Sunday, July 17, 2016
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!