A Quiet, Stormy Afternoon

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Asia » Brunei » Bandar Seri Begawan
March 30th 2011
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 4.94088, 114.949

We spent the morning packing, reading the paper, then checked out and took the SMRT out to Changi Airport. No issues at all with immigration, security, all that … many different check points but all handled efficiently. The Flight to Brunei boarded a little late, but not too bad. Nearly full flight, with narrow rows. I'm glad it's only a couple of hours, otherwise, I might be miserable.

We landed and proceeded relatively quickly through immigration and customs and were met by our driver. He gave us a brief description of Brunei: very peaceful, very safe. Not like Libya (huge laugh). Very good sultan, who takes care of the people. But no entertainment, just karaoke (huge laugh). You know karaoke? "Why do you not love me? Why are you so blue? Da da dum, dad a dooo…" (huge laugh). He then tried to sell us a tour for tomorrow or the next day … we declined, having already made arrangements.

So we were dropped at the hotel, and almost immediately after checking in heard fire alarm go off, followed by an announcement: “Ladies and Gentlemen. The fire alarm in the hotel has been activated. We are looking into the situation. Please remain calm and wait for further instructions. Thank you.” Over and over again, until it was finally turned off, and we were released from any further action.

Paul and I decided to take a walk into town, to see the main Sultan's mosque, as it would be closed tomorrow. Just as we left the hotel, we were caught in a downpour … it, as is usual in the tropics, did not last more than a few minutes. We were drenched but quickly drying. It took only a few minutes to walk to the mosque. As it was still a bit before the end of the prayer time, we walked around the lagoon and took pictures of the famous boat. The mosque and its setting is very beautiful, but there is a little bit of the “chipping, stained concrete” look to it up close. The lagoon is the same muddy water of the river and is clearly artificial. This does not really take away from the beauty of the scene, but it was something we both noted.

Returning to the mosque, we were told that prayers were over, but we could not enter yet as they were expecting, perhaps, the President of Ukraine. If he did not come in the next five minutes, though, we would be allowed to enter. We waited and were admitted in about five minutes. The guards/hosts were very friendly, and one tried to sell us a tour with his cousin for tomorrow. We declined, but he remained friendly. We robed up and were allowed to go into the center of the mosque, as a carpet had been laid down over the prayer rugs. (There was a table with book and gold pen on it … clearly set for the President of the Ukraine.) The mosque is beautiful on the inside: tiled dome, colored windows, many decorations with swirls and curving geometric patterns, which seemed a bit unique to me (maybe it's my lack of memory talking).

Leaving the mosque, we saw a huge black cloud on the horizon, so retreated in good order to the nearby shopping center, which has a nice atrium with fountain but otherwise has the low ceilings, narrow halls, and nondescript shops (glass walled, no window displays, full of goods for sale) of many arcades in the world; quite a contrast from Orchard Road but very like Singapore China Town … just after our arrival, the skies opened, the winds howled, and rain poured down. It even attracted the attention of the locals, who went to the windows of the mall to look out at the storm. So we bought a cup of coffee each and waited out the rain.

After the rain stopped, we walked back to the hotel, first by walking along the quayside, with a view of the river and the Kampung Ayer (Water Village), then turning back up Sultan Road. There were several restaurants we pinpointed for a potential dinner.

After a rest, we headed back out for dinner. The streets were very quiet: little traffic and very few pedestrians – again, very different from anywhere in Taiwan or Singapore. We felt quite alone at times (though always very safe). The restaurants in town had one or two sets of guests; we opted to eat down on the waterfront, along side the river.

In contrast with the main streets of BSB, the river was incredibly busy with boat taxi traffic. We were treated to a constant din of outboard motors as taxis rushed to and from the Kampong Ayer with their fares. Sometimes, we had as many as eight taxis zipping around the river right off the restaurant; at almost no time was the river empty … and the silence never lasted for longer than 30 seconds. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out who was taking the taxis, how many there were, and what the guy with the brightly colored lights on his engines was looking for.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel, again, through the empty streets. No word yet from our travel agent about what time in the morning we'll be met … but we'll assume it's around 7:30am at the earliest, if we need to be at the jetty by 8am.


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