Well, here they are: the gold domes of Brunei’s Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque with its gold domes, in the country’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB for short). With its obscenely wealthy sultan and a population that doesn’t pay tax, Brunei’s residents have free education and health care, living in their steamy hot little country on the island of Borneo which, amazingly, is split amongst three countries: Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Having said all that, the lavish mosque sits in front of a water village, corrugated iron slums on stilts that hover above the water. It’s a bizarre juxtaposition.
Like its neighbor, Malaysia’s Kota Kinabalu, (KK for short: apparently if you say ‘Kota Kinablu’, the locals know you’re fresh off the boat, and should have your wallet nicked), Borneo’s fridge magnets were dreadful, truly dreadful, featuring the pervertedly ugly proboscis monkey, the one whose fleshy nose hangs down in front of its face like a tumor. Poor things.
We followed the ship’s executive chef, Bjorn, through the fruit markets which were, like most of what we saw in Brunei – clean and orderly. He delighted the traders by buying all the bananas and chillies in the market: “Yes, I’ll have 50kg, please.” Word has it that the floods in Queensland made restocking the larders in Sydney and Darwin near on impossible, to the extent he was dashing into the Darwin Woollies and saying, “100kg of cauli, 100kg of broccoli, thanks.” The man obviously brings joy wherever he goes, snapping up barramundi in Darwin, chardonnay in Sydney, red snapper in Borneo…