Thrill-seekers: Couple celebrates anniversary at over 6,000 metres

“It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves” – Sir Edmund Hillary

This quote by the world famous climber was shared by Bruneian adventurer Michelle Charlene Basir (@life.on.the.verge), who spoke to ‘Neue’ after returning from an expedition to Stok Kangri, the highest peak (6,153 metres above sea level) in the Stok range of the Himalayas in the Ladakh region.

A sports scientist by profession, Michelle said that the quote above is a perfect reminder for her to keep on overcoming challenges, such as scaling Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895m), which is the highest mountain in Africa. 

View point just before Advance Base Camp at 5,100m. Acclimatisation walk on Day 3.

Self-funded expedition

Michelle and her husband, Cheong Kok Liang, a banker, summited Stok Kangri at 5.41am (India time) on August 21, 2018.

Their 8-day self-funded expedition began in Leh, a high desert city in the Himalayas, located at India’s northern states of Jammu and Kashmir.

It was the 4th time that they’d climbed together. Their latest expedition to Stok Kangri was the highest mountain summit thus far. They had previously summited Mount Rinjani (3,726m) in 2017, Mount Kinabalu (4,095m) in 2015 and Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895m) in 2012.

The couple revealed to ‘Neue’ that they will be celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary this month and that their recent expedition to Stok Kangri was their “anniversary adventure”.

Reflecting on her recent expedition to Stok Kangri, she said: “The whole experience has been overwhelming – from the trainings, obtaining all my gears, getting to the destination to the climb itself. Juggling work and training at the same time can be exhausting.

“But I’ve learnt that I’m able to climb higher than what my mind tells me.

“I initially thought that it would be impossible for me to summit. I almost didn’t want to attempt the summit climb because I wasn’t feeling the best at the time. But I overcame it and went for it … And seven-and-a-half hours later, I found myself at the top. The feeling was surreal!

“I’ve learnt that to do the most extreme, we need to commit fully – financially, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Wearable tech such as the Garmin Fenix 5 watch has also helped me a lot with my training. ”

What was it like up there?

Kok Liang: It was an ‘Achievement Unlocked’ moment! And of course, absolute relief as it was quite a tough climb due to the high altitude, steep incline and rugged terrain. It took us over 7 hours to reach the summit from base camp.

Michelle: A great sense of relief! I was in awe of the beautiful view. However, reaching the summit wasn’t the end of the journey for the day. Coming down the mountain was another important part of the climb too! Stok Kangri is a steep mountain so we had to be extra careful when coming down. 

Is it recommended?

When asked if they would recommend mountain climbing/trekking to other couples, this was what Michelle and Kok Liang said: “A couple that climbs/treks together, stays together. In a modern, digitised world, it’s good to unplug and enjoy each other’s company. Discover each other and be humbled by the magnitude of the mountains.”

How about insurance?

Unfortunately, insurance agencies in Brunei do not cover trekking from a certain altitude. According to Michelle, most international insurances only cover trekking up to 6,000 metres and when there are no ropes or climbing equipment involved.

“This is why we purchased trekking insurance based on those factors,” she said, adding that for the recent expedition to Stok Kangri, the couple purchased one from ‘Global Rescue’, an insurance agency that covers mountaineering. “Most people who climb Mount Everest would also get coverage from this agency.”

Any advice?

When asked if they had any advice for anyone interested in tackling their first mountain, Michelle said: “Start somewhere. Every mountain is difficult but after a difficult climb, you will be rewarded with the best views. And always train for any climb so you will enjoy your trek. Climb a mountain and you will be hooked for life. A good beginner mountain would be Mount Kinabalu. It’s very close to us (geographically), straightforward and non-technical.”

Where can people learn to climb in Brunei?

There is a difference between mountain trekking and mountain climbing, Michelle told ‘Neue’.

“Stok Kangri is a non-technical mountain so no climbing experience is needed but you would need previous high altitude trekking experience. If one wants to climb a technical mountain, definitely training at UP Climbing Centre (@up_climbingcentre) would be an advantage. A technical mountain requires more than wall climbing techniques though. For this one would need to go for a mountaineering or alpine course,” she said.

‘Neue’ wants to hear your story

Are you a thrill-seeker? We’d love to feature your story (where ever you may be in the world) in our next write-up. Drop us an e-mail here or reach out to us via social media on Facebook or Instagram.

Laundry-math: Which one is more worth it?

Should you do your laundry in the comfort of your own home or take it to a self-service laundromat in Brunei?

To learn more about the ‘laundry-math’, ‘Neue’ spoke to two Bruneian families – Fizah, a government sector employee, and her family of 5 , and Azmi, a private sector employee, who is living with four of his cousins.

Fizah, who hails from Kampong Beribi, says she prefers doing her family’s laundry at home rather than at a self-service laundromat.

Azmi, a resident of Kampong Serusop, on the other hand, believes that it’s so much more convenient for his cousins and him to do their laundry at any of the 24-hour laundromats in Brunei.

For this article, we will be looking at this from 3 perspectives – (1) Cost, (2) Time & (3) Experience.

#1. Cost

(Photos: Shutterstock)

The following assumptions are to be taken into consideration:

(1) There is no maintenance cost for 3 years for the washer and dryer that Fizah purchased for her home.

(2) Fizah and Azmi do the same amount of laundry each month – 15 rounds of laundry (9kg) each month (once every two days).

(3) Both Fizah and Azmi come from a household of 5.

How much over 3 years?

First, let’s look at the numbers provided by Fizah who does her own laundry at home and Azmi who prefers going to laundromats.

Doing laundry at home (Fizah):

Upfront cost of installing a washer and dryer = BND 1,200 

Monthly utility bills (electricity & water) = BND 50 

Detergent & softener (for each round of laundry) = BND 1 per wash

Doing laundry at laundromat (Azmi):

Upfront cost of installing a washer and dryer = N/A (cost is borne by laundromat operator)

Monthly utility bills (electricity and water) = N/A (cost is borne by laundromat operator)

Detergent & softener = N/A (cost is borne by laundromat operator)

Cost of using washer (9kg capacity) = BND 4 for warm water option 

Cost of using dryer = BND 3 for 30 minutes (BND 1 for each 10-minute interval) 

Travelling cost to get to laundromat = BND 1 per trip

The table below projects how much Fizah and Azmi would have spent on their families’ laundry over a period of 3 years.

