The first word I learned in Bahasa Melayu, the language spoken in Brunei, was “Selamat Datang.” It means, in essence, “welcome.”
Back in April, I traveled to Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city of Brunei, to participate in the ASEAN Youth Forum 2013 and the ASEAN People’s Forum 2013. ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is a group of ten countries (Brunei, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Phillipines, Indonesia, Lao PDR, and Malaysia) working towards economic, social and political cooperation, including formal regional economic integration as the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.
I was also, however, very eager to explore Brunei, my distant neighbor in the ASEAN community. This peaceful and prosperous country benefits from extensive petroleum and natural gas fields and has of one of the highest per capita GDPs in Asia. Brunei’s wealth is visible everywhere. For instance, the highways are well built and almost every family owns their own car.
As an Islamic country where 70% of population is Muslim, people way of life is bounded politically, legally and culturally by the religion. Brunei is a dry country, with a national law prohibiting the sale of alcohol. There are no night clubs or pubs, so the night life instead consists of drinking a coffee or tea.
Most people go to mosque every Friday. I was excited to buy a traditional Muslim cap, a ‘Kapi Yo,’ from a local market, but on Friday afternoon, my friend told me to take the cap off. “If they think you are a Muslim and not going to the mosque you will be fined 50 Dollars.” I later had a chance to visit the Muslim mosque which is very huge and splendidly beautiful, with a dome made from real gold!
We started the ASEAN Youth Forum (AYF) 2013 at . . .