Living in the tropics – getting used to being “at one with nature”?

I guess I’m slowly getting used to a completely different life here in Brunei. Instead of rushing out the door as soon as I wake up to hurl myself at the London public transport system to get into a big grey tower to work, I drop the Hubs off at his work (as we only have 1 car at the moment), have some breakfast from Coffee Bean and then run some errands. Instead of wearing dark suits and dresses with tights, I wear what was previously labelled my holiday wardrobe. These are general changes that I’ve anticipated on some level. But the one thing that I’m finding really new and different is the experience of actually living in a tropical country and all the other stuff that goes with it.

One thing is that it is always warm, even when it’s hazy out. When we have cloudless skies, it’s positively roasting. The power of the sun really is astounding. There are lots of shop signs that have a faded look to them, previously I thought that they were old but now I know that the sun just bleaches everything. Although before I moved here I knew it was going to be hot and humid, the level of heat doesn’t fail to surprise me yet. Sometimes I think, oh that cafe isn’t too far, I’ll just put my hat and sunglasses on and walk over there. Then I actually go outside and think, nope, need to get in the car.

Another thing I’m slowly getting used to is how much wildlife there is. When you live in London in a flat, and you work in a big glass tower, it is really easy to forget that there are other species on this earth. Even when the Hubs and I visited Brunei in June, I thought, how nice, it’s so lush here, so “nature-y”. I now live here, and that romantic notion lives on. BUT it’s slowly dawning on me that it’s not just a lovely little garden here and there, we are ACTUALLY living within the jungle. There is wildlife everywhere, evidenced literally everyday. Wild monkeys roam freely, the other day I even saw a mum and baby monkey! Unfortunately they ran off before I could snap a picture… There are flocks and flocks of cute little white birds (which I haven’t managed to identify yet) which just hang out by the roadside. At night, lizards/geckos come out from wherever they were during the day. After some rain, the sound of frogs croaking is deafening. And these are things/animals that I can see or hear…

The other day, I saw this at the golf course.

Not only do I have to watch where the golf balls land, I have to watch out for CROCODILES!!!

Not only do I have to watch where the golf balls land, I also have to watch out for CROCODILES!!!

I’m not a girl from the tropics and I’ve never lived in a tropical region before. It’s certainly not the same experience as going on a nice week-long holiday in a resort. I’m also terrified of bugs. One day the Hubs and I are walking along the road to the car when a massive bug lands on my arm and I let out a shriek that made heads turn. Just when I think, my god what have I got myself into, I go to the Club to run one of my errands when I see this in the car park.

A tree in the Club car park

A tree in the Club car park

A wild hornbill!

A wild hornbill in the tree!

Yup a wild hornbill just chilling out in the tree. I am chuffed as my Bruneian friend tells me that she’s only seen it once before.

Well I hope I can used to being “at one with nature” soon as these animals aren’t going anywhere! And I wouldn’t want them to either…

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“Dahling, you simply must join the country club…”

I kid, I kid… it’s not really a “country club”. BUT everyone does seem to be a member of the Panaga Club, which is described as a “social, sports and leisure facility”. Judging by what the Hubs’s parents (who used to work in this region about 20 years ago) and what the Hubs’s colleagues who used to work in Brunei have said, much of the social life seems to revolve around the Club. So we wander over the short distance to check it out.

It looks very well maintained and seems to have a huge range of activities for everyone, adults and kids. It’s right on the beach as well.

Main entrance to the Club

Main entrance to the Club

Entering the Club

Entering the Club

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The driving range

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Tennis courts

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The pool

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Poolside restaurant / cafe and notice board

The range of activities is really wide, from knitting / sewing classes to zumba to bridge to an amateur dramatics society and everything in between! After nearly 10 years of sitting at a desk and working very long hours, I’m really looking forward to learning new stuff and being able to participate in group activities. Before my schedule DEFINITELY didn’t allow me to do anything like that. In particular, I’m keen on sports of some kind, not because I’m a massive sports fiend (I don’t think the word sporty would be used to describe me by any of my friends!) but again, after basically sitting at a desk for a decade, things are not as…. tight, let’s say, as they used to be. I recognise that I’m definitely at an age where exercise is needed not only for health reasons but also try and prevent myself from looking like Mr Blobby as much as possible…

So the Hubs and I pick up loads of forms for the various activities but it becomes clear that we can’t do all of them as there aren’t enough hours in the day! We need to work out the ones we want to do the most and pick. I would love to do some touch rugby (something the Hubs and I can do together plus lots of running around that I definitely need!), golf (also something we can do together and an activity that we are enjoying more recently), yoga (it’s good for you), and something arty (I’m the least arty person ever! But would like to try something new). Hope I can cram everything in!

D-Day: The big move (Part 2)

We are on the plane to Singapore. We have a routine now, we’ve done the London-Singapore leg a few times as we almost always fly via Singapore when we visit the Hubs’ family in Malaysia. I’m grateful that we are (again) on the company’s dime and we get to fly the comfy seats as 12 and half hours in the sardine class is NOT the funnest experience in the world.

