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Wednesday, 04 December 2013 11:28

2013 was the year where Brunei's structures renovated itself to fulfil the tagline of 'Abode of Peace'. This is more evident if you live near the capital, where the roads leading towards critical places like the ICC, Prime Minister's Office building, Gadong and Jerudong went through massive road renovations. What once filled the tyre of our cars with dread was now replaced by smooth driving from one place to another. It has been a very good year for our roads.

ASEAN and East Asian Summit were the culprits for these road improvements. Where once people complained about how the area around the stadium was not fit for running, there were less fuss despite the occasional flaws to the sidewalks and roads. People ran this year's many 5Ks with a good footing below their running shoes. The roads have improved!

For me though, this is a troubling sign as our position as citizens. It took foreign dignitaries and delegations to come to Brunei--from the prospect of Barack Obama gracing our soils (and asphalt!) to the hundreds of media personnels--for Brunei's authorities to finally take a step forward in improving the state of our roads. And even so, these improvements are only done at strategic areas, most of which went through extremely last minute push to cover the potholes that graces our roads here, there and everywhere.

The roads in Lambak (Kanan, Kiri, Tengah, Atas, Bawah, etc) are still heavily damaged.

The roads I use around my Kampong, for instance, have been damaged for an extremely long time. They are infested with potholes that are incredibly damaged that they can potentially cause accidents. Drivers are forced to take different sides of the roads despite their speed, zooming left and right like a pinball to avoid the deep potholes that can be found almost everywhere. This is extremely dangerous, and more so as these potholes plagued areas are also in close proximity to schools.

Year after year, people write letters to the editors of newspapers about this problem. Year after year, people complain to their Ketua Kampongs to get the roads fixed. But authorities would only fix it every so often. Even if they've fixed the roads, the potholes come back in a time span that is incredibly quick. I left Brunei earlier this year for nearly two months. Before I left, I saw people fixing an incredibly damaged road, one that is not safe to drive through at all, but is one of the main roads of my kampong. I was excited to finally see the area being fixed because it looked like a war broke out on that stretch of road. But when I came back two months later, the roads were already broken--black and fresh asphalt falling into the previous filled in pothole, unable to carry the weight of heavy trucks, my neighbours' towing their boats or a parent bringing a van filled with their family.

To fix an area to impress foreigners is crucial, I think, but what's even more important is the fact that citizens who have to deal with these problems every single day for years now. We don't have a space where our opinions are taken into heavy considerations, and when we bring the problems to Ketua Kampongs, they don't have much authority either. We are powerless, but foreigners are made to stay in Brunei and make it their home. They don't have to deal with the potholes for a long time, but we do. Every single day, I drive through dangerous roads, whether it's in Berakas or Gadong or Bunut or Seria. It makes me question what my worth is as a citizen in Brunei, that my country--that is gorgeous and I think has the best skies in the world--is made ugly because no one wants to fix the road.

There is an authority whose job it is to look into the road conditions in Brunei. They were recently featured on Rampai Pagi to talk about their duties. Their job is to find broken roads, particularly potholes, and get it fixed as soon as they can. However, on the edges of the Hassanal Bolkiah highway leading towards residential areas, you would notice how the roads went from smooth to bumpy and broken after you pass the Airport. These roads have been like that for a majority of the year--where are these authorities?

The budget for Jabatan Kerja Raya (JKR) has grown in the past four years. In 2012, the budget for road structures alone was raised by 5.3 million BND as part of the preparation for ASEAN and EAS. Although I can't find the statistics for 2013's, I can safely say that with the amount of smooth roads in front of the JPM building, that they have more money this year than previously. But a majority of the money to fixing roads are not spent on citizens, they are spent on keeping appearance to people who only have to be in Brunei for a week. Why are we--as people who live in Brunei, who are the cogs and screw that runs the country--not worthy of good roads?

I've concluded this: Potholes is a metaphor in Brunei. It's a chip, a massive chip, in our society. It's a chip that no one wants to fix because it isn't viewed as important to appear good for your citizens. We talk big to foreigners--like how Brunei is great, peaceful and calm--but we ourselves can't seem to improve our own livelihoods. We are so invested on caring for people that we forget our own worth and value. You can advise me--or anyone--to avoid the potholes or to deal with it, but avoiding it means not fixing it. We need to fix broken things. Would you leave the leak on your roof alone when there are other consequences to it ranging from having your house collapsing and losing your loved ones? You wouldn't.

