Rediscover Brunei Darussalam through the eyes of the People
I 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
A meal of delicious fresh seafood in Labuan
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
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!
About 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
Greetings everyone! Green Brunei is proud to announce that The Remarkable Green Race is back for the second time, happening this March!! So come show your support and RACE with us while at the same time, learning more about the environment as you go. Each participant will get a t-shirt, bag, notebook, tumbler and an e-cert. You may register in teams of 4 people for $20 per person on http://rgr.green-brunei.com
Date: 13 March 2016
Time: 6.30am - 10.00 am
Venue: Bio-innovation Corridor (previously known as Agro Park)
Deadline for registration: 14th February 2016
Attractive prizes awaits you, so we hope to see you there!
Editor's Note: We discovered Chynna on Instagram. Her creative style immediately caught our attention, and we are happy to share some of her art and story with you. Check out more of her work and follow her journey here: @chytxy
Who are you?
My name is Chynna Tan (How long did it take you to realise it sounds very much like China Town?). I’m one of those many students you hear about being Malaysian but really identifying more as a Bruneian.
Describe yourself in a few words.
Raised in a home with creative and do-it-yourself mindsets, it was always all about thinking outside the box as well as doing things slightly unconventional. Helpful by nature, I always say yes to helping others before realising that it may be beyond my capabilities but I strive anyway to help as much as I can. Like anyone, I love food and that’s the reason why I force myself to spin every week but I thoroughly enjoy it; both eating and spinning.
How did art find you?
The earliest memory of art that I had was back in primary school. My parents enrolled me in Art as an extra curricular activity in school. I remember my love hate relationship with oil pastels and how patient my teacher was to tell me every single time to clean pastels. I had a very supportive art teacher through out my primary years in PDS (now SMS School) and I joined many local and international competitions. Art took a back seat in secondary however but it found me again when I decided to take Art and Design for A-Levels; the hardest but tremendous two years I had rediscovering and solidifying my passion for art.
Which is your creative medium of choice?
Watercolour is my main medium and I love illustrations; small, whimsy and soft illustrations. I am well versed in hyperrealism with animals always being my main subject. I’m dabbling in typography as well as calligraphy as of recently. My favourite is always when I paint for someone close to me. Painting knowing that it’s for someone significant in my life just makes the piece just that much more special besides the fact that it’s always personalised and tailored just for him or her.
What's your favourite kind that you do?
Anything watercolour would be my favourite. I thought myself how to play with watercolour whean I was in doing my A-Levels. It's such a fluid medium, literally. There are no right or wrong ways to use watercolour and I’m constantly learning and discovering new techniques.
What inspires you?
I try to take inspiration from anything and everything. But usually it’s nature and patterns I see wherever. The Internet is also a good source of inspiration; IG being the best as I follow many artists with similar interest and practice. I like painting and gifting them. So when I paint, I always have someone in mind and he or she may be my inspiration. My parents are also a great source as they do help me see things from a different perspective from time to time.
You’ve spent some time studying in Germany. Describe the art scene there.
Being in Germany exposed me to the different kind of scenes out there that we unfortunately lack in Brunei. Galleries are just littered everywhere and I was spoiled for choice. It opens your perspective as to what art is. Art has always been subjective and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion upon seeing something intriguing. I’ve seen thought provoking works as well as just silly ones. Art is literally everywhere as you walk down the streets and see graffiti art and murals. It’s very inspiring.
What is your message to other young aspiring artists?
I hope to see more artists out there not be afraid to share their work and speak about it. I was like that before and I’m still learning to share. It would be great if one day we could gather all the artists together and just talk about the same passion we all share. Also, it would be great to have an extensive art supply store. I bet you all artists feel like a kid in a candy store when in an art store.
What are your immediate and future plans?
I’m always open to trying new things. Perhaps holding a watercolour workshop one day? As a kid, I thought I would be an art teacher just like my teacher back in primary. A collaboration with one or more artist would also be great!
It's back! "Indulge" in the 17th annual Consumer Fair organized by Sunlit Sdn Bhd held at ICC from the 27th to the 31st of January 2016. As you would see each year, the consumer fair never fails to attract the local community with local and regional products. Expect to find food that will satisfy your cravings, unique products in the region and much more all in one place.
