Rediscover Brunei Darussalam through the eyes of the People
As Brunei celebrates its 32nd National Day, I had the privilege of being there in person for the first time to witness the celebration from a new perspective. I remember being in St. Andrew's School, taking part in the flag waving portion of the day. I didn't know much about the celebrations, but one thing I was always excited about was the sight of His Majesty passing by, waving to everyone.
The day began as early as 6:00 am as people started to fill the roads in preparation for the annual national day march. As I stood there watching some groups practice their march for the parade, while others excitedly fixed their uniforms. I could feel the excitement.
The time had come.
As the arrival of His Majesty's entourage caught my attention from the distance, there I stood with the same anticipation as when I had been a flag waving schoolboy. From the arrival of His Majesty to the march-pass, the performance and the departure, it was heartwarming to see not only the locals but also foreigners and tourists celebrating this joyous occasion with us in harmony and as one nation.
Personally, the march pass was one of the highlights of the day . The participants of the parade included school students and teachers, public corporations, scouts, sports teams, and many more. It was a joy to see people of all ages and background marching as one.
Here are some photographs from the day...
"Challenges have potential to bring about change. Challenges must be handled wisely. Wisdom determines the pattern of the change to something better," said His Majesty on the 32nd National Day titah.
Editor's Note: The local FnB culture remains strong, and the cafe scene is growing. The last 12 months have seen a number of new places pop-up, and Nerdee is one of them. We visited them recently. The first things we noticed were the fun sounds and colours. People were laughing, board game tokens were getting passed around, cards were being shuffled and slammed onto tables, quirky food and colourful drinks were sprawled across tables... This place is a fun place. Follow their journey on FB and on Instagram @nerdee.cafe
p.s. Diana and Bernard, your profile photographs are gold! =)
Share with us a bit about yourselves.
Diana: I am currently doing financial planning in a company in Brunei, and have been there for two years now! My background studies is in Health Science. I did my studies in Brunei and Melbourne. It was Melbourne that raised the bar for me in regards to how cafes can look and be.
Bernard: Cooking is my passion and the kitchen is my playground. I have always loved it when people go “WOW” after having a meal I prepared. I started cooking with my grandma at the age of five (steamed eggs with cut up sausages), and I recently spent three years in Singapore studying culinary arts. I also worked in various cafes and hotels there.
Tell us about Nerdee Cafe.
Diana: Nerdee is a lab-themed board game cafe. The main idea behind the cafe is to have people talking, reconnecting and laughing at the table. The board games are excuses to put those mobile phones and devices away. We love what we have seen so far: children and adults with no phones in their hands. Friends, children and parents are laughing and interacting. We aim to give a fun experience to all patrons, and at the same time, promote and grow the interest in board games in our country!
Bernard: It’s THE place to be at the moment. And we are really humbled by the support of every single one of our customers. We see people from all ages and we love that! From regular customers who is a three year old girl who keeps coming with her mother...to an elderly lady who brings her family back again and again. It’s a place where we hope to bring a little more color into Brunei.
How did you come up with the concept of the cafe?
Diana: Well, for the board game part, both Bernard and I did our own travels. Coincidentally we visited some board game cafes on our own before we started talking about opening a cafe together in late 2014.
Bernard: Yeah! It was weird. One day right after work when I was Singapore, out of the blue, Diana called and said, “Hey! Remember we had talked about opening a café in the future - back when we were in Secondary 4? You want to open a café together?” The rest was history! Things were not as easy as ABC or 123! Take the name for example, we (by we I mean she) almost named our café “SHIOK LA!” *shudder*
Diana: Haha, we each came up with a list of names. We finally settled on a name, but apparently a tile company had already taken it. Haha. It took us a whole day driving around together to come up with the name NERDEE (which is a combination of our nick names). In terms of the Chemistry Lab theme, Bernard suggested it! So it went from there.
Bernard: In all of our individuals travels, we thought to ourselves, if this and that country can have it, why not Brunei? So we decided to bring it into our community!
How has the response been?
Bernard: We are about three months old now. It has been an incredible ride thanks to the public. The response has been favourable and we hope to keep it that way. We love interacting with our customers whether they are retuning or brand new to the whole concept. That way we can grow, serve and host everyone better.
Which board games are a must?
Bernard : Hmmmmm this is a tough one. We have over 120 different games, and every game has been played at least once by our guests. But if I had to choose, I would always suggest people start off with Speed Cups, Ghost Blitz and Moustache Smash. Then slowly move onto Pass The Bomb, BANG! and Machikoro. These are games that you have probably have never seen or heard of, and they may sound overwhelming, but the kick that you get out of them is music to our ears! (We have guest shouting "WHERE CAN?! Anyhow play one!! PACAH JUA!")
Tell us about the food and drinks on offer at the cafe.
Bernard: There isn't a specific (food) theme. It is really about experimenting and fusion. A lot of times we tend to think that our resources here in Brunei (in terms of food) are limited, but I say, use local! Instead of saying you wish you had that particular ingredient that is only available in say...Papua New Guinea...why not work with something Brunei has? We buy all our ingredients from local supermarkets and wet markets. I love it when our guests go "WOW that looks good!" or when I see returning guests ordering the same things again and again! But the one thing I must say is that we do not use any MSG or Ajinomoto or even chicken cubes! That is something I am really proud of.
Diana: The drinks are from the "Lab Bar", served in beakers, conical flasks, reagent bottles, etc. We have more ideas we will share with Nerdee customers in months to come. We look to have more where you are pouring and seeing reactions in your drinks.
Which are the popular food items?
Bernard: Our menu is constantly evolving and adapting to the needs and wants of our guests! What has stayed with us so far these months are our Nachos (with beef sauce made from scratched! I mean I don't grow my own beans or raise my own cows...but you get the idea) and our Kimchi Noodles. It is something that will have a special place in my heart because the Kimchi is made in-house! Our new offering, the Doughwich, is not your normal sandwich! It plays with your senses - sweet toasty doughnuts with a savoury spread.
What do you hope to see for Nerdee Cafe in 2016?
Bernard: I think in 2016, with how things are going, we are looking take the whole Ner Dee Café experience up a whole ‘nother level. We (thankfully) have managed to pull an integral man into our core team. He joined us in our starter team and now he's like family! Have you met Sid?
Sid: Hi! I am thrilled to be with Ner Dee Café as the Game Ambassador. We just brought in some new games and we have some events (game nights, board game competitions, etc) coming up this year. It is going to be an exciting one for sure.
Bernard: Yeah, like Sid said, we believe 2016 will be an exciting one! We personally would love to see ourselves grow in all areas: our board games, food items, the ever evolving drinks and even our service towards YOU - our Nerds in action!
Is there anything you would like to say to the public? To those who have already visited and those who have yet to give it a try?
Bernard: Thank you for your tremendous support! Like, really! We are tremendously blessed to have been able to make your experiences at Ner Dee Cafe a worthwhile one. For those who have yet to join, well, if you REALLY want to know like know KNOW your boyfriend or girlfriend or children, play a round of different boardgames with them here at Ner Dee cafe! Like honestly...all bets are off in battle. GAME ON!
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!
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