When our protagonist
last left off it was off to grade four white water
river rafting on the Padas river ( Padas means “spicy” in
Malaysian).The tortuous rapids were a real treat but the real adventure was
gettingthere and back. Safety is nice
to strive for but it appears Malaysians
may consider it merely superfluous. On the way back from the river it
noted that the bridge spanning a rather large gorge
could no longer support an object like…...oh say a train. And
it was that the engineer was alerted and the bewildered passengers detrained
(is that a word?) as we stopped in
the middle of the Malaysian jungle.
The train track was originally built at the turn of the century to
colonial cargo. Quite interesting to see the
passengers spill out of the 1930’s era train cars and cross the
by foot to a waiting train on the other side of the tracks.
From there the
ride back to the small town we set out from was one I shall
not soon forget. We rode on a flatbed train cars……no
even rails, just wooden planks as the dense humid air rushed by and the sun
set to the west. The view was
amazing. The track hugs the Padas
the entire time as the huge jungle laden peaks and hills reach up
either side. Perhaps no sunset may every compare to the brilliance of
this one. On to Brunei.
The Sultan of Brunei
is one of the worlds richest men. Oil Oil Oil. He
rules the now rather tiny kingdom
of Brunei. Present day Brunei
Darussalam (as its officially know) is situated in northern Borneo, but
in its heyday it stretched all the way from the Philippians to
peninsular Malaysia. The Sultan is a simple man. Nothing exorbitant
about his 1,200 room grand palace
or his personal collection of over
1000 vintage cars. He is also a very humble man…..not the
make him out to be, as the museum he built to honor himself
isn’t quite as lavish as it could be. Further, he is
also a deeply religious
man. Following the pillars of Islam he takes just as good care of his
two wives as he does the
playboy playmates he imports to be in his
harem (after they have literally been quarantined of course).
Say what you
may about the Sultan but he is a smart man and knows how to keep his people happy. Educated at Sandhurst he’s got western savvy. His people
love him. Why not, how could you not love a nation with
no taxes, superb
universal health care, and pensions for everyone? The sultan knows how
to spend his nation’s
oil money (i.e. his money). Any king worth his
gold plated Harley knows that to prevent revolution you must keep the people
happy and the token military run by close relatives. I had occasion to
experience his benevolence.
As a present
to his people for his birthday (a national holiday no less) he built an amusement park. This isn’t
your run of the mill traveling circus with dwarves and carnies running around. It’s a sprawling expanse of state of
the art rides,
lights,massive musical fountains, and has just about every attraction you
wouldfind in Disneyland.
In fact one might rate this place better than
Disneyland. I found myself riding the 7 loop 4 twist roller dangling
coaster 6 times in a row barefoot ( and yes I was a bit
apprehensive…….not because of the ride itself but because
to wake up the napping ride operator). There was no line. In fact there was
quite literally a total of 20 guests
in a place the size of Disneyland.
My guide tells me that the reason for the lull was the fact
five years of being free the place started charging the unreasonably
pricey sum of $7 US. Ridiculous!
Bandar Beri Sagawan (BSB) is the capital of this great nation. The city
boasts two lavish
mosques, two of the biggest in the world. The golden
minarets tear far into the sky. BSB is famous for its stilted fishing
villages. 30,000 people live in the highly coveted pillared
Only a person born in the village may own property there. Some of the
villages are said to have been in existence for 600
constantly scan the villages bridges and poles for sighs of
decay or collapse. BSB is a small but bustling capital although 5 times a day
the entire city stops for prayer. The dreamy
morning call to prayer can be
heard everywhere in the town as it echoes from the plethora of minarets.
Of course there
is no alcohol in Brunei. Perhaps there is no coincidence
streets are bereft of homeless people.
Alas its time now to say good bye to Brunei and hello to the beaches of
Thailand. Ciao for now.