Monthly Archives: January 2008

The Road to Bali

Posted by on January 27, 2008

My journey to the Sangiran Early Man Site was a bit of a let down to say the least. It was by far the least impressive World Heritage Site I’ve seen so far. It consisted of a museum with two rooms of fossils and fossil replicas in glass cases. That’s it. They are working on a new museum, and they need it.

Tomorrow I’m on a long bus to Mount Bromo. Transportation and lodging to Bromo then on to Bali are a whopping $28. I’ve been hearing so much about Bali for so long I fear I’m going to be disappointed. Even the Indonesians I talk to all love Bali.

If you haven’t watched the news, former Indonesian strongman President Suharto died today. When I went through the museum at the national memorial, there were a bunch of dioramas showing the history of Indonesia. The last two where about Suharto and were blatant propaganda. I thought it was sort of odd it was still there considering he wasn’t president anymore. Today I read an article in the English language about that very diorama and removing it.

Indonesia has declared seven days of mourning. I really don’t know what people think of the guy. No one has said anything good or bad, at least not to me. He has a kid in jail from corruption charges and I think there is still a ton of money his family has that might go back to the government.

While Suharto isn’t spoken of much, Sukarno (the first president of Indonesia) seems to be truly looked up to. He is the Indonesian George Washington.

The Big Mac(Donald’s) Update

Posted by on January 27, 2008

McDonald's Sign - Okinawa, Japan (by Everything Everywhere)
McDonald’s in Okinawa

Since I last did a McDonald’s update, I’ve gained a lot of readers. For those who are new, I try to eat at a McDonald’s restaurant in every country I visit. McDonald’s in every country are just a little bit different as they adjust the menu to fit local tastes. Eating at McDonald’s is an attempt to try and see how each country is different through the lens of something which is very familiar. I do not usually go out of my way to eat fast food, but I do eat at least this one meal at each place.

My last update was in Taiwan, so I have Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong/Macau to fill everyone in on . Brunei didn’t have a McDonald’s that I could see (but they did have Pizza Hut and Jollibee’s) and I’ll wait till I pass through KL to talk about Malaysia.


You think Japan you think seafood. It should come as no surprise that Japan’s contribution to the global McDonald’s menu should come from the sea. They have given us the Fliet-o-Ebi, or the shrimp sandwich. What was interesting was that the Japanese McDonald’s all had cheaper seafood sandwiches than beef sandwiches. This is opposite (outside of Lent) as it is almost anywhere else. The filet-o-fish was the cheapest thing on the menu and the Quarter Pounder was the most expensive.

McDonald's Storefront - South Korea (by Everything Everywhere)
McD’s in Geyongju, South Korea

I had a helluva time finding Diet Coke in Japan and South Korea. I guess they aren’t that fat so don’t feel the need to drink diet coke that often. I’d usually get a Grape Fanta when I ate in Japan.

In the Asian McDonald’s I’ve visited (except for Hong Kong) they had a very clever system for getting rid of your garbage. Each garbage bin had a drain attached for dumping your ice and extra beverages. You were then expected to stack your cups. Also, hard plastic like forks, drink tops and straws were usually put in a separate bin. It was very efficient. Very Japanese. The drain on the garbage is one of those simple ideas that really should be adapted everywhere. It reduces the weight and potential mess of the garbage by removing the liquids from the bag. It also reduces the volume by stacking the cups. It would be very simple to implement and I think everyone would use it immediately.

South Korea

South Korea has one of the more boring menus I’ve seen so far. The only really unique thing I saw was the pumpkin pie, which sounds like something that is probably on the menu in North America in the fall, but I don’t recall ever actually seeing it.

McDonald's, Kowloon - Hong Kong (by Everything Everywhere)
Lots of McDonald’s in Hong Kong

The one thing which sets South Korean McDonald’s apart from Japan was something you could see all over the country: space. Most of the Japanese McDonald’s I saw were very crowded. Many had spaces for eating while standing up against the wall. There were very few booths or large tables. This is sort of a reflection of everything in Japan. Everything is tiny and crowded.

