Monday, 28 February 2011

National Day 2011 - Part 2

So we missed the big parade in town last Wednesday...   but I still got to celebrate!

Here are some shots from our National Day Assembly at school last Friday.

The school hall, decorated for the occasion.

Waving the flag.  This photo makes me smile because the girl behind the flag saw me pointing the camera in her direction and gave me a beautiful grin... only for her neighbour's flag to flap right in front of her face!  (She and I had a good laugh about it in the classroom when we looked through the photos!)

The Year 3 Malay group marching.

A hall full of people dressed in yellow!

Me with my lovely class.

We were told to dress in yellow and black as they are the main colours on the national flag.  This proved rather a problem as I don't own a single item of yellow clothing (apart from one vest-top, but sleeveless = inappropriate here).  However, I went for black and red (there's a little bit of red on the flag!) and also wore a yellow Brunei baseball cap for the assembly.  Tragically there's no photographic evidence of me in said baseball cap...

On my way home I was waiting in traffic at the roundabout and snapped a couple of photos of the billboards that had been erected for National Day:

The Sultan certainly has an impressive range of uniforms - almost as many as Rob!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

March Memories - A Photographic Challenge

I've not been using my camera much recently.  I'm not sure why.  It's partly the fact that we've had lots of very rainy days recently, but also I suppose that after 6 months here in Brunei I don't often go anywhere new.  It's a small country and we've seen quite a lot of it already.

However, I am missing photography - maybe not missing the aching shoulder from carrying my DSLR around with me for hours! - but I have decided that I want to rekindle my usual enthusiasm for taking photos.

Therefore I am setting myself another Photographic Scavenger Hunt, to be completed by the end of March.  I so enjoyed taking part in the last one, I can feel myself getting excited about doing it again.

I'm doing it for me, because I want to do it, but I can't pretend that I wouldn't be absolutely delighted if anyone else wanted to take part too!  You could post the results on your blog, if you have one, or on Facebook or Flickr.  Just let me know if you do, I'd love to see them.  I have a 'good' camera, but you know what, I don't think it matters what kind of camera you have for this kind of thing.  It's all about how you interpret the words, and snapping something that catches your imagination.  The quality of the picture isn't really relevant.  So if you're interested then give it a try!

I found 26 things manageable, but slightly time-consuming (in a nice way, but I'm happy for this one to take less time), so I've chosen 16.  That's 4 per week.  Easy, eh?  I tried not to over-think them; I didn't want to have shots ready-planned for each word as that takes the fun out of the challenge.

So here we are; 16 things to look out for in March:

1.  Celebration
2.  Stripy
3.  Empty
4.  A game
5.  New
6.  Work
7.  Growing
8.  Home-made
9.  Favourite
10.  Blue
11.  Evening
12.  Pattern
13.  Flight
14.  Yesterday
15.  Fabric
16.  Loud

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

National Day 2011

Today is Brunei's 27th National Day - a celebration of the country's independence from Britain in 1984.  Brunei was never a British colony, but was a 'protectorate', and despite its independence, still maintains relatively close links with the UK today (hence the 'Loan Service' arrangement with the UK Armed Forces).  I can't help pondering the fact that Brunei, as an independent country, is younger than me...!?!

Bruneians are massively patriotic, which I like.  I often wish that English people were more vociferously proud of their country and heritage, instead of equating flag-flying with football!  Still, we're guilty of not flying the George Cross either - which seems a little strange seeing that we're currently flying the Bruneian flag:

I'm more than happy to do it...  although it wasn't really a choice!  We were told that we must fly it between the 6th and 26th of this month in celebration of National Day.  We'll be flying it again in July, for the Sultan's birthday.  I must say, the base does look great, with flags flying from every house and street-light.

Of course the main impact of today on us expats is that it's a Public Holiday.  Yay for February - we've had FOUR holidays this month (2 for Chinese New Year, 1 for the Prophet Muhammed's Birthday last week, and 1 today).  It almost makes up for the lack of a half-term break! 

This morning there was a huge parade in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei.  We were all set to head down there, despite the early start - it began at 7.30am - and as the roads were all closed we were intending to drive down as far as we could (probably to Tasek Lama) and cycle in from there.  However, we woke at 6am to torrential rain.  Usually rain showers pass quickly, but this one seemed to go on and on, well past the time that we would have had to leave to get to the parade on time.  Of course it had stopped by about 9, but by then it was too late.  Disappointing; but there's always next year.  We'll make a big effort to go then.

