Date: September 2, 2011
Location: Istana Nurul Aman (Brunei's Royal Palace)
Hari Raya Aidilfitri, otherwise known as Eid ul-Fitr, is celebrated in a major way in Brunei Darussalam. It marks the end of the holy month of Ramahdan (a month-long abstinence from food and drinks for the muslim community). But the start of the Hari Raya Aidilfitri (the name itself means 'day of celebration') is not fixed because it depends on when the new moon is sighted.
So Hari Raya Aidilfitri this year started August 31 and that is the most joyous day in the Muslim calendar!
Every year during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri, the Sultan of Brunei generously opens his palace to the public for three (3) days to 'greet and meet' the royal family. For Bruneian, foreign residents and visitors, it is only during these three days that they can get to shake hands with the royal family and enjoy a free meal for the whole year, so thousands and thousands of people flock to the palace each day of those three days!
It was a wonderful and amazing experience for me and my family to be in the middle of this colorful, festive and unique celebration in Brunei. Yes! we made it to the Royal Open House at the Istana Nurul Aman!
The process for going to the palace is that you just go to the palace either in the morning or in the afternoon. The palace starts receiving visitors from 8am for the 'meet and greet' schedule at 10am-12nn which continues for the 2pm -4pm slot. Since we didn't know much about the whole process and expected thousands of people to be there (first day visitors was 36,000 according to the news), we decided to be at the palace first thing in the morning. We can't miss it for anything! (yea,even if it means getting only a four-hour sleep).
Because this is a not-to-miss experience, we availed of our hotel's shuttle service (BND $20 one - way) which took us to the palace in 20 minutes.
From the Istana Nurul Aman gate, there are buses that will take you to the Palace Reception Hall for free. You would have to fight your way to get on the bus though because most Bruneians don't or aren't schooled in queuing. We managed to get on the fourth bus when we realized it was the case haha.The bus trip was only for about five (5) minutes.
There was a huge crowd already when we got to the entrance. I registered our names in one of the many registration tables and indicated 6 pax from the Philippines. Then as we get to the first security line, men and women were separated so for awhile it was only me, my mom and AA (with papa,Joel and Jojo in the male's line).
We have no idea where the two lines for female would lead us until I saw the gold - trimmed chinaware. The queue is for the macam buffet! Had we not stuffed ourselves with the hotel's free buffet breakfast, we would have done the Bruneian way - elbowing out to get to the food counter first!
There were about 10 different food counters,on each side where you could get rice and all manner of different dishes.
Hungry or not, I got a little of everything and a lot of my favorite sambal shrimp! I was amazed with AA who got a plateful of food (she didn't finish it but really good for the picture).
At this point too,we were able to meet the guys and shared the feast together after finding a good seat. We met a number of Pinoys (but they aren't Pinoy looking so took awhile before we noticed, but they understood all our side comments hehe).
There were plenty of sweets at the 'Cakes and Cookies' counter near our table. AA was first to notice. You can get whatever you want and some even take home (I did too coz I love the fruit cake!).
There was a 'Drinks Counter' too with all kinds of soda, juice, chocolate and milk.
After the meal, male and female were again separated and so we joined the throng to a vast open-air waiting hall. There we were all seated in numbered rows, which was made comfortable with tons of electric fans, water dispenser and a huge tv.
Finally, our row was called after waiting for over an hour and we were led to another waiting room. This time it is air-conditioned and was fascinating to look at. With all the gold ornamentation, one could tell we are already in the palace!
No camera is allowed at this point.But since we didn't notice the signage and saw the Bruneian in front of us taking pictures, we took no time to get ours and clicked, clicked, clicked.
We were there only a few minutes and were led to the Baitur Rahmah Hall where her Majesty Raja Isteri Anak HjhSaleha and other female members of the family 'meet and greet' visitors. Luckier for the men because they got to meet the Sultan and the male members of the royal family.
Inside the Baitur Rahmah Hall, there was a U - shaped line where the visitors get to shake hands with the Sultan's wife (queen) and the princesses.
With literally thousands of people in line, the process was quick meet and gracious smile at most. So I was very honored when Her Majesty took time to speak to me! I greeted her 'Eid Mubarak' (Blessed Eid) which I learned from the net and memorized to come in handy for this amazing experience. She then thanked me and asked me if I were from Indonesia (not sure if it was because of my intonation or looks).Told her I am from the Philippines and she repeated Philippines and kinda looked at one of the princesses in line who looked like a Pinay. (Note: I was told that one of wives of the Sultan's cousin is a Filipina).
As we left the hall, we were ushered to a distribution kiosk where we traded our coupon given at the entrance for a Hari Raya card from the Sultan and a yellow box as a gift.
It is customary for visitors to the Istana Hari Raya Open Houses (and at all Hari Raya Open Houses) to receive a form of remembrance of their visit. This year sweet memento is packed in an embossed yellow box (one designed for women and another designed for men) consist almost a dozen individually - wrapped cookies which come in two flavors.
We were at the Palace the whole morning 8:30am till 12nn along with over 24,000 people who had attended last September 2 (Borneo Bulletin September 3 issue). It was worth it!
And whenever I see the yellow box and the card, it really felt like quite an honour to attend and be part of this wonderful ' day of celebration'. So to all, Selamat Hari Raya Aidifitri 2011!!