pretty nice city, and it was in some ways, but think we would have preferred to go back to Labuan.  The city itself is bigger than I expected, and growing like crazy, construction everywhere, and sits right on the South China Sea, but it smells kind of nasty and there really wasn't much to see or do.  It's pretty much a gateway city to West Malaysia, and unless you've prebooked a tour or eco-trek out of the city, you're limited to shopping (which we did a little of), eating (a little more of), and drinking (a lot of. . . hehee). 
 
Also, it is one of those places if you are a Western woman under 60, you are going to be stared at constantly.  As we were walking around, I noticed this, but thought I was being paranoid until Mike said, "Boy, everyone is totally staring at you".  They completely act like they have never seen a tall blond before. . . I had a kid about twelve blowing kisses at me and telling me he loved me Friday night.  I told him he was a little young for me.  Strange feeling, though, to be eyeballed like that.  You feel a bit like a zoo animal.
 
Saturday morning we had breakfast at the hotel buffett and gave ourselves a self guided tour of the city.  After walking around in the stench and the heat for about 2 hours, we were ready for a nap.  Had a quick bite to eat and slept away most of the afternoon.  For dinner we went to the much acclaimed (as far as we could tell), Portview Seafood Restaurant.  We had a very nice Australian Shiraz wine with our seafood, which was incredibly good.  As you walk in the restaurant, one whole wall is all tanks of fish, crabs, prawns, lobsters, and other delicacies waiting to become your dinner.  Mike had prawns, I had scallops, we shared some hot and sour soup and mixed vegetables.  Very yummy.  There were to large tables of Japanese tourists next to us, and they had a GIGANTIC lobster delivered to one of their tables, I never seen such a big one.  One guy got up to cut into it, and it sprayed him all over his shirt with "lobster juice" and butter.  Mike was laughing until he did the same thing with his prawn and basically ruined his shirt and shorts (the BRAND NEW ONE'S I JUST BOUGHT HIM).  By the time he was done eating he looked like he had fought a war against those poor little prawns, and they had won.
 
Of course, the Japanese all gathered around for their group photo, and I offered to take the picture for them so they could all be in it.  You would have thought I paid for their meal!  They were so thankful, that all twenty of them stopped at our table to shake our hand and say "Arigato" (thank you), we got two pieces of Origami, and three photos taken of us.  They didn't speak much English, so don't know where they were from and didn't get a chance to tell them we had lived in their fine country for 8 months, but was still cute.
 
Conveniently next door was an Irish Pub, so we stopped in there for one and met some Marine's who were down from Japan doing something they couldn't tell us about (even though we told them Mike had a Super Secret Clearance).  There were two from New York and one from Arkansas, and even after we were talking with them for a few minutes they thought we were Australian!  What's up with that?  Maybe they were just very drunk. . . or we were. . .
 
Wandered around a bit after that looking for something interesting (couldn't stay at the Irish Pub on principle, the beers were US$5!!!  In Malaysia!!  Imagine!), but didn't find anything that appealed to us, and ended back at the Upperstar for a nightcap. 
 
Slept in late on Sunday, had room service breakfast, and didn't leave the room until lunch, where we dined finely at Burger King.  Walked over to the supermarket to buy our contraband (beer) for the week in Brunei, had a quick drink at the hotel, then off to the airport for the grueling 25 minute flight back to Bandar.   Fairly uneventful, but nice to get out of town again.
 
This morning I dropped our laundry off across the street and decided to get my first Bruneian haircut, which ended up costing B$7 (about $4.25), so that was funny.  The three guys on the project with Mike went to Labuan this past weekend, and I guess they had an adventure.  Apparently, last week they did the border run to Serawak that Mike and I did on Valentine's Day, and when they re-entered the country they walked right by immigrations and didn't get stamped back IN!  So, when they went to board the ferry on Saturday morning, they were not allowed on.  They had to hire a cab to drive them all the way back across the province to Serawak, explain the situation to the border patrol there, get stamped back into Brunei, and then hustle back to the port to catch the 1:30 ferry.  Oops!  Probably better to have figured it out now, though, instead of when they were trying to fly HOME!
 
We are thinking of trying to get to Bali this weekend, it's only two hours away.  If we don't go now, we will go at the end of the project here, even if it's only for a few days.  Got word that the guy who owns Splice Co is in Hong Kong this week and is stopping by here to say HI this weekend.  I met him briefly in Alabama in January. 
 
