The Real BSB

Posted on Monday, August 29, 2005

The Real BSB
Originally uploaded by graum.
BSB - Where the houses are made of driftwood on mud, but the mosques are coated in gold.

The Empire

The Empire
Originally uploaded by graum.
Drug functions will never be the same...

Brunei Crew

Brunei Crew
Originally uploaded by graum.
Friday night, Malay style.

What starts with a B and ends with a B?

Not the full version of BSB – Bandar Seri Begawan. I must admit it is a beguiling place to visit.
The impressions are always one of contrasts. Sunday was a perfect example; A drug company session advertising Vastarel (Trimetazidine) at the Empire Hotel, followed by an imprompteu car ride into the capital at 150kmh in a brand spanking new CDI Mercedes, then 2 ½ hours on a crappy old bus never cracking 50kmh the whole way. Constant contradiction.
I caught a lift into the capital early Friday morning with the clinical waste; itself and interesting story.
The first thing I was told on my briefing to the health centre was that the previous Friday someone had blown up the health centre’s clinical waste incinerator by putting a full oxygen cylinder in it. I realised after a while of me laughing on my own that Mark was being serious. If it wouldn’t compromise the investigation, I’d love to post a photo of the crater here. It’s pretty impressive, but thankfully no one was hurt. As a consequence of the incinerator being out of commission, the health centre’s clinical waste is driven into the RIPAS hospital in BSB to be burnt by their incinerator.
So picture yourself if you will, bright and early at 7am on a dual carriage freeway with a tray full of clinical waste behind you, and mad Bruneians overtaking you at 150kmh because for some impenetrable reason Shell policy stipulates that under no circumstances shall their cars exceed 50kmh. I serious about this, they go to the extent of putting speed warning devices, trip loggers and GPS logging devices to ensure the policy is followed. If there is a rule in this country, it is very seriously followed. Speed limits are more of a kind-of-maybe-sort-of suggestion obviously.
Add to the white knuckle fear going by your right shoulder, a Chinese guy driving, whom you can’t fully understand. You don’t really mind this however, as he has a habit of telling ghost stories that despite your inherent cynicism, still manage to scare the crap out of you. Maybe that and last time you spoke to him, he was telling you about how while once previously doing this trip he felt himself being possessed as he was driving. He’s a sweet guy really, and I don’t doubt for a second he fully believes his stories.
After dropping the smelly yellow bags off next to the morgue, I was deposited at the staff accommodation building, and met CJ who called out my name due to my being obviously Australian and lost. Good thing I was expected.
CJ introduced me to the rest of the Brunei team, Emma, (Gemma and Zoey I had already met), Dean, Evan and Greg. I was truly grateful to hear some Aussie accents. I love the guys out at my clinic, but I think there’s something genetic about our response to Brit accents over the long term.
That night we crossed the border to Kuala Laura, which is realistically a bunch of dilapidated sheds on the Malay side of the border full of Bruneians and expats drinking cheap beer and eating the SE Asian version of tapas. That’s where the team photo was taken.
Saturday morning was off to the Airport to meet my Dad who was on his way home from a holiday in Sabah. I caught a long boat into the city, and the old guy who looked like he was all sinews and cataracts left me cursing in Bahasa. Not only had I been rude enough to only have $10 notes for the $1 ride, but I also made him give me the correct change. It’s very hard not to slip into the ugly tourist, always arguing with the locals about being charged tourist prices. I hate being ripped off at the best of times, and the price for the trip from RIPAS to the city is well known. They opportunistically take advantage of tourists. I also feel little pity for them because the running gag amongst the boatmen is when a white person gets into the boat, regardless of where they say they want to go, to make a little circling motion with their hand above their head. This means an hour long boat ride around Kampong Ayer for $20. If I wanted to go for a tour around the water village I would ask.
I am realising as I write this, the boat guys do bring out the ugly tourist side of me. I detest being hassled. Full stop. Every time I walked within sight of the water they would be swarming around “Mister Mister, you wann ride? Twenti dollah”
All I want to do is take a photo of the water village in peace. I feel guilty about all this too, because I realise that I am a tourist, so effectively I do have more money than them, and all they are trying to do is make a living. Like I said, I have become the Ugly tourist. It’s probably a good thing though, because I’m pretty sure I need a much healthier dose of hardening up before I get to Vietnam.
