$34 well spent

I have a short story about Wi-Fi but first a photo taken from my apartment window. These two boys were balanced on the ledge across the alley about 8 feet above the ground. Their mother was on the ground below but not near enough to help if they fell. What were they doing? Collecting flowers from the hedge to sell. This is a common sight here but usually what you see is a woman with a large bag shedding flowers from all sorts of bushes and hedges. They don’t usually employ their children to climb walls and defy gravity. I have no idea how much money they can make at this endeavor.

DSC_2415Now, about that Wi-Fi.

My reception  in kampung bule has never been very good and I’ve dealt with low bandwidth, constant shut-offs and little ability to watch video. When I moved one floor down, however, the situation because much worse. It had become almost impossible to do my work.

The new problem was that my move had brought three additional concrete and rebar walls into play, meaning the wireless signal now had to go through several barriers before reaching my laptop. The solution seemed to be a Wi-Fi extender but no one I talked to had any idea where to purchase one. One person said he had to bring one back from the UK. I couldn’t wait until my next visit to the U.S., however.

Finally, I was able to get the phone number for the man, Lo, who assists Smiling Hill with computer and other IT tasks. I hadn’t seen him in almost a year and he probably thought I had left Batam, but he remembered me when I called. While he did come a day later than promised, he did finally arrive with a new Wi-Fi extender.

But there still were some configuration problems, as there was no direct line of sight available because of the hallways and corners involved. Lo spent maybe an hour trying to figure out the best way to solve my problem, finally setting up a new account that gives me five bars of reception. He could have settled for a lesser solution but that’s not his style.

What did all this high-tech help cost me? The extender was Rp380,000, or about US$30. And for his time, Lo charged Rp50,000, About $4.

Let’s put that in perspective. In the U.S., such a service would probably require a two-week wait for a service technician. I’m not sure how much an extender would cost but probably much more that $30, unless I purchased it myself. And the fee for that technician to set up the extender would have been how much? $50? $100?

My $34 was well spent. I can probably even do Skype calls now. Or watch video. Or do my work faster.

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Street kids

One of the constants here in Batam, and probably throughout Indonesia (if not Asia), are the street kids bumming for money. They can range from about 8 years old to in their teens. (And then there are the punked-out teens and young adults who pester drivers at street corners.)

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Most of the kids in my neighborhood know me now and don’t bother me so much, but when I walk around with my camera, as I did last night, they want their picture taken. Last night, even the ojek drivers (motorcycle taxis) wanted in on the action.

Ojek drivers on the street corner in kampung bule. They may get 2-3 fares a day at $2-3 a ride, while sitting around all day or night waiting for a fare.

Ojek drivers on the street corner in kampung bule. They may get 2-3 fares a day at $2-3 a ride, while sitting around all day or night waiting for a fare.

The two kids seen here will walk around to the many outdoor warungs (restaurants) and serenade the diners for maybe 30 seconds with their out-of-tune toy guitars. You are then expected to give them some small money. These two were in the bar district mostly just looking for handouts without the music but they wanted their picture taken, so why not.

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And finally, there was a bar grand opening (actually The Last Pub just added a second floor) last night and this young lady performed her belly dance. The drinks and food were free. Food included delicious raw salmon, turkey, roast beef, deviled eggs, rice (of course), and some other interesting items.

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A cornucopia of ‘chip’ delicacies

chicken and noodles and bakso

chicken and noodles and bakso

Street food vendors are a common sight in Batam and throughout Indonesia. They are usually wheeled carts of various descriptions that are rolled into place on a favorite street corner or location, often at night along certain roads. One might sell bakso, a brown soup with meatballs and very thin rice noodles. Or they might offer up local sweets or fruit drinks. Or chicken and beef sate and sticky rice.

A type that I have long avoided, however, primarily because I really wasn’t sure what they were selling, are the carts offering various kinds of chips. Yes, like potato chips. In fact, these carts usually have several varieties of fresh-made potato chips, some coated with hot sauce, some with other flavors. I have recently taken a liking to these snacks.

One in particular I like are the banana chips, fried slices of banana. Very tasty as a snack and probably far better nutritionally than a U.S.-type potato chip, which I avoid due to their fattening qualities. Thanks to a friend, I’m now experiencing even more of these chips, and I still don’t know what they are in some cases.

street vendor

street vendor with chips

Take, for instance, my recent foray out to the street in front of my apartment, where a block down there are at least eight of these chip carts, usually with one or two women in the hijab scarves who will try to hail you down as you walk by. I was looking to restock my banana chips and also was looking for a sweet chip I had recently tasted. It’s a basic flour tortilla with a caramel-like coating.

This was last night. I had trouble locating a cart with the sweet chips, although they all had banana chips. At each stop, the women would try to sell me on other chips, not knowing I had a particular one in mind. You can even taste the chips before purchasing, usually in units of a half kilo or kilo.

Finally, I found a cart with both chips and proceeded to ask for a half kilo of each. Since I had already purchased banana chips in this area, I knew what the prices were – Rp 20,000 for a half kilo – so I didn’t dicker about the price.

To my surprise, the woman asked for Rp 70,000 for the two bags of chips, roughly US$5.50. Now, one thing I hate here is when the locals try to take advantage of us bules in such a way, so I immediately reacted. I laughed, said “You’ve got to be kidding,” and tossed the bags onto the cart, saying “Keep it,” as I walked away. Not the most politically correct way to act here but being taken advantage of is not necessary and will certainly not bring me back for more.

Today, I decided to try again – on the same street, with the same carts. Again, the people at the carts did not know what I was looking for – the sweet chips – and tried to sell me everything else from their colorful arrays of chip selections displayed in glass. I kept looking, carefully avoiding the cart that tried to overcharge me the night before.

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Finally, I found what I was looking for. The nice lady at the cart also initially tried to overcharge me but this time I negotiated first. She wanted Rp 30,000 per half kilo of both the chips I wanted but I told her only Rp 20,000. She smiled and nodded OK.

While I was waiting for her to load my haul into plastic bags, she kept handing me “tastes” of other chips. One was a brown bird’s nest type of thing and I couldn’t quite figure out the taste. Another looked green under the fried coating, was salty and may have been fried seaweed. It was tasty, whatever it is, and will be asked for next time.

I paid the Rp 40,000 for the two bags of snacks and headed home, content that I had conducted this little bit of shopping properly this time. Negotiate first, but if you can’t get what you want, walk away. The price will almost always come down.

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