5 things I miss about London

We have been living in Brunei for a little over three months now, which means we are halfway through our time here.  It’s fun and all but I won’t deny that there are some things I miss about home (in no particular order):

  1. My Chums.
    Happy, shiny people who I love.  Enough said:

    This was taken at our big fat Indian wedding by our very talented photographer, Jack Hoyle. http://www.jackhoylephotography.com
    This is one my favourite shots of our big fat Indian wedding taken by our very talented photographer, Jack Hoyle. I love how the shot is a little blurry and out of focus as it reflects on the drunk, happy mood so very well!  http://www.jackhoylephotography.com

  2. Fresh Milk.

    Got milk?
    Got milk?

    You can get fresh milk in Brunei but it’s ludicrously expensive and so Hubs and I are having to get used to the taste of UHT.  The other issue I have with milk here is that not all coffee shops stock low-fat or skimmed milk, which has led to some seriously irate mornings when Hubs and I can’t get that caffeine fix.


  3. Walking
    I love walking around London- it’s the best way to explore and get to know the city.  If there’s a choice between getting the tube and walking, I’d probably walk.  In Brunei however, not all roads come with pavements, which means it isn’t even possible to nip to the local grocery store on foot as the nearest one is more than a mile away and would require rising life and death crossing the roads to get there.


  4. Posh Nosh. 
    I am a total foodie.  I love eating out and London has no shortage of options. Brunei, on the other hand, has loads of restaurants where you can get all the fried chicken you want and then some.  There are a couple of really great sushi restaurants and of course the delicious nasi lemak is served everywhere BUT what you won’t find is gourmet cuisine.  gourmet


  5. Boozeries
    Those of you who keep up with my posts will know that the sale of alcohol is forbidden in Brunei although Hubs and I found a speakeasy in a hotel where you can get an ice cold beer.   We keep a pretty well stocked bar at home and, as I’ve said before, drinks out on the balcony are great but could someone just please take me to an over-priced bar and get me a proper drink?

    I'll have three olives in that please
    I’ll have three olives in that please
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Starving in Kuching

Kuching, Malaysia; an old colonial city which is named after the Malay word for cat.  Not sure why.  Situated on Kuching River it has a gorgeous promenade with views of the architecturally interesting (is it a hat?! is it an umbrella?!) New Sarawak State Legislative Building.

State Assembly

You’re in the mood for a bit of old school architecture.  You’ve been longing for a nice breezy walk along the riverbank, making stops for ice cream and beer and trying out new foods, after all that’s what Kuching is known for; the food.  Getting here from Brunei was easy too, a bit of a drive drive, short flight and shorter taxi ride.  So the Hotel (Grand Margherita) isn’t anything to shout about but it’s close to the City Centre and breakfast is included.

Never, ever have you had such terrible luck with breakfasting at an hotel.  On your first morning you arrive to breakfast at 9ish and the hostess (generously) offers you a ‘shared table’ with a family of 3.  One quick look at the mid-tantrum-snot-covered-toddler throwing chicken sausages on the floor and you graciously decline.  So maybe not that graciously but she got the message.  10 minutes later you manage to find your own table.  It’s littered with dirty plates, more chicken sausage and covered in omelette, which you get cleared away.  You delicately place your cardigan over the back of a chair and leave your room key on the table- an international sign to show that the table is taken, or so you thought, When you return with a cup of weak tea, dry toast (having been informed that the butter supply has finished) and a couple of the ubiquitous chicken sausages you find a cheeky old man has commandeered your table.  Unbelievable.  You make it clear that this is your table, that’s your cardigan and your room key and that you’re not looking to share.  The waitress sees the commotion and takes him away.  So then you and Hubs play tag team at keeping the table occupied in case any other usurpers are lurking in the midst.

One bite of the chicken sausage and you understand that wretched toddler’s plight.  A waiter appears with what must be the last mini-butter in the establishment that was obviously tucked away in some deep corner of the fridge, judging by the temperature.  Hubs queued for an omelette; took 20 minutes.  A few mouthfuls later you’ve both had enough and decide that it just isn’t working.  So you leave with an empty stomachs.

You decide to head for the nearest, biggest mall.  There must be food to be eaten there and you’re in luck.  There’s a Starbucks.  Hello, civilisation!

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After your second (but really your first) breakfast of the day you venture round the small city.  there are some pretty sights including an old Courthouse; being a bit of an expert on British Courts you can say with some certainty that it is finer than any County Court in England and Wales.

