Monday, September 19, 2011

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: 02 - The Filipino Invasion of Brunei

Forget any attempt in trying to speak Malay with people who you might think are locals. Chances are, they are Pinoy too. Case in point, the bus driver. The money changer at Labuan gave me a hundred Brunei dollars and I forgot to ask him to break it into smaller denominations. Ending? I did not have smaller bills for the bus ride to BSB. So I negotiated with the bus driver, in Malay, that I would just pay in Malaysian ringgit. Halfway through the trip I suddenly heard people conversing in Tagalog. Lo and behold, it was the driver and the woman seated in front. The other guy whom I asked earlier on how long the trip would be also turned out to be Filipino. What were the odds!

When I reached BSB, almost every waitress and cashier I spoke with were also Filipinos. That’s why I stopped speaking Malay at BSB. You might be talking to a fellow Pinoy anyway so I just spoke to everyone in Tagalog. If they give me a confused look or just smile or laugh, that’s when I switched back to my barok Malay.

My Bandar Seri Begawan tour, without a doubt, is my most boring trip ever. I’ve been to BSB and Jerudong a few years back with the family. We drove all the way from Miri and stayed overnight. I thought my mother was joking when she said that “that” was BSB. I thought we just reached a neighboring city or what. The place is small and there is nothing more to see after you’ve stared at the mosques for an hour or so. Going back on my own I realized that mother was not joking at all, and that we were able to see more when we were together because we had a car. For my stay this time I just stayed at the Bandaraya. I wanted to visit Jerudong again, but some Pinoys there have warned me that buses tend to stop operations at around 7 PM. I would have loved to try Jerudong’s Go Karts again if they are still operational, but I wouldn’t risk getting stranded there.

After the bus passed through the airport we went back to the city center, where I asked the driver to drop me off at Pusat Belia. The building is hard to miss. It’s big, red, and has a large label saying PUSAT BELIA both in Roman and Jawi scripts. I arrived on a Sunday so the front desk was unmanned. I was advised by some lurker to go back at around 2 PM, which I did. Checking in was as easy as filling out a sheet of paper, paying BND10 for a night’s stay (I am telling you, that is the cheap considering other alternatives) and getting a key for your dorm. Men and women go to different dorms and there are four of you in one room. I shared mine with a Swiss national and a Brit. The room looks like a college dorm but clean and not cramped. You can use the aircon 24 hours a day. I had no reservation but I don’t think you would need one unless there is a festival or something. Besides, they don’t answer e-mails anyway.

On my first day I just made tambay at Caffe Vito because of the WiFi. Pusat Belia has a pool (under renovation when I was there, unfair!) but they don’t have WiFi, and I needed WiFi so I just made tambay at Caffe Vito. It became my hangout venue. I ate lunch and dinner there. I had fries for snacks, all while surfing the net.

The tourist attractions surround that area, all within walking distance from one another. One block from Caffe Vito is a large square with a decorative archway in front, effectively “framing” the mosque at the back. That mosque is just one of the few here at BSB. Photo op! To the right are more buildings that also look interesting. To the left is Plaza Yayasan, a mall where you can eat Jollibee. The said place is just next to the harbor where you would see the Kampung, a water village.

The whole area is jam-packed with buildings that look grand or strange enough to hold your gaze for about fifteen minutes. After that you would realize that there is nothing left to do. There are bars around the area so enjoying the night life might be one option. There are also some cafes open 24 hours.

In the end the BSB leg of my tour was just a prolonged stopover. After two days I boarded the long distance bus to Miri to spend some time with my parents. Maybe BSB could mimic Singapore. Build some sort of Sentosa in there to lure more tourists in. Actually, they could just revamp Jerudong. It used to be THE theme park in Southeast Asia. Now it just harbors a depressing atmosphere, far detached from its former glory. Or maybe I should be saying, “THEN it harbors...” I don’t know how it looks like now. Perhaps, worse. Oops, I forgot to take a picture of the Sultan’s residence!

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: 02 - The Filipino Invasion of Brunei

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