Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Of Seahorses, Nodding Donkeys and The Grand Old Lady

It's only the beginning of the year, and I already went on an overseas trip.

Yes indeed. In fact, my family went to visit Ototo-san in Miri during mid-Jan weekend (yes, I didn't have time to write a long post >< ) All thanks to cheap fares from Air Asia. Now everyone can fly!

We arrived at Miri on Friday night. Ototo-san picked us up in a green Myvi, and took us straight for dinner and then home.

Ototo-san's 'home' is actually a very huge and comfortable service apartment, complete with TV, aircond, washing machine, Astro and some funky lights. We made ourselves very comfortable and called it a night, even though it was only around 10pm as all of us were very tired.

Miri is a city located in Northern Sarawak, East Malaysia. It is also the birthplace of the petroleum industry in Sarawak and Malaysia, which remains the major industry of this city. Miri's main tourist attraction are its caves, namely Mulu Caves and Niah Caves. Its population of 300,000 people comprises of a mix of Chinese, Malay, Dayak, Iban, Melanau, Indian, Bidayuh, Penan and other indigenous groups. In fact, it is very hard to differentiate one race from the other. It is known that the people here live together in full religious tolerance. A role model of how a Malaysian society should be.

View of Miri city from the hotel

I noticed that there were many seahorses sculptures and logos around the city. Surprisingly, Ototo-san didn't pay much attention despite his tenure there so I had to look up the Internet for more information.

According to the Miri Council website, the idea to adopt the seahorse as its mascot originated from YAB Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr. Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud, the Chief Minister Of Sarawak because "the seahorse has a unique, beautiful and distinctive figure. Its gentle and charming nature has often been used by the people to denote many good values in life such as caring for each other and possessing an upright character. It also symbolizes harmonious relationship and peacefulness. As it is living in the sea, it signifies Miri's close relationship with the sea coral reef and as a resort paradise."

The next day, we took off to Brunei. According to Ototo-san, there's really nothing much to do in Miri so might as well we visit Brunei. It took us approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour from Miri to our lunch destination in Brunei - Belait.

On our way, Ototo-san purposely took us to this rather peculiar stretch of road in Miri. What made it so strange was the fact that the road was built right smack through a Chinese cemetery! As a result, instead of a conventional road divider, that stretch came in the form of tombstones! There's even a place for one to do a U-turn. I wonder how does it feel to be driving alone at night where you are literally surrounded by the cemetery!

We paid a RM10 toll just to cross a rather impressive but empty bridge in which I think is somewhat a white elephant. Why bother which such a nice bridge? But then again, maybe they wanted to attract their neighbours who come to visit Miri.

First stop - Belait for lunch. Honestly speaking, I don't have a clue about anything interesting about Balait, other than the HUGE teapot in the middle of one of the roundabouts. Also, their roundabouts are really huge. I reckon they have too much unutilised land?

Lunch at the Thai restaurant recommended by Ototo-san was fantastic. I love the clear Tom Yam soup. Price was reasonable as well. After that we proceeded on with our journey to Bandar Seri Begawan.

On the way we passed by Seria town. There Ototo-san wanted to show us some nodding donkeys (what donkeys???) but it seemed that most of it was located at the other side of the road. We later spotted some of the nodding donkeys on our left and decided to turned left at one of the junctions. Amazingly we found ourselves surrounded by nodding donkeys and a massive monument ahead of us.

But first, those nodding donkeys.

A nodding donkey at work

A nodding donkey is a basically a pump jack mechanism used to mechanically lift liquid out of the well if there is not enough bottom hole pressure for the liquid to flow all the way to the surface. This type of machinery is commonly used in onshore applications for relatively low-production oil wells. I guess the term nodding donkey came about because of its repeated actions moving up and down, making it look like a donkey's head nodding. Apparently one can only see this in Brunei and not Miri.

The mother of all donkeys - one of the earliest models of a nodding donkey

Click here to see a nodding donkey in action.

The large monement mentioned earlier is the Billionth Barrel Monument commemorating the billionth barrel of crude oil produced from the Seria Field.

It was overseeing the ocean but there was nothing much to look at so after taking some photos we left Seria.

