Face The Sun: Let There Be Light!
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are exclusively those of its author, and are not in any way meant to reflect the opinions or policies of the US Government.

Past Travelogues.

Finland, Estonia, Petersburg

Kirovograd, Ukraine


Tirana, Albania

Macedonia & Romania

Budapest to Bucharest

Balkans and Poland.

Christiania, Copenhagen.

Northern Norway

Northern Finland


Kashgar, briefly

More to come, Inshallah, as I go through old paper travel journals.

The DC experience, archived.

July '05
June '05
December '05
October '04
More to come should interesting things happen to me. Ever.

Blatent Plagiarism

The nation's largest chain bookstore has indicated that, due to lack of consumer interest, it has stopped selling books.
--Frederick Raphael, The Glittering Prizes

I feel this is the equivalent of a surgeon, skipping through a radiology department singing, 'I don't have cancer, I don't have cancer!'
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

Mum is crying with her faced turned away from me, gulping and honking like an injured seal. And I'm rolled up in the back seat wishing the old man would stop the car and make her walk. That or buy her a fish.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

I love it when well-educated women sweaar -- the words regain their original power and meaning when delivered unexpectedly with so much poise.
--Phil Robinson, Charlie Big Potatoes

She lived with her mother, who looked like an old labrador, and an old labrador.
--Will Self, Great Apes

When I was small and would leaf through the Old Testament retold for children and illustrated in engravings by Gustave Dore, I saw the Lord God sitting on a cloud. He was an old man with eyes, nose, and a long beard, and I would say to myself that if He had a mouth, He had to eat. And if He ate, He had intestines. But that thought always gave me a fright, because even though I come from a family that was not particularly religious, I felt the idea of a divine intestine to be sacrilegious.
--Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Quality is merely the distribution aspect of Quantity.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

...In the frank brilliance of the bright sun, which, as we all know, is the friend of heroes.
--Jose Saramago, All the Names

He stuttered so badly that you could go out and buy yourself a chocolate bar while he was wrestling with an initial p or b; he would never try to bypass the obstacle by switching to a synonym, and when the explosion finally did occur, it convulsed his whole frame and sprayed the interlocutor with triumphant saliva.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

To Stand on Jericho's Walls and Face the Sun.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

So, I've been sitting on that Brunei post for months. Things that have transpired in the mean time:

1. The Foreign Service Journal, the monthly publication of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA, the State Department union), listed my blog along with a factually inaccurate description. But I'll take what I can get, even if they think I'm in my mid twenties (I'm rocketing towards 30: oh god), and think that I update frequently (I think "sporadic" would be a better description). Regardless, I'm all about publicity, so I was pretty excited by my mention in the Journal, which allowed me to wander the halls of the embassy pointing at myself and quoting AFSA's line that I have a "friendly and open demeanor." This is probably also factually inaccurate, but when it comes to wandering the halls quoting AFSA to the annoyance of my coworkers, any port in a storm.

2. Things have gotten busy at work. This is perhaps no surprise to anyone who's taken note of where I live and what's transpiring in this world. I'll say no more.

3. A considerable amount of my time is being taken up by an outside foreign language project of my own devising that I've been working on for quite some time. Few things excite me like grammar so I'm enjoying the heck out of myself with this project of mine -- but things like verb tenses don't exactly make for good blogging.

4. We're once again approaching the Great Wall Marathon, and per last year's vow I'm now training for the full marathon. This takes up every drop of my spare time and leave me with absolutely nothing to talk about, much less blog about. "What'd you do this weekend?" "I ran." That's it.

5. Other people who are running the Great Wall Marathon: 1. Multiple coworkers. 2. My mother. Let me repeat that, for emphasis: my mother. She's running the half, which means I have no choice but to run the full, because if I were to run the half and she (60, retired) were to outpace me (mid twenties, per AFSA), it would be a psychological blow on a scale heretofore unseen.

6. That's all I've got. If you aren't listening compulsively to the song Hang On, Little Tomato! by Pink Martini (of Sympathique fame), then you're wasting your time.

Posted by Dakota on 11:49 PM link |
I caught a ride from Brunei International Airport to the harbor with the pilot who flew me in from Manila. "Brunei," he told me in his broad Australian accent, "is nice and quiet -- very peaceful." From the harbor in to town, my Bruneian cabbie bragged: "Brunei is so quiet -- we have no nightlife here!" I asked the Chinese-Bruneian owner of my hotel if he was enjoying life in sleepy Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city of Brunei. "Of course," he told me, "it's so peaceful here."

I started to sense a pattern.

I didn't come to Brunei for the nightlife. I came to see what happens when you have too much money and not enough people to spend it on, too much spare time and not nearly enough to do. There are well under half a million Bruneians living on a slice of Borneo about the size of Delaware; courtesy of their offshore oil deposits, they enjoy the second highest GDP in Asia (trailing behind industrious Singapore) without having to lift a finger: they call it the Shellfare State, with free education through the university level, free medical care, and subsidies for rice and housing.

Here's what I learned about Brunei: it's quiet and peaceful. Which is to say that the entire country feels like the inside of a library on a Friday night: not many people, not much noise, and not a whole lot of action.

If you have too much money and are looking for a way to increase hilarity in your city, you should follow the Brunei model and substitute polished marble for concrete in your sidewalks. It drizzled the entire time I was in Brunei, which I sincerely think increased the gravitation pull of the sidewalk. To put it kindly: I failed to stick the landing, repeatedly.

