(in front of my CS Jonathan's house in Brunei)
A week before the trip to Brunei Darussalam, even a one star hotel would be a dream luxury given my few dollar-budget, sans any credit card and paying for six (6) persons' travel expenses for three days, three nights on September 1-4, 2011.
(at Brunei Airports' arrival area)
Yes,it is my parents, brother Joel and friend couple (Jojo and AA)'s first international trip together, so I promised all the best for them with an "all expenses paid" adventure! Oh well, I thought the promise would be easy to do (not meant to be broken) when I booked for the Cebu Pacific tickets in May. What I didn't consider was the timing. Little did I realize that this much - anticipated family adventure in Brunei would be after a series of funds - depleting trips: my 6-week US vacation in June/July, a Hongkong Disneyland Birthday treat for my brother in mid - August and Kadayawan Festival adventure in Davao towards the last week of August. You can just imagine how keyed - up I was as the date comes to a close.
(just outside the Brunei Airport-I love country signs you know?haha)
Fast forward, I still vividly recall our arrival at the Brunei International Airport last September 2,2011 at around 1:40am. We saw a guy in uniform waiting patiently outside the airport holding a placard with the words "Times Hotel. Jonathan Beveridge ", exactly what I was told in the email. We came up to the smiling face' guy and he escorted us gladly to where a huge A/C van was parked, drove us for about three (3) minutes towards the city and viola, we found ourselves in the comfort of our hotel room at the Times Hotel. For the rest of our stay in Brunei, we were spoiled with the extra indulgence in three elegantly furnished hotel rooms costing $$$ per room with buffet breakfast for six people; and a lay over at a house which is much nicer than possibly the hotel room I can afford.
(my parents in their hotel room,they didn't request a double haha)
Ooopss..rewind,rewind. Something isn't right, huh! I'm sure you were expecting a different picture, or travel stories of a family sleeping on that inflatable raft on the airport floor trying to skim a few bucks off travel expenses, then traveling by bus first thing in the morning to get to the cheapest accommodation in Brunei. Yes, that could have been our situation if we haven't found a treasure in time. A golden treasure, who is the subject of my entry to this month's Pinoy Travel Blog Carnival being hosted by Marky Ramone Go of Nomadic Photographs on the theme"Unforgettable Human Encounters On The Road" .
Yes, this may not be an encounter while traveling around the Philippines per se, but largely has to do with me and my family being Pinoy travelers and the traits that draw complete strangers to go out of their way so we can have a nice time. Pinoy's honesty, sincerity, friendliness and love for family give me every reason to believe, has played a large role why this uplifting tale I'm about to tell you happened the way it did!
Barely a week before the Brunei trip and still without an accommodation, I tried searching for couches again on Couchsurfing.Org, a website where I have been a member since May 2009. This website is a treasure in itself. Through it,I have experienced a number of "friends of a friend and hit it off right away" encounters both here and abroad, either by surfing their couch or hosting them when they are in the Philippines.
( with my family at the gold-glittering Kiarong Mosque at night)
Using CouchSearch last August 26, 2011, I stumbled upon Jonathan Beveridge 's profile. He is from New Zealand, an education consultant in Brunei, and pretty new in the site ( only August 2011). Given my situation, Jonathan's couch description was like a 'gold glittering in the sand'. He has two rooms, lives near the airport and interested in meeting people. I wasted no time and sent Jonathan a message, which is hopeful it will turn into something (a free accommodation at best or at least an idea where to find an accommodation I can afford), but keeping my expectation low because Jonathan like any CS hosts, has no obligation to accept my request. Besides he is so new, and may not be open to having that many people stay in his house at one time and so indicated a "max 2 surfers per night".
(a sneak photo with Jonathan at his lovely home taken by ate Vida a Pinoy househelp at Jonathan's house)
"My parents, brother,a couple friend and I (total 6 persons) are visiting Brunei on September 2-4 (arriving at 1:40 in the morning). I have not considered looking for couch because we are too many. So for weeks now, I have been looking at hotels. But all I can find is either really cheap or very expensive. There seems to be no mid range ones. I'm afraid the cheap hotel (i.e. KH.Soon Guesthouse) may not be clean and safe like the reviews but the next option like Brunei Hotel would be too costly for three days with three rooms.This trip is my treat to my family (their first international trip) so I am paying for everything. Accommodation is becoming a deal breaker haha making me a bit keyed up now.So I thought I would check some surfers for possible ideas or even possible accommodation. Your profile strikes me. And wow,you are pretty new here. Welcome! Also you live near the airport which is what I would prefer because we are arriving at 1:40 in the morning and it is my first in Brunei too.xxx"
Jonathan's reply surprises me. It was quick. truthful. welcoming. considerate.
