Tuesday, November 28, 2017

So Your Character is From Brunei ... Featuring Iween @ Wendystrucked

It's time for this week's So Your Character is ... Post! This is a weekly segment where I interview lovely volunteers from around the world to give you a firsthand account of being a citizen of their respective country or having a disability. I'm hoping to encourage international diversity, break stereotypes, and give writers a crash course on how to write a character from these different places on our planet. If you haven't checked out last week's  So Your Character is from Vietnam ... be sure to hop on over there and give it a read!

Disclaimer: The content below may be culturally shocking to some. Each of these posts are as uncensored as possible to preserve the authenticity of the cultures of each of the interviewees.

(None of the Images are Mine)

Assalamualaikum (May Peace Be Upon You), hi! My name is Iween - I’m a Brunei-based Muslimah, crochet enthusiast, aspiring psychologist, and the writer and dreamer behind Wendystrucked. I live in the Tutong district of Brunei Darussalam, and am currently studying Psychology in the Brisbane, Australia. And when I’m not neck-deep in university work, I’m busy missing home (and in this case, writing about it).

What do you feel is unique to your country? Landmarks? Celebrations?
A famous landmark commonly featured of Brunei, is the Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Mosque. And for a good reason. Look at that beauty!

Masjid Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien.
One of the unique things we have in Brunei is the Junjung Ziarah events. Every year on his birthday, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam visits the four districts of Brunei Darussalam – an annual meet-and-greet event called Junjung Ziarah where citizens, as well as tourists, get the chance to interact directly with His Majesty.

The Monarch interacting with his citizens in this year’s Junjung Ziarah to Tutong District, Brunei Darussalam. (Photo from the Borneo Bulletin).
Tell me about your country's environment. What are some of your favorite places?
Brunei is known as the Abode of Peace, and that name in itself truly encompasses Brunei for what it is. A home and sanctuary of peace – from the vivid greens that it’s immersed in down to the small (and cozy) number of its population and to the values and philosophies its citizens hold as a country of Malay Islamic Monarchy. 

Walking through Brunei, you’ll see women in Hijabs just about everywhere. You’ll find mosques in almost every village. And while most places around the world are packed with buildings and little nature, I would say that Brunei is actually more green than not, with highways lined with trees and jungles more often than buildings. 

A little heart-shaped rock I encountered at Pantai Persiaran Pengkalan Pinang Penanjong
I love the beaches – specifically the ones to close to home, Pantai Persiaran Pengkalan Pinang Penanjong in Penanjong, Tutong and Pantai Seri Kenangan in Sengkarai, Tutong.
I love them for the calm, and for the memories of beach visits there that stand out to me.

Penanjong, Tutong Beach
Tell me about your country's food. What are some of your favorite dishes?
Oh, Brunei and its food! Always the part I miss dearly when I’m away. Brunei thrives on traditional Malay food and one that Brunei is known for, and one that I love is Ambuyat.
 Best dipped in the Cecah, with side dishes like fried fish, curry beef and things of the like, Ambuyat is eaten like you would rice – in fact, it packs just as much energy as rice does. Although I don’t eat it as often as I would actually eat rice, I love the times I get to sit down with family and have ambuyat – it’s a true Bruneian experience. 

Ambuyat in the bowl on the top right, with its Cecah dip on the smaller bowl on the top left.
Tell me about any different speech patterns in your country. Slang? Idioms? Words for things such as “biscuits” instead of “cookies”?
Brunei’s official main language is Malay. A language we share with our neighbors in Malaysia and Indonesia, but with slight differences in the way that we speak it. 
We also have slangs and idioms that are unique to Brunei. Like, “inda” as “no” instead of the standard Malay version which is “tidak." And other common slangs such as “ani” to refer to “this thing”, “atu” to refer to something in the distance/that thing, “bisai” which means “good”, and one that I am guilty of saying quite often, “berabis” which, loosely translated, is something like “seriously.” There are also languages that are unique to some districts or Puak (tribes), such as Kedayan and Dusun language. 

Hailing from Tutong district, we have our own language that is unique to our district and it’s Bahasa Tutong (Tutong Language). I actually don’t speak Tutong language, and it has (unfortunately) grown quite uncommon among today’s youths. But a few words that I do know are “mian” which means “eat”, “mantuka” which means car, and “jaie” which means “I”. The Tutong Language is spoken with its own unique dialect, and for (barely) a novice like myself, the dialect is hard to imitate. All in all, the majority of Bruneians speak Malay and are quite fluent in English.

Describe briefly a regular day in your country.
Let’s talk about Fridays in Brunei. One other thing that I think is quite unique in Brunei, is that instead of weekends off from school and work, Brunei has Fridays and Sundays off – and this is because in Islam, there are mandatory Friday prayers for men, and so having Fridays off are convenient for men to perform the Friday prayers in congregation.

A Friday in Brunei, like every day in Brunei, starts with the first of five calls of prayer, the Subuh prayer which comes at around 5AM in the morning, echoing throughout the country from each village’s local mosques. Schools would normally start at 7.30AM on the dot (Monday – Thursday and Saturday) and work at 8AM, so between Subuh and then, Bruneians get up, get ready and get going with their affairs and this continues until the afternoon when the second call of prayer, the Zohor prayer starts. 

