Wednesday, 14 March 2012

One Man's Fish is Another Man's Poisson

I just spent a night in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, which was fascinating, partly because bits of it - like this one, for instance:

- reminded me more than anywhere else I've been of Tirana in Albania in the deep days of Communism. This led me to wonder whether there is something about countries with unchallenged and unchallengeable leaders, however benevolent, that produces a particular kind of style.

But I did no more than wonder, because I don't really have enough knowledge of the subject and, in the immortal words of Michael Palin as Hugo in Murder at Moorstones Manor, I am almost certainly "too dim". Also I came upon a food market and was distracted by the fascinating and mysterious food stuffs on offer and just the general exciting colourful display, which was, so far as I could see, uninhibited by any notions of health and safety et cetera:

Imagine lemongrass in such abundance.
I thought this might be turmeric, but there was turmeric elsewhere in the market and this was something else.

What on earth can these muddy things be?
At first I thought these were a kind of underripe tomato but further on I saw one cut open and realised they were something else entirely (see photograph lower down)

The unlucky one - or a soon-to-be delicious lunch, depending on your perspective.

These looked like tiny Jerusalem artichokes, but I presume weren't.
These were a more vivid orange. in the flesh.
Lemongrass envy, once again.
There's some turmeric. The tiny limes were delicious - I had some at breakfast.

And yet more bundles of lemongrass, when back at home lemongrass costs a lot per single stalk.

What can these be?

More turmeric.

This is the kind of thing I usually see on our compost heap. I wonder what it's for.
I loved the matching clothes of the little girls.
What are these?
Even the shoppers wanted to know - and they were local. They seemed unimpressed by what the lady told them.

This man's wife was making fresh grated coconut.

These girls were taking tiny mussels out of the shell by hand and bagging them up - very fiddly, dull work.

Very Day of the Triffids - or even Alien - I thought.

Those eggplant look familiar.

These are really intriguing - for some reason, I'm convinced they'd be delicious. The colour is so lovely.
At first, I thought someone had carved these, but it turns out that they grow like this.

They were selling a lot of things that looked like sticks. When I asked, I was told they were all 'ladies' medicine'. I don't know whether this was true, I was having my leg pulled or there was a mistranslation.

The fan biscuits have pretty patterns on them.
Can these be radish crisps?
Best of all, to reach the market, most people came by water taxi - they look much more fun than the average Canberra bus (and they run more frequently):

 This one went so fast, I only caught its wake.
 This nice driver was very keen I made use of his services. But I said, 'No, no, no':

And, oh, look, Julia Gillard ("moving forward") appears to have been here before me, labouring under the misapprehension that votes might be involved. Like me, she must have been in ignorance about the way things are done in Brunei. It was only when the taxi driver from the airport pointed out the parliament (modern, Classical Greek mixed with motorway motel style) and I asked how often they had elections that I discovered that they don't have elections: "The sultan chooses the government, and they just hold meetings there from time to time."


  1. I do like visiting totalitarian countries - there aren't enough of them any more.

    Your photos have restored my wanderlust. I think it's time to see the world again.

    I've lived in a self-imposed exile for the last six years, due to a phobia about flying, but I think it's to do something about it.

    1. It is maddening how they're all disappearing, isn't it? That guilty pleasure of being behind the Iron Curtain is a lost treasure and it's not as if anyone, at least in Russia, appears to be getting much benefit from the new order (apart from gangsters, of course) - if only all the satellites could have spun off but we'd kept the eternally fascinating Soviet Union, as a kind of theme park for Western visitors (if anyone is reading this and thinking I'm callous, I'm not being serious).

      It would be absolutely the worst kind of tempting fate to ever lose the phobia of flying - what you have to do is get to oak twigs, tie them together in the form of a cross with red cotton, carry a Book of Common Prayer, and say the Lord's Prayer over and over again at take-off and landing and during any turbulence. But taking flying for granted would be terribly unwise. I also think that travelling with children is pretty near hell so probably best to wait until they can cook boiled eggs, turn off the gas, lock the house and be relied on not to immediately lose the front door key and then head of solo.

    2. When I said 'to oak twigs', I did really mean 'two oak twigs' - and they must be oak, I've forgotten why, but my Argentinian friend insisted.

    3. And when I said, 'of solo', I did really mean 'off solo', which didn't mean it had to be just you but could be you and your wife (in fact, I think it's better together - although sometimes being on your own, although tougher, can be more stimulating [maybe because tougher?])

  2. Very amusing account and fascinating photos, ZMKC. And that was a wonderfully pithy summary of the Brunei political system you got from the taxi driver.

    1. But the Sultan looks so dashing in that all-purpose military uniform, and his peoples look so cheery and gay, don't you think?

  3. love these photos, markets are fascinating aren't they?

    1. It's possible your patients might benefit from some of the things pictured - they'd need to be boiled up into poultices or tinctures or, possibly, pessaries. If you're keen, I'll contact the Department of Health for permission to import and pick up a few bunches of whatever takes your fancy on my way home.