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April 3, 2004

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You'd never guess from the modern map that Brunei was once the biggest and most powerful country on Borneo. Associating with the British brought its dominance to an end. From our trip to Sarawak we learned about Britain's first contact. By suppressing a revolt, James Brooke won royal recognition from the sultan and became the first White Rajah. In subsequent years, Brooke influenced the sultanate to become a British protectorate. Britain, via the Brooke's of Sarawak, reduced Brunei's territory until, with one final episode of geographic gymnastics, the country was divided in half by treaty in 1890. And just as Brunei was about to be swallowed up entirely, oil was discovered in 1929. After WWII, Asia cried out for independence, and in Brunei's case that came in 1962 after a major revolt. The Sultan suspended the constitution and has ruled as an absolute monarch since then.

Walking around Bandar, it feels like the city is overbuilt for its inhabitants. Everything seems supersized: from mosques, to roadways, all the way to a theme park that claims to be bigger than Walt Disney World. The oil reserves are projected to last until 2020. What then will happen to this country, the playground of the Sultan?

Two architectural styles:
Pre-oil boom.
Post-oil boom.
Traditional long houses still exist along Brunei's inner waterways. Several generations or families live in these warehouse-sized communal homes.