Greater BSB is not really that fantastic as far as towns go, but seeing as it’s population is not that much more than Rocky, and less than that of Mackay, it’s to be expected. It is impressive however for the giant gold coated mosque that dominates the entire city area. I walked back to the hospital through the city, by the mosque, taking 50000 photos in the process. OK, maybe not quite that many, but it sure seemed like it. I then walked through Kampong Ayer. I described the Malaysian version of water villages previously. The Brunei version is essentially no different, with the exceptions that the common walkways are well maintained with fresh planking (Thank Allah, seeing as I am certain I weight slightly more than your average Brunei water village person), and every home has at least electricity, post boxes and phone lines. The more swish ones have cable internet and satellite dishes. The houses still look like shanties on the outside though, and the mud beneath smells likes sewerage. Mostly because it is. There are very few hand rails on the walkways, which makes you very determined not to slip.
The communities for all my slander are quite self sufficient with their own shops and plated gold mosques above the water. Everyone you walk past is extremely friendly, says hello, asks where you are from and invite you inside to see their house. So as much as I have my difficulties comprehending life above the water, it is working.
I am still perplexed how BSB’s big tourist drives are fantasmagorical shopping centres selling designer consumables (I have yet to see a local not wearing at least a Rolex or similar watch, so there is definitely some money going to the locals ), and a shanty village over some of the most polluted water you will ever witness. But they have satellite, so it’s all cool.
I think my best Photo of BSB will be the one I’ve put up, with Kampong Ayer in all it’s glory with the gold plated mosque presiding over it. I know I’m harping on it, but I just don’t understand why two such huge contrasts can co-exist.
Enough about slums with satellite.
Later that night, we had decide to go to Jerudong Park, but after the first carload of us got there, we convinced the others not to bother. I think what it comes down to is a case of mis-marketing. If the place was dubbed the ‘Scooby Doo Abandoned Amusement Park Adventure’, then no one would be disappointed. Some people, sad people such as me I must admit, would actually swallow such advertising and visit in swarms.
As things stand however, Jerudong Park is a testament to past glories. It’s a huge amusement park, with lots of interesting rides. It’s just that none of them are open. They are all closed for “maintenance” which I am assuming is a euphemism for, “No one comes here anymore, and we couldn’t be arsed paying to maintain this colossal money trap” I could be reading too much into it however.
On the way back to the hospital from Jerudong Park, we stopped by The Empire Hotel. This place on the other hand deserves it’s capitals and some. The talk is that it is a six star, seven star hotel, in that one of the star requirements is based on the quality of the wine cellar. No alcohol sales means no star. It’s pretty impressive walking around the place, just trying to comprehend the sheer size of the construction. The one thing that did slightly disappoint me about The Empire was it’s architecture. In all the TV shows and articles I have seen on the place, the main building looked more like something that belonged in Barcelona, but in the flesh, it’s just angular blocks of concrete. That said and done, on the level of scale, it is a very impressive place.
So much so, that when it was suggested I should return with the Brunei crew the next morning for the drug meeting instead of catching the early bus back, I took them up on it. I finally have a slight bit of appreciation for drug companies and these thinly disguised sales pitches. I feel sorry for every drug function I go to from now on, because I have an incredibly unrealistic bench mark to compare to.
Imagine a conference full of bleary eyed doctors in suits and ties, then swivel round to see me hoeing into the apple danishes, with a 3 day beard, ratty runners, trusty levis and a bright red Mambo T-shirt. Such is the classiness of the place, the staff just asked me if I would like a cup of tea. Awesome.
The best part however was the lunch spread. I was happy because they had Beef Randang, the real stuff, made from scratch, for local authenticity, but they also had all the foods you could imagine. I had originally intended to go out to The Empire for their afternoon high tea, but the desserts spread could not be more superior. I have never seen such an array of sweet things to eat, and every mouth full was ambrosia. I am still feeling stuffed ten hours later.
The irony though is that after foolishly claiming after being away from home for a month, I still haven’t had a dose of the trots.
That ended right after I got back to Seria. I am majorly hoping that of all places The Empire was not to blame. I think taking the time frame into account it’ safe and I can blame the chocolate sludge I made out of cookie mix and milk is to blame. I love the irony of being to blame for my first does of food poisoning overseas.
On that hygienic note, I am going to leave and actually do some study on ECGs as Dr Thomas seems quite keen to teach me about them for some reason.
Have fun guys, and hopefully in the next instalment I will have pics from a dive trip off the oil rigs. The following week is currently pencilled in as a Kota Kinabalu trip, so the fun doesn’t stop for a while yet.
Cheers! (^_^)

