By P Chong Thursday, 17 December 2009
There is no substitute for experience as related by this story. A great Indian Chief once came down from the land of High Clouds to the beach for a war conference with the American military. He was visibly very excited and fascinated, not because of the conference, but more so by the sight of the great ocean. He was seen wading into the waters right up to waist level, and as his curious onlookers wondered as to what he would do next, he asked for a water pitcher. With that he began filling it up with water.
When asked why he did that, he said this: “Back in my high country, my people have never heard or seen the roar of the great ocean and the splashing of the great waves. I shall take this sample to show it to them.” Little did he realise that such an experience was not transferable nor would he be able to share such a experience with the water sample.
Likewise with Brunei, I can’t possibly begin to relate my joyous experience on stepping onto this little paradise for the first time. It was so near and yet so far for me during those days when I was living in Malaysia. Read about it and studied its geography but never setting an eye upon it. Real experience cannot be substituted by book knowledge .
Climatically, it’s no difference from Malaysia – hot and humid with swaying coconut palms on the beach including mangrove swamps fronting the river. It is idyllic beautiful and peaceful. The buildings in the town, though limited in height, as set by law that nothing must surpass the height of the national mosque, are absolutely modern in structure and architecturally varied. The streets are broad and traffic flows – unlike Jakarta or Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.
It can be compared to Singapore in terms of cleanliness and its greenery and well manicured gardens. The show piece is of course Jerudong Park & Playground which was first opened during the ruling Sultan’s forty-eighth birthday. That was the heyday when the Sultan was known to be the richest man in the world. Though the Park has seen better times and with many of its facilities falling into disuse for lack of maintenance, the place is nothing short of being spectacular. It was the first Disney Land of the East where the people could be admitted free of charge.
Talking of opulence and extravagance, the Sultan’s Palace stands supreme and there is none to compare among all the world’s monarchy’s palaces. It’s a fortress unto itself. What can be visible is only part of the whole structure. Most of the Palace lies underground, hidden behind the hill, guarded by the sea and the vastness of its acreages of gardens. It is also well surrounded by family palaces of brothers and sisters of the Sultan. Only once in the year during Hari Raya (the Muslim’s New Year) the people have the privilege of having a glimpse of it. What goes on behind the walls of the Palace, you could ever know!
Whatever happened for that little oil-rich country with a population of no more than 400,000 to its present day of “bankruptcy” is beyond you and I to speculate. Nonetheless, the people still enjoy living in tax haven with all facilities provided free of charge. The people enjoy a standard of living higher than most Southeast Asian countries. The streets are lined with gold, the latest make of vehicles flash by before your eyes. As in all Muslim world, night life is lacking and by ten o’clock the night is virtually over when all shops are closed.
To be in line for tourist dollars, many things need to be overhauled. Apart from the physical side like doing away with delay queuing to pay that meagre dollar for the transit visa or the airport departure tax which cannot be paid outside the country as arranged with all travel agents, there is also the need of a mental revolution to show genuine welcomeness and friendliness for tourists to flow in. With a little polishing, the little gem of paradise will shine bright and clear.
(First written on Friday, 13 August 2004.Hong Kong)