Growing up my husband Bobby was known amongst his relatives for not being the most MIB little boy. He failed to get a government scholarship because although he got a Malay ‘O’ Level as required, it was the Malay ‘O’ Level for the "orang putihs". What to do? There are advantages and disadvantages of a boarding school education. But over the years his Malay has improved and he has become interested in his connections with the land and the water around us, along with its attendant history.
For weeks my husband has been threatening to go on a wild man road trip with some of his kin to Sundar in Lawas, Sarawak - to pay a visit to the grave of his paternal great-grandmother.
Bobby’s great–grandmother passed away in the 1930’s, and was buried in Sundar. Although settled in Sundar, the family appeared to have had substantial links with Kianggeh back in Brunei. Not really surprising, given that the Sundar sits on the Trusan River, marking the traditional border between Temburong’s East Side and the Lawas district of Sarawak. The Trusan River flows into Brunei Bay, and sits in between the Temburong and Lawas rivers.
In a straight line, the distance between from Beribi in Gadong to Sundar is only 33.9 kilometers. That's 21 miles in old money and that's really not very far.
I reckon in the old days by sail and paddleboat, you could get to Sundar in half a day from Brunei. These days Lawas has an airport (code LWY) and is served daily by MasWings via Miri or Kota Kinabalu. You can also go by ferry and by road and this was the route Bobby and his travelling companions chose to take last week, in a big black diesel car.
Apparently, the travelling time has not really fallen over the years. By road, Brunei to Sundar is 120 kilometers or 75 miles. A scenic drive from Kuala Lurah through Limbang and Temburong, the journey features greenery, plantations and mountains. There are 6 immigration checkpoints and one of the shortest ferry rides in the world, at the Temburong-Limbang border crossing at Puni. The ferry ride itself takes one minute but since the ferry can only take about ten cars at the most, waiting time can stretch from 15 minutes to a couple of hours.
The journey from Brunei to Sundar took them three hours, though long queues at immigration can double the travel time. The travel time has been reduced by the opening of a new bridge over the Trusan River and there is a new bridge due to be built at Puni. Still, the various queues can turn the short physical journey into a tortious epic of grinding bumper-to-bumper frustration.
I understand that the point of passport control is to keep bad people out and to identify our borders, but in the 21st century there must be an easier way to organize travel to and from our closest neighbour. The cost notwithstanding, for example, in three hours one could fly to Hong Kong. A foreigner would need all the requisite eight chops in their passport, or ten, to get to Sabah, meaning 16 or 20 for a journey to and fro.
Durians are in season in Lawas and Bobby bought me some from a lady at the Lawas Market, who wrestled her green spiky balls open and placed the pungent flesh into plastic containers to take away for those who would rather not have their cars smelling of durian.
I had some for dinner on Friday evening. I am happy to report that the taste of the Lawas durian reminds me of the durian of my childhood. Rather less fleshy than the Thai, it was a well-rounded fruit. Not too pungent, sweet but not sticky sweet, with a nice balanced taste and a kick of heat to the body after.
So, I do hope that we can all figure out a way to improve communication links between ourselves and our neighbours. It is only sensible. Historically there has always been travel and communication across the Brunei bay area with substantial cross border family ties. It would be good for tourism and trade, and when durian season comes along, I could easily get my fix.
Illustration by Cuboi Art.
For the online version click here.