So which is better in terms of cost?

If we are looking at this solely on operational cost, it would be CHEAPER to do you washing at home if you have lots of laundry rather than at a laundromat.

#2. Time

A boy plays with his mobile phone to pass the time at a laundromat

Doing laundry at home:

“I love the convenience of being able to do my family’s laundry at home,” said Fizah. “I do not have to spend about 15 minutes driving from my home just to get to a laundromat.”

Even though Fizah has a dryer at home, she said she prefers drying her laundry in the sun. “The smell of the sun is the best scent,” she said. “However, I often worry about leaving the clothes out to dry because the weather can sometimes be unpredictable.”

When asked how long it would take to dry her clothes, she said, “If it’s a bright sunny day, between 2 and 3 hours on the clothesline outside would do the trick. But if it’s indoors, it could take between 6 and 8 hours.”

Now, let’s take a closer look at the amount of time she spends doing laundry at home.

Washing: At least 40 minutes per round of laundry

Drying clothes (with a dryer): At least 30 minutes per round of laundry

Drying clothes (without a dryer): Between 2 and 3 hours (outdoors) or between 6 and 8 hours (indoors)

Travelling: N/A

Doing laundry at a laundromat:

“I miss the good old days of when my mom would help me with my laundry,” Azmi said. “Ever since I moved out of my parent’s home after I found a job, it has never crossed my mind to invest in a washing machine or dryer.”

When asked how much time it takes for him to do his laundry at a nearby laundromat, he said, “It would take me about 15 minutes to drive there (and to find parking). But this is a ‘small price’ to pay to enjoy the convenience of a 24-hour laundromat.”

Now, let’s take a closer look at the amount of time he spends doing laundry at a laundromat.

Washing: At least 40 minutes per round of laundry

Drying clothes (with a dryer): At least 30 minutes per round of laundry

Travelling: 15 minutes per trip

So which is better in terms of time?

If we were to compare the two solely from the perspective of time, doing laundry at home seems to be the SMARTER OPTION, as you do not have to spend time travelling.

#3. Experience

“Doing your laundry at home will always be more comfortable,” Fizah said. “One reason why I prefer doing it at home rather than at a laundromat is that I can do other things at home such as watching television in my living room or even taking a nap. There’s nothing you can do at a laundromat … you just sit and stare at the machines.”

Azmi disagreed with what Fizah said.

“Anyone who says there isn’t anything to do at a laundromat obviously has no idea what they are talking about,” he scoffed. “You could read a book, watch a TV show on your smart phone, run your errands or if you’re sociable, get to know the people you’re doing your laundry with at the laundromats. After all, they are also waiting for their laundry to be done.”

“You’d be surprised just how many people from your neighbourhood you’d bump into at the numerous laundromats that have popped up across the nation,” he added. “I would even go as far as saying that doing your laundry at a laundromat is therapeutic.”

So which is better in terms of experience?

Judging from what the two said, all signs point to LAUNDROMATS.

Final thoughts

In our opinion, if you are just to be doing lots of laundry, buying a washing machine would be more worth it in the long run.

However, if you do less than 9kg of laundry a week, then it would be better for you to go to a laundromat instead.

We’d love to hear what your thoughts about this.

Where will you be doing your laundry?

What it’s like to model in Brunei

What do you think of the modelling profession?


Some people seem to think that as long as you have (1) a good camera, (2) a great outfit and (3) lots of ‘likes’ on Instagram, then you are instantly “a model” in Brunei Darussalam.

But this is actually not! Being a model is so much more than having just these 3 things.

This was what Siddiqah Rosli (@siddiqahrosli), a Bruneian who does modelling part time, told ‘Neue’ in a recent interview.

Siddiqah, who currently has close to 4,000 followers on her Instagram account, and two other Bruneians – Jessica Tieng (@jessicatieng) who describes herself as ‘petite’ and Balqis (@aishahyazid) who describes herself as ‘plus-sized’ – are hoping to smash any misconceptions of modelling in Brunei.

Modelling in Brunei: What does the local community think about it? Is it frowned upon?

Siddiqah Rosli (@siddiqahrosli) wearing a creation by @naforrer during the ‘NFormation Campaign’ back in January 2017 (photo courtesy of @moderatefilms)

The modelling community (not industry) in Brunei developed only recently due to high demand for human resource in the emerging local fashion market.

For this reason, I think the matter of “frowned upon” is highly subjective to how Bruneians view modelling in the country.

For example, local fashion designers may see it as opportunities to revamp their brand (having fresh faces or looks), while others may mistakenly see them a nuisance (being vain and full of themselves) on social media. More often than not, they are just trying to promote themselves as aspiring models.

However, I personally think that modelling in Brunei “may” be easily frowned upon if individuals who are serious in pursuing a modelling career do not possess certain qualities or do not monitor what they post on their social media accounts. At the end of the day, what they post up will indirectly reflect their reputation, as far as modelling is concerned.

Modelling is both fun and challenging. It sparks my creativity especially when I have to think of what poses to do next.

It is always rewarding whenever my clients are satisfied with my performance and they actually like the shots.

Every time after a photoshoot, I will always do some self-reflection and think about what I can do to improve at my next modelling gig.

Being a model is not just about being good at posing, having the right facial expression and embodying certain characters, to me it’s about creating a platform, to have a voice and to have audience who will actually listen to what you have to say and at the same time, to help and inspire others. – Siddiqah

Balqis (@aishahyazid) wearing a design by @bazlahannah_boutique

Modelling, in my perspective, isn’t at all frowned upon in Brunei. When I first started, I thought that that was the case so I kept my identity a secret by not mentioning it at all in hopes that no one would recognise me.

But, I guess Brunei really is small so I started getting noticed even though I had only modelled for one boutique.

My family and friends have been nothing but really supportive of my choice. I sometimes get recognised at events, where people would come up to me to say they had seen me somewhere before.