Entrance to the 17th annual Consumer Fair
One of our local clothing lines found at the Consumer Fair.
The Lagenda apparel is designed and printed locally. You can find clothing items such as hats, t-shirts, jacktets and a couple of others at their booth. Find them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/lagendaclothing/?fref=ts) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/lagenda_clothing/)
Mahkota Crystal is the only glass manufacturing studio in Brunei and has been around for 15 years. Their studio and gallery is located at Lambak Kanan Industrial Site. They make creative and unique pieces such as candleholder, vases, bowls and bottles. They also do custom orders.
Featured: Glass Turtle And Glass Perfume Bottle
An interesting art display by Belka that doubles up as an alternative wall coating. Its product is made up of 100% natural materials (cotton, decorative mineral stones and permissive additives). A couple of awesome facts about Belka are that, it is odourless, can be applied to various surfaces, can be easily removed or clean if required and a great alternative to wallpaper and paint.
For all Doraemon fans, young and old, it was a treat to see an array of merchandise available at the Consumer Fair. There was a whole section dedicated to Doraemon products!
Doraemon dolls on display.
Ocean Maze provided a fun 3-D ocean themed experience.
Got a photo op with the sharks!
One of my last finds was a stall that sold a variety of premium dates from Madinah, Saudi Arabia. A very helpful salesman at the booth shared with me the different types and textures of dates available. On sale that day were also freshly baked cinnamon rolls and porridge prepared with these premium dates made by a guest chef.
I enjoyed the unique treasures that I found in the little corners however, I would love to have seen a greater connection between the theme of the fair, "Life is Sweet...Indulge!" and what was actually on offer at the event. Nonetheless, another great success I feel, for Sunlit Sdn Bhd's 17th Consumer Fair. It was great discovering new products, both local and regional. I look forward to seeing more of these products in our market on the regular, and not just at big fairs like this one.
Till next time!
Editor's Note: The Creative Core BN is a relative new-comer to the local creative scene in Brunei. They had a busy 2015 delivering a range of creative projects, and there is more to come in 2016. To appreciate what they do, read on to understand the 'why' behind their what. Check out their Instagram @thecreativecorebn and find out more about them here.
Who are you?
My name is Charlotte, and I am passionate about the art of Dance. I have been dancing since I was four, I did my sixth form in England [Tring Park School for the Performing Arts]. While in Tring, I discovered contemporary dance and fell in love with freedom within this dance form. I then went on to pursue it in a contemporary dance institute in Canada for a year. I then did an internship at Asia Inc Forum and got interested in events. So I went on to study a Bachelor of Business in Australia.
I came back to Brunei noticing that the creative industry is still growing and decided to put both passions together to form The Creative Core BN.
What is The Creative Core BN?
That is a very big question. The Creative Core BN (TCCBN) exists to gather local artists of various fields within our community together to connect with each other, share personal experiences and experiment with new ideas. I believe that TCCBN will develop and continue to evolve over time, however, at present, this is what it is.
Why did you decide to start this "project"?
One thing that acts as the main inspiration and drive of TCCBN is our interest in the individual behind the art, hence, the “creative core”. This means that we put our focus on connecting with artists on a human level as much as we do connecting with them through their works. The human being behind the art very much shapes the art itself, in whatever form it may present itself in. and that! We want to tell their story. I guess, just as you do here at Projek Brunei; sharing the stories of individuals in our nation.
The other side of things of course, is our interest in the arts. I must say this side of things is as important. To put it simply, Michelle (co-founder) sings, and I dance.... at the same time. Haha. Michelle is a self-taught singer - song writer and musician. She has a great ear for music and plays the keyboard, ukulele and guitar. Her unique voice is loved by many, including myself of course. :)
Along with this, we also had the privilege of seeing many many talented individuals here in Brunei over the years. The country may be small, but the talent here is awesome! When we started talking about the idea of TCCBN in 2013, we saw a gap that needed to be filled, and that gap was the absence of platforms or opportunities for these artists to showcase their works. We’re not saying that TCCBN will be the ones to fill that gap, but we would like to see what we can do contribute to this, together with the other creative enthusiasts out there. At the beginning of 2015, we saw that the creative industry was present; though small, it was picking up in pace. We decided then that it would be a good time to step into this and to see what would come out of it.
