3 Singaporeans in Brunei have front-row seats at Golden Jubilee celebrations

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Three Singaporeans are among a few selected international students chosen to wave the Brunei state flag when Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah passes along the royal procession route during the Golden Jubilee celebrations.
(From left) Muhammad Amruu Hussein Ismail, Muhammad Imran Mohammad Yusoff and Afiq Zikry Zulkiffli will be at the procession dressed like in their school uniforms of blue Malay traditional costumes with songkok and songket sarong. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN - Since coming to Brunei to further their studies three months ago, they have eaten countless plates of the sultanate's famous sambal chicken rice called "nasi katok", prayed at its largest Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah mosque with the 29 golden domes and made many local friends.

And on Thursday (Oct 5), Singaporeans Afiq Zikry Zulkiffli, Muhammad Amruu Hussein Ismail and Muhammad Imran Mohammad Yusoff are getting front-row seats at Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah's Golden Jubilee celebrations, marking his 50-year reign.

They are among 400 undergraduates from University Sultan Shariff Ali selected to line the royal procession route and wave the yellow-and-black state flags as the 71-year-old monarch passes through the heart of the city in his chariot.

More than 40,000 people are expected to line along the 3km route to watch the royal procession that will start at the main gate of Istana Nurul Iman and will make its way to the main roads around the capital.

The young Singaporeans described the Sultan as a friendly and approachable ruler with no airs, and he is often seen wearing casual short-sleeved shirts, driving his own car, and mingling freely with residents.

Twenty-year-old Imran even managed to score a royal handshake last month when the Sultan unexpectedly turned up at the same mosque for Friday prayers.

He later learnt from his friends that the Sultan makes it a point to perform his Friday prayers at different mosques every week so he could keep his ear to the ground.

"I was shocked. Usually a king would sit inside his palace and sit on his throne, but no, he would reach out to his people. I felt very honoured, excited and happy," he told The Straits Times, proudly showing the video of the royal encounter on his mobile phone.

Mr Afiq, also 20, said the event is not only a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" for him as a foreigner, but also a big deal to his Bruneian schoolmates who were yet to be born when the Sultan's Silver Jubilee took place 25 years ago.

"It's pretty amazing for someone to be sitting on the throne for 50 years, it's not a very short time, and I think he did a very good job as his people love him and he has received no complaints from them," he said.

For Mr Amruu, the celebrations gave them a chance to learn about Bruneian culture and royal traditions. They were told by their teachers not to wear yellow, the royal colour, or carry an umbrella, which is considered disrespectful.

The procession is also an exciting story he can tell his Singaporean friends back home.

The 19-year-old, who loves going to the movies and shopping, said: "They say Brunei is boring. But I can still catch the latest English movies at cinemas here, and now there's this jubilee. There are so many things to do, it never ends."

"I'm just really excited to see the Sultan that people have been talking about," he added.

Twenty-four foreign leaders are expected at a royal banquet on Friday, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and Prince Edward of Britain.

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