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Jacqueline Liew, 29, became the 10th recipient of the prestigious Fulbright scholarship in 2013, winning a place on the MA programme in Educational Theatre at the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. Jackie, who is currently an education officer at Sekolah Menengah Rimba, is no stranger to either overseas education or prestigious scholarships, having previously won the Brunei Government Special Scheme Scholarship in 2001 to pursue her A-Levels and a degree in English Literature in the United Kingdom. I talked to Jackie about her time in England, her time in America (to date) and what it means to go abroad.
You were a Special Scheme Scholar from 2001-2006. Can you tell me a little bit about what that was like?
It was the best time of my life! Just the opportunity to study in UK is every Bruneian teenager’s dream. I was really naïve though at that time, despite having visited UK several times before on holiday. I was certainly unprepared for life in a boarding house and being away from family for such a long period of time. Going to boarding school was stuff that I’d only read about in Enid Blyton’s “Naughtiest girl in School” series. I suffered culture shock, it certainly took some time to adjust to life in a boarding house full of girls: sharing a room with someone from another country and waking up super early so I don’t have to queue for the bathroom and getting used to listening to other people’s “business” (hahaha!).
In the months that led up to it, I was just so excited and couldn’t wait to leave. I started packing like months before, just throwing clothes into my suitcase and telling the other scholars about it and getting laughed at. But I didn’t care; I was going to study in UK! One thing I remember most clearly was filling in the form. I can still remember the three boxes we had to fill in for our choices. Initially, I had put Medicine as my first choice but after much discussion with the family and deep thought, I put Physics as my first choice, Maths as my second and English as my last one. It was after a talk with you that I changed my choice. I think I changed it quite a few times and the boxes had so many layers of Tippex on it that you could crack the paper in half if you folded it. I finally decided on English as my first choice because I believed that it would give me a better chance of getting the scholarship.
On adjusting to a different academic system.
It was a bit difficult getting used to school there, the girls were very outspoken and confident, they were brought up to be vocal and that is something I am still struggling with today. Students were encouraged to speak up in class and voice their opinions and to argue their points. Something I was completely unused to…here I was coming from a non-English literature background and I couldn’t tell my metaphors from my similes. I was quite an avid reader but read mostly for fun and would have never thought about analyzing or reading in between the lines. Or learning about the context in which a text was written or appreciate how and why it was written. I didn’t know how to ‘read’.
My forte had always been Maths and the sciences and I was suddenly plunged into the world of English literature, I was drowning in a sea of terminology. I remember breaking down in tears one time over a poem by Ivor Gurney. We had to spend 15 minutes analyzing it and nothing came to my mind. I burst into tears and ran into the toilet. My teacher had to run in after me to talk me out of the stall. What followed was extra classes with her and “Why didn’t you say you needed help?” A stupid mentality I took with me from Brunei of not asking for help from the teacher because I had too much pride. I learnt how to use a library, how to write and reference properly and to just have the confidence to ask my teachers questions after that. But I still really struggled with voicing my opinions in class or saying anything. My heart would beat fast and I would feel the words on the tip of my tongue but my lips would never move and I would always second-guess myself and then when another girl said what I was thinking, I would regret that I didn’t say it. It was so much inner turmoil sitting in class.
On the other hand, math and physics lessons were a cinch for me.
It got a bit better in university but again I would have moments where words would escape me or I would just lose all confidence because I was scared to hear my own voice. Really silly.
Boarding School Days
Picture with members from SEEDS
Receiving the Fulbright scholarship in 2013
Orientation in New York
After you graduated, you came back to Brunei to teach – and you were thrown into Sekolah Menengah Berakas. What was it like coming back to Brunei after all those years away?
It was another culture shock. It made me realize what a bubble we lived in while studying in Maktab Sains (Jackie was a student in Maktab Sains from 1996-2001). It is so detached and far away from the reality that is Brunei. We had such grand views of ourselves and then of going on to study in the UK - I never truly knew Brunei until I came back. My views or what I thought I knew about home all changed.