Here's a few pics from the weekend.  I only took about eight, and three of them were of our food and Mike's shirt. . . :-)

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Fish down at the end of our street. . . he's a big one. . .

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Hiding in the heat of the day, near the bay across from the golf course (which we didn't play)

Thursday, February 23, 2006
Brunei National Day. . .
 
Sorry it's been so long since I've updated, but this stupid Wi-Fi connection is very fussy.  I actually sat down and wrote an entry yesterday, but as I was doing so, it booted me off line and I lost it.  Very frustrating.  It does appear that I have solved this problem, however.  For the cost of a cup of coffee I can sit down the street in the foyer of the 24 hour coffee bar and have high speed wi-fi connection for as long as I want.  It's 5x as fast as at the hotel.  What have I been thinking???  Anyway, let's see. . . what exciting things have I been doing. . . Hmmmm. . . thinking. . .  thinking. . .
 
Tuesday I finally jumped on the bus and went to "The Mall" which is about 25 minutes away in a suburb called Gadong.  Have heard it is very posh and very modern, but to be honest, seemed pretty much just like the mall here (the yayasan), so probably won't need to go back there again.  Walked around a little in the area, nothing much there except the only McDonald's in Brunei.  I can't imagine why there's one out there, but not one downtown, but is okay with me.  All in all, what I hoped to be exciting was not. 
 
Yesterday I did some shopping, as the shorts I bought for Mike last week were too SMALL (my husband is finally getting fat. . .heehee).  Good news is they fit me, so now I have a new pair of shorts.  It was funny, cause on my way over to the mall I stopped in to see about getting a refund on our unused ferry tickets, and as I was leaving the building, I got my heel caught on the step and PULLED IT COMPLETELY OFF.  As I'm standing there with pieces and parts in my hand, thinking "SH*T!" and wondering what I'm going to do, this guy notices my dilemma and tells me there is a shoe repair three doors down.  Why, thank you.
 
Now BSB is a pretty clean town, but I still don't recommend walking around barefooted, which I had to do.  But, a little Indonesian guy got me hooked up for B$2 (about $1.20), and I was on my way again.  These are the same shoes I paid 50 cents in Cambodia to get fixed, and then re-fixed at home.  I probably have more money invested in fixing them than I paid for them!  But, I like them. . . :-)
 
Wednesday afternoon Mike came home about 4:30 and we went on a little boat tour through Kampung Ayer.  And, get this, our boat driver was actually from Brunei!!  He lives out their in the stilt houses, and gave us an okay, if not brief, tour for $8 US.  Was too early to eat when we finished, so came back to the hotel and got engrossed in "Grosse Pointe Blank", so ended up ordering room service and watching THREE (yes, count them) movies last night.  One was called "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" with Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer. . . was really funny.
 
"Grosse Pointe Blank" was depressing.  I saw it in 1997, but seeing it 9 years later made me realize that next year is my 20th year reunion year!  HOLY CRAP!  That's impossible. . .I swear it!  Made me think about how fast time goes (except when you're in Brunei, I can't believe last night was our TWO WEEK marker here).
 
Have been meeting Mike for lunch at a place called The Coffee Bean (this is not the 24 hour coffee bar, but the one RIGHT NEXT TO IT), and have been enjoying their salads and sandwiches for most the week.  However, they seem to have a slight problem with consistency in their iced teas.  Everday I order an ice tea, and everyday it's different.  Today it definitely had some vanilla in it.  Interesting.
 
Today was finally the much hyped "Brunei National Day", and although I didn't actually lay eyes on the Sultan (WAY too many people around), I could hear him over the loudspeaker.  Of course, he was talking in Malaysian, so I have idea what he said, but he was there.  Walked around a bit and looked at the crowds, but everything was pretty much over by noon.  Sure seemed like a lot of build-up for a 5 hour "celebration" which seemed to mostly be parading, flag waving, walking around in strange clothes (the men), and a large, organized dance by school children from around the country.  Oh well, who am I to judge their celebration.  Heard rumor of fireworks tonight, so had dinner down at the Italian place on the river, but alas, no fireworks.  They did have 50% off their pasta dishes, though. 
 
If you want more information on Kampung Ayer or Brunei, you can visit the Sultanate's official website by clicking here.
 
I just want to add while I'm thinking about it, how lucky I am.  I am married to a wonderful guy whom I love dearly, and get to travel to places I never thought I would see in my life.  The down side is that I don't get to see my family and friends as much as I would like, but GOD, I am blessed. 
 
