Gracias, Brunei

"I was thinking of buying an I ♥ Brunei shirt but I don't love Brunei so I didn't", said the tourist who I first met aboard the hotel mini-bus on our way to see the Regatta competition.

True. Wearing one would make you a lying endorser.

I have been holed up here for almost three months now and though I have made friends and somehow unwillingly settled in the way of life, I still could not say "love"... because "love" is a strong word. However, there are plenty of good things I can say about Brunei.

Lovely, even on a cloudy day

I anticipate getting out of work to see the colors of dusk that pops out in the wide, wide sky each day.

I appreciate how people will pull up on the street offering a ride because no one really walks on the street. I get to explain that walking is my exercise.

I enjoy going to work each day and seeing the clear blue sky without skyscrapers interrupting my view. Everyone has a car, every single household has an average of 2-3 cars, but the roads are never, ever full. No traffic jams.

I like the fact that everywhere I look I see nature waving its hands at me. I see vast open spaces, trees, and sometimes surprises like a gecko staring at me or a scrambling monkey come my way.

I am still baffled at how this country is the 5th richest in the world but I have never seen the rich citizens rub it on everyone else's face, well, except for the fancy cars I commonly see on the streets.

I envy how I could not see any obvious signs of inequality of wealth distribution. I've asked around if there are homeless people. They say yes there are homeless people but I don't see them wandering on the streets because apparently, the government takes care of them. Crime rate is almost zero. There was a time when we left our car door unlocked and opened wide (silly, yes) for a couple of hours, with all our laptops inside.  We came rushing back when we saw the door open only to find all things intact, nothing missing. Oh how I wish to have the same thing for my country.

I applaud the government in the way they take care of its people. Free education, free health service, no income tax, and again.. no income tax.  The socialist policies in place make the citizens happy. Life is good for Bruneians and though political analysts out there might say a lot of things about the how country is managed, the people love their ruler. In one of the blogs I have read, most people have developed political apathy. Who wouldn't? If all your needs are provided, your government is the last thing you will need to worry about. The only reason why people are not flocking over here is that it is almost impossible to be a citizen. I've met someone who has been here for the last 25 years, heck, I even know someone who was born and both of them are still not citizens of this country.

Although the biggest turn-off for me is the lack of entertainment, with Brunei being a dry country, I realized that the bonds people form here are forged over good conversations. They actually have fun sober. I may sound like a total hypocrite but wouldn't it be lovely to have a nice conversation without having to wait for the alcohol to work its magic? I found it absurd at first but I got used to the idea already.. or better yet, I know now where I can get my Jack+Coke. Foreigners can bring 2L of alcohol in so I brought my wine and vodka with me and we usually drop by an open secret place I now call MH for a drink or two. Or if a drinking spree is badly needed, you can always cross the border.

Life is good in Brunei. So what is not to love?

I am happy for the Bruneians that they get to enjoy things that most Filipinos could only dream of. In a way, I envy the good life they have. But in my present state of mind, when I am always yearning and striving for who-knows-what, Brunei and I don't exactly gel. Some things are amiss. I need to feel the vibrance which keeps me on my toes each day, I need to have that push to keep on getting better, I need to serve my senses with alternating periods of calm and frenzy. When things are going well, it is easy to feel contented. I have always found the word contentment as a double-edged sword. Although everything is served, I refuse to be in a place where life is rosy because it forces me into being stuck and complacent, disguised as contentment.

However, I am never the type to close doors. I believe that we must never, ever dismiss something for good, especially the place that made me know a lot more about myself. For now, I am eagerly looking forward to the next stop. Home, that is.


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