It’s inspiring to know that people like me are accepted even if we do not fit in the typical beauty standard. – Balqis

Petite model … Jessica Tieng (Photo courtesy of @ns72_)

Personally, I feel that the local community seems okay with people modelling. I don’t think it is frowned upon. However, pursuing a career in modelling is difficult in Brunei because there isn’t much of a market here yet. On the contrary, the small-scale fashion industry in Brunei is slowly growing lately. This provides opportunities to aspiring models such as myself to model and gain experiences which is great. Additionally, nowadays with social media, it is easier to network with other people in the modelling community such as photographers and designers.

Some businesses now also take advantage of social media to grow their business such as sponsoring social influencers to make an awareness of a certain product or service that they are providing. Therefore, I feel like in the future there might be more opportunities for growth to pursue modelling in Brunei.

Being a model (although, I still don’t call myself one because I feel like I still have lots to learn) is really fun! You get to meet and work with a lot of different people. It may seem scary meeting new people at first, but you’ll slowly learn to get used to situations like that.

Also, I used to have very low self-esteem and disliked some features of my body while growing up! Surprisingly, modelling actually helped me in terms of building up my self-confidence and self esteem. I also get to learn to love myself more, flaws and all, which is a great. – Jessica

Power of Social Media

Kendall Jenner (Photo: Shutterstock)

Kendall Jenner (@kendalljenner), with 94 million followers on Instagram, is living proof that social media’s influence has forever changed the modelling industry. Last November, she was ranked as the highest-paid model in the world, knocking supermodel Gisele Bundchen (@gisele) off the top spot for the first time since 2002. According to Forbes, Jenner’s earnings totalled US$22 million that year.

Siddiqah spoke about a funny encounter at a primary school classroom where she was assigned as part of a teacher training programme.

“The first thing that a student said to me when the classroom teacher introduced me to the class was, ‘You’re a model, right? I know you from Instagram.’ It was such a humbling experience. This was when I realised that the students look up to me positively. It is for this reason that I would like to use my modelling career as a stepping stone, where I would be able to reach out to these kids. This is the direction I’m taking … to inspire people,” she said.

Balqis, meanwhile, said that it’s comforting to know that people these days are accepting of people like me who are plus-sized. “Brunei is a small community, and word quickly spread that I had pursued modelling. People here don’t really say things like ‘Oh! Why is she a model?’ People have actually been quite accepting of me,” she said.

What do I need to know if I’m thinking about pursuing modelling?

#1. Be ready for rejection 

It’s not always gonna be a smooth ride – you’re not gonna be booked every single time. The important thing is to never give up. Even though, it may never seem like it, there’s always bound to be a person who will see potential in you, take you under their wing and give you opportunities to help you gain experiences and grow.

“I’m lucky to have a few people who saw potential in me and took me under their wing,” said Jessica. “That’s how I slowly grew in modelling.”

Be prepared to hear this often – “Sorry! You’re not the type of model we’re looking for.”

It’s normal to have rejections. So don’t be so hard on yourself. – Siddiqah

#2. Don’t take things so personal

Sometimes, if you go to a casting and you didn’t get the gig in the end, it’s not because of your appearance or anything like that. Sometimes, it could be just that you are probably not what they are looking for at the moment for their project (they might be looking for a specific look as well). – Jessica

#3. Have a good support system

It’s good to have people around you who will support you during the good times and bad, especially when you feel inadequate and feel like giving up sometimes. At times, you need a good pep talk to get you back on your feet. Being surrounded with good company will also help you boost your self confidence. – Jessica

#4. Getting scouted is not easy

It’s not going to be easy. There will always be people prettier than you. Just because you’ve done a lot of things before, it doesn’t guarantee you the spot. So it’s not going to be easy. Casting calls can be a nerve wreck-inducing affair and a stressful process for any model. At the end of the day, you just have to keep putting yourself out there.

#5. People are going to critique you once you put yourself out there so be ready mentally

Siddiqah told ‘Neue’ that when she first launched her website, someone sent her an e-mail saying, “So you think you’re a model? Keep on dreaming girl!” (Editor’s note: Whoever wrote that mean e-mail … Shame on you!)

“Getting these kinds of comments or people bashing about you either straight to your face or through your friends is normal. And all you have to do is just listen, accept then decide if its beneficial for you to grow as an individual or not,” Siddiqah said.

#6. Strong will and determination are needed to constantly be active in the profession

Don’t give up. Don’t disappear from social media. Keep on updating your Instagram and Facebook.

“They will be times when you will experience a lull in getting booked for modelling gigs,” said Siddiqah. “But the important thing is to stay relevant in the modelling field. For example, doing a photoshoot on your own time so as to build up your portfolio and making your social media accounts stand out to attract potential clients! You will never know who you can reach via Instagram these days!”

#7. Focus more on your personality because a model is nothing without a personality

“You can’t just be a pretty face if you have a bad personality,” Balqis said.

“At the end of the day, you are pretty but your attitude is bad, no one is going to want to work with you,” Siddiqah added. “It’s important to have a shining personality and to remain professional. Know your place as a model during a photoshoot because, people will always remember how you made them feel. How you performed will reflect in the final product – which is your photos.”

#8. Be open to constructive criticism

“Constructive criticism is good, as it makes you improve on yourself more,” said Siddiqah.

“We have this professional development for teachers in schools. One of the topics covered is about growth mindset, where we learn that whenever people start to shoot you down, you just need to take the positive side of things,” said Balqis.

After reading this story ...

Get in touch

Are you a social media influencer or entrepreneur interested in taking your profile to the next level? E-mail Lance.Thoo@Hoco.Agency to explore opportunities to collaborate with ‘Neue’

10 things you shouldn’t do during Ghost Month

The Hungry Ghost Festival is upon us. So be sure not to stay out too late.

This would be the advice given by Chinese parents to their children during this time of year.

For 2018, the Chinese believe that the Ghost Month will last from August 11 to September 9.

The Hungry Ghost Festival begins on the 15th day of the 7th month of the Lunar calendar. For 2018, the Hungry Ghost Festival will fall on August 25 (next Saturday).