In the meantime there are some great photos on the National Day website to show us what we missed.

Happy Birthday Brunei!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Happy Birthday to the Crown Prince!

On Friday it was the birthday of the Crown Prince, the son of the Sultan.  The military held a party at the officers' mess at Bolkiah Camp, and at Friday lunchtime I had a text from Rob saying spouses were allowed to come along too - so would I like to?

Never one to miss out on a slice of birthday cake I jumped at the chance.  Always nice to shake the royal hand again too...

The food was great - I only managed to get a photo of the debris after the meal - but we had chicken curry, roti, and some lovely savoury pastries.

I wish I'd managed to get a photo of the cake before it was cut - it was awesome!  Huge, and shaped like a golden star.  It was pretty tasty too!

As I was walking back to my car after the party I was excited to see the royal motorcade driving past, complete with motorcycle out-riders.

And a trumpet fanfare as they drove out of the gates.

The royals are much-loved here in Brunei, and being such a small country they're pretty 'visible' - a friend of mine first met the Sultan in one of the local supermarkets (OK, he wasn't doing his weekly shop, I think it was something official, but even so..!).  They open the Palace for 3 days every Hari Raya, and the Sultan and members of the royal family are constantly in the papers, photographed at various events all over Brunei.  I don't remember the last time I saw one of the British royal family 'in person' (probably when I saw Charles and Di in Hereford when I was about 10 years old!), so I still find it quite exciting to meet Bruneian royalty!

Poor old Leo...

This made me weep tears of laughter in the DVD shop...  I had to buy it.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Chinese New Year - Open Houses

It didn't take us long to realise that food - or makan - is a pretty important part of Bruneian life!  That's OK, it's an important part of mine too...  but it has surprised and amused us at times to see how often people like to eat here.  When Rob was teaching on his last course he'd have breakfast at home, then get into work to find breakfast makan laid out (noodles, rice, curries, etc).  This would keep them going until mid-morning makan - not just tea and biscuits, but another entire meal.  I suppose they needed it though, as it would be another hour or so until lunch was served.  Mid-afternoon makan followed soon afterwards of course...  you've got to admire that dedication to eating!

So it really shouldn't have surprised us that when we were invited to an 'Open House' (at our colleague Vikki's home) to celebrate Chinese New Year that there would be food there.  It shouldn't have surprised us, but foolishly my friend Yvonne and I had been out to lunch just before we went along...  The food at the open house looked amazing, but sadly we just couldn't do it justice. 

However, the highlight of the afternoon was when the Lion Dance troupe turned up.  I didn't know much about this part of the celebration, but have done a little research:

Street celebrations often include a traditional lion dance which is thought to bring good luck. There are usually two dancers. One acts as the head and the other the body. They dance to a drum, cymbals and a gong. On the head of the lion is mirror so that evil spirits will be frightened away by their own reflections. The lion dancers need to be very fit. As the lion moves from place to place he looks for some green vegetables such as lettuce which are hung above the doors of houses or businesses. Hidden in the leaves is a red packet of money. The lion eats the lettuce and red packet. He then scatters lettuce leaves to symbolize a fresh start for the new year and the spreading of good luck. (Info found at

The Lions who came to dance at Vikki's were one of 3 or 4 Lion Dance groups who tour around Brunei during this Chinese New Year season.  You can book them for parties, and they can often be seen performing in shops and offices as well as homes.

We were alerted to the arrival of the group by some loud fireworks set off in the street. This brought us all running outside to watch the performers set up.

The lions' heads proved fascinating to the many small children at the party!

The dancers getting ready.  It was of course hot and humid, so I didn't envy them having to put on those heavy costumes - and then dance!

As the dance started, so did the firecrackers.  These were unbelievably loud...  the noise even set off a couple of car alarms!

As if the firecrackers weren't loud enough, there was also the band - a drum, cymbals and a gong.  Some of the parents there found that they just didn't have enough hands!!

The lions danced around the house, chasing away the evil spirits, and one stopped for several minutes at the shrine in the doorway.  He was presented with offerings of food, including oranges, pomelo and lettuce leaves.

He seemed to spend a long time there (and I couldn't help noticing that the dancers were taking the opportunity of having a well-earned cold drink whilst crouching underneath the costume!).  When the lion stood up we saw that he had created some lovely rabbits from the fruit!

