Dupong was particularly interested to see in person the source of the Brunei’s wealth – the petroleum. The Oil and Gas Discovery Center is located in Seria. It was said to be a two hour ride away from Bengawan.
We must be in Seria before lunchtime so we readied very early because we expected the driver to pick us up at 9am. Since Jane arranged our drive, we assigned Jackie to contact the driver. She advised us at exactly 9am while finishing our breakfast that the car was already around. We then searched the parking area only to receive the next message that the pickup was lost in Sheraton Hotel.
Being lost has set the tone of the day. We waited for a while for the driver to reach Radisson Hotel. When we boarded, the lady (I mean the woman at the front passenger seat, who appeared to be the wife of the smiling driver) declared, “No Malayo, No Ingles!” Bang! We felt the bomb exploded in our midst. We took it to mean that the couple, we labeled them as Uncle Driver and Auntie Tourguide, who will be driving us to our suggested destinations only speaks in their local tongue. Then Jackie handed them a piece of paper that indicated the list of our must see destinations that day. When they read the list, they remarked in their tongue, in their usual tone, in their usual talking speed. Had we seen our faces, we would definitely find ourselves open-mouthed, stunned, scared. Jackie almost fell off her seat, I can feel. I can even tell she wanted to back out. Ruth’s family at the back seats remained quiet; I sensed some fear. Dupong and I however were confident we can make fun out of this language barriers. We can turn these constraint and inconvenience into some learning experience. Armed with few Bahasa which we learned from our Jakarta trip in February 2013 and from my latest trip to Malaysia in August this year, we kept our composure, smiled to the couple, and said, “Ok, ok. Let’s go!”
Upon entering the highway, the couple started conversing, telling us many things. I believe, they were about anything which only both of them understand, evidenced by their occasional guffaws. Dupong and I reciprocated only with limited and reluctant “ya” and/or “ok”, while our four other company, Jackie, Jun, Ruth and Auntie Myrna (we did not call her Auntie that day just to avoid further confusion, now that we have Auntie Tourguide), kept quiet and observant. Being lost in translation really is scary. Of my six years crossing Southeast Asia borders, only here in Brunei that I shared a tour with no-English speaking tourguide.
To break the silence (or confusion?), I started cracking some stupid but laughable jokes. As some sort of vengeance, I used our own dialect, Bisaya. Since seated at the center between Jackie and Dupong, the aircon blower pointed directly at my groin. I used rambutan fruit to figuratively refer to my scrotum, that “due to cold my rambutan is shrinking!” It was timely then that rambutan fruit is on harvest in the country, the couple took my joke to mean we wanted to eat rambutan fruit. Uncle Driver made a turn and parked at one fruitstand, then Auntie Tourguide went down and bought back 2 kilos of Lansones which she handed to us. She muttered something which we took to mean that rambutan is out of stock. This joke begot more jokes about rambutan and other fruits.
Auntie Tourguide mentioned about “Pantai” and many other incomprehensible words. Again we only responded “Yah, Ok!” and surprised later to notice Uncle Driver entering a narrow road, away from the highway with traffic signs supposedly showing direction to Seria. Then after a while, we noticed a Pantai Lumut’s shoreline and beach resorts. Now we know that “Pantai” refers to beach. But we have plenty of them, more beautiful beaches, in the Philippines. Nevertheless we were grateful to find toilets there.
At that time as well, we understood that the couple themselves have prepared an itinerary for us, that they have different tour plan for our group. How nice! How sweet, if only we understood each other. This will however delay our way to the intended destination, so we started using our handful Bahasa terms. Every time we feel that the couple was thinking of bringing us somewhere not indicated in our itinerary, we immediately told them “keluar!” to mean “don’t, no, not, exit, don’t go, no go, do not enter.” They understood it though. Ha ha!
Arriving in Seria around lunchtime, we were awed at the welcoming gargantuan silos of Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) on one side, a mammoth torch of eternal flame on the other side, and the hammering oil mills here and there. We opted to take our lunch first before going around and found a place inside Jollibee. Yah, Jollibee! We came all the way from Manila to experience Brunei except for food; we still patronize Philippine-made Jollibee. It rained when we dined and it dissipated by the time we resumed our tour.
There were plenty of gates in the BSP area; our note listed three gates amongst them. Thus we have had plenty of “masuk” (we mean “enter here”) and “keluar” (we mean “exit now”), “kiri” to mean left turn or “kanan” for right turn, commanded to Uncle Driver. Our first entry was to the nearest oil mill where we have a closer look of the hammering machine. After some wrong turns, we found our second entry to the Brunei Shell main office. We hurried our photo ops not because there were other tourists, which is surprisingly none, but because of super humid surrounding. Our last stop which we missed the first attempt was at the Billionth Barrel Monument. The spot has ample parking lots for the vehicles, so Uncle Driver announced “jalan jalan!” We took it to mean that we can roam around for as long as we like. As the name suggests, it landmarked the production of the billionth barrel of oil produced from the onshore oil fields in Seria.
Satisfied with what we achieved for the day, as per our listed itinerary, we started our journey back to Bengawan at little past 2pm.
The couple then resumed to their tour plan for us, Uncle Driver led us to Jerudong Park, which we said “keluar!” altogether; then to Pantai Serasa and Pantai Seri Kenangan, which we chorused “keluar!” again; and to Royal Brunei Golf & Country Club, which we just made a turn and exited. Until finally they understood that we wanted to go back to the hotel already.