‘Neue’ recently spoke to the Chinese community from across Brunei Darussalam to learn about the Dos & Dont’s during the Hungry Ghost Festival.

The families interviewed by ‘Neue’ requested that their identities remain anonymous.

Top 10 Dos & Don’ts

#1. It’s a trap

(Photos: Shutterstock)

“We always tell our children if they see a red money packet (ang pow) on the street, they should not pick it up. It could be a dowry of a ‘bride’ from the underworld, waiting for anyone (alive or deceased) to marry her. It’s usually a trap!”

#2. Come home early

“My mother always tells me to come back home before dark and to never go out late or even in the middle of the night because you’re just asking for trouble. Furthermore, the main door cannot be opened after sun down.”

#3. Keep walking

“Never walk out alone. If you hear voices, just ignore and never turn your head around. It is believed that we have 3 lights around us, one on top of our head and one on each shoulder. Turning back would displace these lights.”

#4. Trim your nails

“Having long finger nails is a big no-no! Painting them black is even worse! This will attract evil spirits.”

#5. Those seats are reserved

“At night, we will have food and incense placed on tables outside our house. There will also be chairs on our garden. For anyone who doesn’t know by now, please do not sit on these chairs. They are reserved for the ‘invisible’ guests.”

#6. Avoid water

“It’s been said that people should go swimming, especially at the beach, during this time of the year. The belief is that spirits favour water due to its ‘yin’ environment. People say that some swimmers who have encountered ‘water spirits’ felt their legs being pulled.”

#7. It’s not for you, it’s for ‘them’

“Do not eat or step on the food offerings that are placed by the road side. They are meant for spirits, and eating or stepping on these offerings would ‘offend’ them.”

#8. Don’t whistle

“Do not whistle at night. This isn’t just during the Hungry Ghost Festival. This applies all year round!”

#9. Wear bright colors

“Do not wear dark clothing. It is believed that ‘spirits’ would be attracted to you. Also, no white shoes at night!”

#10. No peeking

“During the Hungry Ghost Festival, do not look out the window or peek behind the curtains to observe people making offerings to the spirits. It is believed that those who are down on their luck would be able to ‘see’ spirits. This is especially so for children.”

Do you know of any others?

Are there any other Do’s and Don’ts for the Hungry Ghost Festival that you’d like share? Do tell us in the comments section below or via Facebook or Instagram.

Do you enjoy ghost stories?

Feeling Suicidal in Brunei?

“Oh no! Not another one!”

I overheard a group of people saying that at a cafe as they read about another suicide case in Brunei Darussalam.

‘Neue’ spoke to a cross section of the local community over the week to hear their thoughts about this social issue.

Among the responses that caught our attention were:

  • I spoke to my supervisor about it, but I was told to “just get over it.”
  • I need help. But I’m afraid of what people would think of me if I seek professional help.
  • I spoke to my parents about it, but they would lecture me and tell me to “just be happy”.

All the respondents requested ‘Neue’ to keep their identities secret for fear of being shunned by society.

Do you think human resource departments in Brunei are ill-equipped to deal with mental illness in the workplace?


What to do?

In an interview with ‘Neue’, a counsellor who deals with students across Brunei shared the 5 basic “first aid” when it comes to dealing with anyone who is contemplating suicide:

#1. Listen to them, not lecture them.

#2. Acknowledge their emotions and empathise with them and their struggles .

#3. Do not disregard their feelings.

#4. Allow/invite them to express their feelings. Refute the stigma that emotions are wrong. It is not wrong if channeled properly.

#5. Do not be judgmental, show warmth.

How are you?

Feeling suicidal is itself a painful experience, but it is not something you have to bear alone. Reaching out for help is an important step towards getting the help you need to keep yourself safe.

Brunei’s MoH (@mohbrunei) over the weekend released the infographic (above) titled ‘How are you?’ on social media to promote public awareness.

Suicide is a major public health issue with wide-ranging consequences encompassing social, emotional and economic outcomes, the MoH said in its social media post.

“The factors that lead an individual to suicide are usually multiple and complex. Mental disorders such as depression may contribute to suicide risk. Substance abuse is also another significant risk factor. Social difficulties such as debt, financial and relationship problems may also contribute. Effective suicide prevention requires participation from multiple government and non-government sectors, and from the community as a whole.

“There is evidence that public awareness and understanding about suicide plays a significant role, and may encourage those at risk of suicide to seek help. It is very important that you get help from someone. Speak to a friend or family member that you trust. Go to see a doctor or a psychologist. Professional help is easily available in Brunei.”

What are the warning signs?

The Samaritans of Singapore, a non-profit dedicated to providing confidential emotional support to individuals facing a crisis, thinking about suicide or affected by suicide, in its website listed out some of the warning signs of someone contemplating suicide:

When they start saying the following:
  • “My family will be better off without me”
  • “My life is meaningless anyway”
  • “If you don’t love me, I’ll kill myself”
When they start doing the following:
  • Giving away treasured possessions and saying goodbye
  • Researching suicide methods
  • Writing suicide notes (including emails/diaries/blogs)
Whey they start feeling the following:
  • Emotional outbursts
    (anger, sadness, irritability, recklessness)
  • Loss of interest
  • Humiliation or anxiety

Who to call?

Last Friday morning ‘Neue’ readers contacted us to ask if there was a 24-hour helpline for people who are contemplating suicide.

Sadly, there is currently no such public helpline available.

However, help would be available at the nearest Accident & Emergency Department, where medical staff would ascertain if a mental health specialist would be required.

The community received some welcome news over the weekend when Brunei’s Ministry of Health (MoH) announced that it was developing a national hotline for suicide prevention.

In the mean time, as the relevant authorities are working on this development, vulnerable individuals can still reach out to helpline 141 or call the Talian Darussalam hotline 123.

5 things you should know about Thai cave rescue mission

David Beckham posted this heartfelt message calling the Thai boys “heroes”. He also thanked all those who risked their lives rescuing them. According to him, it was “such a positive, uplifting story.” (Photo courtesy @davidbeckham)

After spending OVER TWO WEEKS trapped in a cave in northern Thailand, all 12 youths of a football team, whose ages range from 11 to 16, and their coach have been rescued.

