It was the last week of the December holiday and I wanted to pack in as much action as possible as I knew that once school began, I would be inundated with work. I, therefore, seized the invite to visit the Tutong Thursday Market.
By 6:30 we were cheerfully on our way to Tutong, brimming with expectation. The market operated from 6:00 AM to 1:00 PM and we did not want to miss out on any of the excitement.
When we got to Tutong, we were misled several times by Ms Google Maps. Finally, we emerged on a road that had cars backed up for kilometres and we knew that we were on the right track. That is another lesson I learnt in Brunei: traffic is inevitable with the single lane roads.
After an hour of inching forward every few minutes, we finally parked and headed into the market. We were treated to a host of sights, sounds, and textures. Vegetables and fruit, fresh from the earth, were carefully stacked, resulting in an aesthetic delight. Fresh ginger and garlic along with tomatoes, potatoes and herbs graced many stalls. I experienced a wave of nostalgia yearning for sights and smells of home. Are flea markets across the world bound by a thread of familiarity?
We perused the stalls, finding many treasures. I discovered a lovely stall that sold organically sourced lotions and soaps containing neem and argan. Other stalls sold homemade biscuits and yet others had colourful woven baskets. Yet others had a variety of indigenous plants. Each stall was a myriad of colours, sounds, and tastes which jostled for their customers’ attention. Best of all was the hospitality of the local people. We clearly stood out as sore thumbs as foreigners (I wonder what gave us away. Was it our faces, manner of dress, or our accents?) and they were eager to chat and ask about our nationality and what we were doing in Brunei.
The ‘food court’ beckoned with its wafting aromas. We tried the prawn fritters (chichoor) and crab sticks. These were fresh and piping hot from the frying cauldron and a delicious treat. One stall holder prepared fritters and dunked them into the oil with such precision that I could only marvel at the skill involved.
The highlight of the trip was meeting a gentleman from the Iban tribe. His stall housed the most interesting display. Miniature canon ball replicas, handmade knives, and brass ornaments competed for space with handmade walking sticks and bowls. But the gentleman himself was the main attraction. “I’m seventy-nine years old and I don’t eat any manufactured goods. I only eat fresh fish and fruit and vegetables. I also live on the bounties that my family has foraged in the forest. This knowledge was passed down from one generation to the next,” he enthused as he liberally shared his secrets with us. This is the Brunei you get to experience first-hand when you interact with its indigenous people.
Disclaimer: This post was originally posted in a TET (Tropical English teachers) blog on March 31, 2021. The market still operates on a Thursday but some stalls may have changed since then.