We all have value as citizens and our government should try to impress us too. Subsidies are great, but it's also the government's job to ensure our roads are safe for us to drive and walk through. Brunei is my home and the broken roads have been forced to be a part of my home, and I don't like seeing my home broken and abandoned underneath the weight that will make it collapse.

teahprofAbout the Contributor: Teah is the co-founder of Bruneians:Read, an organisation aiming to strengthen literacy and education in Brunei through reading. She is also the editor-in-chief of the Brunei based writing zine, Songket Alliance.

Be sure to also read Teah's previous piece - 5 Things Bruneians Need to Talk About.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013 15:24

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Mohd Syafiq Haji Abu Bakar, popularly known to friends as Mr Syaf, is the co-founder of Seeds, a non-profit drama education organization for students. Seeds, (formerly SEEDS - Students’ Extracurricular and Educational Dramatic Society), which celebrates its fifth anniversary this year, has become known in the Bruneian theatre community for its annual all-student (from cast to crew) musical productions – ranging from Oliver! The Musical, to Willy Wonka, to last year’s hugely popular The Wicked Witch.

Mr Syaf, 30, graduated from UBD with a BA in Education, and is currently the head of the English Language department at Sekolah Menengah Awang Semaun.

On the birth of Seeds.

My wife (Siti Zuliana Haji Masri, co-founder of Seeds) and I are members of the Brunei Amateur Dramatic Society. One night during a production, her friends asked her if there was anything like it for locals, especially students. That's when she talked to me about starting a group to help promote the arts. We realized that such opportunities for locals were very limited. So in 2008 we got a group of teachers together to help with the planning.

In the first school break of 2009, we held our first workshop for those in government schools. Our plan was to concentrate on government school students as they were the ones who lack the most opportunities. We wanted to give them a platform to allow them to showcase their creative talent. And so Seeds was born.

On the Bruneian creative industries, the SPN21 inclusion of drama into the curriculum, and the role of Seeds.

I think the creative industries isn’t pushed enough especially for the kind of talent we have here. A lot of Bruneians are struggling in the arts. Most have to commit to day jobs in order to survive.

The SPN21 introduction of Drama as an option for year 7s and year 8s can help push the arts forward provided that the push is not just through the curriculum but also through awareness-raising activities that involve the public.

This is where Seeds comes in. When we started five years ago, options were limited for locals to be involved in the arts, especially the performing arts. So what Seeds does is provide opportunities for students of government schools and institutions to showcase their talent without the constraints of curriculum or the financial commitment of being a working artist. We provide a platform or a home for these youths at no charge at all, and we assist and guide them to enhance their talent. The goal is to help them realize there is a place for the arts in Brunei and that they can use the arts no matter what their future has in store for them.

In doing so, Seeds' focus when it comes to the arts is not limited or heavily influenced by western culture. We put together an art culture mixed with the Bruneian way of life. That way, not only do we give these youths awareness of the arts but also proper life skills in the Bruneian context.

Seeds5 Reunite

Seeds5 Reunite

A scene from Seeds2 Into The Woods

A scene from Seeds2 Into The Woods

Seeds Your Yellow Brick Road Workshop in collaboration with FASS UBD

Seeds Your Yellow Brick Road Workshop in collaboration with FASS, UBD

Seeds2 Graduation Night at MPH UBD

Seeds2 Graduation Night at MPH, UBD

On the development of theatre in Brunei.

Theatre in Brunei still has a long way to go. The creative industries are a big area to focus on and the problems within it are not small. Theatre might just be the least of their worries, as evidenced by various recent stage performances which functioned more as "show events" rather than focusing on theatre as a craft. The use of big names, guests of honour, one-off performances and the lack of a proper venue show how far behind we are in understanding what goes into a theatrical production.

The focus of theatre should be on the talent and not on who the audience is, the number of audience members, what can be done to entertain the audience etc. Forget about lucky draws, guests of honour, hosts or hostesses. Yes, some people say these factors are very Bruneian but why can’t appreciation of talent be Bruneian? The focus should and must always be on the talent.

I think Bruneian theatre is a lost art, clouded by how we view official events today. It has been so long since theatre has been showcased to the public that people forget what matters. Theatre can still be Bruneian without the factors I have mentioned and this is what Seeds is really working hard on, to try and raise awareness to locals on how we can shape theatre and the arts into our own cultural entity.

