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April 4, 2004

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We don't encounter beggars in Brunei - it seems the sultan's welfare programs have erased dire poverty. The best way to describe the general public is comfortably poor. Brunei may have one of the sharpest divides between rich and poor, except in this special case, a few are incredibly rich while the rest of the populace has just enough to be contented. In recent times there have been slight tremors supporting reform brought about by royal scandals. Prince Jefri Bolkiah helped himself to $16 billion of the state funds. The prince and the sultan have been in a legal battle with a former US model who alleges sex abuse. Even with these problems, the people won't complain to strangers; we never met anyone who said anything negative about the government.

Brunei is a small country, the sultan has considered carpeting the whole place. We rented a car and circumnavigated
the entire country on a half gas tank. Despite oversized modern buildings in the capital, most of the country remains undeveloped and untouched by the outside world.
The billion barrel oil monument commemorating the country's major achievement.
Bruneians are ethnically Malay and share the same customs, beliefs and pastimes with their Malaysian cousins. However, Islam plays a more dominant role here because of the sultan's influence. Jawi, which is Malay written in Arabic script (writing in Malaysia uses the Roman alphabet), is taught in school. Bruneians follow Adat, Muslim customary law, that advises on behavior and dress.
For the people and his polo skills, the sultan built Jerudong, a complex of amusement park rides, golf course, trapshooting, croquet, soccer fields, stables, and a polo stadium (the sultan's hobby). Some brochures say this park is bigger than Disneyland. You won't have to wait in line because the theme park is empty, so take another run around the go-cart track or jump on the flume.