Looking back now, I am so glad that I was put into a school like Berakas. It made me see home so differently, the glossy picture of Brunei that I once held in mind had suddenly taken on very disturbing features. It’s also the naivety of someone who has had no experience of being a government servant, I didn’t have many relatives who worked for the government at that time, so I sort of entered the government school teaching world with zero expectations. I can still remember the conversation I had with the principal on my first day. I was unaware of the ‘reputation’ of Berakas and thought that the principal was very peculiar when he asked me “So, you have never heard anything about this school?” I guess it is very easy to become detached from the reality of home when you spend five years overseas especially when you don’t have anyone to talk to, someone to sort of give you a heads-up, who already had the experience of teaching.
Even now, I am learning a lot of things about the government school system at home. I only found out this year from my year 8 students that I was the first non-Malay, non-Muslim teacher they have ever had and up to the point when they met me, they were unaware that there were non-Malay Bruneians. At one point, I actually took out my IC to show the kids that I was a local. Now, I understand why it was so hard for them to get used to me and also helped me in understanding my peers a bit better as well.
My first year at school was very stressful to say the least, I didn’t know how to control a class, I was a young and new teacher and the students could smell that from a mile away. I sounded different from them so that didn’t help with the alienation I felt. I didn’t know how to write a lesson plan and was unaware of the many rules that come with being a government teacher like asking for permission to leave the country, not being able to leave the country during certain days etc.
Just the transition from being a student to a teacher, going into a school like Berakas without any prior pedagogical knowledge. I was expecting to teach English literature, Shakespeare, how to read a play and there I was trying to remember the rules of grammar and cope with all the responsibilities of a teacher. There is a stereotype of Bruneians who have studied overseas: kambang, macam kacang lupakan kulit etc…I can see why but it was something that I had to disprove in my school.
I met Bernie at TEDxKL. I recall noticing her working away during one of the networking breaks. I thought to myself, "What is she doing?" One by one, her sketches filled the foyer. I then read up about Sketch Post Studio and got in touch with her. She's graciously agreed to share her story here. Personally, this feature is a reminder about being a good steward with existing skill sets and talents. Be inspired.
I'd like to start with a game - word association - just respond to the following with the first thing(s) that come to mind. E.g. I say 'music' and you say 'dancing'.
- Cooking, There’s always time for food.
- White, Chocolate
- Love, Singapore
- Malaysia, Family
- Money, Infinite
What do you do?
I’m a graphic recorder. I basically draw a lot.
Describe yourself in a few words.
Always happy to be around pens.
Tell us about the genesis of Sketch Post Studio. Did you stumble upon the idea? A long time hobby? Borne out of necessity?
Illustration has always come naturally to me as a child. I found my skills to be most valuable as I attended conferences and began illustrating notes as talks and discussions went on in my notebook. Used illustration as a tool to support my learning and understanding of a topic. It was an instant capture of key points and interesting quotes. Organisers, guests and speakers loved them and it was a beautiful way to celebrate the content and exchange of ideas. The professional term used to describe this is graphic recording.
After a few years of practicing graphic recording as an interest, I became confident in my work and decided to turn it into a profession by starting Sketch Post Studio.
Many have asked if my passion is illustration and my answer is no. My real interest is continuous learning. And Illustration or graphic recording is a tool that helps me learn about many different things while creating value for people around me.
Quite simply, graphic recording is about making ideas stick. By creating live large-scale graphic recordings at events and discussions, it’s a performance that supports the content being discussed. Many who witness it for the first time sit up and wonder, “Hey! What’s going on over there?” It draws attention to interesting ideas and quotes that may be missed or forgotten post-event.
Also, graphic recordings boost social media engagement, as they are ready for guests to photograph to post, tweet and share immediately. With beautiful summaries of the sessions, guests can instantly use them as references for discussions.
Meet Jae. Jae handles marketing and promotions at a local financial institution, and he's the owner of Chaps & Rebels. It is an e-business selling quality hair styling products. Jae also offers slick haircuts with homage to retro. Follow the Chaps & Rebels journey on Instagram and Facebook.
Describe yourself in a few words.
Always a dreamer and I’m stuck in the 80’s. Hombre to his two boys.
Success is an accumulation of everyday small successes. I call it a success if I make a guy smile after my cut or from getting pomade from me. You know - every day small things that people tend to overlook.
Tell us about Chaps & Rebels. The beginnings, the inspiration behind it, where is it at now, and the response so far.