For example, we instil MIB values into our rehearsals and performances and we edit our plays, while being careful about not losing quality. We organize our events to accommodate prayer times, the elderly and we still have VIPs (because it is apparently so Bruneian) but without putting the focus on them.

I think you just need to be selective in what you can and cannot bring to theatre here. As long as the talent is still the focus, there is no harm in bringing Bruneian culture in.

There is a need to change and update. In fact, there is also a need to dig up and study what theatre was like in Brunei historically. I'm sure they never had lucky draws or prizes to be won on show nights!

I know that you try to attend most of the theatrical performances in Brunei. What are your thoughts on Bruneian theatre currently?

Yes, I try my best to attend all performing arts performances in Brunei, not just the theatrical ones. Performer-wise, I believe there is plenty of talent and potential and it is amazing to see the amount going on these days. Unfortunately, most performances here seem to focus more on the event rather than the showcasing of the talent which in my opinion takes the fun away. Theatre especially is not done right in some cases. People need to understand the importance of time management for example when holding a theatrical performance. To say one thing on the posters or tickets and to completely go against that is a breach of trust with the audience. This has happened way too many times in events held by too many different organizers and in my opinion is the number 1 problem that really needs to be solved.

Then there is also the idea of a guest of honour. I am not entirely against this but I think a separate event should be held for such occasions especially when you have paying customers. Organizers need to look into the norms here and really be selective of what to include in their performance. Yes, some things are the Bruneian way and we shouldn't follow everything western but that is not the point here. When it comes to performing arts, it doesn't have to be western-influenced but the elements in these events do need to be logical.

Seeds1 Theatre Sports at Rimba 1 Primary School

Seeds1 Theatre Sports at Rimba 1 Primary School

Sound of Seeds

Sound of Seeds

Written by Delwin Keasberry Monday, 18 November 2013 11:04

Naforrer Prof2Farhanna Pura is an analyst by day and fashion designer by night. She's the visionary and chief-everything-officer behind the online boutique, Na Forrer. She was a panellist in the Reality of Women in Business eBunda Cafe session in 2011, and in April 2013, Na Forrer was showcased in the United Kingdom at the Regent's College Fashion Week. Check out Na Forrer online and follow her journey on Instagram and FB.

Describe yourself in a few words.
I am a random odd individual with big dreams.

Tell us about Na Forrer.
Na Forrer was born in May 2010. It first started as an online boutique showcasing one piece Ready-To-Wear outfits designed for stylish young professionals between the ages of 18 to 35. The website itself had an automated pay system. Though, I found out that most Bruneians do not favour the idea of using their credit cards online.

Most of my clients are career women, who often want to look good for events and dinners. Most complained that they could not find decent outfits for an occasion. This is also because most Bruneian ladies have unique shapes and sizes. With this, Made to Measure has become the main business of Na Forrer and the website is now a platform to showcase designs.

Social Media has been good to me. Instagram and Facebook have always been the mediums used to contact and view some of designs as most designs can be found on the website itself. Because I married a handy man and a talented web designer, my husband has been maintaining the website which enables the business to be known and exposed to the International market. My current clients are from Brunei, Singapore and London.

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Let's take a step back; where does the name "Na Forrer" come from?
The label name Na Forrer is a combination of my nickname, Nana and my surname Pura (it doesn't sound like Forrer yet but let me get to that). I wanted something that screams "couture". My father was named after my grandfather's colleague, Forrer which was stated in his birth cert (Ak Mohd Forrer) but grandmother decided to Malay-fy his name to Pura. That's how Na Forrer came about.

What is the inspiration behind your designs?
My collections and designs are inspired by seasons. For example if it is time for Spring-Summer, I bring out bright colors and crazy colorful graphics. I am not really an “on trend” type of designer. I would go for something with style that flatters a woman's body. Celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicole Richie are my go to for style inspiration.

Most times, I would assess the customer's personality that matches their style to create the perfect outfit for them. So, I feel my clients are also part of my inspiration.

How would you describe the style of Na Forrer?
The Na Forrer garment has a strong and bold element to it. Infusing modern and trendy designs, the silhouette and cut stays traditional and classy to flatter the woman's body. 