In South Korea, even though the country has a higher population density than Japan, you don’t see the same amount of crowding. I noticed this the moment I arrived in Busan. The apartments were bigger, almost American sized. Likewise, the McDonald’s were more roomy and less seafood oriented. Even though South Korea is heavily into pork, I didn’t see a lot of pork on the menu.

They also had corn soup on the menu, which is something I also saw in other Asian countries. I don’t get why corn is so popular. It certainly isn’t a traditional Asian food.

Hong Kong/Macau

McDonald's Macau (by Everything Everywhere)
There is a McDonald’s smack in the middle of the historic area of Macau.

I noticed that Hong Kong and Taipei had way more fast food restaurants than I saw anywhere in Japan and South Korea. You’d see them around in Seoul and Tokyo, but not in the same degree as in Taipei or Hong Kong. I have no clue if it is a Chinese thing.

That being said, the two places I’ve eaten the most fast food were in Taipei and Hong Kong. I think that is more a function of me staying there far longer than I had originally planned, having a screwed up sleep schedule, and McDonald’s being open 24/7. If you recall from my report on Taipei, they had great fried chicken. The Hong Kong chicken wings were also really good. Probably not very good for me, but they taste good. The only unique thing I saw was the Prosperity burger, which was available in beef and pork. I think it might have been a seasonal thing like the Shamrock Shake, but for Chinese New Year. I also saw the Prosperity Burger in Malaysian Borneo, which has a sizable Chinese population.

I plan on doing a special McDonald’s update from Bali. From what I’ve heard, the menu is very different there.

Java Man

Posted by on January 26, 2008

I did two of the things on my “to do” list in Java already. Tomorrow I’m going to see the excavation site and museum where they found Java man. Unlike my other tours which were really cheap, this is going to cost a bit more because I have to hire a driver for the day to get there. Even though it is only about 100km away (60 miles) getting there and back is an all day affair on Java.

After that, I think I’m going to travel to Bali by way of Mount Bromo. I’m too much of a geology geek to pass it up, and besides, I didn’t get to go to Tanna when I was on Vanuatu and Kilauea wasn’t that impressive when I was in Hawaii.

I constantly have to remind myself how cheap everything is here. The Indonesia Rupiah is about 10,000 to the dollar. For some reason, I keep thinking 1,000 to the dollar. Everything seems expensive for a fraction of a second till I remind myself that it is in fact really cheap. My trip to Borobudur and Parambanan was about 8 hours, all the driving, gas, and admission was about $20. Going to Bali by way of Bromo, including lodging and some meals, will run $59. I hung out today at a coffee place with internet. I had dinner, many diet cokes, and two pieces of pie over the course of about 8 hours. Total cost was under $8.

For those following on Twitter, a few days ago I mentioned about a commotion in my hotel where the police came in and a maid was crying. It turns out that there was a 95 year old Dutch man who had been living at the hotel for the last 15 years who passed away during the night. He had become a part of the family.

Indonesian Fun Fact of the Day: The flag of Indonesia is a red stripe above a white stripe. I made a joke about how the Indonesian flag is just an upside down Polish flag. Well, as it turns out, there is a good reason why the Indonesian flag is the way it is. When they were fighting the Dutch for independence, people would climb flagpoles and rip off the blue stripe from the Dutch flag. What was left was a red and white stripe. That symbol of resistance to the Dutch became the flag of Indonesia.

In Indonesia, I Am A Rockstar

Posted by on January 25, 2008

Me and the Ladies at Prambanan (by Everything Everywhere)
Look for me in the March 2008 edition of Indonesia Tiger Beat

Today I visited Borobudur and Parambanan.

But I’m not going to talk about that right now. That will be for another time when I can go through the photos and do them justice.

I’m going to talk about all the kids I met today.

I met a LOT of kids today. Normally when you are at a tourist attraction, it is not uncommon to be asked to take someone’s photo. Especially when people think you are a professional photographer (and I get that a lot with my camera). However, I have never been asked to have my photo taken with someone else. Without any exaggeration, that happened about 20 times today. I literally was the center of attraction at both sites.

