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.