Thursday, 26 April 2012

if it's not one damned thing

November 2011 – conversation with self back in Al Ain. Should we take the furniture, or should we sell it here? If we sell, we’ll have to put up with endless people traipsing through the house and bargaining with us. Horrible! But houses in Brunei are generally furnished. Yes, but the furniture is mostly crappy. At least we’ll have our own stuff if we take it. Okay, take it!

Removalist gives extortionate quote. We check that it includes disassembly and reassembly of our furniture & unpacking. It’s door to door with no extra expenses. Check. So nothing extra? Check.

February, 2012 - Because there is no house available when we arriv we put our things in storage. We wangle one month free storage. Nice.  Everything is looking good. J

April, 2012 - Temporary apartment becomes available and will tide us over until our house is ready. Nice apartment. Sensational views. Should we get our furniture out of storage or use the furniture in the apartment? Crappy furniture in apartment. Cost of storage and insurance is high. Cost of move from apartment to house is less than keeping it in storage. Okay, let’s get our furniture delivered.

Ring up the removalist to discuss date and procedures. Suddenly there’s a $500 charge for moving the shipping from the dock to the storage. Hmmm. First we’ve heard of it. We commit to move to apartment. Then there’s a charge for moving things to the 10th floor of the apartment – the quote only includes to 1st floor. Bloody fine print! So we’re out of pocket on that one. Need a handy man to reassemble furniture. Whoooaaaa Neddy!! No. No. No. We were assured in Al Ain that we didn’t need a handy man and that removalist guys would reassemble.

I try desperately not to either implode or explode. Worry that K may do either the former or the latter. Turns out he’s got murder on his mind! Agggghhhhh!

Ommmmmm! Ommmmm! Breathe. Breathe. Focus on the breath. Feel it going into the body. Feel it leaving the body. Focus on the next breath. In and out. In and out. The present moment is the only moment. Breathe.

Delivery is on Saturday. Good chance that our furniture will be in a zillion pieces and the guys will walk out. I like puzzles. I do. Really I do. But this is too much.

So, yes, we have accommodation. We can leave our less-than-palatial hotel, but the next few days will be challenging.

Funny thing. For years I read that moving house was up there with divorce or death in the family. I’ve never really got it. Moving has never seemed like much of a trauma to me. But, suddenly, here in Brunei, I GET IT!!

Monday, 23 April 2012

a change is gonna come - not sure when though

Three months ago we walked into an awful hotel in Bandar Seri Begawan. My employer had arranged it for us. At the time the desk clerk said, “Ah, yes. Welcome. You’re here long term, aren’t you?”
“Not bloody likely," I thought. Such was my state of naiveté about this country and the way things are done.

The day after I arrived I had to start work, so I was busy figuring that side of things out all the while believing the hotel was a temporary thing and unpleasant though it was, I could endure a few days. In the second and third week we were shown a range of houses. Most were wonderful; some new, others older, but beautifully appointed and huge with magnificent gardens. The catch was that none were available just now. We’d have to wait six months. I still had every confidence the solution was imminent.

Soon we were told that we could move to another hotel, we just needed to wait a few days for approval from finance. When I heard nothing, I enquired to find out that now it required government approval. This happened several times. We were also sent off to inspect alternative hotels, each of which was equally as appalling. These opportunities waxed and wained, but were impotent, none bore better accommodation. Then apartments became possibilities. We were going to move into Ong Sum Ping; a wonderful, newly refurbished building with luxurious appointments. This was dangled for a few weeks and each of my enquiries was met with a road  block somewhere up the hierarchy. It was finally laid to rest when it turned out that there was going to be a high level ASEAN conference in two months for which dignitaries would require accommodation for a few days. That ruled OSP out as a possibility for us.

Other apartments were mentioned, but again red tape got in the way. Then one started to look like a real goer.  The previous tenant moved out on April 1 and the place really only needed a lick of paint. On the 14th we were assured it would be ready today,  April 21st. We went today to pick up the key. But now it seems we can’t move in until the 30th.  

So for three months we’ve been coaxed into enduring just a few more days. And again it’s a few more days. Obviously a good strategy because had I known this on day one, I would have done a u-turn and headed straight back to the airport!

Let me review my current hotel.

Suitable for backpackers. Our suite is 2-bedroom with a kitchen and lounge. We can’t complain about the size, but we can complain about everything else. The kitchen is a closet with no windows. The exhaust fan is covered in years of dust and oily, sticky slime. A wall cupboard is full of spider webs and greasy, grime. The stove is thick with caked on slime and grease. Luckily it has a lid, so we shut the lid three months ago and so it has remained. The tiled benchtops are grotty, and the cupboards are unusable. We haven’t cooked in three months – dining out for each meal. The fridge was a disgrace, but I scrubbed it clean at the outset, so we can at least store drinks.