Law Building

You take a little cruise along the river and pass the State Assembly and an old dockyard left behind by the old white rajahs, in ruins, which somehow makes it more beautiful.

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The next day you get to breakfast just as it’s opening up.  Smartest thing you’ve ever done- not a single person queuing for omelettes.  You embark on a trip to Indiatown.  It’s pretty much boarded up because of Ramadan. So much for buying your mum some pretty silk.  Also means that you’re stuck for lunch and dinner as it seems everyone is celebrating with their loved ones.  Turn out all those lovely food stalls along the promenade are shut too.  Having walked round the city three times and not found a single place open for lunch you and Hubs are getting pretty hangry.  You’re ready to settle for a KFC but even that’s shut.  Unprecedented.  So you walk up to the nearby Chinatown and thank God for the Chinese.

china town

Water Fools

Who doesn’t love a national holiday?! Certainly not the good people of Brunei who seem to have them every other week.  You’ve also got to love the Sultan for spreading about the birthday cheer as a good many days off have been held in that very honour.  Altogether now; “for he’s a jolly good fellow…”

With another long weekend on the horizon you and Hubs decide to head to Miri, a small town in Sarawak, Malaysia. It’s a 2 – 4 hour drive (depending on the queue at the border), close to plenty of attractions and most importantly of all; there are numerous restaurants and bars where they serve liquor.

Regrettably (for us) it seems a few others had the same idea and so as Hubs drives up to the crossing you find yourself at the wrong end of a 3.5 km long queue.  It’s a tad tedious but you’ve done this before and this time you pee’d before you left (unlike some of the men at the roadside) and you brought snacks.  The absolute worst thing about queuing is having to endure queue-jumpers and there are plenty of them about.  They brazenly drive up the wrong side of the road and squeeze their monstrous pick-up trucks into a gap some too-slow driver has unwittingly left between bumpers  A few come close to driving into the roadside trenches when avoiding oncoming vehicles but, alas, none come close enough.  You and Hubs, well mostly you, take to honking the horn every time one of these hateful drivers passes but that’s no deterrent. Next time, you’re taking a paintball gun.

Once in Miri you check into the tired looking hotel, leaving the road rage behind.  You’re planning on spending the weekend eating and drinking but Hubs, as usual, has more active plans.  He’s been going through that Lonely Planet guide again (must put an end to that) and he’s found a nearby National Park, Lambir Hills.  “OH but I haven’t got my trekking boots! WHAT A SHAME!” you say.  That doesn’t put him off,  “We’ll do the short 1K trek- it leads to a waterfall where you can swim!”.  Admittedly the thought of swimming in a natural pool does have some appeal but you try getting out of it anyway “BUT it hasn’t RAINED so the waterfall will be DRY!” Obviously, he didn’t fall for that.

Thankfully the car park is pretty empty so at least you won’t have to endure too many tourists.  Aren’t tourists just the worst? You pick up a map, find out where to start and head off.    wooden bridge

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You pass a small waterfall, definitely not deep enough for swimming and you almost feel smug. But that turns out not to be ‘the one’.

Small waterfall

Annoyingly the mosquitoes in Miri seem to have developed resistance to your bug spray which means several pit stops to add another coat much to the amusement of the locals. Eventually you make it to ‘the one’, Latak Waterfall.  And admittedly it is glorious.  You make Hubs go in first to check how deep the water is.  It’s deeper than it looks.

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 H waving

It’s (yet another) hot day and so you decide to join him, even though you’re not very good at treading water and you didn’t pack the lilo. You take a step into the water.  It’s freezing.  Another step, still freezing.  Hubs comes over and takes you into the deep end.  The water is ice cold.  The current is surprisingly strong.  Despite your hardest efforts to stay in one spot somehow your legs keep getting dragged across the no-swim line. “This is it” you think “This is how it ends for me”.  Admittedly, as ways to die go, you couldn’t ask for a more picturesque spot for the job but you cling on- to Hubs; and somehow you both manage to stay afloat.  You even secretly enjoy it.  Despite what you told him.

Big waterfall

Living the dry life.