Great Cave - Niah

Posted on Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Great Cave - Niah
Originally uploaded by graum.
Yep, she's big cave alright...

Belait River Crossing

Belait River Crossing
Originally uploaded by graum.
Little longboat. Why would you want a bridge?


Well it was definitely a fun and eye opening weekend in Malaysia. No matter how saintly you are, when you are about to travel to a new place, you have preconceptions and expectations. Miri was what I was expecting, but not in the way I expected it to be.
Miri city has a population of approximately 350000 people, of which about half live in close proximity to the centre of town. It’s fast becoming a tourist focal point, due to it being a jumping off point for surrounding natural wonders, and a fairly hefty contingent of cashed up Bruneians and expats looking for legal beer.
Sitting at the Seria bus station filling out my immigration card for Sarawak in the fuzzy early afternoon air, I knew I was in for some fun. In between kneeling down to scratch the stray cats that seem to be strolling around everywhere here, smiling and exchanging greetings with the weary locals, I looked around at the station itself. It’s mostly a cement slab with a cement box, all covered in dirty one inch tiles. Kind of like being in an inside out public toilet really.
I had to stash my half completed card as bus number one of four pulled up as half the town were making their way to the nearby mosque for the 12:45pm prayer. Sitting on the bus was fairly surreal, listening to a random Muslim cleric saying something nice about Allah.
I was tempted to slip on my headphones and listen to some music, but instead I slipped into a Lonely Planet/Globe Trekkers moment, looking out the window with some dodgy new age-y music floating around in my head instead.
The thirty-and-still-single globe moment was interrupted by our arrival at Kuala Belait, the next town down the road, where we swapped buses and travelled 500m down the road, round the corner to where we were told to hop out, jump into the waiting long boat to cross the river and get on the next bus waiting on the other side. This undoubtedly added a nice stream of adventure to the afternoon, but considering there is a fantastic brand new four lane cement bridge crossing the river 1 kilometre upstream, it seamed slightly redundant. But hey, I got a good photo out of it!
Border crossings are turning out to be not my most favourite of things, and it seems that the Brunei immigrations and customs service would rather be doing something else as well. At least, they were when we were trying to get our little books stamped. The Sarawak border check-point however was a startling contrast, with the entire bus load being stamped and shooed through before the driver could even get the bus back into gear to drive off without us. Good thing that because this was bus number four by this point, and I was starting to get a bit stroppy after the Brunei customs. I was so close to causing and international incident and start hurling abuse at the customs people chatting and having tea behind the not so much one way mirror. I held back, and after witnessing what happened to the Indonesian guy on the way back in, I’m glad. The Bruneians really don’t like Indonesians it seems…
You notice the difference between Sarawak and Brunei pretty much immediately after you cross the border. Sarawak has been indiscriminately felling the hard woods from their jungles for the last 30 years, and after the impenetrable corridors of forests surrounding the road in Brunei, being able to see for more than 10 meters either side becomes a nice change. Right up until you get onto the massive toll bridge crossing the Baram river and you see the lines of humongous barges heading down the river laden down with logs bigger than your bus.
The outskirts of Miri are a bit of an unfathomable conundrum for me. It starts at the Curtin University Technology Park Development area. The planes of cleared jungle give way to endless concrete slabs being coerced into buildings, fronted by and endless stream of road side vendors selling *shudder* Durians and other fruits.
When Bong (a Malaysian med student who stayed at Rocky during the last rotation for the non-Rocky people) was explaining to me that Malaysia was not a first world country, I was being honest in my misunderstanding. Mostly I think that was because I assumed that being so close, Malaysia and Singapore would be very similar. They’re not. They’re really, really not.
All along the approach to the centre of Miri, you will find the most amazing, colossal palatial houses I have ever seen. And right next to these mansions are the most tragic hovels I have ever witnessed. I’m trying to be open-minded about all this, but at the end of the day, I’m Australian, and at home, I can honestly say dogs wouldn’t even live in the conditions of some of the water villages I saw, let alone be allowed to. Again I have to stress I am trying very hard to be non-judgmental, as very large communities live in these shanty villages, and as a whole they seem relatively happy and healthy and all, but I never would have imagined it even if someone had tried to describe them to me.
The gap between the rich and the poor may be getting larger in Australia, but we have a very long way to go before we’ll ever catch up with our neighbours.
Miri city centre is as I mentioned earlier, what I was expecting, but not in the way I was expecting. It is indeed a massive set of shops selling lots of things very cheaply. The fact that I am not the biggest of shopping freaks to begin with probably didn’t help me be enthralled with the place, but if you like that sort of thing it’s heaven. What I wasn’t expecting, and by now I should really know better, was what the place is physically like. For some stupid reason, my head is set on shopping places being like Queen Street Mall, or Orchard Road in Singapore. All shiny windows, clean cement and aesthetics. Not Miri. Think of the dodgiest part of the sleaziest china town you’ve been to, then add the character building slosh and smell of open sewer drains, and you’re getting close.
