“I was amazed because one Saturday, I visited Bandar (the capital) at 3pm and found no people or cars on the street. I’ve never expected that there could be a place where no one would be walking around at all. It’s so unbelievably calm here,” Stephanie Wu On Ki said.

There are people who travel to a country specifically to visit its popular attractions and then there are those who travel with the intention of understanding a place and to live the way the locals do.

The latter is precisely what 21-year-old Stephanie Wu On Ki wanted to experience in Brunei on her first visit to the nation.

Wu was also highly interested in seeing how two Islamic countries would differ in terms of food, culture and the way of life. Prior to her visit to Brunei, she spent some time on an exchange programme in Morocco, Africa, where the main religion is also Islam.

“As the locations are so different and so far apart with one in Asia and the other in Africa, I wanted to find out if there are any differences between them despite sharing the same religion, and also if a difference in location and continent will have an effect on these factors,” she said.

She got to stay in the nation for over a month as an exchange student with Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) and was part of the industry internship in the sultanate.

After having spent a fair amount of time in both places, she shared that there are great differences between them.

On one hand, she truly appreciated the architectural wonders and interesting souvenirs found in Morocco but on the other, it is the simplicity, food and people in Brunei that she believes suit her far more.

“Morocco is a place that’s very big on food like hamburgers and Shawarma but here, you can see that the food is more influenced by Southeast Asian cuisines and that there is more variety. To be honest, I prefer the food here,” said Wu.

“I love everything I’ve tried. Some that I can remember would be buttermilk chicken, ayam penyet, curry puff and I also really like Ambuyat. The sauces are so good, as it’s a mixture of sweet and sour,” she added.

In terms of the people, she shared that the locals in Morocco were very curious about her as she looks different. On the other hand, the people in the nation warmed up to her quickly and often even said she resembles a local.

“They’re nice, even though we can’t really communicate sometimes. They would still smile at me and try to use different gestures to show me what they’re trying to say, such as the price and taste of the food,” said Wu.

“I went to an open house on my very first day here. I was brought to visit a family that I’ve never met before and then I was told to eat. They didn’t even mind having me there and despite being strangers, they just started talking to me. We talked to each other about our backgrounds and exchanged information. That was great,” she added.

During her stay, she experienced quite a lot from witnessing different performances at the Gerai Perayaan to visiting the Royal Regalia and Jerudong Park Playground to participating in His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s meet-and-greet sessions with the nation’s people. One of her favourite activities was visiting mosques, noting these sacred places fill her with peace and calmness.

“I enjoyed the mosque a lot. I don’t mind simply staying there for three hours just watching it and not doing anything else. I stayed there for some time one day and realised that people would drive to the mosque to pray with their family. That kind of atmosphere and vibe make me feel really good,” she said.

It also amazes her just how quiet it can be in Brunei. It’s the kind of quiet that you won’t really find in a lot of places.

“I was amazed because one Saturday, I visited Bandar at 3pm and found no people or cars on the street. I’ve never expected that there could be a place where no one would be walking around at all. It’s so unbelievably calm here,” she said.

As Wu came from Hong Kong, China, she shared that the entire system back home, including the pace and the government welfare, is completely different compared to Brunei.

“I think the welfare is different. We don’t have a lot of government jobs available in Hong Kong and those are the jobs that tend to provide better welfare, salary and working hours (for Bruneians). I know that people don’t have to pay when they visit the hospitals here but we do,” she said.

When crossing or walking along the roads here, she said that drivers are courteous and will give way to pedestrians, which according to her, is not the case in Hong Kong. She fears that she will “no longer” be used to the pace back home after being here for five weeks.

“When you walk on the streets in Hong Kong, people walk past you very fast and they don’t care about you. On the escalator, we must stand on the right hand side to leave the left hand side for people to walk on if they’re in a rush. If anyone stands on the left hand side without moving forward, the people behind would become very irritated and show it too,” she shared.

The intern from Lingnan University in Hong Kong is full of praises for the servers in restaurants and the sellers at the markets here, sharing that they seem genuinely interested in their customers and the quality of service they provide.

“If I go to a shop to get food in Hong Kong, people are always so cool. They only care about taking your orders and giving you the food and that’s the end. Here, when I go to the market to buy something, they’ll ask me where I’m from, how long I’m staying or just something about me in general,” she said.

When she goes back to Hong Kong, she vowed to promote Brunei to more people there as Brunei is not very well-known in their country. The only thing that most individuals seem to know about the country is that it is rather rich.

“Before I came here, most of my friends joked that I would be meeting a tonne of rich people. But life here is not extravagant like many people seem to think. After this experience of living like a local, I can tell people what Brunei is really like, which is spacious, relaxing and cozy.”

-The Brunei Times/ANN