You’ve been living in a dry country, Brunei for almost four weeks.  Of course that doesn’t mean you’ve been living the dry life for four weeks because the import of alcohol is still allowed. So you went on your first ever booze cruise; you and Hubs went over the border into Malaysia, popped into a nice looking shop not far from Customs and found the place ridden with booze tourists all out in the sun, drinking.  At 10AM.  I guess it’s been more than four weeks for them so no judging here.  Well, maybe a little judging.  Hubs goes for the sixteen pack of canned beer but you’re there for something else and you find it for a bargain £13: Tanqueray Gin. Back at Customs you have to fill in a little orange slip declaring your intoxicating contraband.  There’s a bit of a queue here as one can imagine but it’s worth it.

As good as a beer out on the balcony on a hot day is, and oh my, it is good; it doesn’t quite fill the void of a great British pub or even a rubbish British pub for that matter.  You miss the sad looking furniture, sticky carpets, grumpy bar staff and not to mention the soggy fish ‘n’ chips. Oh for a packet of crisps and a glass of stale wine!

So you get researching online and several clicks later you hear a juicy rumour; In a small hotel, which is a little bit out of the way of town there is a secret bar. A Speakeasy! Not one of those pretentious London bars that popped up a few years ago and you never quite understood the fuss about but a real Speakeasy of the legally forbidden sorts.   You call the hotel for a bit of fact-checking.  Or rather you make Hubs do it: “Oh hi, is The Lounge open?” he asks, “Who are you and where are you calling from??” asks the gnarly Receptionist.  A few moments later he is put through to another woman, a suspicious type but you’re proud to see Hubs stand up to the interrogation and he obviously passed the test because the call ends with him being told that last orders are at 10PM.  Straight to the hotel you go where you’re greeted by yet another surly woman asking what you want “The lounge?” you say.  “Go ask at second floor!” she snaps.

At the second floor two young women are sitting aimlessly at a table in the hallway.  You look over at them and ask for The Lounge.  They point you in the direction of a room at the end of the hall.  Your heart is racing by this point. You walk along the hall, passing a number of guest rooms and arrive at the end of the hall.  You pause and look around as you get the feeling someone is watching you.  Creepy.  Suddenly a door opens and a Chinese man beckons you into his room.  In you go and at once you notice the sticky floor.  Through the cigarette haze you make out tired and old furniture, it’s definitely on the sad side. You find a couple chairs and a woman behind the bar looks up but doesn’t bother taking your order.  No matter as, a few minutes later, a waiter comes over with two chilled beer glasses, filled to the brim.  There’s even fish ‘n’ chips on the menu! Welcome back, Friday nights down the pub!

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Supermarket Sweep.

For some inexplicable reason it is always the case that when you’ve filled your trolley to the brim and carefully select what appears to be the fastest moving queue at the supermarket you inevitably get it wrong.  Even when you move across the world the situation is no better. Somehow, despite racing up and down the row of cashiers, surveying the amount of shopping per belt and the speed with which it is being bagged, you get it wrong.  You end up watching the cashier methodically retrieve every item the old couple before you have managed to heap onto the conveyor belt, study it, find the bar code, scan it, scan doesn’t work, so search again, spectacles on, tap in the number -beep! Onto the next.  It’s a slow process but you have to admire her ability to remain completely unfazed by all the huffing and puffing, and there is some serious huffing and puffing going on at our end of the conveyor belt. Some minutes (which feel like hours) later it’s your turn. You start to think about dinner that night, and lunch the next day and your mouth starts watering.  Then it suddenly strikes you! Despite having made various shopping lists, currently gathering dirt at the bottom of your handbag and having gone through each aisle half a dozen times you’ve somehow managed to forget salt.  Off you run to find the salt aisle.

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A few left turns later you reach the salt only your eye wanders off to its more interesting, sexy friend next door; Cumin. It doesn’t stop with Cumin, all her good chums are hanging around too: Ground Coriander, Mustard Seeds, Garam Masala, Turmeric… You hurriedly gather all the spices your good-little-Indian-girl arms can hold and run back to the till grabbing a small jar of salt on the way. The cashier picked up surprisingly good speed in the three minutes you’ve been gone and Hubs is lingering near the credit card machine but you shout “NO DON’T PAY!” and with that you throw down the bags of spices (and jar of salt) beaming at your spoils.  Dinner just got a whole lot better.

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At home you carefully unpack all the spices. Mouth watering again.  Then you look a little closer at the almost forgotten jar of salt.  “Funny looking salt” you think. You open the jar and pour a little out onto your hand and toss into your mouth.  That is definitely not salt but it does have a familiar taste and almost immediately you go back for more when three little letters on the side of the jar catch your eye: MSG.

