The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

This weekend marks the end of my first month in Brunei.  This is an interesting time in my expat journey.  I’ve been here long enough that I know my way around, and am definitely getting used to the place.  But I haven’t been here long enough for it to feel like home, or to feel settled.  I still feel like a visitor.  I still don’t believe it will be warm all year round, and I’ll never have to say goodbye to watermelon season.

And this seems like a perfect time to write a little summary of what I’ve found so far.

Sunset at Kuala Belait Beach.Photo by The Engineer.

Sunset at Kuala Belait Beach.
Photo by The Engineer.

The Good

  • The sunsets are amazing.  Almost every night they’re amazing.  And they come at a perfect pre-dinner-walk time, so we often get to see them.  
  • We are so close to other countries.  This weekend we are heading to Malaysia.  It will take about an hour to get where we’re going.  And we didn’t organise it until yesterday.  This is a total revelation for someone used to being a 3 hour flight away from anywhere.
  • The people I’ve met so far have been lovely.  Everyone has been really friendly and keen to help.  I have had tips of where to go, where to find things, what to try, and how to get things done.
  • The food is cheap.  We can always get lunch for the two of us for under $10, usually including drinks.  Sometimes it’s under $5.  Even at the expensive restaurants, a couple of courses plus drinks is usually around $50.
  • It’s warm.  All the time.  Even at night, I don’t ever have to think about taking a jacket (except occasionally a rain jacket).

The Bad

  • I haven’t met many people so far.  It’s hard in a small town where you’re obviously foreign.  And not being the kind of person who walks up to people with no reason and starts chatting, it’s a challenge.  But it’s still early days, and I am hopeful that membership at the Panaga Club will help matters!
  • My people at home are in a different time zone.  I know this is obvious.  But sometimes I just want to pop onto Facebook at 8:30pm and see what’s happening, maybe chat to someone.  Problem is, at 8:30pm my time most people are in bed, and nothing’s really happening!
  • There is rubbish all over the place.  The river is polluted, the streets are littered, the parks hold unpleasant surprises.  Sometimes this tarnishes the absolute beauty of the place.
  • It’s humid.  The warmth is nice, but the humidity makes it challenging at times.  It takes me about 7 minutes to walk to town, with no hills or anything.  But by the end of the walk I’m usually pretty sweaty, and ready for some aircon-action.
  • There are stray dogs, and lots of them.  And even the non-stray dogs bark way more than dogs at home.  Our neighbours dogs sometimes escape onto our property, and there have been a few dog fights.  The other day I got followed for a couple of minutes on my way home by a barking dog, and had to be pretty careful to keep my eyes ahead and not make it worse.
  • It’s hard to know where to buy things.  The hardware store sells ice cream.  The book store doesn’t sell maps.  The department store sells anything, but not everything.  By looking and asking around, we have found everything we need.  But shopping is certainly not what I’m used to.

The Ugly

I guess you could count the rubbish in this category, but really there is nothing ugly about life here so far.  It’s fascinating.  And of course it’s very different.  But even the bad things are not really all bad.  They’re just different to what I am used to.

The ugliest thing I’ve taken a picture of so far is my face when I realised that we had burnt a whole tray of cashews that we were supposed to be roasting!

The Ugly: Oops, we burnt the cashews.Photo by The Engineer.

The Ugly: Oops, we burnt the cashews.
Photo by The Engineer.

Weekly Challenge 2: Unidentified Fruit

Last week I brought you the first of our Weekly Challenges, the Sardine Donut.  It was not an easy one to start with, although the results were not as bad as they could have been.  Or even as they should have been.

Best of all, the donut didn’t scare us off, and last Friday afternoon (great time for a challenge, with The Engineer finishing work at 11am), we headed out to the Seria Market for challenge number two.  This one was set by The Engineer, and was for me.  And I have to admit, I was grateful for how nice he was to me after the Sardine Donut.

My challenge was to purchase a fruit that I could not identify, and try it.

Me and my Weekly Challenge.Photo by The Engineer.

Me and my Weekly Challenge.
Photo by The Engineer.

I headed out to the market, expecting to browse around, find all sorts of interesting things, and have to make a tough decision.  But apparently I have been learning some things in the past few weeks, because there were very few things I hadn’t seen before.   As well as things I have known about for years like watermelon, pineapple, pears, and oranges, I saw rose apples, dragon fruit, pomelos, and longan fruit.  But none of these met the criteria.  I could identify them, and I knew what they were.  It was pretty easy to find new vegetables (there’s some crazy stuff out there), but fruit was more of a challenge. Eventually, I did find a few new things.  And since The Engineer set such an easy one, I decided to step it up a little and buy three different fruits (that, and I just plain couldn’t decide…)

A selection of fruit to try.Photo by The Engineer.

A selection of fruit to try.
Photo by The Engineer.

When we got home (after stopping for an iced milo for The Engineer, and some Easter supplies) we got into them.  First up was the big yellow guy at the front.  Initial google searches suggested it could be durian (famously stinky fruit that is very popular in South East Asia).  I certainly thought the smell was not too pleasant, and the pictures lined up.  But once The Engineer gave it a go, he said “Are you sure it’s not jackfruit?”) and further googling suggested that he might just be right…

The jackfruit was weird.  It had a strong, sweet, sticky smell and flavour.  It was not entirely unpleasant, but not entirely pleasant either.  As someone not too fond of many tropical fruits, I would certainly not be putting it on the shopping list, but I didn’t stop after the first bite.

Next up we tried the one in the middle.  And as soon as I cut it open, I realised my mistake.  Here’s why:

Turns out I was familiar with this one...

Turns out I was familiar with this one…
Photo by The Engineer.

It was a passionfruit!

The passionfruit was delicious.  I have never been a huge fan at home, but this one was super juicy, and slightly tangy (probably due to being slightly unripe).  This I would definitely continue to buy.  And it was the cheapest too!

The third one was a little more tricky.  Some people might have been able to identify it straight away, but I’d never seen one before.  When I cut it open, we discovered it was pink inside, but searches for “tropical fruit green outside pink inside” took a while to yield results…

This one was a bit harder to work out... Photo by The Engineer.

This one was a bit harder to work out…
Photo by The Engineer.

Eventually we discovered that a) it was a guava, and that b) it was not quite ripe yet.  The seeds were still extremely hard, and the flesh was crisper and less sweet than it should have been.  It was not unpleasant tasting, but it was hard to eat, and not very satisfying.  Lucky for us, we bought two of these, and the other one is sitting ripening on the bench as we speak.  Hopefully we get a more pleasant guava-experience soon.

And that was that. This was not a difficult challenge really (although, with different fruit, it potentially could have been), but it was fun.  I certainly wouldn’t have picked up most of these fruit without a reason.  I never would have known that the best passionfruit I’ve ever tasted were right under my nose.  And really, I can never complain about a market-shopping experience.

Finally, because no eating challenge post is complete without a stupid tasting face, here’s me:

Me and my guava tasting face.Photo by The Engineer.

Me and my guava tasting face.
Photo by The Engineer.