Monday, February 3, 2020

Where Is Everybody?

I don't know why I stopped in Miri. There were a few things in the area that sounded interesting and it was a good gateway to Brunei. This was home of the first working Oil Well in Brunei, called the Grand Old Lady or Oil Well Number 1. It is located on "Canada Hill" where oil was first struck by Sarawak Shell in 1910. It was a short easy climb up a winding road and the view over Miri was excellent. The Petroleum Museum was closed for renovations but I probably would not have gone in anyway. The replica oil well was surrounded by the history of Oil in Sarawak carved into the stone surrounding the well. The Sultan of Brunei and his ancestors have been living the life of illusionary splendor ever since.

The other interesting thing about Miri was the "Container District". One street that was lined with bars and restaurants had a median that was lined with shipping containers that were converted into street food shops. It was an incredible idea. It was divided into various sections, 1 to 5, which I never really figured out. There was also a hidden section of the street that was called "Container City". An alcove of containers that made up covered food court. The bar scene was busy with lots of Expats to chat with. Miri deserves two days. I found some fun and stayed for four. There were a few really nice sunsets that I took in. I even managed a nice click of the sun reflecting off an incoming ship.

After catching a morning bus in Miri, I crossed into Brunei without much effort. I would say that these were arguably the laziest border agents I have even encounters in my travels. As we go off the bus we stood in line to get our passports stamped. Then we walked over to the baggage scanner which was not turned on. The two guards looked at it, waved it off and manually checked our backs. By manually they were looking at their phones most of the time. It is Brunei, who is going to bring shit here? 

Brunei. Who would have thought? This is not a country that is at the top of anyone's destination list. Alcohol is banned. Everything shuts every day from noon to 2:00 PM for prayer and yes I mean everything. Most people have multiple cars but yet the roads are seldom busy. The Sultan has all the oil money and the quality of life for most people is pretty good, regardless of the repressive policies that are accepted as normal. Regardless, here I was in Brunei, country number 49.

How did I learn about things being closed every day for 2 hours for prayer? The bus pulled into Bandar Seri Begawan, pulled over downtown and out I got, along with about 20 other confused travelers. There was nothing. No cars, no people, no open shops no hope. What kind of apocalypse hell am I experiencing here? I knew where I had to go but I had no idea how to get there. Finally, life. A human life form one street over and I zeroed in. He laughed at my plight, explained the law and pointed me to the bus station, which was open. I don't know the rules man. I found the number 1 bus and off I went, away from downtown towards my hotel. We passed a few of the people who got off the bus at the same time as me. They were not fairing very well. They would figure it out. That was 25 minutes of something most people could only experience in a warped dream. 

Even the temples were empty, and this was prayer time! There was even a Dairy Queen on the main street corner. What I would have done for an Oreo Blizzard. Brunei was going to be different, there was no doubt about it. I just did not think I was going to be the Omega Man.

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