Chaps & Rebels brings hard to find gentlemen products, especially pomades. No one is selling pomades in Brunei so we bring it. Still a humble beginning; I hope to hit the big time one day when there’s enough capital to invest in a proper barbershop. Now it's a DIY barber operating from home. It has always been a dream to have a barbershop at the back of my head since ages ago but I’d never thought that I was going to go pick-up a scissor and do it myself. We cut hair ourselves back then at the school hostel in our teens so the inspiration must have come from there. Response has been good and so far and the schedule is full every weekend.
What does a 'Chap & Rebel' look like?
They look like the normal Joe, like you and me, Lovers, Ravers and Rockers. We all have two sides - the good chaps and the inner rebels in ourselves. So no matter if a chap is working in the office or riding his motorcycle on the street we all have one thing in common - we care about how we look. Good hair is a good start.
Tell us about your products. Who would use them?
At the moment we have a good selection of pomades from grease base to water base. Uppercut deluxe, Suavecito, Imperial, Layrite, JS Sloane are the best sellers. Soon we will add shave cream, moisturizer and shampoo to the list. Our customers range from teenage boys to gentlemen to ladies even.
Where do you see Chaps & Rebels in one to three years?
A proper barbershop.
"Chaps & Rebels - Pomades & Haircut for Lovers, Rockers and Ravers"
“Travel broadens the mind.”
“You should travel to gain experience.”
“You learn more from travelling than from school.”
We've all heard these things being said, and probably nodded along wisely to them, but how many of us have considered what kind of travelling this entails? Because, don't be fooled – not all kinds of travelling are created equal.
If you ask a Bruneian why they are going on holiday, you'll probably hear variations of just one response: Shopping!
Here's a quick check to see if you are that kind of traveller:
All your holiday stories centre around prices and discounts and brands and overweight luggage.
Pre-holiday, you are excited about the amount of shopping in your future and the stores you are going to hit.
When someone says they are going on holiday to Country X, you immediately recommend they visit a store.
Your photographs of you on holiday are mostly of you at cafes (lunch break during shopping), you in front of a branded store, you in front of a branded window display, you inside the store, bits of you in dressing rooms trying on shoes/jeans/gorgeous outfits, you carrying bags of shopping or you and all your shopping laid out in the hotel room.
Your bags going there are half empty, and you have to unzip the extension coming back. Also, you can arrange for shipping with both eyes closed.
If you said yes to most of these, then, dear reader, you may have a problem. But, hang on, what is the alternative? Dank and boring museums? And... and... more museums? And let's face it, if you visit a museum, the part that most Bruneians would find most exciting would be the gift shop.
I have always felt that Bruneians need to travel more and not just to “shop”. When you are in Singapore, don't spend all your time in and out of shops on Orchard Road. When you visit KL, don't limit yourself to Bukit Bintang. If you fly (or drive) to KK, don't hole up in 1Borneo. And please don't spend a trip to the UK only going from Harrods to Marks and Spencer's.
There are lots of things to do on holiday which do not involve shopping.
Let's take Singapore, a popular Bruneian travel experience. In Singapore, you can visit the botanical gardens, the zoo (which does a fun Night Safari), Sentosa and it's myriad theme park attractions, the bird park. Or buy takeout from your favourite food places and have a picnic at night at Marina Barrage. It's windy, there's a great view of the bay, people fly glow in the dark kites, and it's FREE!
In KK, another common destination for us, don't hole up at 1Borneo, have a beach holiday. Go paragliding, learn to snorkel (or even dive!), lie on the beach and build sand castles. And on Sunday, go to Gaya Street market. You don't have to buy anything, but it is fun to wander around the stalls. Or stay in a chalet at the national park, and if you are young (and fit) enough, CLIMB Mount Kinabalu!
I may have lost some of the dedicated travel-to-shop-ers at this point who are frowning and shaking their heads and making faces at how boring or uncomfortable these holidays sound. So let me just say that there is nothing wrong with shopping on holiday – it is definitely one of the BEST parts of a holiday. However, it isn't (and SHOULDN'T be) the ONLY part of a holiday.
After all, experience is about trying new things – not doing the same old things over and over again. So if you are serious about travelling to broaden your mind, to gain experience, and to learn, you will have to leave behind the cool air-conditioned comfort of the shopping mall, throw off your burden of shopping bags and step out. Literally.
About the Contributor: Joyce 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.”
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.
About 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.
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