Ears ringing, we went home for a couple of hours, only to head out again later in the day to an evening Open House hosted by another colleague, Yang.  Rob came along to this one too.  As we hadn't eaten since lunchtime we were slightly better prepared for this event - which was very fortunate because Yang and her husband had been preparing and cooking food for days! 

The evening started with a ritual which is supposed to bring good fortune - tossing the mackerel!  A beautiful plate of mackerel sashimi with a gorgeous sesame and lime dressing was laid out with several sets of chopsticks:

On a given signal everyone leaned in and tossed some of the food up into the air!

Of course half of it ended up all over the table - but that didn't stop us all then digging in and getting ourselves a plateful.  It was delicious!

An incredible feast was then brought out consisting of, amongst other things, beautifully moist smoked chicken, marinated duck, spicy beef salad, noodles and mixed bean salad.  There was even a dish of sliced tripe, which I helped myself too before realising what it was!  I'm fairly game when it comes to trying new foods, so I did eat a piece.  The flavour was lovely as it had been cooked in Chinese spices, but I was a little unsure about the texture!

The leaves you can see in the rear of this picture contain coconut rice and anchovy sambal.  These were gorgeous and I had to restrain myself from eating too many!

Yesterday was a great example of how food can be such a central part of any celebration in any number of different cultures.  Once again I felt privileged to be involved in these occasions - thanks Vikki and Yang, and Gong Xi Fa Cai to you and your families!

Chinese New Year - Fun at School

I thought I'd only end up writing one blog-post about Chinese New Year, but the celebrations just go on and on.  Apparently the festival lasts for 15 days! 

As I mentioned in my previous post, we had a great CNY assembly in school.  I finally remembered to e.mail myself some of the photos that I had on my school computer.

All the children (and staff) came dressed in red, or in Chinese costume.  This chap went the extra mile!

Oranges for every class.

Secondary students performing the Lion Dance - they were superb, and very funny!

Secondary students performing a fan dance - again, they were excellent.

I love the special assemblies that we have.  Because the Primary and Secondary schools are on the same site we often have contributions from the older kids which really inspire the younger children.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Root Beer Float

Root Beer:  it's a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing, and I'm definitely in the 'love it' camp!  I'm not a big fan of fizzy drinks, on the whole (not counting a cold lager of course) but once in a very occasional while, when it's horribly humid and I'm in need of a sugar-rush, this really hits the spot.

A couple of scoops of vanilla ice-cream,

A can of Dad's finest (chosen over A&W purely for the beautiful retro label!),

Carefully poured over the ice-cream, spooning the vanilla foam into your mouth as you go,

And minutes later - all gone! 

The perfect combination of food and drink in one glass!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Or Happy Chinese New Year!

One of the lovely things about teaching in an International School is the range of different festivals that we celebrate.  The Muslim festival of Hari Raya Aidilfitri was the first one of these that I experienced, but last week we celebrated Chinese New Year.

We had a fantastic assembly where we all wore red (or Chinese costume if we had it) and watched some of the Secondary students perform the Lion Dance.  Sadly my photos of this occasion are all on my classroom computer, not at home.  All the children (and staff!) were given gifts of mandarins, symbols of luck and wealth.

One of the nicest aspects of the celebration was the fact that we were given 2 days off work!  We went down to Miri, just over the border in Sarawak, Malaysia, for a few days.

This turned out to be somewhat of a mistake as a) it rained for most of the time, and b) most of Miri was closed due to the public holidays, but we had a nice time nonetheless!  Several of our friends were also there, so it turned into a very sociable couple of days.

Miri - as much of Malaysia - has a large Chinese population so many of the streets were festooned with Chinese lanterns.  Beautiful by day and by night.

It also meant that we were able to eat in some great Chinese restaurants - we played it safe and avoided the chicken feet (which you can see on the picture menu behind Rob!)

We had heard that the hotel we were staying at - the Miri Marriott - hosted a Lion Dance for Chinese New Year, but unfortunately this year it happened at 11am on Thursday...  and we arrived at 12 noon, just in time to see the dancers packing up their drums. 

However, the hotel left mandarins and a 'lucky' 10c in every room!

So the year of the Rabbit has begun - something that pleases me because it turns out that I was born in the year of the Rabbit too.  According to the card, people born under the sign of the rabbit are 'articulate, talented and ambitious' as well as 'admired, trusted and often financially lucky'.  I can't say I agree completely with that assessment of my character, but I'll keep my fingers crossed for that financial 'luck' - perhaps I should go and buy a lottery ticket?!

May the year be happy and prosperous for you all.