Then Along Comes Marriane

Posted on Monday, September 12, 2005

Selamat pagi/petang/malam depending on the time of day as you read this (consecutively, morning, afternoon and evening).
Well it’s been another Bruneian weekend, as the passport hasn’t returned from the Vietnam embassy yet. No dive stories from the oil platforms either, as the club were doing dives at the shoals.
I was contemplating what to do when introduced to the English med student who’s based at the MRS (No idea what that stands for, but it’s the medic centre for the Ghurkha troops stationed out here to guard the oil for the sultan.).
Laura suggested going to Bangkok for the weekend, which I am totally keen for, except for the funds issue, the having to take two separate flights from Miri and the relative expense due to the short notice.
I was starting to get a bit depressed at the idea of another stationary weekend in the Belait region, when I remembered that the pharmacist at Panaga has a car hire business on the side, and offers special rates to the hospital staff.
So it was decided that Laura and I would hire a car from Azmi.
When collecting the keys from Azmi, the first thing he said to me is:
“Do you remember my name?”
Someone has a sense of humour obviously. It turns out it was because he had some inside knowledge and was told I asked around about him, and what his name was numerous times until I had the brain storm to write it down.
Friday afternoon, Azmi handed me the keys to his new pride and joy, Marriane the gun barrel silver Mazda 3. Such a nice car, I really didn’t want to give it back.
There’s a new safety consultant at BSP headquarters, and he’s running a mock emergency response this coming Wednesday. None of the doctors at Panaga really want to go, as they have clinics, and well basically they’re over it, so I am being promoted to doctor on call for the exercise. To prepare me so I don’t look like a complete pillock the doctor that liaises with UQ (Who’s just returned from his two month around the world holiday this week) offered to lend me his BMJ emergency response manual. He kept forgetting to bring it to the clinic though, so I had to drop off at his place on Friday afternoon on my way dropping Laura off at the British officers mess. Fast forward to sitting around on the back veranda in wicker chairs, drinking tea and sipping Tiger beer, surrounded by a family of blindingly blonde, arianesque Rhodesians. I say Rhodesians because Topher is from Rhodesia, the place that became Zimbabwe, before it became Zimbabwe. He’s a top notch laugh actually, as he’s one of those doctors who are old enough and comfortable enough to be able to not really give a crap about how good a job anyone thinks he’s doing. Not that I would ever argue with his opinion, as he is a fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. It’s such a laugh in our afternoon chats, him giving me crap for being a “Pinko, leftisit, greenie”, and extolling the virtues of unbridled capitalism. I laugh, cause although he’s being tongue in cheek, there’s a rather substantial element of seriousness in what he’s saying. I remember reading in a Sean Condon book, that when a girl meets a man she likes, she wants to marry him, but when a man meets a man he likes, he wants to be him. Give me another 25ish years and I hope I am as justifiably comfortable in my abilities as Topher.
So as you can imagine, the afternoon, looking into the jungle for monkeys as the kids played cricket in the back yard, smacked just slightly of colonialism. It was still pretty cool though.
Saturday morning I woke early, as Laura and I had decided the night before to drive to Bandar and do the water village hour long boat tour thing, then off to the Empire. Before I picked up Laura however, I was determined to take Marriane for a drive inland as far as I could, to a Longhouse community called Labi. It was one of the most fantastic drives I have ever done in my life. It was a poetic mix of fear for your life driving from the other people on the road, going local way too easily, driving far too dangerously, and jungle roads, which whilst sealed, were still in extensively varying states of disrepair.
I made it within 9 kilometres of Labi before I had to turn around to make it back in time to pick up Laura. I was quite annoyed by that, and if I ever return to Brunei, I might just return to finish that drive. On the way back I did stop at Luaguan Lalak forestry Recreation Park. The park is a beautiful sedge filled valley with tree houses and plank walks around the sedges. The shot with Marriane in the foreground was taken at Luaguan Lalak. The photo of the wooden bridge was taken a further 5 kms down the road.
Driving back the Kuala Belait I realised I was running late, and did the stupid, dangerous thing, that I will never do again and cannot condone. I did the entire trip back at 160kmh. Thank god for sparsely populated countries with dual carriageways. No one pays any attention to the speed limits here, so it is far too easy to fall into the same trap. Now that I’ve done it, and pushed my luck way too far by surviving unscathed, I shan’t be attempting to drive at 160kmh+ again. It truly is white knuckle stuff trying to maintain the level of focus required, for any length of time.
I was more than happy to let Laura drive at this point, especially seeing as she had the dubious privilege of having lost all the points she can for speeding back in the UK. 160kmh in Brunei was nothing for her.
