Chris Yong - "A smiley face will get you very good luck!"
In Brunei we decided to stay at an Airbnb, not only because the price was better but also because we thought it would be a good way to meet someone local and get all the good inside tips.
This is how we met Chris, he hosted us at his amazing Whistler Lodge.
1. What is your name, where do you come from and what do you do for living?
I’m from Brunei, born and bread, even though I cannot consider myself 100% Bruneian. I don’t have the same equal rights as someone 100% Bruneian because I'm not part of any of our 7 indigenous groups of people. As our Constitution says, to be 100% Bruneian you need to be part of one of these groups and I'm not because my grandparents came from China. If you are not part of one of these groups you cannot be a ruler of this country and you don’t get the same rights. I cannot work in high political positions, for example and there are certain type of jobs that I’m not allowed to do.
My job is running BUE, a company specialised in making concrete floors. I'm the general manager here, I have a great team working for me in projects such as making industrial floorings and decorative concretes.
2. What advice would you give to someone like us that just arrived here?
It’ a very safe and peaceful country. In Brunei there’s a lot of culture and history so I would say explore that culture and see how Bruneians are hospitable people and how culture is very deep rooted in our way of life.
For instance, during the ramadam, the culture of fasting is visible everywhere. And right after fasting, there’s a celebration called Eid al-Fitr, during which you can visit anyone's house and they will welcome you and feed you. I had foreigners that came to Brunei during that period, they stayed with us and they met some people while hitchiking and these people were so excited about having these new friends that they took them to do house visits.
So as long as you appear to be nice and cheerful, people will reciprocate and you’ll have really good luck travelling around here. A smiley face will get you very good luck!
3. What would you say is your favourite food?
My favourite place for breakfast is Jing Chew. It’s very popular, very noisy, and always crowded with locals. If you want to see people, know about what's happening or even hear any gossip, this is the best place to do so. As a tourist you probably don’t here about this place.
But really, my favourite food is my mom’s cooking! My mom makes a very wicked chicken noodle soup with cooking wine.
4. What's your favourite place here in Brunei?
The beach is one of my favourite places. We have one of the most beautiful sunsets. Everyday it’s a little bit different, the colour, the tone, but it’s always beautiful. The best place to see it is at Jerudong beach, right by the Empire Hotel. The best thing to do is going to the Empire around 6 o’clock and walk along the beach, it’s amazing. Golfing too is a very big part of tourism, very accessible and inexpensive. Also, there are some nice trekkings in Brunei, there are very nice trails around the mountains.
5. What would be the perfect Sunday afternoon plan?
In the past, I played a lot of golf so on my day off it was always about golf. Then I went through a phase where it was always about the beach and hanging out with the sea dudes. The beach was a very big part of my life. Now I like to ride my bike, with my friends, around the city. That’s the phase right now. Or spending time with family. We typically spend time with family on the weekend. We try to have breakfast or lunch at my parent’s every Sunday, and then meet up with my wife’s family as well.
6. What do you usually do for fun?
For the last two months, a lot of people were catching Pokemons, me included. Before, kids were spending all their time at home playing videogames, now with pokemon, people are going out on the streets and the city is busy! Other things I do for fun is getting together with my friends and spend some quality time having dinner. If I want to drink, I go to selected, low profile restaurants where I can bring my own alcohol and have a nice conversation with my friends. Otherwise, a big part of Brunei is spending time with family and friends over a nice and long meal. So that's the fun thing to do. And finally, sports. Playing golf, biking or jogging at the beach with your friends or biking, that’s fun without the nightclubs.
7. What are you most proud about your country?
Most of us will say were pretty lucky to be here. We have political stability, we are a very peaceful country and there’s no personal income tax, so if I make 1000$, I get exactly 1000$ for me. And, at the same time we have free healthcare and free education. So there are a lot of benefits.
Our country's money comes mostly from natural gas. And considering we have a population of only 400.000 people, there was always plenty to go around allowing for the King to be generous. So there’s not much I can complain about given all the benefits we have. But of course, should we develop this country more and get closer to what Singapore is today? Of course, but 90% of the country’s money goes to the royal family. Our king is the owner of the country, he has absolute power but still people like him and everyone respects him. The only problem is that, generally speaking, our population is a bit ignorant and people still think the country is doing really well, when in fact the reality is that with the oil prices going down, the country is actually running on deficit.
I'm christian and there is still freedom of religion in Brunei. We are aloud to practice our religion but not so publicly. For example, for Christmas, in some places we're allowed to use decorations. So overall, it’s a more liberal country then the traditional islamic countries in the middle east.
The thing that makes me most proud, I'd say is our culture. We’re a very welcoming culture once you get to know us. People typically are very trusting and welcoming. We could leave our car unlocked and never worry that our things will be stolen. Even at home, most of us don't lock our cars and leave our keys inside. So overall it’s the safety and security that I guess I’m most proud of.
8. What would you like to ask our next host?
What is the main source of income of your country? (red answer here)
Tips & Recommendations
Go to Bandar Seri Begawan, cross the river to the Water Village and walk around the village through the wood pathways.
Try the local breakfast at the oldest and most famous cafe in town, the Chop Jing Chew.
Watch the sunset at the Empire Hotel, at the beach.