Bangladesh and Brunei: Two for the Books…

img_0819On the face of it, the two countries wouldn’t seem to have much in common except that they both start with a ‘B’. And they’re both Muslim. And they’re both on my check-list of countries I need to visit before I die, just because they exist. Now some people deride this as ‘gimmick travel’ but there are many countries on that list, only because of it, and I have no regrets…

Other nay-sayers and yay-sayers want to define the concept of a stay to require a minimum number of days, but do you really expect anyone to spend as much time in the Caribbean as all of South America? There are more countries, ditto the Persian Gulf. Are Qatar and Bahrain really so different? First Bangladesh:

img_0727I felt sure that Air China would take my award as “Worst Airline of 2016” (see future blog post 1 Nov. 2016), but Biman Bangladesh just may have beat them to it. When’s the last time you had to get a boarding pass for an onward connection at the layover hub? Now (almost) all airlines can do that in advance, of course. And when’s the last time you heard someone roaming through the transit lounge shouting out the number and destination of a flight, any flight? Pure bush-league…

A layover in transit is a cheap dirty way to ‘count’ another country anyway, but hey, whatever works, right? And I had to go to the transit desk to get the boarding pass for my connecting flight, so that counts for something right? That’s like checking in twice, and with all those Bangladeshis yelling and gesticulating, like you can only do in a male-only culture. My continuing flight DAC-KUL had exactly two—count ’em—TWO women on board a plane with thirty rows and six abreast. Do the math…

And the vendors in the airport will blatantly rip you off for tourist prices, even when the price is clearly marked—locals only, they claim, even when it’s written in English. Sounds like somebody’s got a little chip on their shoulders. Fortunately I don’t use the word ‘losers’. It’s all about dignity, and the lack thereof—got it, but still…

img_0782I thought about telling them about the concert for Bangladesh back in 1971 in which all the world’s rock-and-roll stars banded together to help the fledgling country being bullied by big brother Pakistan, but naah, that’s too long-winded, and would spoil the narrative that Christians and Muslims hate each other no matter what. Those were simpler times. What do you expect from a country that relegates half of its citizenry to the kitchen and the ceremonial functions of reproduction and cosmetics?

Brunei is something completely different. Being one of the per-cap richest countries in the world, you don’t have to worry about dignity, I guess, even if the wealth comes from one-off petrol pushing. Hey, if I can count layovers, then they can count oil. It all depends on what you do with it, and initial observations seem encouraging. I know these people are ‘big-boned’ and all, over-compensation for island dwarfism, no doubt, but these people aren’t missing any meals…

And there’s no shortage of ostentatious flash, either, as befitting one of the richest men in the world. The domes of mosques are made of gold—nuff said. And though there is a squatter’s village of 30K a five-minute boat ride from the gilded city, their cars parked on the land side show them to be no poor fishermen. Business is good. Yes, everything is subsidized, of course, that causing no shortage of tension—and strategizing—with neighboring Malaysia, but with no major problems…

img_0805The hard part of visiting Brunei is just getting there, it effectively separating Malaysian Sarawak from Sabah. There is one—count ’em: ONE—bus crossing the border(s) and continuing on into Malaysia. Did I mention that you have to cross four borders? Yes, Brunei itself is bifurcated into two parts, and every crossing must get stamped, and baggazh reviewed…

So I finally opted for a one-day tour, guide and all, leaving the Malaysian town of Miri at eight-ish in the manana and returning dark-thirty. AAACCCKKK!!! I’m a tourist! I feel so cheap and dirty! What would my mother say? One more thing: these were my one hundred fifty-fourth and fifty-fifth countries as defined by the UN list. I may or may not get to them all, but—who cares? The trip is the thing, not the destination…

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