Brunei Darussalam


Some afternoons just seemed hotter than usual and this afternoon was one of those thirst quenching sunny days you dread having to be outside for whatever reason. While most of us have the luxury of choice, many do not and nothing is more evident today than a worker who speaks out one way or another!


I don’t know about you but growing up my parents constantly reminded me to study hard or face a future of hardships like these workers. I think it’s a stereotypical fear factor that Asian parents tend to drill into their kids and as a parent myself, I find myself naturally inclined to carry on this persuasive tradition with my own kids but often wondered just how effective it is. I mean, it’s not as though the idea of being in the sun so muchΒ  gets translates to an imminent threat of their future!


Growing up in the Belait district has put some things in perspective for meβ€”the reality of workers who do not have the luxury of choice and who have had to leave their homeland in search of a more secured future but also to face a future of uncertainty. As you can probably tell from my recent posts, I’ve developed an interest in the lives of the foreign workers who live among us. After all, they’re the ones who in the physical sense constructed our nation so they at least deserve a mention one way or another even it makes absolutely no difference to them whatsoever.

Related posts: The thing about public holidays | A working Sunday | Quickie in Little India

14 thoughts on “A HARD LIFE

  1. The world needs ditch diggers. I personally couldn’t do it for a living. But I do see merit in that kind of job. I wish I could do more manual labor at home.


    1. Mowing the lawn is a good start (sun, sweat and a good workout). Just watch Desperate Housewives, “gardening” seems popular with perks never before thought possible :D.


  2. Hi! It’s all in the balance! Doing hard labour is good form of exercise and it makes you appreciate of what your parents had done in the years of lesser technology.

    ps. I do enjoy your writing. Keep it up!


    1. Thanks Shamsul. It’s good to hear from you again. Hard labour is what keeps our parents strong, fit and healthy. Clearly this is an idea our rat race and PS3 generation today do not subscribe to and as a result of greatly reduced activity and increased stress, we have inadvertently become a liability in favour of more technology.


  3. I’ve seen some who are exploited by their employers here…7 people sleeping crammed in one small bedroom with one tiny window.

    Shoes that have to be changed every month because they wear out due to the acid used to watch toilets (these are cleaners)…(their employer donates a lot to local charity but forgets who made him rich) and there are some who were sent back to their country after the employer (another company) did not pay their wages for a few months.

    I know of three people who were conned into getting an odd job of earning $10 to carry some unwanted iron etc into a lorry and getting arrested as evidently these iron etc did not belong to the local person who asked them to do so. The three men were charged in court and deported…but the local instigators got away scot-free.

    Life is indeed hard for some.


  4. The design on the back of the guy’s shirt in #1 says it all. Hard life.

    I wish I could say let everyone be equal and rich but then who would do the manual labor then? Only thing I can hope for is for them to get better wages and to be treated better.


  5. I feel that at this time of financial crisis if we are able to have a job even is doing hard labour we must give thanks. True contentment is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. Good shots and keep up your good work.


  6. This is a different world. An education doesn’t always guarantee an easy life. I’m actually inclined to encourage my son to apply himself to whatever he has a passion for instead of only focusing on the old school thinking of “studying hard”. I’m not saying that I want him to have a life as hard as the people in your photos but I wouldn’t be disappointed if he choose to be something like a carpenter or a plumber.


    1. An education doesn’t always guarantee an easy life. Lack of education doesn’t always ensure a hard life either. Many things are easier said than done and expectations of our kid’s future are easily the hardest to manage (excuse the oxymoron expression here). We too have told ourselves that as long our kids are doing reasonably well in school and are getting average or above average grades in school we’ll be OK but are we really?

      Then comes the real crunchβ€”which parent does not want to see his/her kid do better given the opportunity to do so. Then you pity them having to do through punishing hours of school and tuition and years later, we look back to reflect and wonder, “did our kids have a childhood like ours?” The answer is a definite NO! Kids are stressed out more than ever in the system’s pursuit of academic excellence and don’t even get me started on the school books that weigh a ton. All this for a future fraught with more uncertainty than we can imagine. Indeed, life is hard(er) now.


    1. Yes I am and I officially became a weekly columnist with the Brunei Times as of Feb 23, 2009 in conjunction with our 25th Silver Jubilee National Day celebration. I have not formally announced this here but since you brought it up, published articles including press event coverage can be found on Brunei Times online.


  7. Hi Jan, Great shots as usual. How high were u when u took the first pic? No safety helmet, life is not only hard but cheap.

    This brings me to think of the able-bodied Penan men we visited yesterday in Limbang `Rumah Sakai’, who were sitting idlely as odd jobs are hard to come by without special skill. We bought them 2 grass-cutters but business has been poor. occasionally they are asked by the town council to blow poison darts on stray dogs in town; a skill they are good at. But how many strays can you find? They are in a limbo, as life is becoming difficult too in the forest.

    The Penan kids continued to be bullied in school and the boarding, some chalked up unpaid bills as their parents can not afford. without help, they too will soon drop out and their life is back to the vicious cycle.

    Compare to the Penan men, these foreign workers are in a better position.


  8. My parents stressed the importance of education, but my dad also taught us how to do a lot of the manual labor ourselves, that way he feels that we can survive in this chaotic world.


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