Thursday, June 24, 2010

Brunei

***All pictures were taken by Joseph Gatz***

Check out his websites here:

http://gatz.4ormat.com/5692-photography-portraiture-i

http://vimeo.com/gatz


After 2 weeks in Kota Kinabalu I was finally leaving. I was traveling to Brunei, a tiny oil rich country. I planned to stay only 2 nights as I had heard that there wasn't much to see or do in this strict Muslim country. Sheila arranged for me to stay with her friend, Joseph, who lives with his wife and daughter in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. To get there I took a 6 hour long ferry. It wouldn't have taken so long if it wasn't for the 2 hour lay over on the island of Labuan, Malaysia. From Labuan island it only took 45 minutes to an hour to reach Brunei. I was happy to cross another country off the ol' Southeast Asia list.

Brunei: CHECK!

Drug trafficking in Brunei is punishable by death only. Period. And when I walked through customs they interrogated me about whether or not I had any alcohol to declare, as the country banned the sale of alcohol in the early 90s.

"So what's in you bag then, sir?" the customs woman asked.

"Just books and clothes," I said.

"Books? What kind of books? she asked. "Show me."

Not even in Myanmar was I asked to reveal the books that I was carrying.

Joseph was waiting for me in the lobby as I exited customs.

"Adam?" he asked, as we only had met through Facebook.

"Hey, Joseph!"

We shook hands and quickly walked outside towards his car as his pregnant wife, Mavi, and daughter, Marga, were waiting.

"Thanks again for accommodating me, man," I said to him as approached the car.

"No problem, bro."

Since it was Joseph's last day off of work, he was able to show me around. He teaches at an international school, and the school's new session began the following day. As we were about to drop off his wife and daughter at a friend's house, he asked me what I wanted to see or do in Brunei. I told him that I really didn't have a clue as to what to do, and that I was pretty ignorant about the country. I usually research a country before traveling there, but I've been pretty much winging it lately. Just going with the flow, if you will. Luckily, Joseph had a number of things for us to do.

As we were driving I couldn't help to notice how different Brunei appeared than its fellow Southeast Asian countries. It's definitely the most developed country I'd been to in this region of the world. The roads were nicely paved and the traffic was noticeably absent. And it wasn't rare to have an expensive sports car pull up next to us while waiting at a traffic light.

It was really clean, too. I even saw people picking up trash as we drove down the highway. Shocking. People picking trash up in Southeast Asia? Now that's a first. Apparently there's a hefty fine if caught littering. Joseph told me that education and health care is free, and that they didn't have to pay any income tax. Wow. He said Brunei uses its oil revenue to subsidize many things.

I think I saw everything there was to see in Brunei on my first night. It must have been the quickest overview of a country ever.

The first place Joseph took me was to the Royal Regalia Museum, where, interesting enough, you had to walk through barefoot. It was pretty much a museum that the Sultan dedicated to himself. It just flaunted his wealth, which stands around 40 billion USD.

Moving on . . .

Next we went to the majestic Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. This white washed building with its golden dome looked like something straight out of the movie Aladdin. As we walked around the mosque, marveling at its architecture, I began searching for my magic carpet.

"A whole new world!"



Moving on . . .

After the mosque, we drove down the road to take a few pictures in front of the Sultan's absurdly large palace, called the Istana Nurul Imam. But I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised with this prime bit of real estate, as it was . . . a palace!

Moving on . . .

Next Joseph took me to the Empire Hotel, a 7-star hotel.

"A 7-star hotel?" I repeated, as I thought my ears were deceiving me.

I didn't realize that there WAS anything higher than a 5-star hotel? Shows what I know about the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Off the top of my head, the hotel had pools, art galleries, golf courses, man-made beaches, and its own hospital. Yes, I repeat: It's own hospital. I would like to be the doctor employed by that hospital. I mean, really, how many patients could he/she treat a day? It's got to be a sweet gig. Joseph and I strolled in and around the hotel imagining what it must be like to afford a room there.


Moving on . . .

For lunch we had some street food, which Joseph kindly paid for. We enjoyed our delicious egg-burger sandwiches while overlooking the beach, called Pantai Jer Tungku. While savoring every delicious bite of my sandwich, Joseph told me about his photography and multi-media work. He told me he'd show me some of his work once we returned to his house, which I was anxious to see. I told him how Sheila is a bit of a photographer herself, who takes millions of pictures.

"Yeah, she told me to make sure I document your trip," Joseph revealed to me, just reiterating what I'd just said. I laughed, as it didn't surprise me. And since we were talking about Sheila, I thought I'd show him some of the footage that I had of her on my camera from the night we went out to the comedy/karaoke club. He got a kick out of that.

Moving on . . .

After we picked up his wife and daughter we went to Gadong Mall, where I found my Brunei flag patch. I collect patches from every country I travel to. Next we bought some street food at the Pasar Malam night market, and we at our delicious meal at Jerudong Park, while his wife, unfortunately, waited in the car as his daughter had fallen asleep. While eating our meal at a picnic table under a gazebo, Joseph told me how Brunei is a great place to raise a family. Which led me to ask the question,

"What's it like being a father, man?"

"Well, he began, "your priorities change, bro. I can't travel like you travel anymore. But when I'm having a bad, stressful day . . . when I come home and see my daughter, all of my stress goes away."

I could tell he was a happy father just by the way he treats his daughter. His wife, Mavi, said that their daughter is a daddy's girl. This short movie he took of his daughter speaks for itself. Watch below.

Marga's Video from Joseph Gatz on Vimeo.



After 2 nights in Brunei I decided I would take a bus to Miri to visit my newfound friend, Ghana, who I'd met in KK - or so I thought I'd be taking a bus. As I was making noise about how expensive the bus fare was from Brunei to Miri, I mentioned how it made me want to hitch.

"Hitch?" said Joseph, "Wait, I have a friend who drives a 10 wheeler to Miri three times a week. Maybe you could hitch a ride with him."

"Oh, mama!" I excitedly thought.



And after he spoke to his friend over the phone, he delivered the news I wanted to hear.

"Bro, you're in," he said, giving me the thumbs up.

Music to my ears. And I performed a little Michael Jackson twirl in the middle of the mall. I hoped dancing wasn't illegal in Brunei.

Thanks again, Joseph and Mavi, for hosting me in Brunei. You both were so hospitable and accommodating. I can't thank you two enough.

The next morning at 7am Joseph saw me off. Once his friend arrived in his 10 wheeler truck and pulled off the side of the road, I tossed my bag into the truck and hopped in.

Ah, life on the road . . .



Next Stop: Miri, Malaysia

-Adam

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