Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Brunei...what a strange little place

So here we sit in Brunei, a country roughly the size of Deleware, and I've decided I'm ready to give my opinion (shocker, right?)….  Andy and I were discussing tonight what we thought of the place and the conversations are lively.  But first I must confess, I have a Bachelor of Science degree.  I was only required to take one philosophy class and one religion class (I chose to study the New Testament not the Koran).  I am in no way qualified to pontificate on this matter (hehehe…I’m laughing because I used the word pontificate).  But I’m going to anyway.

A few weeks ago I was sick to my stomach thinking we were coming here.  Brunei is a predominately Muslim country, ruled by the Sultan.  It is the longest running Monarchy in the history of the world (according to the brochure).  The Brunei government is in the process of implementing Sharia Law and well, I have a hard time shopping at stores that I don’t agree with, much less an entire country that thinks nothing of a caning here and there (at least I know our dinghy is safe. If anyone gets caught stealing it, off with your arms!).  But after being here for a week or so, I have a different view.  Perhaps it’s me trying to justify our taking advantage of the fuel smorgasborg while not feeling like a hypocrite ($.31/liter!  That’s actually about $.24 in USD).  Or maybe it’s just my mind opening up the further around the world we get.  Here’s my epiphany….

The Mosque in the middle of the city.  This one has the previous
Sultan's name on it.
The powers that be here are trying to keep their young from straying too far away from the homestead.  You can read it in their papers.  Globalization is giving too many kids new thoughts and temptations.  What they’re being taught in their Friday prayers at the mosque isn’t actually coming to fruition in the real world so they’re starting to doubt their roots.  Sound familiar?  It should.  It’s happening in our own backyard as we speak.  The only difference is, Brunei leadership (or Muslim leadership?) is owning it.  They’re bringing out the big sticks…literally.  I’m not saying I agree with the moral compass they’re preaching to or their methods of influencing change, as a matter of fact, I vehemently disagree.  However, at least they have a moral compass.  Sometimes I think we, as a country, lost ours.  And at least they’re attempting to do something about it.

This was the only way to enter the Mosque...don't we look
With our newfound outlook, we took to the streets with a wide eyed wonder and open minds (no pig and booze made that difficult but we pushed through).  What did we find?  Grocery stores rivaling anything at home, tall buildings, big mosques (very similar to our cathedrals), clean streets, nice cars, really, it wasn’t much different than driving around in any hometown USA (aside from the call to prayer every few  hours and my needing to cover my knees and elbows. I rebelled on the elbows, it’s 90+ degrees out here).

We took a cultural tour where we got to see the museum, another mosque and the largest water village in the world.  We’ve seen water villages before, but this one has over 30,000 people living in it (as Jake said, “that’s not a village, that’s a city!).  It’s actually made up of more than 40 individual villages and they are complete with electricity, air conditioning and plumbing.

The 'chariot" the Sultan was carried in to his coronation.

Jake loved the shields, mainly ceremonial, but there
were tons of them

Love the bare feet in public places.  This particular one was
overly air conditioned.  Our toes were purple when we left.
Andy was the only one smart enough to wear socks.

The current Sultan's Mosque (complete with escalator)

The people of Brunei enjoy an extremely comfortable lifestyle.  Everyone is able to own their own homes if wanted, drive nice cars with tax free loans, and enjoy and income tax free society.  Debts are paid off by the Sultan if need be, and health care is free.  Of course none of that is free, but I’ll leave that debate for another time and place…

Our guide teaching us about the water village, on our way to have tea.

Some new structures in the village.  Apparently, they didn't come
without great controversy.

Ladies making our delicious snacks.

The typical mode of transportation in the water village...water taxi

Everyone had to pose outside the Sultan's Palace.

The best part of Brunei for us was the Yacht club.  It was bizarre.  It reminded me of when we were stationed in Puerto Rico.  If you drove onto Naval Station Roosevelt Roads it was like a tiny little America sitting in the middle of this huge Spanish speaking/influenced island in the Carribean.  It’s much the same here only it’s a British/Australian community complete with swimming pool, restaurant, showers, and sailing classes.  You can bring your own booze and relax by the pool all afternoon, completely oblivious that you are in a country dominated by Muslim influence. 

