Recalling the historic 20th SEA Games in Brunei

Nineteen years ago, it was historic. And 19 years later, it is still nostalgic. Surely, it was one of the most iconic and memorable moments, and a great achievement for our country

|     Mohamad Fauzi Bin Idris     |

NINETEEN years ago, in 1999, there was a historic moment in our country. At that time, Brunei Darussalam hosted and organised the glorious and popular Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) sports event for the first time around August.

The SEA Games is a sporting event involving 11 Southeast Asian countries to compete in a sports competition. The event is usually held every two years where one of the Southeast Asian countries is selected to host the event.

According to history, Brunei Darussalam makes its first debut joining the SEA Games in 1977 and 22 years later, the

Sultanate was prime and ready to host the 20th SEA Games in 1999.

And that’s when I and thousands of other students and members of the public were among the lucky ones to be involved in the first ever SEA Games hosted by the country.

Though 19 years have passed, I still remember all the good memories and valuable experiences during that historic time.

In 1999, I was 13 years old and in Form 1 at Awang Semaun Secondary School. When the school’s principal and teachers announced that some of the students will be involved in a field performance at the SEA Games, this made us students all excited.

This was a golden opportunity for us to get involved in an important event for our country, so we obviously didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

Also, this event will be witnessed worldwide and we all could feel the patriotic spirit in us during that time.

After a discussion, the school divided the students into two groups – all male Form 1 students will only do field performance in the opening and closing ceremony.

Meanwhile, all female Form 1 students along with all Form 2 and Form 4 students would do another, different performance in the opening and closing ceremony.

With the 20th SEA Games due to be held in August 1999, our school began practising in the middle of that year at our main school hall, as do other schools who would participate in the field performance.

For my school, the male Form 1 students would join other students from different schools in forming the official logo of the 20th SEA Games (the ‘Obor’) during the opening ceremony and performing a special field performance called ‘Awang Budiman’ in the closing ceremony. The female Form 1 students together with the Form 2 and Form 4 students would perform the flip cards performance in the opening and closing ceremony.

Despite practising for the important ceremony of our country, we all never forgot our studies, and class sessions ran like normal. We would have our practice session for our field performance either in the morning or afternoon.

Our coaches trained and taught us various steps diligently.

Though it was tiring sometimes, we all enjoyed it and it was all worth it when we carried out the steps successfully.

After several practices at our school hall, during June or July 1999, we continued our practice at a bigger place where this time we would join with students from other schools and practise together. We practised at the Belapan Track and Field, Hassanal Bolkiah National Sports Complex in the morning and afternoon. It was fun to meet students from other schools as we have the same mission – to give our best for our field performance in conjunction with the 20th SEA Games hosted by our country.

I won’t forget the wonderful moment when we practised at night where students from different schools gathered at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium; we felt the joy and excitement as if the 20th SEA Games has already started.

The 20th SEA Games started with the opening ceremony on August 7, 1999. Thousands of Bruneians began flooding the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium to witness the historic moment of our country. We and all the other field performance participants had gathered in a designated location since afternoon. Before heading to the stadium, we first ate and listened to a briefing from our teachers and people involved in leading the field performance.

When His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, along with other royalties and important VIPs arrived, it marked the beginning of the ceremony. After all the athletes and delegates from the 10 participating Southeast Asian countries finished marching, the launching of the opening ceremony was due to begin. We could feel the excitement in the stadium. When we looked at the big screen, the opening ceremony looked epic and colourful! We saw patriotic Bruneians waving the national flags and standing up to sing the theme songs of the SEA Games. They were joined by international guests who also shared the same excitement in celebrating the event together.

Everyone involved in the big event worked so hard to make sure the opening ceremony went well. In the end, it opened the eyes of many people around the world that the opening ceremony of the 20th SEA Games in Brunei Darussalam had succeeded on an amazing night. For sure, this is one of the historic moments of our country. We felt proud that our beloved country successfully managed to organise and host its first SEA Games.

When the guest artistes started to perform several theme songs of the SEA Games, we began preparing for our field performance, eager to do our best and leave a lasting impression on those watching the event. The flip cards performance did its part since the beginning of the event, and then it’s our turn to make our worthwhile debut in the SEA Games.

When our performance began, we ran into the centre of the stadium and started forming the official logo of the 20th SEA Games. In a short time, we made the whole stadium erupt with joyous cheers due to our performances. If I have to describe my feeling at that time, I would say I literally have mixed feelings – happy, excited, proud and patriotic! Nevertheless, it was truly a special moment on a special night. Our field performance went successfully and now we waited for our finale performance on August 15, 1999, for the closing ceremony.

After almost 10 days, the 20th SEA Games in Brunei finally came to a close but not before the closing ceremony on August 15, 1999. Just like before, we gathered with other participants at a location, ate some food and listened to a briefing prior to the opening of the event. This time, we would do a tribute performance for ‘Awang Budiman’, the official mascot for the 20th SEA Games in our country. We dressed like him. The arrival of His Majesty along with other royalties and important VIPs marked the beginning of the closing ceremony. After a variety of wonderful performances, it was our turn to perform our finale field performance. We performed energetically at the centre of the stadium. We played the character of ‘Awang Budiman’ and at the same time showcasing sports in our performance to highlight the various sports events held during the 20th SEA Games in Brunei.

At the end of the ceremony, we were all speechless. All the exhaustion, fun and hard work paid off. It all ended happily. We left the ceremony with mixed feelings. Deep inside our heart, we will never ever forget this unforgettable moment.

When recalling the memories of that event, it feels like it just happened yesterday. For me, joining the 20th SEA Games in 1999 hosted by our country for the first time ever was definitely one of the best moments of my life. All the participants involved with the field performance or anything during the 20th SEA Games will absolutely agree, too. Nineteen years ago, it was historic. And 19 years later, it is still nostalgic.

Surely, it was one of the most iconic and memorable moments, and a great achievement for our country.

Congratulations and well done to everyone who took part and made that historic event a resounding success. Also, a big thank you to our school and former teachers as well as our families for the support, and the SEA Games committee for giving us an amazing opportunity. We truly appreciate it.

Years may have come and gone, but all the memories, experiences and the achievements we got during the 20th SEA Games in 1999 in our country will always remain in our lives. Unlike nowadays, there were no smartphones for us to capture our best moments at that time, but everything that we’ve gone through being a participant for the field performance during the 20th SEA Games in our country, we captured and kept in our hearts.

I will always feel grateful and proud to be involved in such an historical event, and of course, I’m very proud of my beloved Brunei Darussalam.