Narongsak Osatanaskorn, the former Thai governor who led the rescue, made the official announcement at 10.45pm (Brunei time, July 10), after a tense few days of rescue missions. “I never imagined this could happen – but we did it. We completed Mission Impossible,” he was quoted as saying in an online news report.

Sadly, there was one casualty – a former Thai Navy SEAL who died after entering the cave to lay oxygen tanks along the exit route. Saman Gunan (alternatively spelled Kunan) has been remembered by his family and people around the world as a true hero.

Complex rescue mission

(Source: The Sun Graphics)

On July 4 (last Wednesday), The Sun Graphics uploaded the infographics (above) onto its Twitter feed detailing the THREE possible rescue options:

(1) Diving – fitting them with full-faced masks and carefully pulling them out one by one.

(2) Draining – pumping water out of the caves enough to allow the boys to wade or float our with life vests.

(3) Waiting – leaving them there with supplies for months until the rains subside.

Poni Divers’ thoughts on rescue mission

Wong Thye Sing, the founder of Poni Divers, Brunei’s largest dive centre and only watersports centre in the country, with Anna Aziz, the Business Development Director of Poni Divers (Photo: Lance Thoo)

“We’ve been following the story about the rescue mission intently. We are so pleased that the operation went well,” said Anna Aziz, the Business Development Director of Poni Divers, Brunei’s largest dive centre and only watersports centre in the country.

On July 11, the ‘Neue’ team sat down for an interview with Wong Thye Sing, the founder of Poni Divers, to hear his thoughts about the ‘miraculous’ rescue mission in Thailand.

The following answers are his response to our questions:

Question 1: What’s it like to dive inside a cave like the one in Thailand?

File photo shows a girl in Cenote Suytun at Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico (Photo: Shutterstock)

That particular cave in Thailand is not really a cave where people would normally go cave diving.

One of the top locations for cave diving in the world is in the ‘cenotes’ in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico (see photo above). The water is still, there is barely any current, it’s freshwater, and you can see over 50 metres ahead of you. The water is still because it comes from rainwater that has seeped through limestone slowly and has been filtered naturally.

This particular cave is a seasonal cave, so it’s made up of water from monsoon rain flooding through in a few months of the year, so its quite dirty with sediments and silt and it is zero visibility. There is strong current and the water is cold. So nobody would be dive in waters like this except for in specific rescue or recovery situations.

It would be like diving in the dark at night where you can’t see your own hand in front of your face and you would be moving by feel of touch, so it is hazardous and dangerous with sharp rocks and potential entanglement hazards. It is also physically exhausting to have to swim against the current.

Question 2: What can go wrong during such a rescue operation?

Rescue workers move scuba tanks through the cave system (Photo: Royal Thai Navy)

Many things can go wrong:

(1) More rain can come and more unexpected water causing stronger currents.

(2) Divers have to plan according to the amount of time they have underwater which is limited to how much they exert underwater swimming against the current, how much air is in the tank, and how much nitrogen their body would absorb from the air. Many of these variables can change depending on weather & water conditions.

(3) Parts of the cave could collapse, lines could break, equipment could fail, the air in the bigger cave camp bases could become hypoxic (low oxygen levels).

(4) People can panic and do very irrational things, and plans can go terribly wrong.

(5) Rescue teams could miscommunicate or coordinate wrongly or there may be too many teams not working together. There were over 90 on the dive rescue team, 40 local and 50 overseas with many more hundreds of volunteers assisting with carrying and food and so on. So it was a BIG operation, but from the photo coverage of their base camp, the area actually looked surprisingly well organised.

Question 3: What kind of measures or procedures are taken when oxygen is low during a cave dive?

This question hasn’t been very clear in media and can mean something very different to divers and non-divers.

The media keeps referring to “oxygen tanks”. However, scuba diving is commonly done on air tanks.

The air in the scuba tank is normally just compressed air.

What’s compressed air?

Compressed air is normal breathing air that is 21% oxygen, and 79% nitrogen.

What’s Nitrox?

A tank with a higher level of oxygen, a 32% or 36% oxygen mix, is often used for scuba diving as well, and is called Nitrox or enriched air and allows us to spend longer time at depth.

How about an emergency kit?

Divers can also have an oxygen tank that is part of the diver emergency kit. This is normally medical grade 100% oxygen that can be used as treatment in case of a diver emergency.

Technical divers (divers trained for diving deeper and staying down longer, using mixed gases) may use 100% oxygen tanks underwater at six metres or shallower to off-gas (remove nitrogen from the body) so they can safely ascend without facing DCS (decompression sickness).

Often misquoted in the media!

As you can see, the media often quote from one another and use the words ‘air’ and ‘oxygen’ interchangeably. So this question could be referring to air levels or oxygen levels, and it could refer to the air levels and oxygen levels above water in the cave or underwater while scuba diving.

As an example of this, one media source quoted that a rescue diver died because he ran out of air, while in the next paragraph, the same media source said his oxygen supply had run out.

There’s a difference!

Those are actually two VERY DIFFERENT things.

If he was diving on a scuba tank, he could run out of air as he consumes it, but he could not run out of oxygen as a scuba tank is just filled with compressed air which can’t have decreased oxygen levels. The only way he could run out of oxygen was if he was on a rebreather unit. Some of the overseas rescue divers were actually photographed wearing a rebreather unit.

A rebreatheris a diving unit that recycles the air. The rebreather basically recycles the same air, removing C02 while adding oxygen, allowing the diver to breathe the same air back in.

A scuba diver with a closed circuit rebreather (Photo: Shutterstock)

While diving on rebreathers, if the rebreather dive computer or oxygen sensor or equipment doesn’t work properly, the air can become low on oxygen as the rebreather head unit doesn’t inject more oxygen into the air to return it back to 21% oxygen. Qualified technical divers are trained to regularly check their dive computers and O2 sensor readings to reduce incidents of lower oxygen.

So the frequent references to oxygen levels in the cave being low in the media likely refers to the oxygen levels above water.