Once again we are getting out of here this weekend.  Going to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.  We fly out on Friday night at 9:35, staying at the Hyatt, and returning on Sunday at 7 PM.  http://kinabalu.hyatt.com for those interested.  Will report on that on Monday, in the meantime, enjoy some new photos. . .
 

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Mosque shadowing the stilt houses

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15th (?) century boat in front of the mosque. . .I think the water is the sewer for Kampung Ayer. .

Monday, February 20, 2006
HAPPY PRESIDENT'S DAY!!!

Nothing going on today, just recovering from our wonderful weekend in Labuan.  To read and see information about Labuan, Malaysia click Labuan, Malaysia here or above.
 
Will try and do something exciting today.  Waiting to have lunch with Mike. . . 

Friday, February 17, 2006
 
Unfortunately, not much to report today.  It's 10 AM here and Mike just called and said they were done with work for the day.  Maybe we can change our ferry tickets and leave this afternoon for Labuan.  That would be cool. 
 
Moved from the Sheraton to the Hotel Brunei (about a half mile down the road).  It's pretty nice, actually, nicer than the first room they showed us when we got here, which looked like a cave.  And the good news. . . free wireless internet in the hotel lobby! 
 
Been eating good and drinking lots of coffee.  Going out today in my first sleeveless shirt in Brunei.  Let's hope I don't get stoned. . . heehee.  Actually, a lot of westerners around, and even Chinese and Indians, who wear pretty much whatever they want.  And silly tourists in shorts and tank tops.  This is apparently a cruise ship stop, as we've met a few Americans walking around looking for a place to eat who are on a day tour. 
 
So, will post on Sunday or Monday regarding our exciting Malaysian weekend on the island of Labuan!  Have a good weekend!
 

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
 
A RUN FOR THE BORDER (AND I AIN'T TALKING TACO BELL, ALTHOUGH THAT WOULD BE COOl, TOO!)
 
As we have heard and been told repeatedly, there is a border town about 40 minutes from BSB, on the Serawak, Malaysia side that you can walk across and HAVE A BEER!  So, for Valentine's Day we hired a car and made a run for it!
 
It was a truly hilarious experience.  Following a stream of cars (mostly full of Bruneians) we drove out of town, parked at the border, and walked across to a dirt parking lot with little huts set up all over, just for drinking.  Nothing fancy by any stretch and the nearest town is 1 1/2 hours away (on the Malaysian side).  Just an oasis of beer! 
 
Now, I know the Sultan is rich enough to not have to worry about loss of profit, but I would think that this steady stream of money out of his country would bother him just a bit. . . It's not like his country wide ban on alcohol is keeping anyone from drinking!  Plus, we were allowed to bring back a total of 4 liters of spirits and 12 beers a piece, so you know we did.
 
Our passports will probably run out of pages being stamped in and out of Malaysia while we're here.
 
Planning a trip to a Malaysian island called Lubuan, about an hour off the coast of Brunei for the weekend.  Leaving early on the ferry Saturday, returning Sunday late afternoon.  Looking forward to that.
 
Tomorrow we move to a much cheaper hotel.  The Sheraton is nice, but all the other guys have moved over there and it's closer to work.
 
Hope everyone had a nice Valentine's Day!
 
 
 

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Okay, we are BOTH grinning now!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Whew!  This is harder than expected.  I know many of you might “frown” on our lifestyle of hanging in bars all the time, but it sure beats hanging in our hotel room, or worse, hanging in a 24 hour coffee bar!  Having dinner is the highlight of our evening, and it ain’t much of a highlight!  We wait as long as possible to eat, but being the restaurants close at 9 or 10 PM, it still leaves us with a lot of time to do nothing.  If you can believe it, Mike and I watched two movies Saturday night, and managed to play a couple games of cribbage, besides.  And we were still in bed by 10:30! 

 

Okay, enough venting for today about the lack of nightlife, bars, and alcohol.

 

Saturday we went “downtown” to the coffee shop for some breakfast.  Upon leaving our hotel we noticed about five gazillion busses all over the parking lots and streets.  Apparently, the national holiday here is February 23, and it’s in honor of the Sultan (who still hasn’t shown his face, although I think he’s buzzing our hotel in his helicopter, probably on his way to the border for some whiskey), so yesterday they bussed in kids from all over the province to practice their parading and dances.  Was quite busy until around 1 PM, when they all got back in the buses and got out of town. 

