Weekly Challenge 1: The Sardine Donut

When you’re in a new country, it’s easy to try new things.  They’re everywhere.  From Bandung at the riverside food stall, to  Teh Tarik at most places, we can’t really avoid the new stuff.  Even Nasi Lemak, Nasi Ayam, and Mee Goreng (some of our staples here), are not things we ate regularly at home.  But at the same time, it’s also very easy to grab onto a few staples, and stick to them.  It can be scary to order new things at restaurants; sometimes the ordering starts a whole stream of questions you don’t know the answers to or understand.  And some things just sound weird, or you don’t know what they are, so it’s often easier to avoid them.

But we don’t want to be the kind of expats who don’t try anything new.  We want to get out there and eat weird stuff, do new things, and basically just give things a go.  And in order to make sure we do that, we’re setting some challenges.  The idea is that each week there is a challenge.  A challenge for The Engineer; a challenge for me; a challenge for both of us; rinse and repeat.  I had the first idea, which is why The Engineer was lucky enough to go first!

And what was that idea?  It was something I found at the awesome Lof bakery in town (turns out the savoury things aren’t exactly delicious, but the shop is well set out, air conditioned, cheap, and the $1 donuts come in all sorts of flavours).  And when I saw it, I just knew this was to be the first challenge.

Yes, the label on the picture is correct.  It's a Sardine Donut.Photo by me.

Yes, the label on the picture is correct. It’s a Sardine Donut.
Photo by me.

It looks innocent enough.  But the label is correct.  This is no ordinary donut.  It’s a SARDINE Donut. And The Engineer’s challenge was simple: to try it!

I don’t think The Engineer had any particular views on sardines prior to the challenge, but his views on donuts were pretty definite (they should be sweet), and his views of sardine donuts were not so hot when we cut inside (let’s just say the smell of sardines does not really match the smell of donuts!).

Inside view of the Sardine Donut.Photo by me.

Inside view of the Sardine Donut.
Photo by me.

He took a few tentative bites, and came to the conclusion that the donut was more weird than bad.  I, of course, had to try it as well (I know it was his challenge, but this is probably the only time we’ll have one); and I agreed that it was kinda odd, but not entirely offensive.  It tasted like a donut, filled with tomatoey sardines (who knew?).  We didn’t finish it, but we didn’t spit it out.  And had we known what was ahead of us (weirdly sweet filled rolls), we might have looked upon it more positively.

The Engineer's reaction to the Sardine Donut.Photos by me.

The Engineer’s reaction to the Sardine Donut.
Photos by me.

Overall, the first weekly challenge was a success.  We tried something new, and realised that it wasn’t for us.  But more importantly, we got into the whole challenge idea, and have since been come up with all sorts of other plans (you’ll have to wait to find out what those are though!).  It was something we probably wouldn’t have done without a reason, and it didn’t make us throw up.  I’d call that a success!

Keep your eye out for more of these in the future…

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Getting our fancy pants on

If you’re following me on Facebook, you may have seen that this past weekend, The Engineer and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary at the Empire Hotel in Jerudong (a.k.a. the flashest hotel in Brunei).   We have stayed in a few hotels before, even some kinda fancy ones, but this was still a big step away from our usual holiday.  This was the sort of place where you relax by the pool, charge all sorts of extras to your room, have high tea in the lobby, and don’t leave the hotel for the entire holiday.  We are more used to getting out and about, exploring, and doing all sorts of activities (we have been known to bring our mountain bikes and tramping clothes to fancy hotels and have certainly had our fair share of strange looks in the lobby as a result).

From the pool at the Empire

View from the pool, at the Empire Hotel. Photo by The Engineer.

But this weekend we embraced the resort and the fanciness (except for a brief break when we couldn’t bear the idea of paying $15 for Nasi Lemak at lunch time and snuck out to get it for $3).  We relaxed by the pools, reading, swimming, and getting really sunburned (in the shade of an umbrella no less).  We made the most of the breakfast buffet.  We tried two of the seven or so restaurants.  We had mocktails at the swim-up bar.  We sipped tea blended with gold leaf and enjoyed delicious nibbles at high tea.  We dressed up and sipped lemon juice with our fancy dinner.

Fancy pants on!

Heading out for dinner at the Empire Hotel. Photo by The Engineer.

Most importantly we had a fantastic time.  We relaxed.  Probably more than we’ve ever relaxed before.  And, other than some not-so-great food, and the aforementioned sunburn, I wouldn’t change a thing.