We take off without much ado and we’re basically straight into the lunch service. As always, it’s all very good and by the time I’ve finished the meal, I’m completely stuffed…

Champagne is a must... especially as we are moving to a dry country!

Champagne is a must… especially as we are moving to a dry country!

First course - parma ham with roasted mushroom, asparagus and pear

First course – parma ham with roasted mushroom, asparagus and pear

Main course - chicken biryani with daal and papadoms. Delish!

Main course – chicken biryani with daal and papadoms. Delish!

Unfortunately I don’t take any photos of the dessert as my brain is only semi-conscious from all the food…

I watch 22 Jump Street (a real disappointment compared to 21 Jump Street… I think I lol’d exactly once… and those who know me KNOW that I’m a pretty cheap laugh) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (entertaining as ever – and Hugh Jackman… not much else needs to be said!). Suddenly I’m asleep and when I’m awake it’s time for breakfast.

First course - fruit

First course – fruit

Second course is chicken pad thai which is lovely. I watch a couple of episodes of Brooklyn Nine Nine (I love this show, the interesting protagonist along with the other quirky characters is a gem) and Veep (ditto) and we arrive at Changi Airport around 7am local time.

Now I have mixed feelings towards Changi Airport. I’ve been there a couple of times and there has never been any doubt that it is extremely efficiently run. And a lot of my friends who had been there said that it is their absolute favourite airport. Plus I know that Changi has topped surveys for the best airport in the world. So I had high hopes when I first got there. But the first thing I noticed when I got there for the first time is the carpet. There is… a lot of it. And it’s mostly brown. So the whole airport looks really… brown. Which is not my favourite colour and unfortunately makes it look really old fashioned. It is a weird contrast, everything else looks really new and modern with the brown, oldish looking carpet. Also, there aren’t that many windows and it doesn’t look as airy as some other airports (think this differs depending on which part of the airport you are in). However, I’m warming to it more and more. Ironically, during our 5 hour layover there (think it’s my longest layover there yet), I come to appreciate the carpet a lot. Although it makes pushing the trolley more difficult (as we have 2 heavy trolley bags and my handbag), it does absorb general noise (I’m sounding like an old now) so it is nice and quiet. This is good after more than 12 hours of engine noise / headphone sounds. Also, there is a LOT you can do there whilst you’re waiting for your next flight and it is very affordable or free. Hubs and I want to take the free Singapore bus tour but the 9am tour is full and the next one leaves us too little time to make our flight to Bandar Seri Begawan. We contemplate going to the free movie theatre but seeing as we just saw loads of movies and we will be on the plane for another 2 hours, we move on. I also appreciate the little gardens they have sporadically, it’s nice to see some green stuff amongst the modern elements.

Changi Airport and its brown carpet

Changi Airport and its brown carpet

Changi's gardens

Changi’s gardens

We search for the Royal Brunei Airlines desk so we can pick up our boarding passes only to be told that they open from 9am so we wander and window shop. Finally we get the boarding passes which allows us to go into the lounge. By this point, all the running around in the last few days in London is really affecting the Hubs and he is knackered. Thankfully the lounge is nice and quiet with hot food and even some massage chairs that the Hubs jumps on. After a massage and shower, he is as good as new.

Thank god for the massage chair - between this and a shower, the Hubs feels much better

Thank god for the massage chair – between this and a shower, the Hubs feels much better

SATS Premier Lounge

SATS Premier Lounge

Lots of hot food including curry and rice, chicken sausages etc. Like we need any more food!

Lots of hot food including curry and rice, chicken sausages etc. Like we need any more food!

First (sort of) kimchi spotting since leaving London

First (sort of) kimchi spotting since leaving London

We get on the plane to Brunei to continue our epic journey. I am initially surprised as our row number is 7. When we went to Brunei in June for a look-see trip, the plane wasn’t that big and the business class didn’t have that many rows. I worry that we are in economy. We are so spoiled! We get on the plane and we find out that we are indeed in business class… as the seats start from row 6. Strangely, rows 1 to 5 are nowhere to be found. Odd.

The lovely staff on the flight serve us a meal, which is nice but really I’m so stuffed that I can’t each much of it. The airline is also dry so no champers 😦

Beef and salad and coffee creme brulee

Beef and salad and coffee creme brulee

Between the meal service and watching some entertainment on the airline mini ipad, it’s only a short flight and we finally see Brunei!

Our home for the next 4 years

Our home for the next 4 years

We get to immigration and dang we have to queue at a separate counter for those who have come to work here. The other tourist queue disappears quickly but we are stuck there for a good while. Once we finish getting a gazillion stamps (still not a visa, mind you) we go to the baggage conveyor belt and we take so long that the porters have kindly collected all of our bags and set them aside. Ours plus one other forlorn bag are the only ones left. The conveyor belt is empty and shut off already.