Other noteworthy encounters: On the way to the Sultan's house (palace, if you will), I passed the Bandar Seri Begawan central fire department, and since I'm a sucker for firefighters I ducked in to figure out what they're doing. They had a volleyball net stretched across the backyard and were playing three-on-three Sepak Takraw, a game I had never seen before and which is awesome beyond any speaking of it. It's a volleyball-esque game, with the familiar bump-set-spike intra-team passing, only the ball is made of rattan -- sort of an oversized, heavier-than-average whiffle ball -- and (since volleyball was too easy, apparently), you're not allowed to use your hands or arms.

It's like an uber-competitive hackeysack competition, soccer meets volleyball meets acrobatics. The guys who were playing were the sort of true athletes the world has come to expect in firefighters, and since the game involves a lot of throwing one's legs improbably far above one's head, it makes for a hell of a spectator sport. The spectators at the Brunei Central Fire Department explained the rules in patiently slow Malay (Bruneians -- Malays in general, actually -- are champions at repeating, rephrasing and, when push comes to shove, pantomiming), and once I had everything more or less hammered down, they waved me toward the court to give it a shot. "We'll go easy," they told me.

Center of the court: they served the ball as slowly and directly at me as possible. I chest-bumped it like I've seen hackey sack players do to slow the ball down, and let it fall gracefully towards my feet. I then followed that up with a sort of wounded game-bird flailing of my legs that ultimately resulted in zero contact -- none -- with the ball. The firefighters were about as impressed as you'd expect.

A mosque in the center of town: it seems that when Allah makes you the richest monarch in the world (Forbes estimates that at present the Sultan is worth 22 bil; about twenty years ago when his bank account was at peak value, he ranked as the 28th richest person ever to exist on planet earth), you apparently give back to Allah. So there's a mosque right downtown -- the Omar Ali Saifuddin, which was being renovated while I was there, but features gold-capped domes and sits on a man-made lagoon. And slightly further from the center is a second mosque, equally gold minareted with perfect Islamic architecture, and covered in Italian marble and chandeliers made from Austrian crystal.

Outskirts of town: about a decade ago, the Sultan decided to give himself a birthday present, and constructed a massive amusement park just outside of BSB (which is how hipsters abbreviate the capital city), and since Brunei is rich, he made the amusement park free for all. But the park has started charging admission a few years ago and hasn't bothered to repair on of the rides, and on the day I visited it was closed. Wandering the empty streets of a closed down amusement park in the middle of nowhere has a distinctly scooby-doo feeling to it, and I enjoyed it, but there wasn't a whole lot to see.

The amusement park is next to the Royal Brunei Polo Fields -- dozens of enormous fields, perfectly manicured and ringed by enormous baseball-stadium style lights, for evening games -- and I dropped by to have a gander at a few million dollars worth of polo ponies. The polo stables in Brunei (which by count seemed to house three to four hundred horses) are approximately as nice as my apartment in Beijing, with an it seems that the horse-to-groom ratio is obscenely high. But they were all friendly, albeit a bit curious why I was wandering around the stables. But they accepted my explanation -- mau melihat saja, I'm just taking a look -- at face value and even went so far as to let me pet some of the horses. (Do horses even like that? I have no idea).

Was there anything else? There was. A Dutch Catholic missionary whom I met in Palau had told me that I should consider taking the speedboat ride through the jungle to another section of Brunei -- "it's very James Bond," he told me. But I shared my speedboat with three housewives and a restaurant's worth of Chinese broccoli, which killed the 007 feeling somewhat, and courtesy of Chinese New Year there wasn't a single shop open on the other side of Brunei. But I hiked in my improbably sandals through the mud a bit until I hit impenetrable rainforest, and that made it worth my time.

So Brunei: was it worth the effort and expense and time to get there? Absolutely. That said, on the grand Asia checklist of countries, it was prioritized somewhere near the bottom, and that was assuredly appropriate.

Posted by Dakota on 10:36 PM link |
Current Location:
The People's Republic of China.

Stop by any time: everyone's welcome.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem to Be Born

Comments and requests for dates should be directed to email.

And here I am.

And for all you random folks out there whom I don't know, for the love of god, email me. I'm abroad, know no one, and look forward to hearing from you. I'm especially looking at YOU, whomever YOU are who's Facing The Sun all the way from Kenya. And Sweden. And Canada. And whatnot.

Books Tackled, 2006:

1. Jarhead, Anthony Swofford
2. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, Dennis Covington
3. A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
4. A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, Anonymous
5. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism, Dawn Prince-Hughes

This year's movies, in chronological order:

1. Kung Fu Hustle
2. A Wrinkle in Time
3. Pi: Faith in Chaos
4. My Big Fat Independent Movie
5. The Winter Guest
6. Voices in Wartime
7. What Dreams May Come
8. Farewell My Concubine
9. The Ring
10. Like Water for Chocolate
11. Sahara

Foreign Service Officers by day, Bloggers by day as well.

The Diplodocus
(Islamabad, Pakistan).

The Permanent Mission of Joshie
(Zagreb; Libyaward).

Prince Roy
(Chennai; Taiwanward).

Sue and not You
(Tbilisi, Georgia).

Life on the Mekong
(Vientiane, Laos).

FSO Globe Trotter
(Lahore, Pakistan).

Vice Consul: Diplomatically Transformed
(New Delhi, India).

Adventures in Good Countries

Our Man in Tirana
(Tirana, Albania).

Anne's Blog
(Kazakhstan; Greeceward).

(Bogota, Colombia).

Furnish Worldwide

Tasman's World
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

(Lome, Togo).

World Adventurers
(Seoul, Korea).

Aaron Martz

A for Adventure
(Chennai, India).

The Excellent Adventures of Nickie P
(Paris, France).

Permanently Disco
(Dhaka, Bangladesh).

Consul At Arms
(Kingston, Jamaica).

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