During the weekend, we actually discussed this several times.  “Are we going to become resort and cruise people now that we can afford it?”, “Is this going to be our typical family holiday when we have kids?” (there were a lot of kids around), “Did we only do adventurous holidays because we couldn’t afford anything else?”.

Our conclusion was that, no, this was not a turning point.

It was a lovely break, and we couldn’t have asked for a better celebration of our anniversary.  But two days was enough.  I loved reading by the pool, but I couldn’t do it forever.  We were getting ready to explore; ready to see what was around, and what we could do. We couldn’t be bothered making use of the Cinema or Bowling Alley there (because aren’t those things more fun with friends anyway?), although we certainly appreciated that they were there.

The sunset from our room at the Empire Hotel. Photo by The Engineer.

The sunset from our room at the Empire Hotel. Photo by The Engineer.

And, at the end of the day, if you’re paying that much, you really should be spending all your time at the hotel.  And we couldn’t even do two full days.  Of course, that might all be different if we had been in the Emperor Suite (private pool and cinema? What?), which is one of those “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” kind of places.

View of the Empire Hotel by night.  Photo by The Engineer.

View of the Empire Hotel by night. Photo by The Engineer.

Internetless

I’ve been in Brunei for two weeks, and so far it’s great.  It’s amazing to be with the engineer again, the weather has been fantastic, the town is small enough that I pretty much know my way around already.  The only thing lacking is an internet connection.  The engineer tried to sign up for internet over a month ago, and was told that they were out of modems, and they wouldn’t be in stock again for a month.  A week ago, he got a call saying he needed to come into the office.  Unfortunately, his visit was not to pick up a modem, just to pay them some money.  And still we wait for the modem, with no real idea as to when it might arrive.

So in the meantime, I am settling in and learning this new place without the help of the internet.  From my research before I left, this might not actually be much of a disadvantage (a lot of stuff in Kuala Belait is not found on the internet), but for someone very used to being connected, it’s disconcerting.  I miss my people at home, I miss being able to google “how to cook okra” and “best coffee in Kuala Belait”, and I definitely miss being able to google maps my way around town.

But at the same time, I’ve actually enjoyed the forced break from technology.  I like just exploring and trying things out.  I like having to get out of the house to work things out.  I even sort of like the search for the perfect wifi spot (insider tip: the Coffee Bean Tea Leaf at Seaview Resort is a surefire contender).

And during this break, I’ve learned some things:

  1. Local people are even better than google.  Sometimes I’m nervous to ask people things, but when I have, I’ve had some great answers.
  2. I am subscribed to a lot of things I don’t actually care very much about.  When I get access to my email, I spend a fair bit of time deleting the things I can’t really be bothered reading.
  3. Having no internet is especially difficult when you don’t have a phone.  Connecting my cell phone meant an hour long wait.  I nearly gave up, but the fact that without connecting it I had no way to contact the engineer gave me the patience to push through.
  4. Life without connected devices is nice.  Board games are fun.  The internet tends to drag me away from the people I love sometimes.
  5. Random exploration without a plan can lead to great things.  Like last week when we drove around with no plan finding a place to take photos, and stumbled across a great path, with amazing views of the mosque.

    KB Mosque

    View of the Mosque from our randomly found path. Photo by me.

  6. As much as I talk up this break from technology, I actually really like the internet!

So far, I’m managing well.  I am looking forward to the day we’re connected again, but in the meantime, it’s manageable.  I am getting good at using an hour pretty well, writing blog posts ahead of time, and making sure my time is not wasted.  I’m making myself a nuisance at the coffee shops around town (thanks Marilyn’s and Coffee Bean Tea Leaf), and learning what drinks are the best value for money.  And who knows, maybe I’ll even meet some people while I’m out there!

Happy Anniversary

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Today marks three years since I became The Engineer’s Wife.  Three years of adventure, and fun, and team work.  Three great years.

Happy anniversary Engineer – I couldn’t imagine a better team mate.

I never would have dreamed that this anniversary would be spent in Brunei, but it feels perfect.  It seems like just the place we need to be right now, and it is great.

Let’s hope the next three are just as exciting.

Arriving

When the last post finished, I was in Singapore, in a cab from the airport.  Things were going well…

And the next two days in Singapore were no different.  I was tired, it was hot, I was itching to get to Brunei, but I managed to have a swim in the pool, check out lots of shops, find some good food, have a fish pedicure, see the night safari, and most importantly, get my visa stamp in my passport.