Don’t misunderstand me however, I don’t actually dislike Miri. I just have reset my mind to the fact that I am in Asia now, and things are simply done differently here. Once you get past that, Miri’s actually a pretty cool place.
I will always have fond memories of Miri mostly because of how friendly people are there. I thought Bruneians were friendly, but Sarawak really does take it to another level.
As I was walking around starving, looking for a hawker’s stall that was open at 7:30pm (Way too early it turns out, most people go out to makan (Food/eat) in Miri after 11pm) A friendly Muslim lady asked me something in Bahasa. Obviously I have about this much idea (.) what she was talking about, so she grabbed her 20 year old daughter to translate for me. Then the whole family invited me to join them at their table for dinner. It turned out that the woman’s sister owned the stall, and we all chatted, very stiltedly, and with lots of translation, about life in Sarawak and Australia over the most fantastic Nasi goereng (lit. Rice Fried) I have ever had.
Yes, sorry Fongie but there is another.
It was a great night that even the torrential down pour and my almost concussing myself on the roof when I stood up, couldn’t ruin it. The family joking about marrying me off to their daughter was getting there though.
The first question people ask you here is “Are you married?” followed by “How many children do you have?”
Stories of high school kids being whisked off and forced to marry after being caught holding hands are still not unheard of. I was totally sitting on the other side of the table, and the jokes were more about me being a “Rich Australian Doctor” than anything. It doesn’t matter how many times you say “I’m still a student; Not a doctor yet.” It just doesn’t stick.
I used to be scared of dropping the med student card after the 7 hour train trip from hell where I learnt that cancer CAN be cured by a daily aspirin pessary. Not here though. The worst that will happen is the occasional tongue in cheek joke about marrying someone’s daughter. Some of them are really cute too ;P
On the walk back to the hotel, I stopped at a random charcoal grill and asked for one of the chicken bits on a stick. The woman also gave me some random jungle fruits that were like a mix between lychees and a mandarin that tasted amazing. The chicken was also the best tasting chicken I’ve had. So much so that I didn’t even mind being reamed RM1 for what turned out to be parson’s nose on a stick.
Early the next morning, I woke to catch the first bus to Batu Niah to go to the Niah caves national park. Too early as it turned out, so I went for a quick walk through the jungle markets. Every weekend people from the jungles come into Miri to sell fruits and other produce from the jungle. They used to sell ‘jungle meat’, a euphemism for meat from random animals, but the practice was outlawed in 1998. I’ve been informed that it still happens, but people are much more discreet about it now, so there were no exotic animals to be seen.
I had another lonely planet moment on the bus out, with the jungle clad hills of Borneo looming up ahead of us on the road, draped in mists from the recent rains. The western side of Miri is much wilder, although if you look closely you notice a lot of it is actually market gardens in between the jungle. Some of the small towns we stopped at on the way were also like something out of an 80’s Jean Claude Van Damme movie, with massive apartment blocks in random patches of jungle, abandoned and slowly being reclaimed by the vegetation.
I got to Niah national park by 8:30am, not too bad seeing as it’s a 2 hour bus ride from Miri. About 100m into the 3 k walk though, I was regretting getting there so early. The path to the great cave in it’s entirety is a board walk. A board walk that combined with overnight deluges, the sun barely being up, and my runners which have negative grip in the wet, is slipperier than ice, and twice as infectious.
The next 2.9km were punctuated by a dismembered Australian voice drifting through the jungle, trying in vain to contain the endless swears leaping out every slippery step. It took me 50mins to cover those 3 kilometres.
The Great Cave is incredible however, and the best way I could describe it seeing as my camera is not suited to taking pictures in semi-darkness, is to go to the Lord of the Rings. The scene where they are cutting through the caverns in the mountains and the fire beast thing almost kills Gandalf. That’s how huge this thing is. It’s dumbfounding to find that such a cave system actually exists. Even more so when you think that there are more extensive cave systems in Sarawak, and those are just the ones that are known about. The jungle is so thick here I am amazed anyone could even get 2 metres through it.
The photo I’ve included here is of the mouth of that cave, which I could not get all of into the camera, and which is much smaller than the cavern itself. By the way, just for perspective, that little hut thing, is actually a real hut, about the size of your average 4 bedroom single level house.
On that note, I think I’ll leave you all clamouring *cough* for the next instalment.
This weekend I’m going to Bandar Seri Begawan. Not sure what I’ll be getting up to exactly while I’m there, as I am primarily going to meet up with my Dad who’ll be on his way how from his own Borneo adventure in Sabah. I’m sure I’ll find some time for at least some photos of the mosque, istana (Sultan’s palace) and Kampang Ayer (the water village in the capital that houses about 10000 people).
I hope all is going well for everyone back home, and I look forward to seeing you all in good time.