The trip to BSB from Seria/KB usually takes 1 ½ - 2 hours. With Laura driving, we were there in 45 min… White knuckle indeed!
Doing the proper full length boat trip, including looking for Proboscis Monkeys is by far better than just a cursory trip like the one I had done a fortnight previously. Kampong Ayer is still a shanty town on stilts, but going to some of the more outlying areas, it becomes evident that new houses do exist. Our driver dropped us off and waited for us to visit one of the floating mosques. On the walk back a couple of small kids came running out of their home to practice their English. I’ve dubbed them Enrique and Eliza, and they were such cute kids, that I had to take their picture. It is so amazing how friendly the people here are, and if our boat guy wasn’t waiting for us, Enrique and Eliza’s family would have probably adopted us by now.
After not being able to find any monkeys, I introduced Laura to the fantastic would of SE Asian hawkers stalls, where lunch for the both of us cost less than $7 including drinks. Laura was particularly smitten with her can of Kickapoo Joy Drink. I was a wimp and stuck with the Milo, pronounced ‘Mee-Loh’.
After the dizzying hustle bustle of BSB, we decided that it was time for High Tea at The Empire. I’ve written of The Empire before I know, but it really is an excessive place. Tea was fantastic, although I am going to be a bit pompous here, and say that my scones are better.
That night we had a dinner party at the house of the radiographer from Panaga, and his wife, who is a Major at the MRS. Both lovely people, and the medicos were fascinating to talk to.
Sunday was a brilliant day, with a trip up the Sulai Belait to Kuala Balai on ‘The Narcs’, the garrison’s dive boat.
It wasn’t the best of beginnings when the starboard engine wouldn’t lower into the water however, and as a consequence of Brit bloody mindedness, we made the trip on one engine in just under 2 hours.
It was well worth the wait however, as the first thing that greets you in the village of Kuala Balai when entering via water, is a cage full of human skulls. A left over of a less publicised aspect of WWII in the region. The Iban people were banned from their head hunting practices by the British administrators prior to the war. Once war broke out however, they were given free reign to get as many Japanese heads as possible. When peace was declared, no one told the Iban who quite efficiently wiped out all the un-accounted for Japanese troops within the jungle. The only sore note from all this from my perspective, was that I forgot my bloody camera. This is where I have to tip my hat to the Scottish Major, who took heaps of photos for me with the intention of emailing them to me.
We moored off at the village longhouse, which was unfortunately deserted, but we had a good explore of the village and long house communal areas. One of the procurements officers had put on a fantastic spread for our picnic lunch, and for the second day straight I was stuffed with so much food I could barely even waddle afterwards. After 6 weeks of SE Asian food, I was unprepared for a good old fashioned English picnic. It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve had such rich food.
The trip back was a bit faster thankfully, due to travelling with the current. As we were pushing off from our mooring at Kuala Balai, I spotted a rather massive ten metre ‘Log-a-dile’, which was a sobering reminder to keep a look out for semi-submerged logs which could put a hole right through the Narcs’ hull. Poetically, within sight of the Kuala Belait mosque, we ran out of fuel. We had filled up both tanks with enough fuel to travel almost 40 knots. Those figures of course are based on both engines running. As we had not even been able to get onto the plane, and the engines having separate tanks, we were caught out. It was almost funny bouncing uncontrolled into the palms growing out of the jungle on the bank. If the guy in charge of the trip had not of had the forethought to get a spare 30L drum of fuel before we even knew the other motor was out however, it would have been a different story.
The broken engine did get the last laugh however, as we were docking at the boat club, we rear ended the Panaga dive club’s boat at a fair clip, as our captain was unable to keep the boat straight with only one engine. It amused the people on the deck at the boat club restaurant at least.
Afterward I made a quick dash home, stopping off to buy some heavy groceries while I still had the luxury of Marriane, and the key was handed back at 5pm. I almost cried as I gave Azmi the key back. Though our time together was short, Marriane and I bonded, sharing many wonderful jungle experiences, and shall not be easily forgotten.
This weekend I am heading for Kota Kinabalu finally, with Laura in tow I think. Not really how I wanted to do it, as she has a final drinks night at the mess on Friday, and I wanted to be in KK that night. So it’ll be a much quicker trip, but that’s alright, as I still have one more weekend after that left in my trip, so I can always go back and do it properly then. Hard to believe it’s almost over.
I really am starting to look forward to getting home and seeing you all. Which reminds me, I really should get starting on working out my gift list huh?
So who has been naughty, and who has been nice?


At 3:11 pm, Anonymous jason said...

i've been naughty!


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