Are you able to use your experiences from overseas here in Brunei?
Definitely! I think it’s a beautiful thing when we choose to make use of our past experiences to create something new ‘today’. Many things that I have learnt or experienced within the arts and events scene whilst in Canada and Australia have shaped the way that I plan, think and connect with others.
What has The Creative Core BN done in its first year?
January 2015 marked the beginning of our journey. We have split our year up into different seasons with 1 major event and smaller pre-events (e.g. workshops) to fill it up. We have done so as to focus and delve into one form of art at a time as there is much to discover.
In our first year, we had two main seasons, plus a little initiative in December to wrap up the year. First, our dance season ran from April - July. The season started out with a 3-part video series called I AM. Dancer. The production of this series in collaboration with Beluneu Films looked to present the why and who behind the what. The stories and dance works of 3 local dancers / choreographers were featured; Aizat, Adeline & Hanif. We ended the season with Dancers Meet 2015; a night showcasing the creative process and works of the 3 featured choreographers.
In August, we moved into our Music Season. In the duration of the 4-month long season, we once again had the opportunity to take a look into the heart and soul behind a musicians work and presented it to the community through video features. Following on from that, we opened up a space where local musicians, both up and coming & established, had the opportunity to meet, share, learn and inspire each other in this journey; #WORKSHOPMONTH. We had the privilege of having our local and international singer-songwriter Eia on board as a coach throughout the 3 workshop weekends.
The season ended on a high with a fun collaboration with the collective to put together a major jam session with musicians across our community; The Big Jam.
To wrap up the year, we decided to celebrate the holiday season with a little bit of kindness; #randomactsofkindnessbn. Anyone and Everyone could get involved by doing a simple act of kindness. The purpose for this initiative is to encourage people to continue to put the focus on what is most important. At the end of the day, it the hearts and the lives behind the art that matter most.
That was our first year! We had a lot of fun meeting new people and trying out things that we had never done before.
On local culture and the role it plays in your decisions.
Well, over the past year, we have seen a big, positive growth in the public’s perspective and interest towards the creative industry. It’s great! It’s even greater to see companies like the collective as well as Kaleidoscope holding more and more art events. They are paving the way for other creatives in this nation, including us. We owe them much!
This however, does not mean that there are any hurdles for the individuals pursuing arts, whether as a hobby or a career. Therefore, the decisions we make and actions that we take are sometimes still heavily reliant on local guidelines. This does not mean that we are restricted nor discouraged. Limitations and boundaries often times pushes us to think outside the box and push our personal borders, which is great!
On challenges faced in doing public art related events.
There were many challenges of course, because #life. Hah! However, because of the paved path before us we had a pretty good run in 2015, seeing that it is our first year. We had much support from the public as well as those who have been on this journey for a while, which was more than we could have asked for.
I guess our main challenge in 2015 was an internal one. As in, a challenge we faced within our own in-house team. Due to the fact that it was our first year, we had many firsts, many tasks, that we were not really prepared for logistically. (Communication is hard!) I will say that team work is something that needs to be practiced and worked at. :p
Who have you worked with in past events?
We had the honour of working with a couple of amazing human beings last year: The guys from the local film company, Beluneu Films, Shinny from the collective, the artist- illustrator Chynna Tan, UBD TV, Eia, Relentless Entertainment, Community of Dance and many more local creators who were involved in our seasons.
What do you hope to see in 2016?
Our motto is Impart. Impact. Inspire. For the artists, we want them to come to our events with an open heart and mind to share AND learn something new; to be imparted with new skills and knowledge and in turn impart their skills and knowledge into the greater community.
We would hope for TCCBN’s events and creative works to make a significant mark, print, impact whatever you may call it, in our society. To educate and inspire others to open up their hearts and minds to art, and all that it carries with it.
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