Picture 048

Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Picture 048
Originally uploaded by graum.
Aquiescent donkey through lounge room window

Picture 035

Picture 035
Originally uploaded by graum.
The little sister. This one is a Boa constrictor. The one from the show was a 10 foot Reticulated Python.

The Panaga Club Monkey Saga

Well greetings from Brunei. The last week has been a bit of a spin out, but in an entirely pleasant, ‘I can handle this for 7 more weeks’ kind of way.
As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed the Night Safari in Singapore, and the Zoo is definitely one of the best out there. There is something marvellous about a zoo where the animals are encouraged to roam freely with the visitors. I even saw a sloth, although it took me two goes at the enclosure before I found it. Not before I took a photo of a tree kangaroo thinking it was the sloth though *blushes*
I’ve already started the gift buying, and I know there are a few people reading this who are going to be very happy to see me when I get back. One of the unexpected bonuses here in Brunei, and specifically Seria and Kuala Belait where all the oil expats live, is the DVD and VCD markets.
You see, the copyright laws in Brunei are a bit of an anomaly in that the government does not recognise international copyright, but instead requires individual copyright to be taken out. As a consequence, Brunei being a nation of barely 300000, most companies couldn’t be bothered taking out individual copyright for Brunei, and copied movies and video games are not actually considered illegal. Thus the large expat community feeds the sale of a lot of western movies and TV shows that you wouldn’t expect in a small Malay speaking, Muslim community of barely 10000.
I’ve already bought all 3 seasons of Family Guy, officially the funniest cartoon series ever (Closely followed by The Critic), and today I was eyeing off the first series of ER for less than $20. The only reason I didn’t buy it there and then was that the DVDs were individual instead of packaged as a set. I have no idea how I’m going to get all the stuff I buy here back home…
I haven’t been able to find the Gilmore Girls here yet, but I am optimistic, as I saw it on sale in a HMV on Orchard Road in Singapore for $130. I have my people on it, and I think we should be able to get them for a bit less ;)
The introduction to Brunei was a welcome one, as I had been on a packed Silk Air flight, which was quite a contrast to the fantastic Singapore Airlines flight I had from Brisbane. Let’s just say I was about ready to take the Chinese language paper from the Middle aged Chinese guy next to me, and jam it down his throat until he suffocated. It was nothing personal I think; I was just starting to get a bit over the lack of personal space.
Brunei International airport is in the middle of a massive upgrade, and once it’s finished, it’ll probably be pretty cool, but after the lazy 2 hours I had in Changi, it was a bit of an anticlimax. I left Hostel One 66 at 5:30am to catch the first train in because I knew I was in for a fun morning trying to track down my plane tickets when I got to the airport. They had been sent out on the next flight when they were found at the Qantas desk at Brisbane just after I had boarded the plane. I mean far be it for me to question the logic used by Campus Travel, (My current least favourite travel agent), seeing as I was flying Singapore Airlines, but I guess sending the tickets to the Qantas desk makes sense in their minds.
As you can probably tell I’m still pretty pissed at them for not telling me about my tickets:
· Not being available as etickets because Brunei doesn’t have the facilities to process them.
· The hard copy tickets being sent to Campus Travel and sitting there for a month, and NO ONE CALLED ME!!! If they had, I would have given them the postal address at the hospital, because there was no way I would be able to collect them from the UQ office, which leads me to…
· The tickets being sent to the Qantas counter instead of the SIA counter when they realised 2 days before I was due to leave that I probably wouldn’t be collecting the tickets, and still NO ONE CALLED ME!!!
Anyway, I know I should forgive and forget and move on and all… I will try…
It took the guy at the SIA main counter about an hour to find the tickets, but I was thankful when he did, and needless to say, they never leave my sight anymore. I am slightly paranoid about them…
But yes, Changi airport didn’t impress me much on my arrival, except that I was through customs and immigration in less than 5 minutes. For some perspective, it took me a bloody hour to get on the plane in Brisbane thanks to customs and security checks. My forehead veins throbbing, and being on the verge of tears probably didn’t help much in expediting things admittedly. The departure area however was amazing. It’s like the biggest stretched out mall you could imagine, except with planes lining up at the windows instead of bored teenagers. I was starving by the time I had sorted my luggage out, and as a consequence had the full airport experience by being reamed for a simple breakfast of bacon and eggs. Airport food: Always way overpriced, and surprisingly unfulfilling.
I was a bit nervous come the customs section at the Brunei terminal, as even though I had nothing illegal or frowned upon, I was under the impression that they took things seriously and tended to look through your luggage completely, to the extent of watching any videos you have on you to ensure that they are not inflammatory or insulting to the faith. Instead I was asked if I had anything to declare (Nope) and if I had any alcohol, of which you have to declare and you are allowed 2 bottles of spirits/wine or 12 bottles/cans of beer (Also nope). The guy then flicked his head at me indicating I could go. Almost makes you wish you had a copy of Salmon Rushdee’s Satanic Verse. Almost.
A lift was arranged for me by Brunei Shell, who are sponsoring me here in Seria, and a very nice guy, who spoke English, but in all honesty I couldn’t understand in the slightest drove me and a nice American couple the hour out to Seria.
I wish I had my camera out for the trip so I could post a few pics, but I was a bit distracted between trying to understand the driver, being engrossed in the scenery and chatting to the Americans.
The girl is an IT person for Shell, and her husband was out on holidays hanging with her for a couple of weeks. We chatted about the usual stuff (How much things cost compared to home, things to do in Seria, what to expect etc…), and I tried to stay focused, but it was a losing battle.