The cave where the 12 students were trapped became low on oxygen as the oxygen levels decreased over time.

The cave where the other volunteer rescuers were using as a base camp also faced decreased oxygen levels as rescuers work round the clock.

Underwater diving scenarios

For underwater diving scenarios, to avoid a low-on-air situation during a cave dive, a rule of thirds is used, one third to go in, one third to come out, and one third reserve, so divers have to be disciplined to stick to this rule, to always have enough air and to plan their dives properly and to know when to go back or end the dive if circumstances have changed. Also, divers must be trained not to panic and to control their breathing and stay calm to not use up more air than they normally would.

When a cave is low on oxygen above water, like at the rescue mission, they considered actions like allowing less people in, setting up an intake pipe with oxygen or air access, and bringing in more oxygen tanks to increase o2 levels back up to 21%.

Question 4: What’s the difference between diving and cave diving?

Scuba diving normally refers to recreational diving, that is diving no deeper than 40 metres or diving where decompression stops on the way up is not required or where there is no obstacle overhead to block your route to the surface.

Technical diving is deeper than 40 metres, or where decompression stops are required, or diving with mixed gases, or where there is an overhead environment, such as cave diving.

For cave diving, because you cannot just surface and breathe in an emergency, more training is required, more equipment and planning is also required. You will need underwater lights, proper air planning, and more durable diving equipment for the hazardous environment.

Question 5: Are there any courses on how to survive such a scenario?

(Photo: Shutterstock)

The Thai youths trapped in the cave had a much lower chance of making it out as they didn’t know how to swim and also didn’t know how to dive.

There are MANY courses in Brunei that people can sign up for to be better prepared for such a scenario.

For starters, they can learn how to swim by taking swimming lessons or learn to scuba dive by taking diving classes, such as Poni Divers (@ponidivers).

Being in a cave requires use of lines and climbing equipment, so they can go rockclimbing at the local rock climbing gym, such as Up Climbing Centre (@up_climbingcentre).

Overseas, they can go potholing or caving (exploring in caves) with a certified guide or instructor.

There are also various survival guide resources available that discuss how to survive in such scenarios by keeping a level head, and how to stay safe and secure, and how to make the right decisions.

However, the most important one probably is prevention. And that is to try to prevent some thing like this from happening.

The easiest way to do that is simple things like always find an expert to bring you into new places and to be familiar with the hazards of your activities and to inform people where you are going.

Other than that, stay fit and take up some adventure sports for that day when you may need some of those adventure skills!

We’d love to hear from YOU!

Is there a question you would like to ask Poni Divers? Drop us a line in the comments section below or reach out to us via social media.

Poni Divers has as part of its mission, an initiative to give back through educational and sponsored programmes. Its focus is on increasing the awareness of the wonder and beauty of the marine ecosystems and to encourage others to protect and maintain these fragile environments.

If you would like to learn more about Poni Divers, click here to visit their Facebook page or click here to reach out to them via Instagram. Alternatively you may visit their website by clicking here.

Is society doing enough to help charities in Brunei?

The joy of giving: You too can put a smile on their faces

‘Neue’ was recently invited by the International Women’s Club of Brunei Darussalam (IWCB) to attend their Hari Raya celebration for Pusat Ehsan Al-Ameerah Al-Hajjah Maryam (Pusat Ehsan), a non-government charity organisation committed to providing quality education, rehabilitation and training programmes for individuals with special needs.

As I drove to Pusat Ehsan in Bengkurong last Friday afternoon (July 6), I thought to myself, “Is society doing enough to help charities in Brunei?”

It had been a couple of years since I last visited Pusat Ehsan as part of a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activity.

A lot has changed since then, such as the construction of the new Pusat Ehsan Rehabilitation Block, which was built at a cost of over a million dollars.

The majority of the funding was contributed by Her Royal Highness Princess ‘Azemah Ni’matul Bolkiah, Chairperson of Pusat Ehsan; Her Royal Highness Princess Fadzilah Lubabul Bolkiah; and the Patron of Pusat Ehsan.

Senior Trustee of Pusat Ehsan Dato Paduka Haji Mohammad Alimin bin Haji Abdul Wahab (right) receiving a donation on behalf of Pusat Ehsan from the President of IWCB, Ungku Datin Hajah Fanzah binti Haji Osman (centre) and Supinya Suwanpradhes (left), the wife of His Excellency Biravij Suwanpradhes, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Thailand to Brunei Darussalam during the Hari Raya celebration (Photos: Lance Thoo)

It’s not just about donating money, it’s about volunteering your time

As I walked into the hall of the Rehabilitation Block, where the IWCB’s Hari Raya celebration was being held for Pusat Ehsan, I saw a cheerful elderly man playing away at the keyboards near the main stage.

“Does he work for Pusat Ehsan?” I asked a member of the IWCB.

“Most of the people you see here today are volunteers, such as people who are on their pension and ex-military officers,” said Cecilia Teo, the Treasurer of IWCB.

As she drew my attention to the energetic keyboardist who was now breaking into song and dance, she said, “You’d be surprised how young at heart the elderly can be. People like him are volunteers who wholeheartedly give their time to supporting people in need.”

Bringing joy to others is priceless

Handing over Hari Raya ‘Ang Pow’ to students of Pusat Ehsan
All smiles during last Friday’s Hari Raya gathering at Pusat Ehsan

Last week, ‘Neue’ published a story on how much people should give when handing over Hari Raya ‘Ang Pow’ (small packets containing money) .

That story came to mind as I saw Pusat Ehsan members receiving money packets during last Friday’s Hari Raya celebration.

One particular moment that was etched in my mind was when I saw a cheerful youth in a wheelchair being embraced by the President of IWCB, Ungku Datin Hajah Fanzah binti Haji Osman (see main photo at top of page).

It was this exact moment that I realised that events such as these weren’t just about “giving money away”. But rather, it’s about making time for others.

Money helps, but it’s not everything.

How can people working for the Brunei Government help?

According to the Department of Community Development (JAPEM), Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sports, alternative channels have been prepared to enable officers and government employees to donate (through payroll deductions) to Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) for People with Special Needs through holding accounts prepared by the Ministry of Finance.