All good things must come to an end.  But only for more good things to come.  In the next week, we’ll be high tailing it down to Kuching to meet up with what seems to be a gaggle of cruising kids.  I’m embarrassed to say how long it’s been since Jake has seen another kid boat.  And while Andy and I cherish our time with the cruising friends we’re with now, we too, are looking forward to conversations and dinners with people our own age.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Duty Free in Labuan, Malaysia

Labuan…we had never heard of it until a few months ago.  It’s a small island just outside Brunei.  It’s part of Malaysia but is not part of the states of Sarawak or Sabah.  It’s its own little entity.  I would tell you the history of the island, it's part in WWII, and how it became it's own federated state, but that would require me to do more research to make sure I was being accurate and well, I'm lazy.  Google it.  Being duty free, it’s a major stop for most cruisers as alcohol in this part of the world is both scarce and expensive. 

We had low expectations as everything I’ve heard or read from other cruisers made it sound dirty and industrial without actually saying that.  It just goes to show, one cruiser’s rolly anchorage is another cruiser’s paradise. 

As we pulled into the harbor, we were astonished by the number of huge ships.  Jake tried to count them all and decided when he hit 40 that it was just too many.  Labuan is the landing site for much of the equipment needed on the oil rigs around this area, so the ships are always coming and going.  Lucky for us, we were able to skip the rolly anchorage and dock inside the newly renovated marina.  It’s the cheapest marina yet.  While it didn’t have many amenities (you get what you pay for), it did serve our purpose and was conveniently located right in town.

In addition to the duty free shops on every corner, Labuan has a lot to offer to a cruiser.  I was later told by a young lady that grew up there that four years ago we would have been disgusted, so I feel lucky to have arrived after the “major clean up.”  We found the market, all the grocery stores and even the pork shop (a well kept secret). 

I would have liked to have rented a car and seen some of the more touristy things like the white sand beaches and bird sanctuary, but we were only there for a week and had a lot of stocking up to do (and the days were hot, so a few hours out and we were done until the next day).  We did manage to see the Marine Museum (not much, but it did have some really clean aquariums, extremely old whale bones and it was free…can’t complain) and when I went jogging I would jog to the WWII memorial, so I checked that off on the list.  There is a weekend market and we arrived while the Strong Man competition was happening.  Jake really enjoyed watching the ridiculously large men do things like lift cars up and down. 

Unfortunately, we failed to take many pictures of the city.  We did manage to capture a few fun moments at a new friend's house ( a fellow southerner for sure!) with our other cruising buddy's....

Our host Jerry, on the right, good friends Richard and
Katie enjoying a good laugh, cigar and wine.

Richard, our very good friend, enjoying a rare
treat, a cuban cigar while drinking a 15 year old wine.
Jake, passing time while we get treated to a gourmet happy hour
complete with fine wine and a gorgeous view of the
South China Sea.
 Our week came to an end and we, along with three other boats, motored the short distance to the tiny country of Brunei, tucked between Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysia.  Playing a big part in the oil industry makes Brunei one of the richest countries in the world.  It may sound familiar to you as it’s been in the news for recently implementing Sharia Law (and owning the Beverly Hills hotel...Hollywood is all up in arms about it.).  While I normally wouldn’t want to drop a dime here, the insanely cheap fuel makes it irresistible (.31 liter...we need over 400 liters...add it up).  We find ourselves motoring more than sailing here in Malaysia.  As we begin to explore, we’re getting a little more insight into the country and the people.  I’m going to hold off on my judgment for the time being.  I will say the Royal Brunei Yacht Club is top notch so far…swimming pool, clean showers, nice restaurants, toilet paper in the bathrooms (don’t laugh, I’ve had a roll in my back pack ever since we left Palau), and even a large washing machine free of charge.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

I"ll leave you with some pictures from Tiga Island at the mud volcano (more like mud hole...but cool anyway).