Bandar Seri Begawan – Brunei

Brunei negotiated its independence from Britian in 1984.  Before that, it was British protectorate on and off through the 1800s.  Early records suggest it was aBuddhist colony in the early 7th century, but by the the 9th and 13th centuries, writings from China suggest the kingdom of Brunei had a formidable navy and circumscribed the entire island of Borneo.  Some linguists infer that Borneo’s name itself is derived from the origins of the kingdom of Brunei.

However it’s prominence and land holdings decreased through the colonial period and now it holds the smallest portion of land in all of Borneo.

This small Muslim nation has been in the news recently for embracing sharia law and enacting severe penalties for a wide array of offenses.  In talking with a local restaurant owner, she believed the Sultan was pressured by the religious ministry.  She also believed that a lot of the laws are just “talk” and are not actually enforced.  However, in the same breath she showcased how well behaved everyone was in Brunei and then stated: “I personally don’t care if man want to touch man, I just don’t think we should have to see it.”

Even thought staying in Brunei was a rest and recovery move, we still made a little time to get out and eat and experience some of the local attractions.

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

This towering structure dominates the riverside skyline.  We went out during evening to walk around.  The breeze off the water cooled things down a bit.  The mosque was built in 1958 by Omar Ali Saifuddien III, the 28th sultan of Brunei.

Towering over an artificial lagoon, there is a nice boardwalk around the mosque.  We walked outside while evening prayers commenced over the loudspeaker.

Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

The next day we went early to see the inside.  Sharleen and the girls had to don a robe and headscarf to demonstrate respect for their religious practices.  Alyssa was largely indignant.  She didn’t understand why she should demonstrate respect for a religion that, in her view, disrespects women and embodies ideas that she didn’t embrace.  I did my best to explain how and why we respect differences. irrespective of our own beliefs.  These explanations fell on deaf ears.  I saw a lot of myself in her at that moment.  At that age I was in the process of getting kicked out of catechism for being disrespectful.  I was a terror to put it mildly.  I badmouthed Catholicism to whomever would listen.  It took me many years, lots of reading, and hours of discussion with powerfully- minded friends who tolerated my ignorance and petulance to get to a point of tolerance I am now.  In today’s age of intolerance, I hope that Alyssa and Kylie learn tolerance earlier than I did.

The inside of the mosque was just as beautiful as the outside.

Inside the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque
A view of the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque through Brunei’s famous “frame”

Our Town Day

We had the good fortune of being in town when the city center closed down the streets and opened them up to foot traffic and street vendors only.  It was a mix of swap meet-flea market – food court.  There were lots to tasty treats to eat, music to listen to and lots of booths advertising their good works and causes.  This happens every Sunday and is called: “Our Town Day”.

In the sports pavilion. a group of university students were raising public awareness about oral cancer and dementia.  Kylie and I went through all the booth challenges.  We learned how to floss and brush.  We did a tongue twister challenge, a food taste challenge.  We played charades.  And then the ultimate a hot chili padi challenge.  The dentistry students were tickled to have a Westerner do it.  They put me on their Instagram.  Go figure, with six likes, I’ll be famous in no time.

After the challenge we rented a bubble wand for Kylie and joined the families that were blowing bubbles on the grassy field.


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