Right Time, Right Place...

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
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Trip End Dec 31, 2018


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Flag of Brunei  ,
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Travel often brings surprises of the nicest kind, that relate to right time, right place. We arrived in Brunei for National Day and were able to see how the locals celebrate the equivalent to our Australia Day – very differently!

We caught a cab into the city and for a little more we asked him to drive us around to see the outlying sights for one and a half hours. It worked out so well, as the following day it turned out, we were going to be busy with National Day celebrations. We saw the Sultan's Palace, a couple of Mosques and the very lavish Empire Hotel and Country Club Resort.  

At our hotel the receptionist advised the National Day parade would start at 7.00am. That seemed inordinately early but sure enough, by 7am there were a lot of excited voices in the street and we hurried out to see big groups of children in picture perfect colourful uniforms.  They were forming up in their groups for as far as the eye could see. After an hour or so of watching the preparations unfold,  it started to rain, so we went back to our hotel for breakfast. A group of sports people dressed in red and blue tracksuits, for the parade, were having breakfast at our hotel and another group of people in wheelchairs were sheltering in the foyer. Everybody was in a state of high excitement. We gleaned that all the groups would be marching to the park where the King would be, so we headed down there. On the way we were standing watching a group of beautifully dressed girls with green gingham long skirts and perfect white headdresses when one broke from the group came up to us and gave us two Brunei flags. She  shyly said "this is a gift from our school". We were so touched. Arriving at the park we found ourselves a spot to watch, by the fence, as more than 100 groups marched into the park.   

We became minor celebrities ourselves. We were interviewed for a newspaper about how we were enjoying the National Day Parade and had our photos taken a dozen or so times. As each group marched into arena they were announced to the King. Not understanding a word we presume it went something like,  “Your Royal Highness I present the representatives from the BSB 2nd division school of Judo.” It sounded like the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games when the countries are announced and march in.  

Towards the end a lovely lady, who it transpired, was a Government official invited us into a stand reserved for official guests and we watched the final half hour of the patriotic parade from the comfort of the officials area. What a buzz! We could see the King himself and stretched before us a crowd of possibly 50,000 in their colourful groups. The lady who had kindly invited us in, explained that it was a huge honour to be chosen from your school or sports group to participate. When all the groups had been presented to the King the national anthem was played and then an oath of allegiance was recited by the huge crowd. The biggest surprise came next when to the tune of lively and stirring music the groups held up and waved coloured streamers and from the height of the stadium we were now watching from, you could see it formed the numbers 26 - for the 26th year since independence. Soon after this, it was over and the King left, but we were reluctant to leave and wandered around taking more photos and enjoying the infectious excitement of the locals.

On our second and unfortunately last day, it was again a matter of right time, right place to see the endangered proboscis monkey. We negotiated a price with a small boat owner to take us up the Brunei river to look for the endangered Proboscis Monkey. Our hotel was offering a tour for $55 each but we running low on currency, so went for a final stroll. As we walked by the canal we were hailed by a private speed boat driver, we waved him off explaining our cash shortage. The boatman however was insistent and agreed to provide a tour for only $30 for both of us. Off we went at great speed up the river and some 20 minutes or so later our boatman had found for us, not only the monkeys but a bonus crocodile. On our way back, we toured around the water stilt village where some 30,000 people live complete with schools, school bus boats, fire boat engines and mosques. Our wonderful boat driver, Aslan, showed us his house and confided he had 12 children including two sets of twins. Brunei has free medical and education for all, so I guess having lots of children is affordable! He told us big families are the norm.

Finally it was time to find our way to the airport. Brunei's public transport is exceptional and for less than a $A1 each we were delivered by bus right to the airport.   
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