Thursday Dec 14

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Get to know Jenn, an expat on an adventure in Brunei

"Being here is completely different to anything I've done before!"

jennifer profI recently got in touch with Jenn O’Connell, a native New Zealander who runs the expat blog “The Engineer’s Wife: Joining My Engineer on an Expat Adventure in Brunei” (http://theengineerswife.wordpress.com/). I was really interested in what an expat perspective of Brunei might be, and have followed with amusement her “Weekly Challenge” feature, in which Jenn and her husband try and report back on local foods like dried cuttlefish.

On being a first-time expat, and the local and expat community.  

As a first time expat, being here is completely different to anything I've done before! It's great, but it's definitely not the same as being at home. Even the most basic interactions and tasks have a level of discomfort / not knowing that I don't have while in New Zealand. This means I learn a lot about myself and about other cultures, which I love, but it's not always easy.  

I spend half my time in the local community (shopping, enjoying the markets, eating), and half my time in the expat community (spending time at the Panaga Club, all sorts of activities there, spending time with my friends). From my experience and observations, the expat and local communities operate very separately. I have met local people through my husband's work, and have enjoyed spending time with them, but my friends are all expats, and most people I know have a similar experience. I have felt very welcomed by the expat community. People are friendly and open, and there are always plenty of things to do, particularly with so many other women (and a few men) who aren't working. I have been surprised at how easy it is to fill a day!

I have not felt quite so welcomed by the local community. I think it's difficult to break into a completely different culture, and the activities I do here haven't led to me meeting many locals. People have always been friendly, and I haven't had any negative interactions, but I also haven't made local friends. There are so many factors that contribute to this, and I don't at all want it to sound like the local community have been unwelcoming - I just haven't had many chances to meet and interact with them.

One of my favourite features on your blog is when you try local food and drink! (Particularly because I personally love some of the things you've tried - cuttlefish, canned cockles, ambuyat.)

This was one of my favourite features too, and I am sad that it has gone by the wayside in recent months. It is definitely getting more difficult as the weeks go on. I do have a couple of ideas up my sleeve (cheese flavoured ice cream, chicken floss, durian), but I am always open to more ideas, particularly from locals, on things we should try!

Pondering local food in one of many food challenges

Pondering local food in one of many food challenges

A meal of delicious fresh seafood in Labuan1

A meal of delicious fresh seafood in Labuan

At Bako National Park Kuching

At Bako National Park, Kuching

As an expat, how involved do you feel in local developments?

This is a tricky one. I love reading the local papers, and finding out what is happening. But I think I will always see them as an outsider, particularly big legal developments like shariah law. This is where I am living at the moment, but it's not "my" country, and I don't think it's my place to project my views on the local laws etc. All I need to do is abide by them while I'm here. At home I am fairly political and opinionated on these kinds of developments, so it has been interesting to have this different perspective.

On the lighter side of things, I feel a little more involved. I love finding out about new places (although I far prefer High Frequency to Starbucks in terms of new coffee outlets!) There are a few Facebook groups that I have loved being a part of, because they help me to find out more details about local developments, such as new (or just recommended) eating spots and events. We really make an effort to try new things on a regular basis, so it's great having a few different sources of information.

The Brunei blogging community is obviously very active. Do you consider yourself part of that community?

Honestly, I see myself far more as an expat blogger than as a Brunei blogger. I have met several expats through my blog, and have answered questions from many more expats and potential expats. But I do also read local blogs. My favourites are ProjekBrunei and The Food Addictions of Cookie Monster (Thanis Lim). Until this interview, my local reading hasn't led to much interaction, but I am always keen to meet and talk to new people, so if anyone out there is reading and wants to find more, just pop over and say hi!

A visit to Tasek Merimbun

A visit to Tasek Merimbun

Enjoying a walk at the Agrotechnology Park

Enjoying a walk at the Agrotechnology Park

How do you find yourself describing Brunei to people back home?

The first word I usually use is HOT. The climate is such a huge change for me, and has been one of the things I've found it hardest to get used to (especially since I've been pregnant!). Once we're past the weather discussion, I say that it's small and friendly and relaxed. My life here is so cruisy (that might be a mostly New Zealand word - we use it to mean relaxed / laid back), and the change of pace has been wonderful (if sometimes challenging). Sometimes if people have travelled around Asia a bit, I say that it's similar to Malaysia, but a lot quieter and more relaxed. I think it's very difficult to describe the vibe of a country, so I usually recommend people come to visit to see what it's like!

And finally! You describe yourself as currently a lady of leisure and a trailing spouse. Would you recommend it? Lifelong dream or temporary condition?

I think it's hard to make a blanket for or against statement for trailing-spouse-life. There are people who will suit it, and love it, and others who will find it incredibly difficult and unsatisfying (and most people will fit somewhere in the middle). For me, it's definitely a temporary condition. There are parts I have loved (getting more into yoga, having time to read and write and think), but I do also miss my work, and really want to go back at some stage.  

If we saw it as a longer term lifestyle choice, and if I wasn't about to have my life completely changed by a baby, I would definitely be studying and trying to find online work opportunities at this stage. As it is, I am very happy as a lady of leisure for now, but can't see me doing it forever!


imageAbout the Contributor: At her day job, Kathrina thinks and talks about books at UBD. At all other times, she can be found reading books, being a nosy parker (resulting in interviews like the one above), and daydreaming aggressively and voraciously. Occasionally she likes to pretend she doesn't hate exercise and can be seen moving sluggishly around Shahbandar.

Kathrina likes cake and always welcomes book recommendations, and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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