What starts with a B and ends with a B?

Posted on Monday, August 29, 2005

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! (^_^)


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