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Brunei: Poverty in the Land of Oil and Honey?

The Sultan of Brunei’s palace has 257 bathrooms, which may seem ridiculous but they attend to 1,788 total rooms. So, justifiable I’d say.

The country has a population of under 400,000, but ranks as the world’s fourth largest natural gas producer. And yet the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan (keep that in your holster for Scattergories), feels like an outpost, a border town. I half expect to see blankets and wampum at the corner store across the street from the Gloria Jean’s coffee house.

It is also the most architecturally inconsistent downtown I’ve ever seen. It looks like a garage sale of buildings from the 1970s. A few spanking-new glass and concrete government buildings interrupt the pattern of chaos. One of them is the national museum, an icebox of refrigeration that you must remove your shoes to enter. It’s difficult to appreciate an enormous chariot when your bare feet are frozen to the marble floor.

Ten percent of this metropolis (about 39,000 people) live in Kampong Ayer, a stilted sub-city that wobbles above the water, connected by over 29 kilometers of walkways. I’m told that although it looks like a slum (which it does), it’s not. Because the houses have air conditioning, satellite tv, and internet. But not 257 bathrooms.

Supreme Court of Brunei. Although British common law governs most issues, family matters are ruled by separate, Sharia courts.


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