 

On Friday, I had attempted to get our phones registered, but was told to come back tomorrow, as they were out of new phone numbers for the day, so after a leisurely breakfast we went over to the phone company to get SIM cards.  No problem, except my phone decided not to work.  Over to the mall to get me a NEW PHONE!  Now Mike and I are total geeks with matching Motorola Razor’s.  I couldn’t even get a different color, all they had was black.  Mike also forgot to pack his bathing suit, so did a little shopping to get him some beach/pool wear.

 

After being exhausted by all this shopping we decided an hour or two baking (frying) our bodies by the pool was in order, so we headed back to the hotel, took a swim and attempted to lay in the sun.  But, we couldn’t, it was TOOOOOOO HOT!  We could actually hear our flesh sizzling out there.  Jumped into the pool about every 10 minutes, but still only made it about 70 minutes out there.  Good thing too, because even with the sunscreen, we still got a little red. 

 

There was a little Asian gal watching us swim (we were the only idiots out by the pool) and as soon as we left, she got into her FULL WETSUIT and got into the pool.  Obviously, she wasn’t allowed to swim with ANOTHER MAN in the pool, and even then she couldn’t wear a bathing suit.  On Sunday the pool was rented for a children’s birthday party (probably 6-8 year olds), and even some of them had wetsuits on.  Craziness.  I guess it beats swimming in your full robe and veil like we saw in Sharm El Sheik.  I can’t imagine how their sensibilities were shook by my two piece bathing suit!  Nice, too, that the pool is right outside the glass walled restaurant, so all the poor people trying to enjoy their meal have to be subjected to the same. . .

 

Decided to go out and get a snack, ended up at the Dairy Queen (an actual Dairy Queen, in the basement of the building the Embassy is in. . . SWEET) and had a blizzard, then down to the waterfront for a cup of tea while watching the boats zip around. 

 

Every intention of going to dinner, but neither of us could work up a hunger, so we stayed in the room for the rest of the night.  Watched Queen Latifah’s “Last Holiday” and “Jarhead” (both of which I had bought at the mall for about $4).  What an exciting evening.

 

Saturday we had every intention of taking a boat ride, but never got around to it.  Decided to wait til Sunday morning, but woke up to rain.  Hit a different coffee bar for breakfast, better food but no free refill on the coffee, so a toss up.  Walked over to the supermarket in the rain to get some more coffee and tonic water for the room.   After all that excitement, went back to room.  Cleared off about 1 PM and we decided to go for a walk over to Gadong, the neighboring “town” (just across the river, about fifteen minutes away), which is the Chinese area of Bandar Seri Begawan.  We thought this was where the bowling alley and “The Mall” were, although I can’t imagine that the mall is bigger there than here.  Hoping they had some better restaurants. . .   After walking around for about two hours, all we found was the handicraft center (definitely not the central market in Phnom Penh) and a cemetery, so back into town for a light lunch on the riverside.  I will have to get a cab and go discover “The Mall” by myself, I guess. Probably better that way. 

 

Found a better map in the phone book later in the afternoon and decided to cruise over to the area of town where the bowling alley actually is and a shopping center.  Walked for about a half hour and were extremely disappointed.  The bowling alley was there, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to drink (duh), but you can’t even SMOKE there. . . What is it with Brunei?  They have to take all the fun out of everything!  Will probably be back there to roll some games at some point.  Feels like we’ve been here a month already.  Had a quick fast food dinner, walked back, had a gin and tonic and watched “Dead Man” with Johnny Depp.  Very odd movie, even for a die hard Depp fan.

 

Really haven’t met anyone (lack of bar atmosphere to blame, again, I believe), foreign or Bruneian.  People say HI on the street and seem overly friendly, but not ready to engage further.  A lot of the people around here are Filipino’s and Chinese, as waiting tables and working in department stores may be “below” what the Brunei people feel they should have to do.  Like Mike said last night, it will probably be the last week we are here (as always) that we meet some really cool people (who have access to beer. . .heehee).  The Embassy here is SMALL, staffed with only 6 Americans, including the Ambassador and DCM

 

I think we will go to Borneo next weekend. . . This kind of lifestyle may kill us.
 
PS:  Thanks Linda for pointing out I was posting under 2005.
 