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Thursday, 14 November 2013 17:13

Kabir3Abdul Kabir bin Zainidi is a Bruneian actor who is currently residing in Paris, France. He trained at the Cours Florent acting school in Paris from 2007-2010, where he won the best actor Lesley Chatterely Award in 2010 for his acting in a production of ‘Angels in America’. He is perhaps best known in Brunei as having the first Bruneian film selected into the Cannes film festival – ‘Bread Dream’ was selected for showcase in the 2012 short film corner.

Tell me about yourself.
Greetings. I am a Bruneian-born French-based artist called Abdul Zainidi. Granted, an unusual choice for a stage name but since arriving in Europe and mainly studying in England I have come to accept being called Abdul Zainidi instead of Abdul Khabir Bin Zainidi. Plus I was born with this name so to avoid further dismaying my parent's intentions, I prefer to keep my birth name as they had wanted. I feel it keeps my Bruneian roots and Islamic standing intact. At the same time the Zainidi name adds a touch of exoticism.

I consider myself truly an artist from Brunei, with my Bruneian short films made in Brunei 'Bread Dream' and 'Teluki' and 'Gagak dan Merak'. At the same time I am also a writer and I am influenced a lot by Gothic English and American literature and the writing of poets. Most of my work is rich in imagery and symbolism and draws upon symbiotics – I am influenced by Mary Shelley, the Bronte sisters, Edgar Allen Poe, Clark Ashton Smith and Sylvia Plath to name just a few. (There are more where that came from and as endless as the bottom of a well in the middle of the North Pole). I recently shot sequences of a music video for a DJ from Lyon, called DJ Bobot Wallas and that diverted away from my usual standard surrealistic work. It was a good experience, and shooting in the heart of Paris at the Eiffel tower proved unforgettable as the people you encounter. These small comforts are what make the task of making films bearable. It is an occupation that I try to live by and have learned to love. Although it certainly does not come easy to earn a steady income as such – what can I say? It is more about the artistic recognition that comes when you are part of very few from a humble country trying to make a difference.


Walk us through a typical day in the life of Abdul Zainidi, filmmaker.
Well on a general basis my daily routine consists mainly of getting up at least at nine in the morning because I feel the brain is active at this time and going jogging. Only during summer though as in other seasons I could risk freezing my talent and other nether regions of my body. I feel that artists should stay physically active and fit and this is accomplished through sport – I usually jog and swim and even partake in collective dance classes.

This may shock many people that know or follow my work but I rarely consume breakfast because I just don't feel the urge to glorify the most important meal of the day. I drink in its absence a sinful amount of coffee (an artist's beverage and filmmaker's ambrosia). Then if I have a shoot I consult with my actors or colleagues what time we are to convene and meet usually in the afternoon where I avoid eating completely. I only reward myself with lunch after a shoot. I feel that eating before makes me lethargic.

After a shoot, which could last for up to five hours, I then assess whether I am 'famished' and whether I have accomplished my objective for the day with a shoot. For me eating and making film are closely associated. There is a recurring theme of food in my work. I then return home after spending social time with friends / actors / collaborators. I don’t ignore dinner, on the contrary, I savour the feast as much as possible.

Being in my line of activity allows me to keep quite slim and active. Actually it is sport, moving the camera, processing the brain, resolving shots, following the actors with your lens. The myth is that actors exert more force than the filmmakers but in actuality it is the filmmakers who are more exhausted. Which is why I tend to sleep well after a good day's shoot - typically around 1 am in the morning, depending on deadlines.

Your work generally straddles and draws on your experience as a Bruneian and in France. How would you define a Bruneian artist? Conversely, do you think nationality has a place in art?
I feel that I represent a surreal, art-house, independent style of film movement from Brunei. As opposed to my other fellow Bruneian filmmakers who emphasize mainly action and comedy. I respect their work and suppose that residing abroad mainly in Paris has 'seeped' and 'leaked' itself into and shaped my work.

I am a fan of abstract art. I am influenced in equal measure by modern and contemporary art as well. The works of Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon and Edward Hopper are a few I am inspired by. Andy Warhol, Jean Basquiat and Yoko Ono are also artists I borrow some 'artistic tools' from. What I mean by 'artistic tool’ is that all of us artists - be we writers, painters, directors - we all have a certain feature that defines our work and just like in fashion, we all borrow and lend from each other and recycle it. In other words all artists are inspired by and borrow from each other. I have definitely borrowed, in my short films, the artistic tools of David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Charlie Chaplin…to name a few. It is to an extent all acceptable and as the saying goes 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.' However outright copying identically a style is just plain plagiarism.

