Having a 'selfie' with the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam
Written by Charlotte Wallwork
We arrived in Brunei Darussalam during the month-long celebrations for the Sultan's birthday (15th July). Having been postponed due to Ramadan, a big event was taking place in the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan, throughout August.
While searching for a place to have breakfast, we noticed a large crowd gathered in and around the marquee erected in the town centre. From a park ledge we looked into the sea of smartly dressed members of the military and public servicemen and servicewomen. To our surprise the Sultan of Brunei, his brother and two sons were out greeting the public as part of his birthday celebrations.
Many people were walking around clutching white boxes and it wasn't long before one was placed in our hands - complementary birthday cake and water for everybody!
We followed alongside a parade of people lined up to catch a glimpse of the Sultan. A girl named Sabrina excitedly asked whether we would like to take a picture with "his majesty". Not wanting to turn down such a rare opportunity we eagerly agreed and the next minute we were standing next to him awkwardly posing for a photograph.
After our brief encounter he continued down the street greeting and having photos taken with other excited members of the public who had been patiently waiting. The many casually-dressed security guards surrounding the parade, protecting the sultan - one of the world's richest men, created an air of tension. Despite this, the sense of devotion and worship from the natives for their sultanate was clear. Our short moment with the sultan didn't provide us with enough time to ask him a question and sample his English. Having been educated in England and passed out of Sandhurst it would have been interesting to speak with him in English. Speaking with the locals, the majority of whom had flawless English, was just as interesting, regardless.
As part of the birthday celebrations, a night market took place across the road from our hotel. Hoards of locals gathered to enjoy the array of foods available, including a variety of meat skewers, noodles and deep-fried potato fashioned into an elongated edible swirl. We enjoyed an a capella choir competition, held on a stage inside the market. The participants were local school children from singing groups and put on quite a performance!
We walked the span of Bandar Seri Begawan within an hour along modern, quiet roads dotted with coffee shops. Unlike other wealthy oil nations such as the likes of Dubai and Qatar, Brunei has refrained from constructing extravagant buildings and the city remains modern but conservative.
We visited the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque located in Bandar Seri Begawan and built inside a man-made moat. The views are particularly spectacular during sunset, as the colours glisten on the surface of the water as the distinct call of the muezzin sounds across the city. Brunei's population is predominantly Muslim with almost all the women wearing the hijab and shariah law, introduced only recently, practiced throughout. As travellers, we were made to feel very welcome by the people but it was difficult to forget about the strict laws by which the locals lived and the harsh punishments they were subject to if these were disobeyed.
Although only a short visit, it was a real insight into a country who has benefited immensely from oil wealth, and in turn is one of the richest countries in the world, per capita. Some may argue the fortune is not evenly spread but from my short experience: the standard of living is much greater than the neighbouring countries of Malaysia and the Philippines. Some of the benefits to natives include free medical care, free education, subsidised petrol and citizens work tax-free. Despite the debate regarding the sharing of profit by the sultanate, there still remains an overall vibe of happiness and prosper throughout.
To read more about the article, click here. You can follow the author at https://www.travelblog.org/Bloggers/Jotting-Lifes-Journey/