20 March 2009

Jet lagged in Brunei

"It will be fine, you can fly from the US into Heathrow and get straight on the plane to Brunei, they'll send a car to meet you when you get there".

Those were the words of my Steve, my boss who, with typical enthusiasm for over commitment had booked us to run a course for Shell in the Far East the day after I was due back from a month of field work in the USA. From the desert to the pseudo-colonial world of expat oil was always a difficult pill to swallow but even more so with a double shoot of jet lag. But he knew that I would agree, I always did. The lure of the travel, the much needed cash and an ignorance to the existence of DVT, yep I would always agree, no matter how stupid the plan.

So after crossing 16 time zones on 5 different flights, all economy, over 2 days I arrived in Brunei. Brunei is a tiny but very rich strip of hot sweaty coastline backed by a hot sweaty jungle. The locals are small, ugly people who have that laziness that can only come from being very rich, all your life. Chinese immigrants do all the manual work while the oil industry which provides all the money is run for them by European ex-pats. The Royal family is even richer and more indulgent. I arrived and climbed into the back of a car that was to drive the 1.5 hours to the other end of the country. I was vaguely aware of Chris Tarrant talking about traffic backing up in the Blackwell Tunnel. It was 11 pm and I assumed that driver must have been sent a Capitol Radio Drivetime Show tape by some distance relative working in London. Later I discovered that one of the Sultans Sons had studied in London had liked the station. This being the days before the internet and streaming media, they bought some space on a satellite and paid to have it beamed live, complete with 8 hour time difference. Such is Brunei.

I arrived and went to bed at 1 am then got up at 6am to teach a course. We taught the first day which was fine we had done it so many times we had it to a tee. Then in the evening our host from Shell, lets call him Herbert, had invited us around for drinks. A nice gesture, which I really want to decline to get soem sleep. But Steve insists that we have to go, calls we a light weight and forces a couple of G&Ts down me. Eventually I have t agree but I know its a bad idea.

Before we get to Herbert's house there are a few things its important to understand about expat Shell life...

Firstly in places like Brunei there are no bars, the only social life these people have is in their houses on the compound. Also people move every 4 years so there are no deep friendships or real bonds just short term alliances. The system is also highly hierachical, status is dependent on the man's "job group". The social situation is incredibly complex and as an outsider you will never understand the details of the dynamic. And finally there is the wives! A stereotypical Shell-wife is a well breed Dutch woman who is socially very competant but not very bright. She will be content to follow her husband around the world to a series of crappy postings while she satisfies her existence with peer group politics and her brood of blonde children. It’s a minefield!

So we end up in Herbert’s house which is deep in the Shell compound. A large wooden affair, identical to 100 others with a big garden, surrounded by trees. The pseudo American, white picket neighborhood world that is expat life. Mrs Herbert, who is actually English rather than Dutch, gets a double A star in being patronizing, pompous and shallow. I take an instant dislike to her, but this is normal and I am used to ignoring the urges to tell these types of people what I really think of them, its her house and her life, I am the guest. So we sit and make polite conversation and the booze flows. The only problem is that I now I am starting to get pissed and the jet lag is really kicking in!

I head to the toilet and while I sit trying to calculate how long it will be before I can go to bed, I look around. The room is huge, as big as my living room back home and there is a rug that looks really comfy. In fact the more I look at it the stronger the feeling to just lie down and go to sleep becomes. Just 30 seconds! It looks so inviting. Ah yes, I'll just close my eyes for a second...

Next thing I know somebody is knocking on the door. Have these people got no manners, I have only been in here two minutes? I stand up and open the door. A couple of people look at my in a confused and questioning manner. What is wrong with them? Steve says its time to go home and that sounds great to me. I am so tired.

I dig the keys out of my pocket and as I produce them Mrs Herbert says in her whinny, high pitched horsey tone
"O my gwed, HE’S going to drive"
Yep you'd better fuckin believe it bitch! So I climb into the Toyota corolla, rental, start the motor and gun it. Straight onto the lawn, then pull a very neat 270 degree donut before exiting the garden via the rose bed in to the darkened lane. Steve is laughing so hard I think he is going to wet himself and we screech off up the road. There is no drink drive laws in Brunei because there is no drinking (apparently) so we have no trouble with the law.

We get home in one piece and my bed is very happy to see me. Next day we are up at 6am to teach again and its fine, of course. Herbert doesn't mention his lawn or his rose garden but we are never invited back again – Steve blames it all on me and I blame it on him for making my fly ¾ of the way around the world and then spend an evening with a bunch of hoorays!

1 comment:

Rachel W said...

Really enjoyed your post. If you're interested, here's a visual comparison of Bandar Seri Begawan (capital of Brunei) with other major cities of the world: Bandar Seri Begawan vs World Cities Good day!