Thursday, 24 October 2013 06:38

At 6:15 on a Sunday morning, I am at school. I take a few moments to shake the lethargy from my sleep-heavy limbs, climb out of the car, and head past five or six huge 22-seater buses, their drivers and teachers holding clipboards, consulting important looking documents.

I smile and wave at some of my friends, who look as bemused as I am sure I must. We summon the energy to grumble at how early it is, but it is mostly token grumbling, as insubstantial and brief as the coolness of the morning. We enjoy the novelty of the situation in our secret hearts. We are assigned little jobs – “Distribute these flags”, “Check for loiterers in the toilets” – and sent on errands – “Panggilkan prefek atu”, “Can you make an announcement to gather the students in the waiting area? Thanks”.

By 6:30, more people have arrived and my fellow early risers and I melt away into the crowd, remaining as inconspicuous as we can until it is time to get on the bus. Climb in, headcount, and we're off!

A few selfies later, I am watching the roads fill up as we approach Bandar. Daring Indian bus drivers make new lanes, squeezing into seemingly impossible gaps to get us ahead in the traffic. Old Haji bus drivers in their white caps “tsk” at the impudence and impatience of young drivers today. Impudent and impatient young Malay bus drivers behind their indifferent sunglasses look for opportunities to switch lanes, Kristal FM blaring from the radio. We all watch other faces in other buses and try to guess what schools they are from. I turn to glare at a squeal further down the bus that turns heads and the squealer, embarrassed, stops her frantic waving at a familiar face passing by, reaching instead for her mobile phone.

Near the Royal Regalia building in town, we are dropped off. Teachers and students swarm around the big buses like the small dinosaurs did around the mammoths in Pixar's “Ice Age”. Policemen halt us and wave us forward. We head out, not knowing our final destination, but watching for a familiar uniform in front of us, the faces of teachers we know. I keep an eye on those around me whilst chattering away with my friends. I am careful not to be a trailblazer. Our school move out and take up our positions – in front of the old Post Office building jostling for space, then in front of the old Bolkiah Cinema under fading posters, and are finally moved to in front of Standard Chartered Bank. We stand, squat, lean against convenient surfaces and eye the Dairy Queen. A serious debate arises concerning the merits of a cold DQ over a hot egg burger from one of the many street stalls.

A Maths teacher walking past overhears and calls out in passing, “Get both lah! You can afford it, what.” The girls and I exchange good-natured mutters about how men never seem to understand about diets.

Gossip ensues. Once in a while, sirens sound and students rush to their feet, eager to show their patriotism and do the job that we have gathered here to do. Hopes rise, and fall, dashed. Gossip resumes. Repeat.

At 9:30, THE cavalcade arrives, flags wave madly, we are marched in the SOAS field and out the other side, near the Yayasan complex. Everyone is issued one bottle of water and one packet of mostly rice and one piece chicken. We eat, rest, gossip and gripe our way through an hour. Then I rouse the troops and we and march them back to the buses and school.

When we alight at the end of the journey, I remind the students not to leave any personal belongings in the bus. They check, patting pockets to reassure themselves that they have their phones and wallets.

“Cher, can we go home now?” a few ask as they climb off. I nod my head and answer in the affirmative and mobile phones are whipped out, dexterous thumbs move fluidly over touchscreens and they disperse.

I climb into my car, happy at an easy day of work well done, content to enjoy the rest of my Sunday.

1150319 10200756948498558 2074737976 nEditor's Note: Mason Cooley once said, "Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are." You have just read a story by Joyce, a sneak peek into her world and some of her experiences. Who is Joyce? I asked her to share a little about herself.

She is a dedicated teacher at a Sixth Form centre in Brunei where she daily entreats, begs, threatens, cajoles and teases her students in an attempt to develop their skills in the English Language. She is a self-confessed bibliophile and excessive book addict who enjoys doodling, diving once every school holiday, messing about with bits of paper and string, and dancing in her car at traffic lights. In her free time, she annoys her fighting fish and long-suffering hamster who oversee her day to day adventures. She plagiarises from the Pixar cartoon “Up” to remind everyone that, “Adventure is out there!” and from Tae Joon in “A Beautiful You” to say, “Miracle is just another word for effort.”


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