NGOs for People with Special Needs that have been identified are:

(1) Association of Handicapped Children (KACA)

(2) Pusat Ehsan Al-Ameerah Al-Hajjah Maryam

(3) Association for Autism in Training, Education and Resources Brunei Darussalam (SMARTER)

(4) Learning Ladders Society (LLS)

(5) Association of People Wheelchair and Disabled Persons Member (PDA)

(6) Association of the Visually Impaired Persons National Brunei Darussalam (BDNAB)

(7) Special Olympics Brunei Darussalam (SOBD)

(8) National Association of People With Hearing Loss

For more information on how to contribute to these NGOs, click here for details on payroll deduction.

I don’t work for the Brunei Government, but how can I help?

According to Naz Rashid, the Vice-President of IWCB, the community can make a donation by stocking up on food for ‘The Kitchen’ that can be found at the new Pusat Ehsan Rehabilitation Block.

She told ‘Neue’ that items and equipment that can be found in ‘The Kitchen’ were donated by the IWCB.

Students of Pusat Ehsan can pick up cooking skills at ‘The Kitchen’. Items and equipment here were donated by the IWCB

Naz Rashid, who is a lawyer by profession, explained that students of Pusat Ehsan learn how to cook here.

“The community can get in touch with us (the IWCB) and we’ll try to arrange something,” she said, adding that the IWCB is a registered club with lots of international ladies who are all volunteers committed to helping others.

When asked what she hoped to see more in future, she said “more participation from the community”.

Give your time

As mentioned before, you can give something much more valuable than money, and it won’t cost you a dime. Your time at the centre, to connect with the youths and adults there, would impact the community in a wonderful way. Whether it’s an hour a week, or two, or a weekend, your presence can make a world of difference.

Talk to them. Listen to them. Share life with them. In a community-driven society like Brunei, let’s cultivate a sense of duty to one another and build an all-inclusive community that celebrates individuality with care and understanding.

So, if you’re interested in supporting any Pusat Ehsan charity events, becoming a volunteer or making a donation, you can send an e-mail to

We hope this article provided some insight for people who are interested in helping out associations such as Pusat Ehsan.

Do you think society is doing enough to help charities in Brunei?

Hari Raya ‘Ang Pow’: So how much should you give?

*The following article was written by our local friend, ‘The Savey Fox’, who manages a blog that aims to become a resource as well as a community for savvy investors, frugal savers and smart spenders alike.

We are not all Warren Buffet!

‘Ang Pows’ (small packets containing money) are usually given to children during Chinese New Year. It has also been incorporated into Hari Raya celebrations in the form of ‘green packets’ (although these days they come in a myriad of different colours).

I believe that if money was not an issue, people would be giving out ‘Ang Pows’ to everyone! However, not everyone is Warren Buffet. This is why some will feel the pinch if they start getting too generous when giving out ‘Ang Pows’.

Tips on how to NOT break the bank:

1. Set a budget.

One of the last things we think about during celebrations is setting a budget. But setting a maximum you’re willing to spend, and working within it will make your wallet and bank account sing praises for you.

I’ve personally gone through the shock of how much just ‘Ang Pows’ cost when it comes down to it. All those $1’s and $5’s add up in a blink of an eye! And this is excluding things like decorations, food and drinks!

2. Don’t be afraid to go small.

In my younger years whenever I received ‘Ang Pows’ of $1 and $2, I’d be a little disappointed. It’s only now that I understand: NOT EVERYONE can give you huge amounts especially if you’re some random kid. Looking back now, I think those ‘smaller’ money packets were more heartfelt in hindsight.

3. Amounts given can differ.

An example of how much to give in an ‘Ang Pow’ (for illustration purposes)

Want to micromanage your budget a bit more? No problem! You can plan out some sort of hierarchy for the ‘Ang Pow’ you give. It’s not a must to give everyone $5 or $10 ‘Ang Pows’, you know. Like I said previously, people who do not have a close relationship with you really just take ‘Ang Pows’ as a blessing (well, mostly). So you could give more to family and probably less for friends and the minimum for strangers.

This is meant to be a celebration of blessings but objectively, I do not believe anyone should SUFFER FOR TRADITION.

4. You can be selective on who to give.

If you really, really can’t give out MORE ‘Ang Pows’ due to budget constraints, know that there’s no harm in not giving to random people altogether. It does take a certain level of swallowing one’s pride, though. That’s where I can see people folding and giving anyway, because “that’s what you’re supposed to do!”

But if it puts you in a bad spot financially, I don’t see what’s there to lose (other than your hard earned cash).

Mind you, this should only apply if you don’t have budget for it and not if you’re simply feeling stingy! (Though it works the same way if you just want to save cash too.)

Final thoughts:

The festive season should be about celebrating family and the successful month of fasting during Ramadhan. Giving out ‘Ang Pows’ is fine but really, if it hurts you financially, can you really say it’s okay? I hope that ‘Neue’ readers find this article useful.

Selamat Hari Raya, everyone!

What would you like 'Neue' and 'The Savey Fox' to look into next?


*You can follow @thesaveyfox on Instagram by clicking here. To visit ‘The Savey Fox’ blog, click here. If there is a financial topic that you would like us to look into, drop us a line in the comments section below or reach out to us via Neue’s social media accounts on Facebook or Instagram.


Cross border just for groceries? Not worth it!

Is it worth it?

Is it worth the trip to Miri, Limbang or even Kota Kinabalu from Brunei Darussalam just for groceries? No!

But is it worth the trip for a relaxing weekend of shopping combined with leisure? If it’s a combination of these things, then the answer is a resounding Yes!

Well, this is according to the findings of a survey (see photo below) that was featured in our article – Grocery shopping: Is it worth the trip to Miri? – that had received over 6,000 page views, as of June 20, 2018.

Price check

Facebook user ‘Zair Zairin’ noted that the products that were featured in the article – “Grocery shopping: Is it worth the trip to Miri?” – did not reflect what an average Bruneian family would purchase in Miri.

Our readers also asked us to compare prices for items aside from “junk food”.

