It is to be said that not every country that I visit demands that I provide an opinion on what I make of it. Sometimes, travel is just a leisurely, fun and outward experience and I think it is less stressful if it is not placed into so much thought and consideration. However, Brunei is different. It holds a special place in my heart because, although I’m born in Singapore and my father is a Singaporean, I grew up here and I spent most of my early childhood here. Therefore, on my recent trip back to Brunei, there was a lot of reminiscing, reflecting and inner struggles.
Let me begin with its beauty. The difference with Brunei and Singapore is its natural, untouched environment. There are, afterall, only 400,000 people in Brunei, in a land area that is roughly 8 times the size of Singapore and the amount of impact they can make on nature is very little. Most of the land is untouched and is actually used by the Singapore Army to train their national servicemen. However, I like nature (along with all the inconveniences that come with it) and I think that is a wild beauty that you can’t find in Singapore so for me, that is a plus. It certainly beats looking at manicured and structured gardens and buildings all the time. You will always get a good view of the sky. It is possible in Sinapore to be tired of the new.
In the past 20-odd years, nothing really much has changed in terms of new buildings and developments. The buildings are old and little maintenance has been done to them. Generally it is a lot like Malaysia, except for one stark difference. The streets are virtually litter-free! Again, I attribute this to the lack of people. The public restrooms that I’ve been so far are all clean, dry and odorless, albeit old. I think it is simply amazing. Even in metropolitan cities, litter and garbage is a major issue due to people.
Brunei is famous for her oil, her monarchy government and probably also for her opulent Empire (used to be) Hotel, and actually, that is really all she has to offer. I managed to stay in the Empire Hotel on this trip, thanks to my wonderful daddy. The Golden Mosque is impressive looking and so is their parliament house.
Brunei’s citizens are mostly english-educated. They are hospitable and friendly, mostly because it is a small country and everybody is bound to know everybody. So majority of them do try not do anything to inconvenience others. The society is, therefore, close-knit. Stress is a word that you will rarely hear. The people that I have met are all happy and exude relax-ness. The government takes care of their citizens in terms of education and healthcare.
Not everything is great though. Although I do not have much experience with the government (royal family), they are generally respected, although not perfect. They are an islamic country and there are plenty of inconveniences for Chinese and foreigners living there. There is little “freedom”: Speech, diplomacy, and business. For example, alcohol and pork is restricted. During Ramadan, which is the fasting month, most food outlets are closed and if you are not muslim, you are expected to eat at home in private. However, if you have a healthy respect for another’s religion, it is not hard to integrate. They have a tiny economy, mostly fueled by the oil industry. Crime rates are moderately low, but from what I hear, it is because of some influx of foreigners in the recent years.
Most of everything is pretty expensive (same as Singapore) due to the lack of locally produced crops, and materials, with the exception of houses and cars.
Finally, there is really nothing much in the form of “entertainment” besides an old theme park and a couple of little places of interest. They are certainly not as grand or developed as Singapore’s. However, does one really need so much entertainment in their lives? Does that detract them from the real priorities and things that really matter?
Being in Singapore’s hectic lifestyle for some time, it is really tempting for me to consider moving there to live. However, I am still in two minds about it. Would it be good for my child? Will it be good for my business? Will I stay long-term or mid-term?
During my time in Brunei, I visited my dad and talked to some of my friends and most of them are ultimately very happy to be living there. Maybe, just maybe, I would too…