October 31 (and in case you are interested, day 116 of our 180 day cruise!)
Brunei is a small sultanate which is located between Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo. It is called darussalam (Arabic for ‘abode of peace’) and it has the largest oilfields in Southeast Asia. In fact, oil is the number one resource and provides 95% of the economy of the country. This is a very small country in area and has about 400,000 people. The government is a monarchy controlled by the Sultan. Brunei is said to be the 4th wealthiest country in the world and the Sultan is worth more than 25 Billion USD. He owns and pilots his own 747 jet.
Our guide today was Marvin and he is half Chinese and half Malay. He shared a lot of the culture and customs of Brunei on our way to the mangrove forest and then the water village. More about those later.
As you might imagine, gas is very cheap here, 31 cents/liter or about $1.10/gallon. Each household has at least 2 cars, and you don’t see taxis around, you have to call one because hardly anyone uses them. There is no income tax and the government provides for defense, education and health care for its citizens. In fact, Marvin gave an example of his father who needed a pacemaker and cardiac medications. For the pacemaker and the meds, he paid $1. We started to call Brunei “the dollar store” because that is the token amount that is paid for just about everything from dental care to open heart surgery.
Marvin went to University in the UK completely free. He had to work for the government for only 6 months when he graduated.
Housing is also highly subsidized by the government – for example, if you buy a house for $143,000, the government subsidizes $100,000 and the remainder you pay off at $200/month for 20 years.
No guns are allowed here and the penalties are very strict. If you are found with a gun, you could be executed. Sale of drugs receives the death penalty, although no one on death row has been put to death in years. They don’t get out, either, though. There are 2 police for every citizen and there is virtually no crime.
Their goal is to eliminate poverty altogether by 2025.
There are no nightclubs here and movies are highly censored as are the newspapers and all the media. You cannot speak out publicly against the Sultan. Alcohol is prohibited but supposedly, like during prohibition in the US, speakeasies exist here, if you can find them. So young people go out of the country to have fun!
People come here for nature, and they are trying to increase tourism. And Marvin will certainly help that – he was great.
He told us about the “Friday letter”. which any citizen can write and get signatures, and the Sultan reads all of them on Friday and will meet with the person to solve the provlem if he chooses to, and he mostly does. There is a lot of respect for the Sultan.
First we drove to the capital, Bandar Seri. We boarded a boat and cruised the waterway which is lined with mangroves. The vegetation is strictly protected by law. We were hoping to see the Proboscis Monkey which is only found on the island of Borneo, and we did see them swinging on the trees. They also swim which is a bit unusual for monkeys, but we didn’t see any in the water. The closest look was this one that was sitting on this concrete wall. They eat the mangrove leaves and spike of that fruit. In fact, they only eat fruit, leaves and the occasional insect. According to Marvin, they commit suicide if in captivity because their digestive systems need a certain bacteria for digestion. Here’s a file photo of one so you can see the unusual large nose.
We saw lots of egrets, herons and our boat captain spotted this hard to see monitor lizard. I was amazed at its size (and it blends right in with the tree roots.) We also got a quick glimpse of a crocodile in the water.
We enjoyed the boat ride and it was so hot on land that the breeze felt a little bit refreshing!
We then visited the water village where 25,000 people live. One of the goals is to eliminate the village, so when someone dies or moves out, the home is destroyed. The population used to be 40,000 several years ago. And not only are there homes here, the word village is correct because they have restaurants, mosques, schools, shops and hospitals all connected by wooden boardwalks. People have lived here for more than 1300 years, making it one of the most historic areas in Brunei.
We had a visit to one home where tea and sweet snacks were served to us. You will see how modern it is, with large screen TV, computer, chandeliers, etc. Very surprising!
Although we didn’t visit them, we got to see the large new national mosque and the outside of the Sultan’s 1788 room palace which has 257 bathrooms. WHAT would they do with all those bathrooms!
Brunei is truly a beautiful place for nature but very strict in their Sharia law. The fear is that they are losing all of their intellectuals, so watch the news for how the country may change in the future.
And, of course, today is Halloween, a fact that wasn’t ignored by the ship. There were costumes, carved pumpkins and the evening’s entertainment was the Liar’s Club where teams of passengers had to figure out which of the costumed staff members was telling the truth about words no one ever heard of. Lots of fun. They also had some menu items such as Harry Potter pumpkin soup, deep sea creatures with mango and jalapeno salsa, devil’s black ink risotto and spiced roast beef tenderloin with old witch favorite sauce.