PPS:  If anyone thinks they want to come and visit, BRING GIN!!!!  :-)

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Love the foilage here, those stems are almost NEON

Friday, February 10, 2006

Bandar Seri Begawan (say that three times fast) is a small, small town.  There is a 24 hour coffee bar, though.  Just what you need, to get jacked up on caffeine all night.    We’re not quite in the alcoholic league that just sits around in the room and gets smashed, so it’s been quite DRY around our family.  Hopefully our marriage will survive. . . JOKE!

 

No sign of the Sultan yet.

 

On the plus side, the people are genuinely nice, everybody speaks perfect English, and we’ve found the food to be quite pleasing.  No bars, pool halls, dart boards, or casino’s to spend our money on, so we might as well eat good.  Saving our beer money for food, I guess.  Can’t imagine what a beer will taste like when we get outta here. . .

 

It does seem odd here in southeast Asia to be listening to the call to prayer and watch everyone walk around with head scarves and long dresses.  Not too hard to spot the foreigners gallivanting around in their shorts and tank tops.  Not that it would be, anyway.  Nice not to be surrounded by poverty for a while, too.  Everybody seems to be pretty much middle class (except the Sultan, who hasn't called to say HI yet), and there is no crime to speak of.

 

There’s a large park with a waterfall (definitely not Niagra Falls) about a 15 minute walk from the hotel.  Went up there yesterday, was the ONLY person in the park.  Was nice and shady, cool breeze, sat and read my book for a while.  Need to find a camp chair to sit on, though, as all they have are dirty, hard cement benches.  Will be a nice place to hang out, though.

 

Last night they got some rain up on the “hill” behind our house and then the light got all yellow like it does, and a beautiful rainbow came out (see pics below).

 

There’s a national rainforest park about 30 kilometers away that we will visit, and an amusement park (think Cedar Point, only much smaller) we can check out.  Also talking of taking a bus ride down the coast to some of the oil/beach towns.  There’s an area called Kampung Ayer right across the river here hailed as the “Venice of the East” where you can take tours via small motor boat skiffs; will probably do that this weekend.  Weather has been warm, but with cloud cover, so not as intense as Cambodia when we first arrived, but hot (I know I’m getting no sympathy from the Michiganders reading this). 

 

Went down to get our cell phones activated, guy told me no more numbers today, come back tomorrow.  Interesting. 

 

We are currently at the Sheraton Utama, checked out a few other places to stay, but looks like we will stay put for now.  Not suffering too bad from jet lag and our Sheraton Super Sleeper Bed rocks the world!

 

Not much else.  Here’s a few pics.

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Cool clouds hanging over Mosque at end of shopping plaza

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Looking across the river into Kampung Ayer

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Tasek waterfall at Tasek Recreational Park up the street

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Aforementioned rainbow behind the hotel

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Well, we are seven hours into our 5 week stay in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei and it's already been interesting.  What a strange place.  We've heard how wealthy this country is, but it doesn't seem that way on the surface.  Nicer in general appearance than most southeast Asian countries we've been to, but not quite as posh as I expected.  Went to the shopping plaza/mall today, that's pretty ornate, but just walking around isn't all that impressive.  Very, very small town, easily navigable by foot.  Will get some walking in here, if I can figure out where to walk to!
 
Also, it is most definitely a DRY country.  Even the American Embassy personnel do NOT have connections for beer/wine.  We brought two bottles of gin in, but I doubt they'll last the entire time.  Plus, there is ASBOLUTELY no night life to speak of in the line of "pubs" or places to play pool or darts.  Have heard rumor of a bowling alley, Mike may turn pro again.  Drove by the golf course on our way in, we didn't pack our clubs this time around, but did bring our shoes and gloves, so I'm sure a round or two will be in order. . .
 
Lots to figure out and learn.  Seems we're close enough to some pretty decent locales that we can sneak in some interesting weekend trips around the country and into Borneo, etc.   My Brunei guidebook from Amazon.com didn't show up in time before we left, so that was a bummer.  Barnes and Nobles and Schuler's didn't have it in stock (imagine that).
 
May move from the Sheraton this weekend, a little pricey and we found a different place closer to the Embassy.  Rooms are not as nice, but they do have free Wi-Fi in the lobby and restaurant, versus the $8/hour they are charging us here at the Sheraton.  However, I am earning American Airline miles while we're here.  Maybe I can upgrade my flight home to business class. . . doubt it.
 
Other than that, was nice to be home and see the folks we did, but nice to be out back on the road again!
 
More later as I figure this place out.  Feels like a strange combination of Burma and a little Jordan and a little Egypt.  The Muslim influence is pretty dominate. . .