May 28th, 2015
Looking out the window as I speak with Gert, it becomes clear that I have effectively thrown away my last day with idle chatter. Rather than visiting the sites I had intended on visiting, I have spent the day gossiping. Or I should I allow myself to be more generous, recognizing that indulging in these meandering digressions in narrative is really the nexus of my travel comfort zone?
I could either visit the Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque (even though the interior is closed today) or Kampung Ayer, but not both. I decide on the mosque, since it is only a short distance from Ga Dong, and hence allows me the best chance of getting some reasonable photos.
I walk quickly from Gert’s store to the steps up the embankment, then circuit block B only to see a 20 bus turning around the corner. I run quickly to the bus, greeted by the ebullient laughter of the same driver/conductor team as before, locals staring at the proceedings in the bus with mild astonishment.
Come to think of it, while I am used to see Malay women smiling or laughing mildly, loud laughter is typically not considered appropriate. In contrast, the Filipina guest workers that represent the bulk of the bus passengers are unbridled and almost brazen, somewhat of a shock in the Malay cultural region.
The return trip to the mosque is slowed by the winding roads and now heavy rush hour traffic, also surprising in the usually relatively relaxed public sphere of Bandar Seri Begawan. A longer stop at The Mall and then we are stuck in traffic again, crawling through the large roundabout, the late afternoon light glimmering romantically on the golden domes of the mosque.
When the bus reaches the entrance to the parking area, I rush with my tiny point and shoot to the open gates, the cloud cover on the horizon having swallowed the sun, and the only recently gleaming domes now a muted brass.
Similar to the wrought iron fencing enclosing the grounds of the Sultan’s palace, the black enclosure is a creation of art, with identical floral detailing running along the lower and upper perimeters, black starbursts spaced on the slender balusters at regular intervals, and small golden finials cresting the top of the fence.
On the gates, the enlarged starbursts are gilt and the perimeter green as opposed to black. Four principal minarets rise above the central dome, each of the gently patterned tiled towers culminating in broad fluted cups that support the next and more slender column, rising up to equivalent golden domes.
The tall minarets dwarf the much smaller gilt domes that rise from the side of the central structure. At the front of the mosque sits a cluster of palms, with columns of single palms leading along the walkways to the outer two gates. On the outside lies a small grassy plot enclosing a modest fountain with the mosque’s name inscribed on the outside wall.
I circuit the largely abandoned property from outside the gates, the roadway bereft of any traffic, and then my visit is done. It is then time to move on to the final activity of the short day, that is to find the right place to eat in the adjacent warren of mini-malls, which becomes a convoluted effort in and of itself.
The perennial plethora of restaurants here makes it difficult to determine what the best choice would be, and after wending along numerous walkways, climbing through bushes, crossing parking lots, perusing menus, and evaluating my eating options, I concluded with a stellar choice, a modest family establishment with a varied buffet dedicated entirely and exquisitely to delicacies of the Malay cuisine, a sublime indulgence and suitable conclusion to this final day in Brunei.