Our driver is waiting for us and he is easy to find in the newly renovated arrivals hall. Our bags are loaded onto a big white minivan and we are off on a one and a half hour drive to Kuala Belait which will be our new home.

Arrivals hall

Arrivals hall

The newly renovated exterior of Brunei Airport

The newly renovated exterior of Brunei Airport

Entrance / exit to the airport

Entrance / exit to the airport

There is basically one road connecting BSB to KB. It is pretty straight and pretty empty.

The road from BSB to KB is long...

The road from BSB to KB is long…

After a snooze we arrive in KB! We are staying in a hotel for the next 2 weeks or so. I’m hoping for a room with a kitchenette but nope. Oh well. The most important thing is that WE MADE IT!!!

D-Day: The big move (Part 1)

After 6 very long months and lots of paperwork, we finally receive the Brunei visas and we are off! The last 5 nights before we get on the plane are spent in a plush hotel in central London because… well… we can. On the company’s dime. Nice! The Hubs and I agree that we will take a taxi over to the flat on D-Day to clear out some last minute stuff and get our suitcases sorted.

So the night before our flight, we have a lovely last evening with our friend Anya, complete with pizzas at the latest hip place, and Hubs and I agree that getting to the flat for 6am and then taxi to Heathrow around 7am to make our 11.30am flight would work. An hour in the flat is “plenty of time” (more on why we left the flat so early for Heathrow later). What a mistake…. Turns out we actually have a LOT of sorting out to do, obviously we are in denial about how much time it would take to go through all the leftover stuff. We end up throwing away 4 bags full of rubbish and run around til the moment we get into the cab at 7.15. Haven’t even had my breakfast yet and already pooped.

So the (main) reason we go so early to Heathrow is that Singapore Airlines has just moved to Terminal 2 and Hubs wants to check out the lounges. He is a man who usually arrives 2-3 hours early at the airport under normal circumstances but the prospect of checking out brand new lounges in a brand new terminal is tempting and I have to reign him back from wanting to go even earlier.

We arrive at the airport after battling rain and morning traffic but it’s difficult to appreciate it. It is a sparkly terminal from all the newness but I think it’s all a bit same-y. That and it’s hard to muster up enthusiasm when you’re exhausted. The best I can do when I see the Slipstream is “it’s really big”.

LHR Terminal 2 - the Queen's Terminal

LHR Terminal 2 – the Queen’s Terminal

Richard Wilson's Slipstream sculpture

Richard Wilson’s Slipstream sculpture

Inside T2

The shopping area of T2

One thing that perks me right up though is the VAT refund office. I have NEVER in my life said that before but a) they have a dedicated office that doesn’t remind me of the inside of a prison or torture dungeon and b) there is exactly 1 other person in the queue. Hallelujah! Happily we also check in all of our 5 bags without a hitch as we have managed to cram 99.8kg of our stuff into our bags vs 100kg of allowance. We are on a roll!

But then boo we realise that the Singapore Airlines lounge hasn’t even opened yet… umm.. why are we standing around at Heathrow 3 hours before the flight again?? So we decide to try the Lufthansa lounge instead. It is literally their opening day and it is looking bright and airy. Somehow we get into their Senator Lounge.

Lufthansa Senator Lounge

After 20 minutes, the Hubs is feeling antsy so we move on to the Plaza Premium Lounge. The tone is more subdued compared to the Lufthansa lounge, this one has a lot more dark wood and spotlights etc.

Plaza Premium Lounge

By this point the crazy morning (that had started at 4.30!) is catching up with me and I refuse to go check out the United Airlines lounge. So we park ourselves there for a while.

And then it’s suddenly time to board. OMG I AM LEAVING MY HOME OF 17 AND A HALF YEARS. I take a picture to commemorate.

Bye bye London...

Bye bye London…

To be continued in Part 2…

The challenge: creating one’s own entertainment… hmm…

Hello! Greetings from the Brunei seaside, where I moved to less than a week ago with my engineer husband as expats. I will be chronicling my / our adventures on my blog. This new life is very different from my old one, where I was an investment banker of almost a decade in exciting London, where working 12 hours a day in a glossy tower in the financial district (aka “The Wharf”) and getting home for an 8.30 dinner counted as a “good” day.

Now we are in a Bruneian seaside hotel with our 7 suitcases, in a town that literally only has a dualplex cinema and a bowling alley as entertainment venues. AWESOME. What can I say we are hanging out a lot in Coffee Bean, which has good internet and the Fox Movie Premium channel on at all times. We are also taking a lot of naps, which is disappointing as I thought I was the queen of beating jet lag. Turns out that I’m only good at getting over jet lag if there are other things to do that prevent me from lying down…

Having said all this, I’m super excited to be back in Asia (I’m Korean, hence the kimchi sagas) as I’ve been away for nearly 20 years and I can “reconnect with my roots” and all that jazz.

As Koreans would say, bravo my life!