THE first leg of our trip to New Zealand was an overnight stop-over in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city of Brunei. Arriving at the place Sunday evening, we stayed at the Grand City Hotel which was a 10-minute shuttle ride from the Airport.

We had about three hours to survey at least part of Brunei the following day, and the immediate impression was that the country was not only wealthy, life was clean and orderly. The highways that we passed through were wide and well-paved, the vehicles streaming through them were modern and well-maintained. No jeepneys, just privately-owned cars and tour buses. Most of the buildings were new, and many were sporting modern but Muslim-inspired architecture.

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Like most of the Asean countries that my wife and I had gone through, Brunei appeared to be economically and physically developed. Traffic discipline and a stress on public safety appeared to be a common concern as well as priority apparently given to environmental protection. Our country and government can learn from them.

From Brunei, our plane took a five-hour flight to Brisbane, Australia. From the air, the city looked huge, buildings and houses spanning an area obviously much larger than Metro Manila. A two-hour stopover and then we were flying again, this time to Aukland in New Zealand. From there we bade goodbye to our Brunei Airlines plane, took a shuttle bus to the Aukland Domestic Terminal and boarded a Pacific Blue Airlines flight to Wellington.

Arriving in Wellington early in the morning of March 23, we were picked up at the airport by Liza Estalilla, Cultural and Passport Officer of the Philippine Consulate there and who happens to be a family friend. Months earlier she had offered to have us stay with her for awhile before proceeding to Palmerston North where our daughter Kay and her husband Anton lived. We were not sorry we accepted Liza’s invitation.

Wellington is a city of hills, and Liza lived in a subdivision where the houses were nestled on the slopes. Liza’s place was literally on the very top of one of these hills, from where we had a panoramic view of Wellington hundreds of feet below, highlighted by the bay in the background. The climate was a cool 16 degrees Centigrade, a welcome relief from our El Nino-seared Philippine summer. All in all, from the time we left Manila to where we were sitting in Liza’s living room looking at through her panoramic glass window at the vista that Wellington offered below us, it was a satisfying beginning to a looked-forward vacation for me and my family. More vacation notes in later columns.