Sunday, August 14, 2016

Foreign Driving 101

I’m into my second month serving here in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city of Brunei.  I think I’m finding my way around a bit better.  It’s comforting when suddenly, you realize you’ve been here before and recognize a store or sign.  Driving on the left side of the road now seems natural.  I do have to be careful when making a right turn to scoot over to the left instead of hugging the curb.  The true test will be when I return to Texas and am able to manage returning to driving on the right again!

The drivers here are among the most courteous I’ve ever seen.  Your turn signal is your way of communicating.  Back home, many avoid using their turn signal because…heaven forbid you should give another driver a warning of what you are about to do!  Here, you get dirty looks if you DON’T signal your intent.  And when you do, people actually let you merge into their lane or allow you to turn in front of them.  Imagine that. 

The hardest part is navigating the ‘roundabouts’ or circular intersections.  If you want to exit the roundabout, you can either be in the outside lane or inside lane. If you’re on the outside lane, you need to have eyes on the side of your head to see if someone from the inside lane wants out!  It’s controlled chaos!  But if you miss your exit, you can just drive around the circle again.  Good luck with that! And just pray that you don’t encounter one of the multi-lane roundabouts! 

 They also have some that, if you aren’t paying attention, that round painted circle in the middle of the intersection…you’ll just drive right over it! And as for instructions...forget about them!

Choosing to go to work for the State Department is hands down the best thing I have ever done for myself.  The work has been very rewarding and the travel opportunities have been nothing short of amazing.  I hated to be pushed into retirement (mandatory at age 65) but once I got home, I appreciated that every day would now be Saturday.  Fortunately the State Department has a program for retirees to sign on for temporary duty assignments.  And because of that, I continue to work sporadically, meeting terrific people and visiting new countries.  Last year it was 4 weeks in Singapore and this year, 4½ months in Brunei.  I continue to collect my Social Security and small annuity from the government and when I’m lucky enough to be called and asked to go somewhere cool and work for a while…that money goes into the savings account.  Or for new hardwood floors in my house.  Or a new facing for my fireplace.  Life is so good.

I guess I’m not really ready to call it quits just yet.  Maybe after next year.  Or the next year.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Walk in the Park

Last weekend Faye and I decided to do a little exploring.  Faye had seen a park on a trip to the market so we set out to find it.  It didn't take long for our left turn, right turn, GPS Lucy talking to us and then there it was.  From the street it looked great...lots of green space, a playground for kids, a gazebo or 4. 

We had to circle around before we finally found the entrance.  Once parked, we headed out into this park.  It was deserted. It didn't take us long before we both commented that it sure did need some TLC.  The grass was overgrown, electrical boxes were open and exposed wires sticking out at a 4 year old's level.  Faye had gone to a sort of zoo that was gorgeous when it opened and now, a couple of years later, it too was overgrown and appeared no one was taking care of it.  It was really a shame because it is such a large beautiful area and has so much potential.

He's down there somewhere...

We both heard a sound that I thought was go carts in the distance.  Something caught my eye and I saw a speed boat flying across the water of the river that ran alongside the park.  We walked toward the walled border of the park.  I saw an opening and as I approached it I noticed that it was several very wide steps that disappeared into the water.  Just then, I saw it.....a giant Komodo Dragon!!  He saw me at the same time, our eyes met and my feet left the ground as I screamed and tried to turn to my left to run.  I ran smack into Faye who heard me scream but didn't know why!  The instant before I turned to run/jump/scream, I saw this giant animal look like he was heading up the steps toward me but at the last second, he dove in the water and disappeared. 

Not the guy I saw but he looked JUST like this!
Faye was saying "WHAT WHAT WHAT?????"  I told her and then we both realized how we must have looked and we both cracked up.   We walked along the wall for a few more minutes until we were sure that the dragon had left for good.  The Komodo Dragon is common in this area and this guy was probably 4-5 feet long....the biggest damn lizard I've even seen!  Of course, now we can laugh at ourselves, which we've done many times since last weekend, but at the time it was no laughing matter.  

Here's a link to an article in the Brunei Times, the local English language paper.
Komodo Dragons in Brunei

So much for a leisurely walk in the park.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Joys of Serving Overseas

This weekend Faye and I found a fabric/craft/knitting/costume/tailor store.  And let me tell you, this store had everything under the sun.  Anything you would need for a wedding, birthday, costume or any occasion was there, yarn, thread, plastic and silk flowers, was like a giant MJ Designs and Joann Fabrics rolled into one.  