It’s hard to describe the excitement that wells up inside you, knowing that you are in an exotic location that most people read about but never see. Hurtling down the road, trying not to think about dying as the on-coming locals pull out in front of you then swing back into their lane at the last moment, looking at the weird plants growing out of the pristine white sand. Well all that, and the thing that really told me I was in some place special, was the weird Arabic inspired modern buildings, literally in the middle of nowhere, and the road signs in Arabic Sanskrit.
Seria and the Panaga health centre are both interesting places. Admittedly there really isn’t a lot for tourists here, so it’s a bit of a blessing that my days are taken up with med student business.
Some of the biggest battles have been with the Shell workers responsible for the maintenance of the workers units, one of which I am staying in. Of course I am fully grateful to have a place to stay in, a pretty nice place at that. The problem is that there is this niggling list of things that hadn’t been done before I got here, even though the previous student had informed them of them. The main one is the bathroom.
Every time the people in the apartment above me flush their toilet, the ceiling drips onto my toilet. It was supposedly fixed today, after the third time the workmen had been out here to fix it. Even though I told them that the problem isn’t that the ceiling was falling apart, but that it leaks every time the toilet is flushed, they ripped the ceiling out, and then simply replaced the panels. Half an hour after they were gone, but still well into my headache from the 3 hours of non-stop hammering, a big wet patch had appeared and started dripping over my toilet. Now it’s worse that the original leak, as at least it had eroded through in one spot and the drip was focused. I’m grateful that they tried, and the new ceiling looked fantastic for the first 20 mins. It just really pisses me when people ignore me, and doubly so when they don’t do things right the first time, instead of dicking around. That and I am still waiting for my bloody phone to be connected, and for my own internet access. Argh!
I’m trying not to fall into the stereotype that I have been hearing a bit from the expats that the Bruneians are lazy, which I have been hearing a bit from a few expats, but boy it’s hard to rebel under the current trends.
Out at the health centre, it’s interesting at the moment, as all the people associated with the UQ program are of on holidays, so I’ve been bouncing around between one of the doctors, the radiographers and the dental clinic. It’s been cool fun actually, although I have no idea officially what I’m supposed to be doing, I’ve been having a ball making it up every day.
The doctors are all expats, ranging from Malaysia, India and England, with most of the rest of the staff being locals. That said and done, the locals are an amazing bunch, and I wish I could understand them better as it’s holding me back from getting to know them well. They’re more extensively travelled than most people I know, as they have all trained in various locations OS. Every single person is unbelievably friendly. Every person I run into, at the hospital and on the street smiles and says hi. I’ve been told that mostly the locals tolerate the expats merely as a necessity (Going by the way I’ve seen a few expats treat the locals, I’d say even that is being saintly), but honestly, every person has been so nice. Even when I can’t understand a bloody word they’re saying when talking to me, it’s still all nice smiles. I should add here it’s all me too. Their English is accomplished, I just have the crappest ears for anyone not speaking with an Australian, American or English accent.
I had one cultural freak out moment, which I am ashamed of, but being the ever generous person I am, combined with my inability to keep my fool mouth about things personally embarrassing, I shall share.
On my first full day in the hospital I decided to try the hospital canteen, as part of my effort to save money, as the meals are all around the $3 mark. Even in Australia I am pretty useless at working out how individual cafes/restaurants go about ordering. Put me in a hawkers market, or a non-English speaking environment and I really do become pitiful. I was determined to try and sort out the canteen though, and I think the woman in charge probably took my order out of exasperation rather than routine. I couldn’t even use my standard point and smile method, as the menu was written and had no pictures. I never thought the time would come, but I was genuinely thankful for the time I spent with Anna in Sydney; without her I would have no idea what any of the food on the menus in SE Asia is. I ordered a plate of Mee Goereng (lit. noodles fried) and started playing with my PDA, as I do when I’m nervous but don’t want to appear like I have nothing to do. At this point the canteen started filling with all the staff.
Now comes the small but shame-full point. I started to feel a bit anxious surrounded by all these women in their head scarves, speaking a language I could not understand. I don’t really get why I was feeling uncomfortable, as the headscarf thing is not new to me, the micro department at JCU had heaps of Muslim students from Indonesia. I guess the thing I am really learning personally from this trip is that as much as I would like to think I am an open-minded, liberal person, I am still human, and unusual situations make me uncomfortable just like everyone else.
OK, last bit of today’s novel, in reference to the title.
The other day, Shar, one of the dentists was telling me about how recently they had to shut the school next to the Panaga Club (Shell expat country club, which I am a member of – lah dee dah!). Apparently a monkey had taken residence in one of the trees at the school. This was all fine and the monkey and school kids were getting along fine, right up until she had a baby. One day when the kids were feeding the monkey, some of them got a bit too close to her baby, so she did what all mothers would do, she tried to eat the school kid’s eyeballs. That’s when the farce started and the school was closed while they set traps to catch the monkey. It would have worked too, except some kind hearted expats from the club next door kept letting the monkey out of the cage. Well they did a few times, up until the monkey tried to eat their eyeballs too.
The Pananga club Monkey Saga ended with Miffy and her baby being re-located to the jungle 5ks inland. She was last seen wearing a Buddha costume on the side of the road, holding a sign saying “Please don’t kill me”
(Joke explanation: There is a saying in the Buddhist faith that if on the road to enlightenment you see the Buddha, kill him as he is not the real Buddha. Something about the level of enlightenment attainable whilst part of the physical plane not being high enough to see the real Buddha. Obviously, it’s funnier if you already knew this. *sigh* so unappreciated in my own time…)
Cheers guys.

