Laid-back cul­ture re­quires at­ti­tude ad­just­ment

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

Days in Brunei proved to be a refuge from met­ro­pol­i­tan stress, even though it took a while for busy young Chi­nese worker bees, brought up in an era be­liev­ing “Time is money, ef­fi­ciency is life”, to get used to the trop­i­cal coun­try’s laid-back style.

On my way from the air­port to the ho­tel, I was puz­zled as to why there were no high­rise build­ings, over­passes or un­der­passes in a coun­try that has South­east Asia’s high­est per capita in­come af­ter Sin­ga­pore.

No streams of cars crowded the ex­press­way, al­though most of Brunei’s fam­i­lies have more than one car and the price of gas in the oil-rich coun­try is one of the low­est in the world.

No car horns honked, no en­gines roared, al­though some­times there were what lo­cal peo­ple called traf­fic jams in down­town Ban­dar Seri Be­gawan dur­ing busy pe­ri­ods in the morn­ings and evenings. But even th­ese times can­not com­pare to the rush-hour grid­lock in Bei­jing or Shang­hai.

Lo­cals drove or walked slowly. Some re­laxed in the shade of the spa­cious court­yards sur­round­ing their big houses to es­cape the swel­ter­ing mid­day heat, un­til hyp­notic mu­sic called them to pray.

Then, peo­ple in tra­di­tional dress flocked into gold­en­topped mosques. Women donned a full black prayer robe and tudung, a kind of hi­jab that women in Malaysia and Brunei wear, which re­veals noth­ing but their hands and face. Men wore songkuk, which are Malay caps.

They prayed reg­u­larly at dawn, lunchtime, in the af­ter­noon, at sun­set and in the evening, chant­ing and recit­ing verses of the Qu­ran. The mighty mosques were quiet the rest of the time. Grace­ful gar­dens sur­rounded their golden domes, with soar­ing minarets.

At first, our del­e­ga­tion of Chi­nese re­porters en­vied the re­laxed life­style. But the bub­ble soon burst. It was hard to shake off the men­tal­ity formed by a bustling me­trop­o­lis like Bei­jing.

We were of­ten ir­ri­tated when meals we had or­dered did not ap­pear on the ta­ble as quickly as they would have at home.

Restau­rants do not have to be as ef­fi­cient in the sparsely pop­u­lated coun­try as they are in China. Run­ning a busi­ness in Brunei is not nec­es­sar­ily


A mother and her daugh­ter pose in the port re­gion, Kam­pong Ayer, Ban­dar Seri Be­gawan, Brunei, known as the Venice of the Ori­ent.

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