The Panaga Club Monkey Saga

Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005

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.


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