03.10.2008 - 03.10.2008 29 °C
I had only one aim for the very short time I was to be in Brunei, ever since a girl from New Zealand had told me about it in Malaysia, and that was to meet the Sultan of Brunei. By a miraculous stroke of luck I would be there on the one day a year the palace is opened to celebrate the end of Ramadan, and everyone is invited to meet the Sultan and other royalty.
After catching a bus I walked up to the palace dressed in my best clothes, which as I am living out of a back pack consist of blue shirt, brown linen trousers and my very worn walking trainers which are luckily brown also and hardly noticeable next to the linen trousers. Immediately the guard insisted I tuck my shirt in and luckily I had already guessed correctly I would need my sleeves rolled down. I even styled my now out of control hair in some fashion or another.
You are welcomed with a plate and thanked for coming before you are set loose to eat and drink as much as you want from various food counters. My eating time was limited though because even that this relatively early time in the morning the queue to meet the Sultan was massive. Separated into a male and female line people snaked around the palace courtyard and after over two hours of queuing in sweltering heat I made it to the first check point, watching nervously as people were turned away for such cardinal sins as attempting to meet the Sultan with sandals on or casual t-shirts. I successfully passed the test after reluctantly agreeing to do my top shirt button up, I'm sure they were trying to make us as hot and uncomfortable as possible, I may look smart when I meet the sultan but I'll probably smell to high heaven.
A short distance after the check point we all got to sit which with the big fans aimed at us, was quite a relief. This sitting part of the procedure lasted over an hour and appeared to be one of the least disorganised systems ever. Leaving the seating area through another queuing line lead to a seating area in a grand gold hall, this was much more interesting room to wait in but by this point the hour I spent waiting here was almost as tedious. The room had beautiful clear glass chandeliers running along the centre of the sloping ceiling and at each end a fountain with ornate trees and vases. From this room we were lead an hour later to a queue snaking around the inner courtyard of the palace with grand but dated wooden panels on the balcony under which we moved for the small gift of shade. After a left turn and a few steps along a red carpet I was shuffling toward the open door of the room He was in.
Entering the room I realised I didn't know what we were supposed to do, watching the others I gathered it to be a simple shake of the hand with everyone along the line, starting with the Sultan and then I think Princes and various aides. The hand shakes were light and so I inadvertently, probably quite rudely, crushed the poor sultans hand and after shaking 3 hands my mind was invaded by the piercing gaze of the biggest pair of eyes I had ever seen. One of the men, in blue attire, appeared to have eyes double the size of normal mens and they appeared to have no eye lids, just two big white eyes piercing through everything. Fearfully shaking the gaze I moved along 3 or so more limp hand shakes before exiting the room a couple of seconds after entering it, although had i not broken that scary gaze I fear I would have been turned to an ornate gold statue to decorate the vastness of the palace.
My un-gilded legs carried me down the road, gift from the sultan in hand, to make my scheduled flight to Thailand.