On Fridays, the Friday prayers, as well as khutbah for men, will commence at this time (women can also attend, but this is less common) which means that shops throughout the nation are closed out of respect. This is also around the time for lunch. Everything resumes afterward, until Asar, the third call of prayer, which is roughly around the time that students get back from school on school days. And before the holy Maghrib, the fourth call of prayer that starts right as the sun sets, people come back home from work for some downtime. In Malay and Islam culture, it’s best to stay indoors during and after Maghrib time. Isya’ prayers, the fifth and last mandatory prayer will then start around night time. 

For myself and my family personally, we would sometimes spend night time at home having dinner together and catch-up conversations in between. More frequently, it’s me and my sister catching up with Korean Dramas (and these, are confessions from the typical homebody). 

How does your country compare to others, especially the States since my audience is primarily American? Environmentally? Politically? Culturally?
Brunei is a country of Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB) or Malay Islam Monarchy. With a population of mostly Malays, and mostly Muslims, as Malay is the main language and Islam is the official state religion. And Brunei has a monarch, the Sultan – decided through the monarchy system. 

Briefly describe three of your country’s historical events that you feel are important.
1. The discovery of Oil in Brunei. 
Oil and gas are the natural resources of Brunei, making its discovery in Seria a turning point for a whole generation of Bruneians up to this day. 
It was in 1926, when two workers from a Shell Company sat beneath a tree to catch their breaths when one of them smelled oil near Sungai Seria, and suggested to have the area nearby surveyed and drilled for oil. And this was where successful oil-drilling in Brunei began. 

2. Independence Day. 
“Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.”
Allah is the Greatest. Allah is the Greatest. Allah is the Greatest.
Lead by the His Majesty Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, and followed by the citizens of Brunei Darussalam, the calling echoed throughout Taman Haji Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien; the opening marks of Brunei’s Independence on the 1st of January 1984. A free country, at last. 

3. Royal Brunei Airlines All Female Flight Crew.
This is a more recent historical event that happened Mid-March of 2016. The Royal Brunei Airlines’ first all-female flight crew deck flew from Brunei to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This news especially stood out to me, because a lot of people have the misunderstanding that women in Islam are oppressed – and so here’s one of the many things that show that that is not true at all. 

Brunei’s all-female flight crew. Source.
What are some stereotypes about your country that irk you? What media portrays your country badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
They’re rich. That’s one of the things often said about Brunei in the media. A country with oil as its own natural resource, and mosque domes made of gold, Brunei is often portrayed as a rich country. It doesn’t irk me, per say. But I would say it’s a term that overgeneralizes. 
We are a steadily growing country, but like every other country, there are varying degrees of wealth throughout.   

What media portrays your country well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
I haven’t seen a lot of Brunei in the international media. I’ve only heard Brunei mentioned in passing conversations on TV shows and some documentaries.  But recently, there has been some attention from variety shows where Brunei is their chosen location, putting into spotlight its tough mighty jungles and adventure ridden boat rides across the waters, its lively Pasar Malam markets and the beautiful holy grounds of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. And I’m proud to say they’ve portrayed the wonders of Brunei quite well.

A Korean variety show’s cast (Law of the Jungle), came to Brunei to film and posed in front of the Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Mosque.
Who are your top three favorite characters native to your country in books, movies, or shows?
1. A wooden figurine dressed in traditional Malay attire of red, yellow, and white of the Brunei flag named Awang Budiman has sat on the shelves of one of our glass encased closet since I was little. He’s the mascot of the first SEA games that Brunei hosted back in 1999. He represented the Bruneian youth at the time and embodies the Malay culture and values through his openness, courtesy, and hospitability. And I really find him quite cute.

Awang Budiman, holding the Brunei flag in his traditional Malay attire. Source.
2. Nakhoda Manis. He is not my favorite character so much as he is a character from a favorite story that I was told about repeatedly back in primary school. A child of poverty goes on a boat one day, leaving his old life of rags, and his single mother behind. He marries a beautiful rich woman and lives a completely different life to what he had known before. In the story, after months or years, he meets his mother again but when she told the people on the boat that she was his mother, he denied the claims and said he didn’t recognize her at all. The mother then cries and in her despair and anger, she curses the child. And the ship, its fortune and Nakhoda Manis himself, was cursed to become stone. 

The stone is one that is seen in Brunei waters. This story reflects one of the most important messages and values of Malay culture, as well as Islam, which is on the importance of treating elderlies well – especially parents. 

3. Lela Menchanai, the wife of the fifth Sultan of Brunei, Sultan Bolkiah. Stories and legends I’ve heard when I was younger say that she was the daughter of another Islamic ruler. In the midst of their travel in their vessel over the waters towards Melaka, Sultan Bolkiah rested his head on Lela Menchanai’s lap as she was sewing. And that was when he accidentally got poked by the poison golden needle in her hand and passed away. Lela Menchanai’s regret lead her to plunge into the waters, leaving only bubbles in her wake. A traditional song was even made to tell this story.  The story invites a lot of questions, I know, but it’s interesting, to say the least. 

Jong Batu, otherwise known in legends as Nakhoda Manis’s sinking ship turned stone. Source.
Thank you, Iween, for this very informative post! I hope everyone enjoyed reading it. Come back next week for So Your Character is from Austria ...!

Are you interested in participating in this project? Check out the tips archive to see which countries have been filled and if you're from a different country, shoot me an email at howellvictoriagrace(a)gmail(dot)com. I'm especially looking for Spain, Denmark, Kenya, Argentina, Iraq, and Egypt.

Do you have any characters from Brunei? Did this inspire you to write a Bruneian character or set a book in Brunei? Are from this or been to this country and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Iween? Be sure to thank her!

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So Your Character is From Romania ... Teodora @ My Reading Nook
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