On to the lounge. K sat on the couch and the frame gave way, so he fell through to the floor. I have avoided the lounge furniture ever since. There’s a small balcony off the lounge half of which is taken up with an enormous, grimy, excruciatingly loud aircon unit. So the balcony is unusable. The master bedroom came with one bedside table, no lamps and a bed that has a clearly visible crater in it! On day one I knew that it was a back’s worst nightmare, so we pushed together the two single beds in the next room and have been using them for three months. There is no mattress protector.  The sheets are placed directly onto the mattress, so one wonders how many people’s sweat has previously graced the mattress on humid Brunei nights – and whether it can bubble to the surface – yuk! The sheets themselves are adorned with cigarette burn holes and permanent stains. One time housekeeping  must have run out of sheets because after a hard day, I stripped off, drew back the covers ready to jump into bed only to find that there was only a bottom sheet, no top sheet!  Once a week we discover that our towels have been taken, but not replaced.

The tiled floors are mopped with a substance that leaves them sticky so my thongs ssluuurrrrrrppp, ssslluuurrrrppp across the floor. The aircon is very old and very noisy and turning it on involves breaking finger nails.

I haven’t told you about the worst feature though – a fine mix of cabbage, mould and garbage brewed to perfection and then let loose through the aircon system. It’s a putrid stench. Opening the windows does nothing to relieve it as more of the stench is simply pumped through the aircon. The first time we pointed it out to staff, they offered to mop the floors with dettol. Incredulous, we told them again that it was coming from the aircon. Eventually they traced it to a switch in the restaurant kitchen downstairs that needs to be permanently on. Now when we come home to unbelievable stench, we ring downstairs. They send someone up to sniff, we tell them there’s no need to sniff, it’s a problem with the aircon and a switch in their restaurant kitchen. They offer to mop, we tell them to go to the restaurant and sort it out. A couple of hours later the place is almost habitable again. This is a regular scenario.

Anyway, you can imagine my disappointment today when I thought the move was imminent only to see it thwarted once again. Ah well, it’ll only be a few more days! :)

Friday, 30 March 2012

I have an IC!

I got my IC yesterday. Hallelulah! Alhamdalillah! Terima kasih allah! It was a long road.

First of all I heard mention of ICs but didn’t know what they were and as I had 97 other things on the boil, I didn’t worry about it. Then when I had a spare 5 mins I asked someone what it was and why I needed it. Turns out a that an IC is an identity card (in most of the word ‘ID’ would have covered it) and I was told that you hardly ever need it. So I wasn’t in too much of a hurry.

When I followed up a couple of weeks later, I found that to get an IC, you have to go to a government building and queue up. The doors open at 8am and people were recommending going at 5:45 am to queue to be sure of being seen on the day. It sounded horrendous and as an IC didn’t seem to be that necessary, I procrastinated. Someone told me, that the Immigration Office had just started opening on Friday afternoon from 2 – 4 and not many people knew about it yet, so it should be easy to get in.

I turned up at 1pm on Friday afternoon and stood outside the building for an hour. I was 30th in the queue. Then the doors opened, the queue disappeared and there was a mad panic to get to the front. I was in the middle of a crush of 100 or so very nice Pakistani and Indian gentleman. I think I was the only woman. We stood cheek by jowl. If someone at the front moved 6 inches forward, we all moved 6 inches forward like a curled up centipede. After 25 mins of intimate crush and after making perhaps 18 inches headway towards the inner sanctum, we were told ‘habis’ closed for the afternoon. We were all sent home.

So my only option seemed to be to queue at 5:45 am. I have to tell you, I’m not a morning person! So once again I procrastinated; particularly as no-one could tell me what the IC was used for.

Several weeks later, on a whim, I drove by the Immigration office on a Tuesday afternoon, and thought … I wonder. So I drove up, gathered my papers and headed in. Within an hour I’d been photographed, finger-printed, deprived of a small sum of money and sent on my way with instructions to come back in one month to pick up the card.

Yesterday was the day! It took me 20 mins to work out where in the building I needed to go to pick it up (damned Malay signage!), but I’m now the proud owner of a green IC. Turns out that it is an essential item. Without it I can’t get paid, can’t buy a car, can’t do much at all! So Hallelulah!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

driver licence

To buy a car I need a few bits and bobs including a local driver licence. Okay, where to start? I ask around and find that I need to photocopy my passport, visas, identity card and Abu Dhabi licence, then take the copies and originals down to the Post Office. So I set off with all that I've been told - with the full expectation that they'll tell me that I also need a photocopy of X.

However, it's never the snag that I anticipate, it's always something else that gets me. Turns out that it's not the Post Office that I have to go to. I have to go to Land Transport in Gadong. Fair enough I say, where's that? Well, no-one at the PO can explain it to me. Never mind, I'll ask someone else. So after asking several people, I finally figure it out. Next day I head off there and am amazed that it's easy to get a park and there are no queues. I walk in wondering what will go wrong, take a ticket, sit down and am called up within a few minutes. I hand everything over to the woman at the counter who starts making cryptic gestures. Oh, not here? Next room? No, not next room? Next office? Next building? I give up the game of charades as I'm clearly not very good at it and ask at reception.

