19 October 2010


This morning I spent three and a half hours waiting to get the extension to my Brunei Identification Card processed. Not a lot of fun. On the other hand, the room was air-conditioned and the seats were reasonably comfortable, so I was able to read my book on phonology and also grade some student assignments. In the end, it was actually quite a productive morning, even if waiting for three and a half hours in a crowded room is not exactly my favourite activity.

What I found stunning was that almost none of the hundred or so other people waiting there was reading, and I find it amazing that people can sit there for so long and feel no need or desire to use the time by reading a book. Now, some of them were intermittently chatting, so that's fine. And maybe others were resting, so I guess that's also a good use of time. But how come nobody reads a book?

Brunei has a verbal culture, and reading plays little part in it. I see my students sitting around, sometimes chatting but more often vacantly staring into space, and I wonder what I can do to get them to use the time more productively, by reading their textbooks, or reviewing their lecture notes, or preparing for class or something.

On the other hand, there is one thing about Brunei that is impressive: the patience of people who can wait for so long without complaining. You see it in the traffic as well: people will sit there for however long it takes, and nobody ever sounds their horn. Ever. And that is something that is really nice.

I'd love to find a way to encourage reading here. But at the same time I can appreciate some aspects of the easy-going attitude towards life.