Thursday, 15 March 2012

Not Especially Beautiful Bandar

A few more pictures of Bandar, to save anyone the trouble of actually going (actually, that's quite unfair - it was charming in a sleepy, peculiar way). The water villages -

- are picturesque, but pretty hellish to live in, I suspect (they are the great tourist attraction, so far as I could tell, along with the promise of a glimpse of a proboscis monkey; I was not clear whether the proboscis monkeys inhabit the water villages or live separately and I hadn't time - or, to be honest, enough interest - to find out).

The rest is perfectly nice in a shopping mall kind of way. There were a lot of dull high rise buildings with odd triangular pediments and odd little mini turret things stuck on them to try to make them look more interesting, although they ended up just looking tackily Disneyesque, if that isn't a tautology:

 I was a bit shocked to see that the Colonel and his delicious but dangerous chicken seemed to be making headway - I'd have thought that exactly the sort of thing a really benevolent dictator might use his powers to draw the line at:

History was barely detectable except in one or two street names -

and a genuinely ancient thing called Raja Ayang -

- a 15th century tomb obscured almost entirely by the modern building in which it has been housed. There was a carved stone beside it that purported to explain all about it, although having read it I was scarcely the wiser, (mind you I now had many lurid ideas and unanswered questions to fuel my thoughts for the rest of my walk). This was the text of it:

"According to history, there were two beautiful and handsome Brunei Royal family members, who committed unlawful acts, which contravened Islamic laws. The female member was popularly known by the name of Raja Ayang. Therefore, by the command of Sultan Suleiman (1432 to 1485 AD), a well-known devout Brunei Sultan who strictly adhered to Islamic principles - that is to say, if anyone contravened Islamic laws, he or she would be subject to appropriate punishment - thence they were punished according to Islamic laws, but in their case their punishment differed from others, in that arrangements were made for them to stay at a place characterised as an underground house and provided with sufficient provisions, including a chimney for ventilation. Their departure to the place set aside for them was paraded around with all due pomp and ceremony befitting their status according to Brunei ceremonial laws. Hence the Sultan's firmness in carrying out the sentence and their attitude to accept freely the punishment was therefore forever recalled in Bruneian society. Society's opinion of them is inscribed on the South side of a special stone near their tomb, namely: From the example (of the crime committed) there has been enough retribution exacted, having undergone their punishment on this earth rather than in the hereafter, and underneath lies the bodies of those who had sinned, by the Grace of Allah. Whereas on the North side of the stone there is inscribed: O Allah, almighty God, heap Your mercy and blessings on them and forgive them their transgressions for mundane sins and pleasures for which they once thirsted."

The thing that shocked me out of my musings about what exact form Raja Ayang's sinful pleasures took was this sign outside the Brunei Radio and Television building:
It would certainly come as quite a surprise to see anything similar outside Bush House or ABC headquarters in Harris Street, Ultimo.


  1. I think that last sign is a model of clarity.

    I've never been to Brunei, but I know people who've worked there, and they say it's a pretty odd place in that ways. From their descriptions of daily life of some of the locals, I say no more.

    1. Because of now having been there, I've become intrigued and am going to read more about it. The locals I met were uniformly warm and friendly - and very charming. One thing that is hard to get used to is the idea that it is an independent country but it only has a population of about 300,000. Probably precisely because of this, I liked it more than I've liked a country in that part of the world before - those seething Asian cities (Singapore, Bangkok, even Kuala Lumpur these days) do not appeal to me at all.