No alcohol?? Screw this place...

Trip Start Feb 06, 2005
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Trip End Jul 2005


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Flag of Brunei  ,
Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Marco and I headed to Sabah seperately- he flying straight to Kota Kinabalu, while I meandered through Brunei. Brunei is one of the most interesting countries i've ever seen, while being at the same time one of the most dull. The population is free from income tax, gets free education up to tertiary levels and healthcare, so long as it puts up with its absolute ruler, the sultan. What does he get out of the bargain? Simple...money. Lots of money. He owns all the oil in the country, and there's plenty of that: public parks have small areas fenced off, not for play equipment, but for small oil pumps. His brother was audited a couple of years ago and it was revealed that $70 billion had just slipped through the cracks. That's got to be some petty-cash jar he has. He was forgiven though- he's the same guy who built the people an amusement park as a present. The only problem is that no one goes anymore. It's a tourist attraction not because it's only open at night, but because it's empty- it's operating, every night, but no one except 2 or 3 tourists a night turn up.
Anyway, everyone in Brunei has money, so they're not too worried. It was the first time in 5 months I hadn't been viewed as a walking wallet by anyone. People are nice. There's a freelance guide at the bus terminal who helps travellers for free. He's in all the guidebooks and spends half his time signing copies. People pull over and ask where you're going, then offer you a lift, even if its out of their way. And what do the wealthiest population in the world spend their leisure doing? Flying kites. People in Brunei are NICE. It's weird.
And yet, despite that, I couldn't wait to get out. For one, it's an expensive place- I spent more than a day's budget on a half-hour tour of the river. It was worth it though- the people of BSB haven't given up their culture just because they're ridiculously wealthy. Stilt houses and towns built on the water haven't been rejected for land reclamation- it's just that instead of wooden shacks on stilts, it's two-storey town houses. Services are provided- there's a mosque on water, a school on water, a fire service on water, even power lines and, gulp, electricity sub-stations.
The second reason, and most urgent, is the ban on alcohol. The nightlife buzzes- because it's coffee based. Kids wearing designer clothes drink coffee all night while the town is lit up like Vegas, without the fun. I had to leave- Brunei had sucked me dry of money, and almost made me sober, damn it.
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