We decided that we needed to have something made so I decided on a top and Faye was going to get 2 jackets and a pair of slacks that would go with either jacket. As amazing as it sounds, the gorgeous satin brocade was cheaper than cotton fabric.  So we went back today, armed with pictures of tops, jackets and pants downloaded from the internet that we wanted made.  I decided to have 2 tops and a jacket made.  I fell in love with this gorgeous red satin material and just had to have a jacket made out of it. 

The tailor went about taking our measurements and wrote them all down.  Another man sketched a design from the pictures we had, noting any changes in sleeve lengths, neckline or length of the jacket that we wanted.   I found a beautiful top online  and it will have sheer sleeves and a lined bodice.  It will be made from the yellow print sheer fabric.  Another top was from a Simplicity pattern I found online and the fabric is a cotton with what looks like peacock feathers on it.

The whole experience reminded me of when I was serving in Pakistan and several of us found a leather man who could copy a purse from a picture. I better have better control over how many pieces of clothing I have made than I did with the leather purses!

We go back on August 5th to either pick them up or have alterations done to them.  

Oh, the joys of serving overseas!

Life, So Far, in Bandar Seri Begawan

I've been in Bandar Seri Begawan for almost 3 weeks now and am finally able to find my way around.  The rental car has a Garmin GPS in it but sometimes it gets confused.  I wish I had a Sim card for my iPhone because it is so much easier to use to get me from Point A to Point B.  But I have a few landmarks that help and I can get back and forth to the Embassy without any GPS assistance.  Plus I can now find my way to the grocery store.  I think I have mastered driving on the left side. Maybe. 

A bit about Brunei...Brunei occupies 3,580 square miles on the northern coast of the island of Borneo and is the smallest non-island country outside Europe.  The country is comprised mostly of primary and secondary rain forest with only a small coastal strip of land that has been cultivated.  The total population is approximately 375,000; 67% are Malays, 15% are Chinese and 6% are non-Malay indigenous people including tribal groupings and expatriots.  

The country is 67% Muslim and recently celebrated the end of Ramadan and following that was Hari Raya.  Hari Raya is a week long celebration with open houses and lots of food and inviting friends and family into your home.  The abundance of food is sort of a reward for a month of fasting during daylight hours.  I attended one and it was quite impressive. 

Another tradition during Hari Raya is the opening of the Sultan's Palace and the opportunity to shake hands with the Sultan and the Queen.  The men and women are in separate lines and the women visit the Queen and the men the Sultan.  She was most gracious and along with her were all her Princesses.  According to the newspaper, approximately 100,000 people over 2 days shook their hands.  The Royal Color is yellow so you should not wear that color in their presence...thankfully I had a non-yellow outfit to wear.

This region is very tropical with afternoon showers nearly every day.  And after the showers the humidity hits...and boy, does it hit!  I haven't been able to see a real sunset but at that time of day, the sky is a golden yellow.  I need to find a sunset watching spot!

I haven't had time to do much sightseeing but I did make it to one of the mosques.  It is the Sultan's father's mosque and it was beautiful. We couldn't go inside because there was some event going on but we walked all around the perimeter and got a few pictures.  I have been to mosques all over (Muscat, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi) and think they are marvels in architecture.  This one was no different.  Amazing...


During my 4+ months here, I hope to do some regional travel like Bali, Kuala Lumpur and/or Bangkok.  I've been to Bangkok so hopefully an island will be on my travel itinerary!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Week One in Brunei

It's been almost a week since I arrived in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei.  I endured the 16 hour flight from Dallas to Hong Kong with no real bumps or bruises.  Well, my hind end was a bit weary of sitting for that length of time but it got over it.  The empty seat next to me was a welcome sight.

Bandar is much like Hawaii. I hear the same bird that I hear on Kauai in the morning but the frogs are a different story.  At night frogs, somewhere, make noises like a go cart track.  The first night, that's what I thought was nearby because of the noise!  But after talking to a few people, they told me it was the frogs.  I've been told that the frogs I hear at night are big enough to eat the bull frogs, so I can only imagine just how big they are.  After all, Brunei is on the island of Borneo and mostly rain forests.  Snakes call Brunei home, so I'm not straying far from civilization!  I googled snakes and Brunei (and Borneo) and seems there is every variety possible here.

So one week of the 21 weeks I will be here is in the books.  I hope I'll have lots of adventures to write about with pictures. After all, I'm just a 2 hour flight from so many cool places and I hope to visit a few of them!

