Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Visit to Brunei

Oil transformed it into one of the richest countries on Earth. A strict Islamic code dominates both religious life and society as a whole, and the country's leader rules with absolute power.

Sauda Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait?

Nope, it's no where near the Middle East, and it's full of Malays, not Arabs.

Welcome to Brunei – a tiny, tropical country surrounded by Malaysia on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.

Being an Islamic country, you won't find much of a nightlife here, including any alcohol, but you will find virgin rainforest, water sports, and an ever-growing foodie scene.

This is a shot of a vendor making kebabs at a popular night market, a tasty snake for just a couple of dollars.

Having a long weekend on the calendar, I decided to check out the nation, which is about the size of Delaware.

Most sights lie within walking distance or a short taxi ride away in the capital of Bandar Seri Begawan.

Of course, there's plenty of mosques, the most prominent being the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque that dominates the skyline. The main dome is covered in gold.

The home of the Sultan, who's personal wealth is estimated to be around $20 billion, isn't bad either – a 1,788-room palace. Unfortunately, it's only open to the public for three days each year following Ramadan.

Tourists also flock to Kampung Ayer, a series of 42 water villages built on stilts.

Known as the "Venice of the East,"

 it's the largest stilt settlement in the world,

home to almost 40,000 people.

Rather than the sand found in most oil-producing countries, more than half of Brunei is covered by forests, making the Ulu Temburong National Park a popular stop for outdoor lovers hoping to spot wildlife.

Crime isn't a concern for tourists. Brunei is one of the safest places in the world, adhering to the draconian, Islamic, sharia law, leveling such punishments as stoning for adultery, amputations for theft, and flogging for drinking alcohol. Numerous civil rights organizations condemned the Sultan for enacting the law in 2014, especially since he reportedly lives a quite lavish and decadent lifestyle.

Since there isn't much to do in Brunei, friends asked why I went there. I guess part of the reason was wanting to visit one of the few remaining absolute monarchies, seven at last count. In the pictures above, the military was preparing for the king's 69th birthday.

On a daily basis, the Sultan's presence is felt and seen everywhere  – television, newspapers, and even billboards and banners.

In most countries, a leader's birthday isn't even noticed.

In Brunei, it's a national celebration.

But you won't hear anyone complaining because criticizing the Sultan is illegal.

Even though Brunei isn't a tourist mecca, it's worth a short visit, if only to experience a culture and political system far different from that seen in Southeast Asia or the rest of the world.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Living in the Moment

Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Cambodia - 2013

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered

"Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Hours, Days, and Years Continue Slipping By

Quilotoa, Ecuador - 2012

"And then there is the most dangerous risk of all –  the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later."

                                                                                            Randy Komisar