At Borodubur it turns out the school group that was there was there for an English class trip. They went specifically to meet tourists. I think they were from a school in Surabaya, which is in East Java. (I gave them my URL, so some of the kids might post comments here to clarify).

I managed to talk to their teacher for a while. It is hard for them to find people to have English conversations with. Like many people I’ve met on my trip, they sort of have to learn English in a vacuum. (BTW, this would be a great program to get off the ground. Set up Skype calls between native English speakers and students learning English. One side can improve their English and the other can learn about life someplace else.)

At Prambanan, it literally was an assembly line as every student (and even the parents) lined up to get their picture taken with me. We were in front of one of the most significant Hindu temples outside of India, and they all wanted photos with me. It was sort of …..weird.

There were very few foreign tourists at either site. I was told that before the Bali bombings in 2002, you would see more foreigners than locals. Now, you can hardly find tourist. There were literally 3-4x the vendors at each site than there were people visiting.

Tomorrow I may move to Solo for the night and visit the site where Java man was found, and then move to Surabaya. I might go to Mount Bromo, which is a volcano before heading to Bali.

That Is Some Good Java

Posted by on January 23, 2008

I’m alive in Yogyakarta in central Java.

I did the most dangerous thing on my trip today. I flew an Indonesian discount airline. The flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta was $29 with taxes. The plane was packed, and they fly pretty much on the hour.

Pramabanan and Borobudur are the two big ruins nearby. Either of those would be the defining sites in any other country. Why they aren’t better known is beyond me. If they were in Bali, I have a feeling they would have been on the Seven Wonders of the World ballot.

Tomorrow I’ll be exploring Yogyakarta, then on Friday I’ll be going to Borobudur for sunrise.

The infrastructure for tourism here seems larger than the actual number of tourists. I think the Bali bombing years ago has effected this area and it still hasn’t bounced back totally.

I’m writing this at a tiny road side internet cafe with three computers. Food here is cheap. You can easily get a good meal for $2.

I’ll have to get to bed early the next two nights if I’m going to actually see sunrise.

It’s Good To Be The Sultan

Posted by on January 23, 2008

The house where the Sultan was born.

The house where the Sultan was born.

You cannot discuss Brunei without talking about the Sultan of Brunei. Not talking about the Sultan is like not talking about an elephant in the middle of the room.

Brunei is the Sultan and the Sultan is Brunei. It is a form of government unlike anything in the world today.

The Sultan is one of the most facinating leaders in the world today, and if you don’t know why, by the time you finish this you should see why I have a Paris Hilton like facination with him. You dare not look, yet you cannot turn away.


The Sultan of Brunei is Hassanal Bolkiah, 29th Sultan of the Bolkiah House which can trace its history back, uninterrupted to 1485. His full title is:

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, Sultan of Brunei Darussalaam, and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalaam.

The Sultan is the absolute ruler of the country. Unlike most monarchies in the world today, the Sultan holds real authority. He is not a figure head. In addition to the titles above, he also holds the title of Prime Minister, Defense Minister, Finance Minister and he is the head of religion in Brunei. There is no elected parliament. The only advisers are appointed by the Sultan.

Where the Sultan lives now. Over 1,700 rooms and looks a lot like a Vegas casino.

Where the Sultan lives now. Over 1,700 rooms and looks a lot like a Vegas casino.

Martial law was declared in 1962 and technically has never been lifted.

But that isn’t all. He recently changed the constitution such that it is impossible for him to do wrong. It says “His Majesty the Sultan. . . can do no wrong in either his personal or any official capacity.” He has an official degree of infallibility which goes well beyond that of the pope.

Moreover, (and the reason why I wrote this after I left Borneo) according to the Brunei constitution, “No person shall publish or reproduce in Brunei or elsewhere any part of proceedings … that may have the effect of lowering or adversely affecting directly or indirectly the position, dignity, standing, honour, eminence or sovereignty of His Majesty the Sultan.”

He also has two wives, one of which is a former Malaysian TV personality who is 33 years younger than him.