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Hubs is going to love my cooking.  It’s going to get enhanced by about five times.

Choppy Waters

There’s nothing like being in a speedboat; with the water frothing at the sides, splashing on your arms and that refreshing breeze.  At least that’s how you imagine it.  When all the excitement is bursting up inside because you- bespectacled, slightly asthmatic and scared of spiders bigger than a 50p piece; you, are about to discover a fantastic island, Manukan Island that has the best snorkelling, and un-touched rainforest and a shiny white beach.  It’s what you were dreaming of the whole way on the 8 hour car journey.  Six border crossing later you’re finally there, stepping onto the boat.

The engine revs.  And splutters.  You don’t let that still your beating heart.  It revs again.  Splutters again. Some shouting ensues.  One man (The Captain?) storms off the boat.  You wait; part sitting/part crouching on the worlds’s narrowest seat, the adrenaline pumping through your veins.  Man returns with huge container of petrol.  Engine revs and off you go! Hurrah! Except the water is a little choppy; no matter.  You hold; then grip the side of the boat and then your husband (he’s a better swimmer than you).  The boat gets faster, the water choppier.  It’s all good though because you can see that speck of an island in the distance and the speed this guy is going you’ll be there in no time.  Only that wasn’t your island.  No matter, another speck of green appears.  This must be it.  The water is getting choppier by the second. The boat jumps around like a kid on a bouncy castle. Still you find the strength to take a quick selfie.  After all, what’s the point of going on an adventure if you can’t boast about it to your nearest and dearest?

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You arrive to the tiny Island.  “Let’s work up a sweat and try one of these nature trails through the jungle” you say.  Flip-flops off. Trainers on.  The walk starts off just fine, it’s a little bit sweaty and a few bugs about but there isn’t a centimetre of your body that isn’t covered in industrial strength mosquito repellant.  You soldier on.  There isn’t really a cleared path but there is a dirt trail of sorts.  Hop over a water pipe (who put that there?!) and into a puddle of muddy water.  Ahead, lie two logs in a perfect ‘X’ “Surely, they’ve fallen that way naturally?” husband says/hopes.  You give him one of your looks.  “You’re right.” He unwillingly admits.  “That was no accident.” Nature trail fail.

No matter because there’s still that un-explored beach. The one littered with tourists.  You find a strip of sand but before you can dip your toe in the water your tummy lurches so you lie down.  You stare up at the clear, blue sky waiting for the queasy feeling in your tummy to pass thinking to yourself “Maybe it’s sea-sickness? Could it be the overbearing heat of the jungle? Or that laksa we had last night?”

Who knows but suffice to say, we caught an early ride back to the mainland. So long Manukan!IMG_2882

The trouble with Resorts.

Hubs and I spent our first couple weeks in Brunei at the 5* Resort, The Empire Hotel and Country Club. As the name suggests it’s a grand old affair with gold-plated columns, elevators and even the wall sockets are gold-plated! The resort it huge.  It’s a little bit Vegas without all the stuff that really makes Vegas, Vegas.  (No booze, no gambling and no scantily clad visitors). There is a gym, cinema and golf course on site as well as 4 or 5 pools although at the moment only 2 of the pools are open.  We got a room with a view of the South China Sea (that’s the blue between the other blue and the green):

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The trouble with Resorts is this: It’s pretty hot.  So you’ll be needing to cool down at the pool.  It’s a 10 minute walk to the pool from your building.  So you stick on a bikini, add a cover up and make your way there; past the promenade of shops with lonely and bored looking Sales Assistants, through the air conditioned main building and eventually you make it down to the pool.  You pick a sunny spot with a clean-looking sun-lounger and throw down your towel before you realise that you left your Ray-Bans in the room.  So you head back.  Back through the chilly main building, where the thermometer seems to have dropped to “Icelandic”, past those really sad Sales Assistants and up/down any number of (gold-plated) lifts and back to your room.  Only when you get there you realise you left the key to your room safely tucked away in the pocket of your Kindle.  A trip back down to the lobby to look for a Bell Boy with a master key. Eventually you make it back to the pool.  Having spent the last 1/2 hour working up a sweat you’re even more excited about that first cool dip. Only in the time you’ve been gone the pool’s been invaded by Chinese teenagers.  So much for the quiet life.

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