On the Write Path
By Pauline Chan
Haji Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Haji Mohd Yunos was a man of service, having poured 30 years of his life in service to the Brunei Government, holding a multitude of positions in various ministries and departments including that of a Permanent Secretary at three ministries, the last of which was at the Prime Minister’s Office. While some people are familiar with the civil servant Haji Mohd Rozan, others are more familiar with Rozan Yunos, the blogger who fed us fascinating tidbits of Brunei’s historical and cultural side via his website, The Brunei Resources.
Rozan’s editorial reach was supplemented by his regular contribution to a column – the Golden Legacy – in the now defunct newspaper, The Brunei Times, sharing his stories about Brunei’s history and traditions. He has written and presented an abundance of papers at international, regional and national forums. He may have retired from civil service but Rozan’s grey cells are still not taking a break. He recently published another book, Monster, Dragons and Fairies: Myths and Legends from Borneo and Brunei, to add to his string of published books and articles.
Rozan is currently teaching as an adjunct lecturer at the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam, and pursuing a PhD in Islamic Governance. Rozan’s present preoccupation with juggling multiple roles as student, teacher and author led us to seek him out for a chat and tea, just so we can ask him how he relaxes.
BiG: So, you’re retired but you’re as busy as ever. How do you give your grey cells a rest?
Rozan Yunos (RY): I watch Netflix. It is like Astro, but it’s Astro on steroids. [big laugh] Yea, I watch Netflix. You know how hard it is when you’re working and you’re trying to watch anything.
BiG: Ah, you’re making up for lost time.
RY: When I used to work in the government, I used to write a lot of things for Brunei Times, in that sense you know, even my spare time was filled up doing research and all sorts of things. And I am doing my PhD in Islamic governance also. I’m also teaching a module on Master of Governance and a module for the the Bachelor of Brunei Studies. I have to prepare for all that. If you’re a season teacher, that’s okay because you would have all the slides prepared. Mine will all be brand new. I am preparing all my slides now and it is taking much longer than I thought.
BiG: What is the Masters course about?
RY: The Masters programme is under the Centre for Life Long Learning (c3l). It is different, not a distance learning, so when you register for the programme, we don’t actually have classes, our lectures are recorded so you download and listen to us speak. There is no interaction. But every month we would have one session where we would meet up, like a tutorial.
BiG: So you don’t lecture in person.
RY: No, but I will be doing that for the Bachelor degree. I also do what they call Guest Lecturing. Sometimes they want to conduct a specific topic and they’ll call me to do that. I find that fun, especially topics like geography, public policy, this would normally take about a week or two put all the material together.
BiG: How does the c3l work? Is it for mature students or people who have already left school and want to go back to school?
RY: There is a basic requirement. For the Masters programme, you should have worked for five years and have a basic first degree, and you have to pay for it. One module is 500 dollars. A lot of people are taking this up because it is brand new, we’ve only started this semester, and you don’t have to complete it in one year, you are given four years to do it. There’s another degree called the Bachelor of Digital Economy, that one you can take about ten years.
BiG: Hmmm, not sure what we’ll be doing in ten years.
RY: It’s like this – you can take this module, and that module, and once you have completed all the modules over the years, you package them together and it’s equivalent to a degree, which is quite good. So every single module you take is like attending a professional workshop, the hard bit is the payment, you know, if you keep paying $500 every module it can be quite pricey.
BiG: Are these courses for working people?
RY: Generally most of the attendees are working people. They may not have the time to do it in one year, well, it’s kinda hard when you have a job. There are two groups of students who do this, one is the group who are working and the other is the group who just left university and find that the labour market is not so good at the moment so they go back to studying full time Masters or PhDs. There’s quite a number of these students now.
BiG: Is there anything else you would like to learn?
