Monday, 18 July 2011

The White Ball

After the excitement of the Sultan's Birthday Parade that I blogged about on Friday, last night we had the 'White Ball' at the Palace.  This is somewhat of a misnomer because it is not really a ball; there's no ballgowns and no dancing - not even any music - but what it is is a huge sit-down dinner for thousands of uniformed people (mainly military and police) in celebration of the Sultan's birthday.  It's called the White Ball because everyone wears white.  Those in uniform wear their smart white jackets (or 'ice-cream suits' as we cheekily call them!) and the 'other halves' wear anything that's a) white and b) appropriately modest.

The Istana Nurul Iman is the Sultan's huge palace overlooking the river in central Bandar.  We have visited once before, last year for Hari Raya, when the palace is opened to the public for 3 days, but this was an altogether smarter and more exciting affair.  Unfortunately not all of the Loan Service got their invitations to the Ball, but we were lucky enough to do so, and excited to spend an evening at the Istana.

As we drove through town towards the palace we were wowed by all the fairy-lights that were strung up everywhere, on lamp-posts, roundabouts, in trees, etc.  It gave the place a really festive feel.  This theme continued as we entered the palace gates, and went into the palace itself.

We proceded through the entrance hall where we went through airport-style security scanners, and then - very amusingly - were stickered with little labels that said 'Normal Body Temperature'!!  The White Ball was cancelled 2 years ago due to the H1N1 outbreak, so I suppose they were just being super-cautious.

There were no allocated seats so we found some more Loan Service friends and sat with them.  I just loved all the royal crockery and cutlery, and the huge silver dishes in which the food was being kept warm.

Having come through a metal-detector on the way in, there was definitely not going to be any cutlery-pinching this evening (as if we would!) but I did keep the menu as a souvenir.

Chatting with LS friends who had been to this event last year, we realised that it was going to be a long evening, so we took the opportunity to wander around and take some photos.  We were rather tickled when we followed the red carpet back through the palace along the route that the Royal party would no doubt be taking, and came upon this little escalator!  

We made sure of course to get plenty of photos of the two of us on the red carpet too.

We sneaked a peek into the Sultan's dining room which was incredibly lavishly decorated.  We had queued through this room at Hari Raya, but it was lovely to see it all set out for dinner, complete with gold chairs.   The main attraction however was the air-conditioning!  We spent a few minutes standing outside the open doors, just enjoying the cool breeze.  Unfortunately we didn't qualify as VIP-enough to warrant a seat in here...  never mind!

At about 9pm there was a definite buzz in the air and we all stood up as the Sultan and his family entered.  As soon as they were seated it was time for macan - food!

The burners underneath the food dish had obviously stayed alight as the food was nicely hot, and really tasty.  There was a lamb dish, a beef dish with cashew nute, a chicken curry, a prawn Thai curry, chili fish and mixed vegetables, along with 2 types of rice.  We all got stuck in.  The amazing multi-coloured dessert was layered pistachio, raspberry and passion-fruit, and was delicious.

An intimate meal for thousands...!

Just as we were finishing dessert we all had to leap to our feet as the Sultan and his entourage were starting their rounds.  They shook hands with every single one of the guests, literally thousands of people.  It took over 2 hours.  I can only imagine the potential for repetitive-strain-injury for the poor man!  

Not surprisingly they worked their way along the lines at quite a pace, so the opportunity for photos was limited.  They were also surrounded by official photographers and cameramen, so we weren't able to get our own photos of us shaking the Royal hand.  I did catch them on their approach though:

His Majesty the Sultan, followed by the Crown Prince.
One of our party shook the Sultan's hand and then, desperate for a better photo opportunity, ducked into the next line, and managed to do the same again (while another friend with a great camera managed to get the most fabulous picture of him shaking hands with His Majesty).  The Sultan, to his credit, did a subtle but noticeable double-take at shaking the same hand twice - he was obviously paying attention!

The Loan Service working the white theme!
Excitement over, we then had to wait for the Sultan to work his way through our dining area, and then on to the other one.  We finally left at nearly midnight, tired but happy to have had such a fun evening - what a great experience!


Venie said...

You make me so jealous because I would never have that opportunity to join the white ball... Hence, Thanks for sharing :)

Norm said...

Thanks Venie! You'll have to marry a man in uniform (or join up yourself!)

Foodiva said...

This was fun to read and your photos of inside the palace area were so clear and lovely! I bet they was plenty of cutlery-pinching that evening (it's tradition! haha), you just wouldn't know it. Your husband looks really smart in his uniform and you all looked gorgeous in white! Thank goodness I don't have to do this anymore... :-).