On our way to Bandar Seri Bagawan, we made a quick stop at The Empire Golf and Country Club.

The Empire is supposedly a 6 star hotel complete with golf course and a beach resort. The buildings were all very grand and elaborate. However, it was very empty as well. Some of the blocks were even vacant!

The below is one of the more popular hotel blocks called The Lagoon. The hotel suites are surrounded by a man-made pond. Inside the hotel are a few swimming pools. There were quite a number of families with young children. Looks like The Lagoon is more popular compared to The Villas, which was practically empty. We went to visit and found ourselves in a dark, empty building with no electricity whatsoever. The only source of light came from the sun through the glass ceilings. Again, nothing much to see here so after a quick toilet break, we continued our journey to the capital.

I expected Bandar Seri Begawan to be busy like KL or PJ. Instead I got something like Ipoh. No tall buildings, no traffic jams, no modern architecture. Heck, they can even afford a roundabout in the middle of the city!

Below are some shots of Bandar. They even have a floating village (similar to the one we saw in Kota Kinabalu). We didn't do much there, so we just had some tea in one of the more popular shopping complexes which couldn't not even match Subang Parade at the very least. No wonder those folks come to Miri during the weekend.

I noticed that Jawi is used very extensively in Brunei. Even the advertisement boards are in Jawi.

We headed back to Miri around 5pm. On the way back we stopped by at Belait again, this time to have dinner at a Japanese restaurant. The restaurant is small but packed with patrons. They served the largest chunks of sashimi and one of the best maki I have tasted. Price was reasonable too. We reached Miri around 9pm and it was time to hit the bed again. Zzzzzz......

The next morning we headed to the markets after church. Ototo-san insisted that we should check out that market, and for good reason - they sell the most exotic stuff I've ever seen.

Balitong - probably the mildest among the lot

Chopped snake meat - eww!

Wriggling live 'maggots' Queen termite ants - double eww!!

I was very sad to find so many tortoises and terrapins for sale in the market. There was even (horrors of horrors!) chopped terrapin meat! Sob......

Caught a photo this lady who just bought a live cockerel that was placed inside a plastic bag. I bet the cockerel must have been tied very tightly as it could barely move in the bag! I'm actually quite thankful of my SE K810 phone as I could take photos even though I seemed to be doing something else.

After breakfast, Ototo-san took us up Canadian Hill to catch a glimpse of Miri scenery and check out The Grand Old Lady and the Petroleum Science Museum.

Here's how Miri looked like from a bird's eye view. There really isn't many high rise buildings in Miri. Weather was good that day so we could see the beautiful horizon ahead of us.

The Grand Old Lady is the first oil well in Malaysia.

Oil Well No. 1 is the first oil well in Malaysia to be drilled by Shell Company in 1910. After a productive six decades and estimated 660,000 barrels of oil, it was shut down in 1972. It was eventually declared a national monument by the Sarawak Government.

There were only very few visitors at the site during our visit. We also checked out the Miri Petroleum Science Centre but did not find anything too interesting. We spent in the Science Centre for around half hour.

As there was nothing else to see, Ototo-san brought us back to the service apartment where we spent the rest of the day either watching the Australia Open or taking a nap.

When it was close to 5pm, we had some quick tea time and headed back to the airport. Finally at 7pm, we bade farewell to Miri.

I would say it was an interesting trip because I would definitely not gone to Miri if not for Ototo-san. Judging from experience, I can't find any reason to visit Miri again (unless it's for Mulu or Niah caves in future)


lilium said...

Interesting facts about Brunei and Miri. Well, Brunei is a rich country despite being a small one. Was watching a show on WLT and it seems like their citizens get a lot of subsidy from the government..and I mean a LOT!! Things are almost free if you are a citizen there. HAHAHA!

chrispy0712 said...

nice glimpse to salted fish territory keke

Anonymous said...

Yup, Bruneians got lots of subsidy - free health care(register and pay $1 only), free education up to university level (the govt even pay you monthly allowances, B$300 per month, to go uni!), cheap petrol, subsidy in rice, sugar and other essentials.... Cheap housing... but good times cant last long...