The highlight of my whole trip was spending new years eve with a local family in the capital of Brunei. I was sharing a hostel room in the youth centre with a Japanese man who was travelling outside Japan for the first time. He’d brought his badminton racquet and befriended a local man on the badminton courts at the youth centre, securing an invitation to dinner on new years eve. The family was kind enough to extend the invitation to me.
Our host had a wife and three children at home. His brother brought a wife and two more children. His sister brought more, and his parents were there too. Add a Muslim Murabi and it was a very full house.
Each of the children were confident and comfortable with who they were, laughing at themselves and teasing each other and showed a lot of interest in Shinya and me. The adults were also very curious and welcoming. I got the feeling that they were all as excited to have us there as I was to be with them.
Before dinner, the Murabi lead a prayer to thank Allah for the year that we’d had and to bless each of us and to request a good year ahead. He specifically named each person in the prayer, using a list he’d been given by the host, including ours. This Murabi had apparently been invited because he was known to the family, but they could have invited any, giving him a donation in an envelope to thank him for his time. This ceremony was not traditional for New Years Eve. Our host did it before trips or major events, but thought that it was a good chance to celebrate and I’m glad I was around for it.
After a delicious dinner, the kids put me through a ‘mental age’ test on their PSP (it’s 57 if you must know) and we filled in the time sharing facebook accounts and chatting about the culture until midnight.
Aisha, the youngest daughter had convinced her father to buy her a firecracker every time they went shopping together during the year so she had a big stack especially for the occasion. They were our old favourites – ball shooters, sparklers, bumble bees, chinese flapjacks(?) – but the first one to be let off was called ‘mini dynamite’. Even with the warning I was unprepared for the force of the explosion at 10 metres away. Any closer, our host said, and it would have smashed his windows.
It was almost 2am before we left, with the whole family coming out to see us off, celebrity style. I got on the bus back to Malaysia early the next morning, still tired, but on a high from a wonderful night with a beautiful family. This is what travel is all about.