The most requested items were baby diapers, butter, cooking oil and fizzy drinks, specifically Coca-Cola (Coke).

Two shops in Brunei where we surveyed prices were Sim Kim Huat (SKH) and Hua Ho.

While in Miri, we visited Emart and Boulevard, which are popular among Brunei shoppers.

Prices of selected items in the table (below) were noted down by the ‘Neue’ team around mid-June.

People who say it’s WORTH it

Responding to our question if grocery shopping was worth the trip from Brunei to Miri, Facebook user ‘Saifull Rizal’ said at the end of the day, it all depends on what you’re buying and that it’s important to buy in bulk for items such as diapers and baby formula milk.

Facebook user ‘Kharen June Operiano Charles’ said shops in Brunei were “super overpriced”.

“Same price but different currency … how is that possible?” she asked.

Another user ‘Ny Izd’ pointed out that every dollar saved in Miri goes a long way. “If you can save at least 1 Brunei dollar for each item that you guy in Malaysia … Imagine how much you would save if you buy more groceries?”

Facebook user ‘Fira Rish’ said she prefers going to Miri for facial treatments because shops there use the same skin care products as what you would get from a spa in Brunei. In short, same product but you pay less in Miri.

People who say it’s NOT worth it

According to Facebook user ‘Fandy Osman’, even though things are cheaper across the border (outside Brunei), one has to consider things like “indirect costs” and “opportunity costs” such as fuel, risk of travel mishaps, toll fees, time spent travelling and accommodation.

As far as he is concerned, these hidden costs make the trip to Miri not cost-saving at all.

Another Facebook user ‘Paul Dominique Galvez’ said a value should be put on EFFORT spent by people travelling across the border just for groceries.

According to him, if you were to factor in travel time and effort, the price difference of items that you can find in Brunei and Miri would be negligible.

Shop in Brunei! Let’s support local businesses!

Facebook user ‘Jasmine Xia’, on the other hand, hoped to see more Brunei shoppers help our own country to improve LOCAL businesses.

“People love to shop in Miri due to the favourable exchange rates. Bruneians spend a lot in neighbouring states and this does NOT help our own economy,” she said.

“Considering the subsidies that the Brunei Government provides for the people, we should take steps to help our OWN country to improve LOCAL businesses,” she added.

According to her, if you were to factor in fuel expenses and other what-nots, you’re not saving.

When asked if changing people’s mentality was frustratingly difficult, she said: “Yes definitely! But at the end of the day, people have the right to choose what they want to do with their hard-earned money.

“Small & Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) need the support of Brunei shoppers be it for groceries, restaurants, electronics, clothing, hardware, house renovations, etc.

“Without the purchasing power of locals in Brunei … without their support, businesses locally won’t thrive.

“Imagine, even for groceries, people don’t want to shop locally! But they are enjoying the subsidies in Brunei.

“These are just my two cents. We don’t have to border hop for everything. Let’s help the government create a better economy! Locals have that power if they can just stop turning to Miri for everything.”

Before and after GST

We wrote the story – Grocery shopping: Is it worth the trip to Miri? – earlier in the year when shoppers in Malaysia were charged GST (Good & Services Tax).

Soon after the Neue website was launched, Malaysia’s newly elected prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, in a surprise announcement scrapped the 6% GST in the country.

We asked Facebook user ‘Mii Nineteens’ about his thoughts on whether more Bruneian shoppers would be rushing across the border following news that GST in Malaysia would be scrapped.

“I doubt anything big would change. It would still be the same regardless (with or without the GST). People will still go to Miri since it’s like killing 2 birds with 1 stone – you get to enjoy a vacation (sightseeing) once a month, while at the same time, shop for stuff and enjoy cheap food,” he said.

What do you have to say about this?

Drop us a message in the comments section below or via Facebook and Instagram.

For our next story, what would you like us to compare?

Is it true? 1 trolley in Brunei = 2 trolleys in Miri

Our story “Grocery shopping: Is it worth the trip to Miri?” stirred up a debate in the comments section.

For our experiment, we wanted to see what we could get with just 50 Brunei dollars (about RM150) at grocery stores in Brunei and Miri, Malaysia.

In the comments section of Neue’s Facebook post, some people said that the items we bought for the social experiment were “not groceries”.

People say that you should never go into a supermarket without a shopping list. And now we know why.

This was probably why we bought so much junk food for our last story!

Before we proceed with the story, we invite you to take part in the survey below:

What you get with 1 trolley in Brunei, you can get twice as much in Miri for the same amount of money. Do you agree?


A Brunei family who got in touch with us said they would only go to Miri once every two months for their grocery shopping.

They said, “Making the trip to Miri for groceries is worth it.

“From our own personal experience, we can confidently say that 1 trolley full of groceries in Brunei is equivalent to 2 trolleys full of groceries in Miri from stores such as Emart Supermarket

“Furthermore, those 2 trolleys full of groceries would be able to last our family for about a month,” they added.

Unable to compete with retail prices in Malaysia

A business owner in Brunei reached out to us in hopes that we could help him share his point of view with the general public as to why people are more inclined to do their shopping across the border.

He requested that we keep his identity confidential as he wasn’t sure if people would take too kindly about what he had to say.

Some shoppers think that business owners in Brunei inflate the prices too much

The business owner said, “It is true that groceries are much cheaper in Miri than Brunei.

“I’m not sure if it’s because import taxes in Brunei are high or suppliers in Brunei have high profit margins because of the lack of competition.

“But as a business owner, I can tell you that some of the products we get supplied from distributors in Brunei are more expensive than the retail prices in Malaysia.

“That said, this is one reason why business owners such as myself are unable to compete with prices in Malaysia, or in this context, Miri.

“The general public do not understand this. They think that business owners inflate the prices too much.”

What do you have to say about this?

Have a good debate about this with your family and friends, especially over the Hari Raya festivities.

Trust us! It’ll be a good topic to bring up to dodge those “kawin dah?” (have you married?) and “kraja mana dah” (where are you working now?) conversations as you visit open houses around Brunei (or across the border).

Drop us a message in the comments section below or via our social media platforms.