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho...It's Off To Work I Go!

I love retirement but I also loved the work I did with the Foreign Service. Mandatory retirement hit July 1, 2014 for me and I've been a woman of leisure since then.  But...good news! The State Department has offered me the opportunity to come out of retirement and work for a few months later this year. Of course I said yes!  Last year I went to Singapore for 3 weeks and loved it.  I worked in the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy there which was terrific since I spent all 6 years in the Foreign Service working in that section.  I felt right at home even after being away from the job for over a year.  This time I'm headed to Brunei.  Just in case you aren't familiar with where Brunei is (and most of my friends scratch their head and say "Where?") I've added a map.  It's on the northern coast of Malaysia, just east of the Philippines.

This temporary duty assignment is for around 5 months...a long time to be away from home. With that length of time, I will be calling it 'home' as soon as I arrive and love every minute.  My last post before retirement was in Pakistan from 2012-2014 and if I can serve there, I can serve anywhere.  Well, almost anywhere.  But look at all the places around Brunei...the Philippines, Indonesia and just out of the picture...Australia!  One of the many benefits of serving in the Foreign Service is regional travel.  Well, that's second only to meeting and working with terrific people, both American and those from the host country. Hopefully I'll be able to swing a weekend in Australia snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef or South Vietnam or even China.  Who knows what possibilities will come my way!  

Last year when I went to Singapore, I had to ask a very good friend to come and water my yard twice a week on my assigned watering days (we were under water rationing). He was a real trooper since it involved moving the sprinkler from front to back yard.  So, the end of last year I made a couple of improvements to my house.  I now have a fully automatic sprinkler system so Dan, you are off the hook this year!  I also installed an alarm system.  Hind sight is 20/20 but foresight is an even better vision.

Being away for an extended period of time means lots of planning you might not otherwise have to do.  My car won't be driven so I spoke with my insurance company and the coverage will be changed while I'm away to comprehensive only.  I'll change my internet/mobile phone/cable service to the lowest plan possible and my mail will be forwarded to my friend Dan and his wife Delta. Most of it is junk mail anyway.  Sorry Dan, you're not off the hook entirely. :o)

The process to get me there is moving right along. Yesterday I sent off the application for my new diplomatic passport and today I'll call and start the ball rolling on my flight itinerary.  That should be fun...NOT!  It's going to take me about 2 days to get there, with a layover in Hong Kong or Tokyo...not sure yet which one.  I've never been one who could sleep on flights but I might take a couple of Benedryl to at least make me sleepy.

So, the adventure continues...and I'm so glad it does!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

A Break From Retirement

Retirement is great...every day is Saturday.  But I needed a break from my busy schedule (ha) so I'm here on Kauai, Hawaii.  My son and his family live here and they are skiing in Bend, Oregon.  They needed me to come to house sit, dog sit and chicken sit.  Two Golden Retrievers and 8 chickens need to be fed!  I did this last January when they went skiing and I guess it's going to be an annual thing.  I'm happy to do it and love the time to just relax...more so than I do at home.  One can't relax too much!

It's a shame we all have to wait until age 65 to retire (officially).  You spend your life hoping that you'll still be healthy and happy so you can enjoy the 'golden years' in whatever way you can.  I saved with a vengeance and it is paying off now.  I'm living comfortably in Texas on my social security and the small pension from my 6 years with the State Department.

I supplement my income by selling on Ebay.  It's so much fun going to estate sales, finding a real bargain and then selling it for much more.  Each month I make at least enough to make my house payment.  This week I went to a garage sale here on Kauai and found a vintage metal foil, waxed paper and paper towel holder...remember those from the 50s or 60s?  I paid $1 for it and looked it up on Ebay and found it selling for $25-29.  That's the kind of fun you have on Ebay!

So back to the chickens.  I have them to thank for breakfast.  I went out and pulled 2 fresh eggs from the hen house and had fried eggs for breakfast. The best!  That makes up for the rooster who sends out his first crow at precisely 4:00 am.  After a week, I'm able to go right back to sleep until he goes off again at 6:00 am.  You have to take the good with the bad, right?

The beaches here are so beautiful.  I don't swim much but I do love walking on the beach.

This ends when I return home on February 11.  I had originally planned on coming here for my twin grandsons' birthday March 1-11.  So, about 3 weeks after I return home, I'll be returning to Kauai for another 11 days.            

Life is good.
Glass Beach...lots of beach glass

View of Hanalei and Bali Hai

Huge surf at Hanalei
Hanalei Beach and the pier