Kuala Belait Beach

Walking along Kuala Belait Beach, March 2013. Photo by me.

On Friday night, I was really on the way.  I headed out to the airport nice and early, arriving just as check in for my flight opened. I was so excited that I didn’t care about paying $100 for my extra luggage.  I had McDonald’s at the airport (a bit of a tradition for me), checked out the shops, made use of the free wifi, and tried to be as patient as possible (which actually wasn’t too hard – Changi really is a great airport).

Then finally, I was here.  I arrived late on Friday night, and could not have been happier to see my engineer, my sister, and her boyfriend attempting to form the letters J-E-N with their bodies.  I couldn’t really believe that I had actually arrived.  I was also tired. Waking up at 4:30 am, and travelling until nearly midnight does not give a girl a lot of energy.

But I didn’t care about the tiredness.  I was here.  I was really here.  And after a few days with very few conversation partners, I was also chatty.  I chatted through the 120 km road trip back to our house.  I chatted through the bumpy highway, the random turns, past the teapot in the roundabout, and through the twists and turns that brought me to the apartment.  Our apartment.  Our home for the next two years.

And I kept chatting.  Until eventually, I crashed.  Hard.

Being here, being with the engineer, broke my jet lag.  I slept until a sensible time.  And when I got up I was still here.  Still with the engineer.  Still not quite believing it.

The weekend was spent exploring.  Exploring the main street (which took all of 20 minutes), exploring the market (and not realising that the quietness at 10am was not because it was nearly over, but because it had not quite started), exploring the mega mart, exploring the jungle (in search of a lake we didn’t find because we gave up too early).

But actually, most of the weekend was spent playing board games.  One of my favourite things to do; with my favourite people.  It was quiet, but lovely.  It was just what I needed.

And then the visitors were gone, and it was just me.  Me and my new career.  Starting my life as an Engineer’s Wife.

Finally!

I know, I know, it’s been very quiet around here lately. And there’s good reason for that. Last time I wrote, I was waiting patiently very impatiently to get my approval to fly to Brunei. Long story short, the approval arrived, I flew, and now I’m here. And here has no internet, so I’m searching for free wifi, and not getting online all that much.

DSC_0142-001

(Photo by The Engineer, March 2013, Kuala Belait, Brunei)

Long story long, I was starting to get sick of waiting, and on a Monday at the beginning of March, I was pretty frustrated and upset. But on that same Monday evening, my visa finally came through, and hopes were rising. But on Tuesday, when we realised that if I was to spend two nights in Singapore I had to leave on Wednesday morning or wait until Sunday, I was pretty sure I’d have a few days to prepare myself. So, imagine my surprise when on Tuesday night, at 10:30 pm, I received flight confirmation. For a flight leaving Wednesday at 9:30 am (or so I thought, but that’s a later story). And yes, that was less than 12 hours away. So I quickly packed my things, ordered a taxi, and tried to sleep in preparation for a big day ahead.

On Wednesday morning I was ready to go bright and early. I waited around for my taxi, and when it arrived, I double checked that I had tickets, passport etc. etc. Fortunately, I had everything. Unfortunately, my flight was not 9:30am as I thought, but 8:35 am. It was currently 8:05 am, meaning that I was supposed to have checked in by… umm… RIGHT NOW. A few choice cuss words later, the taxi driver was on his way as fast as he could go.

I got to the airport, paid (“Don’t worry about the change”) and rushed to the desk. Unfortunately, the flight was gated and I could not get on. Fortunately, I had a flexi fare (thank goodness for work booked flights) and could get on the 9:30am flight. A few check in hassles later (extra luggage is a PAIN), I had my boarding pass, and was ready to go.

The day was filled with cramped seats, funny food on planes and in airports, movies, endless episodes of TV shows, trying to avoid bodily contact with my neighbours (I was in the middle seat, bleurgh), and increasing tiredness, until we finally touched down in Singapore. At this point, I spent a ridiculous amount of money checking my email over the 3G network (roaming is expensive!) to receive my hotel confirmation (with the rush of the flight booking, I hadn’t received it with the flights). I was relieved to see the email from Damian letting me know that I was confirmed and where to go. I flew through immigration, grabbed my bags, learned how to use a luggage trolley, and jumped in a cab.

Things were going well…

To be continued!