Turns out I have to go to Land Transport on Jalan Moura. Now that happens to be a very long road so I try to narrow it down. I drag out a map and after pawing over it for 25 minutes, the well-intentioned officer at the counter points to an intersection just before a round-a-bout and tells me it's on the left. So I set off there. It's a 20 minute drive away, but when I get there, there's not a Land Transport office within coo-eee. Next day I ask around at the hotel, but everyone is dumbfounded. They tell me either that I have to go the Post Office or that I have to go to Land Transport in Gadong. So I ask at work and get the same response until I finally find someone who has recently got a licence. She pinpoints it on the map for me. Hallelulah! Turns out it's not on Jalan Moura at all. It's on a different road on the left before a different round-a-bout! Next day I set off.

I find it without much fuss, but there's nowhere to park. Never mind, I've learned by now that an illegal park is just as good as a legal park. So I park illegally, head into Land Transport, ask at reception where they give me a ticket for counter number one. Twenty minutes later my turn rolls around, I march in with my photocopies, hand them over and hey, presto, it's all done. I just need to come back in a couple of days to pick up my shiny new licence.

Another task ticked off my long list of things to do!

Friday, 9 March 2012

well, it's laugh or cry

I want to buy a car in Brunei. I thought it involved checking out the dealers, identifying the cheap / bottom of the range car that called out 'Me, me! Take me home!' and then sorting out whether to pay cash or go with a loan.

Well, that naive notion was stymied at the first opportunity. We headed off to the Toyota dealer to see how much they'd want for a Toyota VIOS, a popular small car here in BSB. They were quite happy to engage in conversation for 30 mins before telling us that the VIOS in the showroom was only an illusion. They didn't actually have any in stock. No, they didn't have Corollas or any other small cars in stock either. Nor any medium cars. It was all the fault of the floods in Thailand apparently because that's where most of the cars are sourced. But, all was well, because the wait was only expected to be 3 - 4 months.

The next thought was, well we had a Ford Focus in Al Ain and it served us well. Let's see what Ford has to say. "Yes, there are many colours. Yes, they are available now. You just put down a deposit. Delivery in three months maybe. Or you can take the Mondeo. We have one Mondeo in stock." There seemed to be at least a bit of equivocation on the meaning of the word 'now.' The story there was that there were so many cars in Brunei that there were restrictions on how many dealers are allowed to bring in. I have to say that 'no cars' is a pretty small number to be allowed to bring in!

Floods in Thailand? Restrictions on numbers?

At Diahatsu they have a few Terioses / Teri-ii / Teriosi, only in black or silver, but they are available now. Yes! Problem is, the warranty is rubbish. One year - and we have to pay parts - and labour depending on the issue. It also seems to be a rather 'chunky' car for a tiny 1.5 engine. So question mark on that one.

Other dealers had 7 million car-seeking customers' cars lined up out the front, we couldn't even get a park. So we set aside the 'which car to choose' issue to follow up finance issues. No joy there either. Amongst other problems, we need to get our local d/l first and a range of other certification.

So I'm imagining a pretty mauve car sitting out front in our parking lot. It's brandless, featureless and existenceless, but I like it.


Saturday, 4 February 2012

home is where the grunge is

Should I remind people of who I am? Let them know that I’m not worthy? The housing officer has been showing us houses over the last couple of days. I’ve been left sockless – they’ve been totally knocked off. We saw a palace today – six bedrooms, all with ensuite, magnificent entrance, separate maid’s quarters, beautifully landscaped gardens with water features (maintained by Singaporean owner), outside patios off huge lounge and dining, separate building with large covered sitting area downstairs and enormous rumpus room upstairs. The Canadian Ambassador lives next door and other notables are nearby. As K pointed out, all we have to do is say ‘Yes’ and it’s ours.

Okay, there is a downside to the palace - it won’t be available for several months and it’s a bit of a hike to uni at peak hour apparently. However, another tantalizing mansion is just 15 mins to uni and 10 to the city and to Gadong (large shopping / business area). We weren’t able to see inside, but it looks lovely on the outside, the area is gorgeous and a range of high (-er than me) flyers live opposite and on either side. It should be available in a couple of months.

My socks were firmly back on my feet as I drudged back into our grungy two bedroom hotel suite realizing that it will home for a while! Ah, well.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Mystery solved

I got to work and immediately solved a mystery that had been on the minds of staff for many months. My name has been emblazoned across my office door for over a semester. There had been an extended drum roll followed finally by speculation that I was a no-show . . . and suddenly there I was. New rumours began immediately. People in the corridors were heard speculating that you could no longer get a job at UBD unless you were tall. Perhaps so.

Rumours and mysteries aside, I can factually report lovely views from my office over greenery and out to the ocean.