Kampung Ayer

  Sometimes the world is changing so fast that I wish it would slow down. And though Brunei is not changing that fast, every time I come back (once or twice a year btw), there’s a new building or a new road. Which ultimately changes the landscape of the place. And changes the Brunei I know from when I first left, at 17 years old.

It makes me nostalgic sometimes. I mean, Tiong Hin was the go to place back then! Ok it was the only shop within a 5 km radius back then for my neighbourhood but it had everything! Supermarket on the ground level (bakery, doughnuts stall as well) and the first floor selling everything else from stationery to clothes to toys. I bought my dad a pen in those shiny galleries up there one year! And those sticker photobooths – my hommies and I used to frequent Tiong Hin just for that! 

Anyway I wish my kids knew about the Brunei back then too. Because Brunei may be boring and dead but there were memories made. Of playing in wide barren soft sand and no worries regarding cars and someone kidnapping you. And of swimming at Kampung Ayer, the Water Village. Ok so I almost drowned in my first (and only attempt) of swimming but memories were made!

To be honest, I was pretty miserable half the time whenever we stayed over at Kg Ayer. Mostly because there were A LOT of cats and cat poos. But that aside, it was fun! 

My extended family used to live in a house which extends lengthways. You could say it was like a bungalow on stilts in the water and it is a loooong one at that. When you enter through the double doors, just imagine a big space in the front which is the living room/tv room and then a long corridor all the way to the back, which is where the kitchen and toilets are. The rooms branch out from the corridors and I think the whole house housed around 10 people — not sure how many rooms there are — maybe 6 rooms? Oh also at the back, there is a room that has fashioned into the local neighbourhood’s corner shop. I just remember buying the lined exercise books so I can write random things in (call it my early start to blogging). 

Whenever we (the cousins) have sleepovers, we would lie out in the front hallway in a row, a sea of mattress and blankets. In the morning, you may have breakfast with a packet of rice & chicken sold by a guy who rings his bell around and sell nasi ayam from house to house. I dont remember if its nasi lemak but I remember his ayam goreng to be finger lickin good.

Sometimes it might be a different man who goes around selling ice cream. Ice cream back then was so simple but so good. It either comes in like a lolly stick (white carboard cover with polka dots that you push the stick up to get ice cream — it almost always is chocolate flavour) or those lil plastic bags that looks like a mini rectangular sandwich bag (yam flavour is my fave). My aunty used to buy in bulk even after my family moved out of Kg Ayer & we get a taste of the silky goodness once again. The cream is soft and silky and you gotta lick fast because there was no air conditioning back then (except in the masters bedroom) and things melt pretty quickly in the 32 degree weather.

Not all, as I said, were good memories. The toilets used to be non-tiled but still cemented. The rest of the housebwas mostly wooden I think. The front hallway is anyway! So anyway the toilet — when its wet (which inevitably always is), its a bit yucky to walk through. The worst is that I go in there, decide not to pee (maybe mental blockade?) and then go out again. A couple of minutes later, I realise I really do gotta pee and the whole process starts again. I think if Zayan was in my place, he would be similarly cringing and I would say 

Man up, child! JUST PEE! Stop being a city kid! 

 I may or may not have said this when we were in Jordan. 

What was the best though that the doors aren’t closed (except when we go to bed). The front door, the back door and the windows are almost always open. Mostly I guess to keep air flowing and not stuffy inside – remember no AC, just fans. Zayan was astounded to see fans back home. FANS. When he was younger, he would keep staring at it and now he’s older, I’ve thought him the fan/robot voice. You know when you stand close to the fan and your voice oscillates and sounds like a robot. Cheap thrills.

So the open windows and doors… a lot of the houses were like that in Kg Ayer. And that meant anyone can pop by. And anyone can join you and sit on the porch. Of course this is made easier because each and everyhouse is connected by wooden bridges. So your neighbours are practically connected to you. Sometimes its hard to tell when one house ‘compound’ ends and the other begin. 

I wish my kids knew how living there is like. It’s one thing to visit and another to actually be there, like how it was back in the days. 


Zayan Age 2.5 years

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