Singapore on the slither

Posted on Saturday, August 06, 2005

OK... Well it seems like we're having a few teething problems with the blog at the moment, so I have no idea if this will turn out, so just bear with me folks.

The last few days have been pretty sedate. I am coming to the conclusion (for some reason I was thinking 'confusion' there) that I do not make the most fantastic of solo travelers. That said and done, if I choose to sleep in until 10am, and not see all the smaltzy, touristy things, damn it, that's my perogative; I'm on holidays!

My trip the chinese gardens were puctuated by the incessant Singapore rain storms that a few of you had told me about. That was OK though, as it ment that I didn't have to share. T'was just the foolhardy (myself) and probably the homeless. I walked around those gardens, which are huge by the way, for three hours looking for the turtle museum. Now I happen to like turtles, being a Terry Pratchett fan, that shouldn't came as too much of a surprise. I even wear a tortoise around my neck every day, and Om and I have been together for something like 7 years since Charmaine gave him to me. So as I hope you can appreciate, when the turtle exhibit, which is the biggest collection of live (1300+) and orniment (3000+)turtles was first mentioned to me, being the laizre faire tourist that I am, I though, 'Yeah, that sounds cool, I'll do that.'
After the second hour of truding through the soggy gardens, I was starting to get a bit over it. Add to that my leg was killing me, but I soldiered on.
When I found the damn thing eventually, I was thrilled to discover it was right where I had turned right when I should have gone left three hours ago. Not to worry however as the exhibit was freakishly good. I was surprised that there no Great A'tuins amoungst the memorabilia, but then nobody's perfect. The live turtles however were something else.
I've got a stack of photos, which will probably have to wait until Brunei for me to post as I don't have access to a USB port at the hostel where I am writing, of the courtyard out the back, litteraly teaming with turtles. I even have a photo of one going for my shoe as I was walking across teh footbridge.
Later that afternoon I was disturbed to come across a group of 8 policemen carry fully automatic assult rifles. Somebody has already suggested that I shouldn't have stolen some of the turtles from the exhibit, as Singaporians are pretty tough on crime. All I can say is; it was worth it!

Yesterday was the coolest day do far, and I finnaly have something to be enthused about here in Singapore, instead of merely 'Yeah it's alright...'
I caught up with Khatt, her husband and daughter, and they took me out to the Changi chappel, then to the night safari.
As far as I am aware, I don't actually have any family who were directly involved in Changi, but there is still something very visceral about being there as an Australian. Sometimes I feel that it's hard for me to find things that stand out as cultural elements, being that we are surrounded by our westernised culture to such an enourmous extent that it dwarves us and we can not see it.
Walking through the Changi museum, reading first hand accounts of the attrocities, seeing the relics, then sitting at the very same chappel that our soldiers did, actually made me feel a connection as an Australian. This surprised me more than anyone, I think.
Later on, after being driven across the island to see almost everything you could by road, we arrived at the night safari. It's hard for me to explain just how well done the night safari is - the atmoshpere is perfect. I find it hard to understand why there aren't more of these night time zoos. You get to see all the nocturnal animals awake and pacing around all over the shop. I even got to hear lions roaring. Not to be scoffed at I might add - very scary.
Now as most of you know I'm not not an attention seaker by any stretch of the imagination, so when the call went out during the animal show for volunteers to hold the ten foot reticulated python, I kept my hand and head well and truly down. but there's something about traveling and knowing there's no one out there that knows you, combined with your host egging you on, that turns you into some kind of fool-hardy superman.
Cut to two minutes latter, with me on the stage in front of about 1000 people with a bloody huge snake wrapped around me. When the host guy asked me if I knew why Maggie seemed to like me so much, and the best I could do for a response was a whimper, he thought it was because I was scared. That was a half-truth. The real reason I whimpered was because yes I was scared, but more because Maggie was wrapping around my leg and going for my crotch. Some moments make cowards of the strongest of men...
I also have photos with some of the animals from the zoo, an owl, a boa constrictor draped over my shoulders, and a cool leaping cat complete with village cheif and village babe, which I promise I will post as soon as I can.
So yes, Night Safari is awesome, and should definately be done by anyone who visits Singapore.
For now though, I must get some more quality time in with my journal, before getting an early night, for tomorrow, I am going to the Zoo.