RY: Life is about continuously learning and I learn new things all the time. I am always curious about things and I write them down. This whole thing started many years ago, you know when you attend functions, like weddings, Hari Raya, and you will inevitably get some aunties and uncles who will recount the old days, “Aiyoh, thirty years ago it wasn’t like this, it was like that,” things changed. I used to listen to these people and then when you get older, they pass on. One day I started thinking that someone has got to write all this down before they all disappear so I wrote them down. That’s why I started writing blogs back in the 1990s. In those days, nobody read them but slowly, I realised that there’s a readership out there so I kept writing and the blog got bigger, then I started a website, bruneiresources.com, and moved my writings there and I put up all these little things, you know, these snippets that I learn everyday. Soon, people started to ask me to write for them, that’s when I discovered that writing can be quite lucrative, I didn’t realise that, I was just writing for fun.
Then after that, the Brunei Times started to ask me if I could do a weekly column, so it started from there, but the problem was it became a job. Before, I was voluntarily seeking out little nuggets of information but with the column I had to pick them out constantly because I had deadlines.
BiG: Did it become a chore then?
RY: The editors were quite kind, even though I was supposed to be doing a weekly column I wasn’t exactly writing one a week, I was doing like two articles every three weeks. There was a time I didn’t even write because I was so busy. It wasn’t a chore as such because I had this flexibility, I just had to tell them in advance so they could put up something else, but over the period from 2007 to 2016 I wrote about 300 articles for them. Having said that, it was sometimes good that the timeline was short because it forces you to look out for the next thing to write about.
BiG: Were these historical things that you wrote about gathered from your aunties, uncles and relatives?
RY: What I have gathered from them were basically in the first two or three years of my writing career. The first few years I wrote about subjects such as how Hari Raya and Chinese New Year were celebrated, what were the cakes they made, what drinks they served, but as time passed, I couldn’t write about the same things so I went deeper and more serious about the history.
I research from books about Brunei, ones I have collected over the years. I know a lot of people, scholars who give me PDF files of their work. Their notes and papers are useful but they’re not available unless you’re an academic, you’re not going to see them. If you want to go deeper, there’s always academia.edu, jstor.org, there’s all sorts of other sites where you can get such information. To write an article, say 1000 words, I have to read countless books. When writing, I keep it simple. A simple style so that it’s easier for people to read. You’re writing about history and culture, you don’t want to put people off. I think of myself as an elderly uncle, trying to tell you all these things I have collected. I will read through what I have written, and re-write to make it simpler if necessary, the idea is not to impress people but to share as much knowledge as possible. So that’s how I look at things.
BiG: When did your passion for writing begin?
RY: Umm, I have always written. One of the things I did when I was younger was write about things. But of course, they weren’t published then, I wrote just to please myself. I didn’t have a forum for it until the blogging world started. So to say when I started publishing them online, that would be in the 1990s.
BiG: Were you the kind who kept a journal?
RY: Yeah. I am the write type. It suits me, you know, releases your tension.
BiG: What do you think our youths and children should learn besides academia?
RY: Watch Netflix, (big laughter). They should learn a lot of things. They should not do a lot of social media, they should keep interaction alive. You can’t expect like the old days before all this electronics but anything that keeps people in healthy relationships with one another is always good. Play sport or anything, as long as they get out of the house.
BiG: Do you think our youths and children should be more interested in cultural and historical issues as well?
RY: Well, we can’t force them because that’s something that has to come naturally. I notice people get interested in these things when they grow older. Eventually the younger generation will come around and start asking questions. Even I wasn’t interested in these things when I was younger, like where I am from, who is my extended family, what happened in past generations. I am only interested in all that now at my age. Nowadays I would like to visit Kota Kinabalu with my uncles to search for old relatives we haven’t met before. So, I wouldn’t worry so much about the younger ones showing less interest in culture and history, It will happen later.
Follow Rozan Yunos on Instagram to learn more interesting tidbits about Brunei and for updates on his latest publications.
An excerpt from the above interview with Rozan Yunos was first published in the Borneo Insider’s Guide 2018 January issue.