Way to go Sultan!

The Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan is the unofficial symbol of Brunie. It was built by the previous Sultan.

The Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan is the unofficial symbol of Brunie. It was built by the previous Sultan.


The Sultan has Bill Gates amounts of wealth. He is left off the Forbes list of richest people because he is a monarch and really didn’t earn it. Regardless how he got it, he has it. I’ve seen estimates of his personal worth at $22-53 billion dollars. I’m sure the recent spike in oil prices hasn’t hurt things.

Because of his position, he personally owns the resources and much of the land in Brunei. It just so happens that there is a lot of oil in Brunei. If you travel along the coast in Brunei, you can see the influence which Shell Oil has in the country. In the royal museum which has the regalia of coronation, there are gifts given from monarchs and countries from around the would. What really stood out, amongst the gifts from all the heads of state, was a gold and jewel encrusted model of an oil platform from ….. Shell Oil.

I’d like to say that he served as a wise steward of the wealth of the people of Brunei. However, that would be a lie. He is probably the most profligate and ostentatious spender in the world today. Consider the following:

  • It is estimated he owns between 3,000-5,000 cars, all of which are rare luxury cars. He owns more Rolls Royces than any other person in the world and has spent upward of $3 billion dollars on cars.
  • He own his own 747 with gold plated toilets.
  • He built a $3b theme park in Brunei that used to open to the public at no cost.
  • He built the worlds largest residential palace. It has 1,788 rooms and is over 2 million sq. feet (200,000 m2.
  • He recently transferred $3b in cash into his own private accounts, which is more than the entire GDP of Brunei.
  • When his brother Jefri was finance minister, it is estimated he embezzled or spent over $23b. He is now in exile in London.
  • The Sultan owns 200 polo ponies.

..and there is a lot more than that.

It is as if he was given a copy of a Richie Rich comic when he was younger and thought it was an instruction manual.

…or perhaps he got his ideas from watching Scarface. He got the money, he got the power, and he got the women.

Life Under the Sultan

This is one of those subjects where my biases as an American really shine through. I really, really cannot understand, at the core of my being, why people would sit around and allow someone to piss away the resources of a nation like this. There is a good reason why monarchies in most countries have gone by the wayside over the centuries. (I can’t even understand why Canadians keep the Queen on their currency).

All the regalia from the royal coronation as well as gifts to the Sultan from other heads of state are housed in their own public museum.

All the regalia from the royal coronation as well as gifts to the Sultan from other heads of state are housed in their own public museum.

Yet, to be intellectually honest, I have to confess that the picture I painted above about the Sultan is something you’d never ever guess from just being on the ground in Brunei.

There are no secret police. There is freedom of religion. The press is heavily biased towards the government, but there were multiple sources of information including foreign news sources.

Brunei has no taxes of any sort. Education and health care is free to all citizens. Per capita GDP is the highest in Asia (however, I think this really reflects the problem with economic statistics. I noticed no real difference in development between Brunei and Malaysia, yet on paper, Brunei has twice the per capita GDP as Malaysia. If anything, Malaysia seemed more developed. Most of the Brunei economy is concentrated in one person.) A great deal of manual labor is done by foreign workers (I saw Filipinos in Brunei too)

In other words, life is not bad in Brunei. I didn’t get any impression that there was discontent. (but at the same time, if there way, they might just keep it private) I doubt if anyone feels oppressed enough to really want to rock the boat.

However, at some point in the future the oil will run out or prices will drop. At some point in the future, perhaps several generations from now, someone will be on the throne who is truly nuts. If fate had worked out differently, his brother could have been Sultan. It always happens in monarchies. After all, the royal family in Brunei is the result of centuries of inbreeding. (the crown prince recently married a 17 year old distant cousin. His mother and father are also cousins.)

If all the money spent on cars, palaces, yachts and jewelry were instead spent on infrastructure in Brunei, the country would have a bright future. Think of Dubai or Qatar as a better example. Instead, at some point, perhaps not in my lifetime, this whole works will come crashing down and it will not be pretty.