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Laid-back culture requires attitude adjustment

By Zhao Shengnan | China Daily | Updated: 2013-12-17 07:16

Laid-back culture requires attitude adjustment

Days in Brunei proved to be a refuge from metropolitan stress, even though it took a while for busy young Chinese worker bees, brought up in an era believing "Time is money, efficiency is life", to get used to the tropical country's laid-back style.

On my way from the airport to the hotel, I was puzzled as to why there were no high-rise buildings, overpasses or underpasses in a country that has Southeast Asia's highest per capita income after Singapore.

No streams of cars crowded the expressway, although most of Brunei's families have more than one car and the price of gas in the oil-rich country is one of the lowest in the world.

No car horns honked, no engines roared, although sometimes there were what local people called traffic jams in downtown Bandar Seri Begawan during busy periods in the mornings and evenings. But even these times cannot compare to the rush-hour gridlock in Beijing or Shanghai.

Locals drove or walked slowly. Some relaxed in the shade of the spacious courtyards surrounding their big houses to escape the sweltering midday heat, until hypnotic music called them to pray.

Then, people in traditional dress flocked into golden-topped mosques. Women donned a full black prayer robe and tudung, a kind of hijab that women in Malaysia and Brunei wear, which reveals nothing but their hands and face. Men wore songkuk, which are Malay caps.

They prayed regularly at dawn, lunchtime, in the afternoon, at sunset and in the evening, chanting and reciting verses of the Quran. The mighty mosques were quiet the rest of the time. Graceful gardens surrounded their golden domes, with soaring minarets.

At first, our delegation of Chinese reporters envied the relaxed lifestyle. But the bubble soon burst. It was hard to shake off the mentality formed by a bustling metropolis like Beijing.

We were often irritated when meals we had ordered did not appear on the table as quickly as they would have at home.

Restaurants do not have to be as efficient in the sparsely populated country as they are in China. Running a business in Brunei is not necessarily about focusing solely on profit margins, given that the affluent country offers free medical care and education through the university level.

Even the McDonald's fast-food restaurant, the only one in Brunei, had a leisurely pace. It took about 15 minutes to get a hamburger.

However, the longer I stayed in Brunei, the more I appreciated the less-then-frenzied approach.

I was annoyed at first that every bus I planned to take appeared only about once an hour. Then it took another 45 minutes to finish the trip, which would have taken only 15 minutes by car.

But during the journey, the minibus driver brought almost everyone to their front door, just like a taxi, which meant that this cheapest form of transportation, costing B$1 (80 US cents), had to take many detours.

The ticket seller also remembered every passenger's destination and reminded his passengers - mainly tourists and migrant workers - to get off in time. It may have been slow, but it was courteous and efficient.

"The bus is time-consuming but sweet," said Jones Mensah, a Ghanaian studying economics at the University of Brunei Darussalam.

"I like Brunei, but I won't work here after graduation. I am young and I want to go out, and venture into the world first," the PhD student said.

 Laid-back culture requires attitude adjustment

A mother and her daughter pose in the port region, Kampong Ayer, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, known as the Venice of the Orient. He Jingjia / Xinhua

(China Daily 12/17/2013 page10)

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