All that Glitters Comes from Black Gold
Dubai. Monaco. Brunei. Each of these exotic destinations conjures up images of chauffeured Rolls-Royce Phaetons, Sunseeker yachts, and sapphires the size of cherries. Designer accoutrements to drape and adorn everything from the top of one’s highlighted locks to the tip of her expertly-manicured toes are there for the charging. And while there may be strong similarities between Brunei and other capitalistic world capitals, it is really quite unique.
The Facts, M’am. Just the Facts
Since many world travelers have yet to step foot ashore in this minuscule country, it seems only fitting that we recap a few of the facts and stats so you’ll have a better picture of what you’re in store for.
Let’s start with the name. Officially, this nation is called the State Of Brunei, Abode of Peace. That’s the English translation of the Malay words Negara Brunei Darussalam. Since both English and Malay are considered official languages, that seems to make a great deal of sense, doesn’t it. The capital is Bandar Seri Begawan and the entire country covers a mere 2,228 square miles. Within its borders live some 325,000 people the majority of whom are Malay. Well, approximately 65%. The Chinese population accounts for another 20%.
The nation is proud to boast a literacy rate of 88%, which ranks quite high in the world. So, too, the per capita income that is pegged at close to $15,000.
Nearly two-thirds of the Bruneian people are Muslim. Buddhists account for approximately 15%, while Christianity is represented by only 8% of the people.
It probably comes as no surprise to practically every visitor that oil and gas are the major industries in this tiny nation. In fact, since only 15% of the land is cultivated, some 80% of all food must be imported. This doesn’t seem to be a big problem for Brunei’s citizens. They are considered among the luckiest people on earth because their nation is blessed with astounding wealth affording them a tax-free government-supported society that provides subsidized food and housing as well as free medical care, even extended to rural areas by an airborne team of medical personnel. Education is free.
Money Makes this World Go Around
Let’s discuss the topic of this business success story. It really all began in 1929 with the discovery of oil in the Sultanate of Brunei. Natural gas was then discovered in 1965. Today, Brunei’s economy is financially funded almost entirely by the revenues received from exporting natural gas and oil. In fact, these sales account for over 40% of the gross domestic product. The crude oil finds its way to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, even the U.S.
According to the 1959 constitution, Brunei had been a British-protected Islamic Sultanate. In 1984, Brunei gained full sovereignty and independence. Today, it is an Islamic Sultanate.
The Sultan’s name is Sultan Sultan Sir Hassanal Bolkiah. It is reported that he is perhaps the richest man in the world. And, as one might expect, a gentleman of his stature deserves a proper abode, so the Sultan built one of the world’s most luxurious palaces. Its 1,788 rooms cover some 50 acres and cost a mere $400,000,000 to build though rumor has it that, as with all construction projects, it ran a bit over budget. Never mind. For the record, it is called Istana Nurul Iman and is open to the public only at the end of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting.
Bandar Seri Begawan
That mouthful is the name of the nation’s capital and is often referred to as BSB or even Brunei Town. Some 60,000 people live there, as it really is Brunei’s only sizeable city. BSB is modern, efficient, and welcoming to visitors from afar. Many of these guests take in the sights, usually beginning with the Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. Built in 1958, it is recognized by its massive gold dome. You’ll find it near the banks of the Brunei River.
Jerudong Park is another destination, but this time for invited guests only. Complete with polo field, golf course, croquet greens, and a host of other sporting venues, this huge complex is a playground for the elite. Others find their way to the Jerudong Playground amusement park for fun and games or Jerudong Beach for sun and fish.
Those more interested in nature make their way to Pulau Ranggu found near Istana Nurul Iman in the middle of the river. It is here that one can observe the proboscis monkeys that leap here and there and literally hang about in the verdant forests.
And speaking of hanging about, there’s no need, really. It can be said that the streets virtually roll up at 9pm. Why, you ask? Well, there is, in truth, little or no nightlife in BSB as the citizens are encouraged to engage in activities other than clubbing and such. And, while we’re on the subject, there has been a stricter dress code enforced since 1991 hence visitors are asked to respect this practice. That said, do enjoy your stay in the exotic gotta-visit-someday destination.