Grim (^_^)


Originally uploaded by graum.
This is the durian shot. My first and probably last attempt at eating a durian.
One word - Yuck!

Hey-la from Singapore

Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Well here we go, the travel blog adventure begins.
I thought I'd just try to make it quick for now, as my hand written journal is about 15 pages already, but most of it is just a banality so i'm going to give you all the fun points to date. In Order:

I almost missed the plane on Sunday. Not by being late, as Che and Jay actually were very kind and gave me a lift to the airport, and I am glad they did. I found out when I got to the check in counter, I didn't have a ticket. That is, I was expecting to have an e-ticket as requested from campus travel - The most incompetent travel agencey I have yet to deal with. It turns out that you can't travel to Brunei on an e-ticket, as such you need a hard copy to bord the plane to and from there as they don't have facilities to deal with e-tickets. Apparently an email informing me of this and that my dates had been changed were sent to me, I never got them. Neither have I recieved any more promised emails to catch me up on the ticket debacle, even though I gave them both my addresses. Anyway, short stories, I remember, the tickets should be on their way for me to recieve on monday morning when I fly to Brunei. At least I hope so, cause I am going to be increadibly pissed off if I have to haul my 30+ kilos of crap out to Changi for nothing. So anyhow, they finaly cave and let me through without the ticket, cause they know I'm booked on, I just don't have the boarding pass. Cut to me running down the concourse trying to put my belt on, running through the gate as they announce my name cause the plane is waiting for me. Singapore airlines themself though are fantastic. the flight was everything I have been told it is, and I enjoyed it even though I was going in looking for a reason to disagree with everyone.

Since arriving in Singers, I've been fairly sedate, taking my time checking out the sights. I've done a bus tour to get my orientation, went to Kinokuniyas (The biggest bookstore in SE asia, not as big as the one in Sydney though...) and saw a dodgy japanese film. It's called Red Candy, and is basicly Ring with mobile phones and ringtones instead of videos.

Last night at dinner I was being mocked by the locals. I ordered a random dish, via my usual method (Try to pronounce the name, have the stall owner go "huh?!" at me, then pointing at the picture until they nod) and I was happy; I was being adventrous. She asked if I wanted any Chili ("Sambal?") and i laughed and said a tiny amount (fingers pinched together). Then she started showing me all the ingredients and tyring to tell me what was in it ("Cuttlefish, dried cuttlefish") To which I'm all brave and like "don't tell me what's in it, I just want to eat it"
So the guy brings it out to me and says somehting in a language I don;t understand, I say thanks and he says "Huh?!" At this point I am starting to just accept that the combination of my accent, and the fact that I apparently mumble everything anyway, means that no one here is going to understand me. I smile politely, he smiles and walks away.
I try my meal, which is mostly deep fried tofu and beans as it turns out, and I think, yeah, this'd be nice - If I liked fish sauce. It has dawned on me I am so in the wrong place for someone who hates fish sauce. So at this point He comes over again and asks if everything is alright and why aren't I eating it fast enough. So I did what any nice person would do. I smiled and ate every last stench ridden piece of it just so I wouldn't hurt his feelings. I swear the women that waited that row of stalls were laughing at me as we left.

Fastforward to today, where I was acosted by a muslim woman who thought I didn't pay for my meal at the Funan Mall food-court ($3 Sing, brilliant value, still full now). I realised after 5 min of playing ignorant foreigner until she gave up, that I still had the receipt in my pocket...
The weirdest moment today though, was when I was writing in my journal, having given into the dark side and gone to McDonals to buy a large coke. I was peacfully lost in thought, tyring to squeaze in a joke about the fountain of wealth drying up (It has, it's being renovated) when this middle aged chinese guy comes over, smiles at me, puts a piece of paper in front of me, smile-and-nods then walks off. I opened the piece of paper and read some bizare rant about the eurasians of singapore being vulnerable due to their mixed race and being used by the muslims and indians for nefarious purposes.

What is it with me here? Do i have some sort of weird Singaporian code on me telling then to mess with me.
It's so much fun being in a place where you can hear your accent.

I love being a foreigner ;P