"Thank you for contacting me. Unfortunately I am not able to help as I have 2 other couch surfers here on these dates so no room left. I am not sure if you will get somewhere for that number. I will ask around though if anyone I know has rooms. I can organise transport for you though from the airport to wherever you end up staying, no problem. I can also ask my local friends where would be a cheap, clean and safe hotel if you would like me to. I am sorry I cannot host myself but as i say I have a New Zealander and 2 Slovenians staying for those 2 nights. I am getting to meet many people..!
Please let me know if you would like me to do any of these things, no problems at all."
I thanked Jonathan for his reply, expressed understanding for his inability to host us on those dates and appreciated his offer to help. Grabbing the offer, I requested him to visit K.H.Soon Resthouse, book if he finds it ok (which means something livable (not urine or tobacco smelling room) and arrange for our transportation from the airport. At this point, I felt so relieved to find someone who is willing to help and very responsive to my queries. Even without actually meeting Jonathan in person, I knew I found a real gem. An angel.
But the subsequent email exchanges surprises me even more.
(the whole group in Jonathan's house with kuya Philip,a Pinoy working as taxi driver for ate Vida)
"Hi Mhe-anne, I checked out the 'cheaper' accommodation places around and I would not want to put my parents into these places. There are not a lot of options for nicer hotels without getting into the expensive ones. I would not suggest paying for the 3rd night as it seems a lot of money to pay just for a place to sit and store your bags. You can leave your bags at my house and wait there also until time to go to the airport.
I have booked into the Times Hotel which is near the airport. I have paid already so don't worry about the cost. The airport has a shuttle that will take you into the main city area for a fee.
I will not be there at the airport when you arrive now but there will be a pick up from the Hotel. He will be holding a sign with my name on it, Jonathan Beveridge. My phone here is ______________ in case you need to get hold of me."
Did I read it right??? Did he really pay for the accommodation? That was unexpected gesture and filled my heart with gratitude - a total stranger advancing hotel costs for me? (how trusting!). So I hurriedly replied saying thank you and assured him I will reimburse him for the amount paid. This I said without checking the type of accommodation, how many rooms and how much I owe him. Upon checking the website of Times Hotel, my happiness suddenly turned into a worry, knowing I can't afford to reimburse Jonathan. So I sent Jonathan another email.This time I was surmising a lot of possibilities, but more inclined for the worst. A true Debbie Downer.
"I appreciate so much all of your efforts and making arrangements for my family and I. But I was looking at the hotel website and it is very expensive and I'm concerned it is out of my budget hehe. Is the reservation already confirmed?"
Surprisingly, here is Jonathan's reply:
(at a steamboat resto in Brunei with Jonathan)
"Hi Mhe-anne. I have booked and paid for the hotel for 2 nights. I am not expecting you to reimburse me so don't worry about the cost, just enjoy... If you don't want to stay there and you have other arrangements, no problem, just let me know, I can cancel. But if it is just that you are worried about the money ...don't. There is not a lot to do in Brunei so you might as well be comfortable and relaxed."
Wow,it was truly a nice generous surprise! I still feel so undeserving of such, but maybe my desire for the best for my family made this amazing encounter with Jonathan happened. For the first time, I became so excited to visit Brunei (not only to check it off my list) because of the good people like Jonathan who has been very kind and a true angel even before we arrive.
Now we are back home with photographs and memories of a wonderful vacation in Brunei. We wouldn't forget Jonathan, my forever friend and the lessons of life he taught me and my family. He is the epitome of genuine kindness, generosity, 'going the extra mile' attitude,doing things without expecting anything in return and not wanting to call attention to himself. I know I could never be able to repay Jonathan, (and he isn't wishing for a payback time anyway).But I can pay him forward by being like him - a treasure to others!
(aboard a water taxi in Kampong Ayer (Water Village) with the Omar Saiffudin Mosque at the background)
For previous months blog carnivals please check Estan's site's Pinoy Travel Bloggers Blog Carnival