A day at the beach

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Sorry for all the photos – but what are you going to do when you are one of two men on a beach trip with 10-12 women? And the only one with a real camera (phone cams need not apply).

When I was invited by the staff of Bingo’s Bar to go to the beach south of the Barelang

Marota Beach entrance

Marota Beach entrance

Bridge on Sunday, of course I jumped at the chance. I haven’t really had a beach experience of any length since I came to Batam 26 months ago. The beaches are all a long drive from where I live, too far for taxi, so I have to wait for an invitation.

I was picked up about 11 am at my apartment (one good thing about road trips with the bar girls is they work late so don’t want to start too early). There were six women, me and one other expat in the mini-SUV. I never did get his name but he is from Norway and fairly new on the island from what I could tell.

The ride from Nagoya to Barelang is about 40 minutes, but we went way past the bridge, down to the last island, Galang (where the Vietnam survivor village is), before we finally took a rutted, rocky road toward the sea. It was a beach I did not know about and seemed, at first glimpse, to be way off the beaten path (cliche, I know). But when we arrived at the water, there was a large, developed area just for beachgoers. Pretty sophisticated for this area, actually. The place was crowded, almost all locals.

The girls all seemed to have this outing well organized. One car of the two we came in was

One of two huts we had

One of two huts we had

loaded with containers of food and drink, and other beach necessities. The beach area is fairly narrow, with shaded areas for picnicking. The shaded area had 7×10-foot sections marked off and covered, which I gather are for rent. We had two adjoining sections, but people would camp themselves in the sections in between and immediately in front, where it was free to camp. So, when we arrived, there were families all around our two little islands of emptiness.

Tarps were laid down on both sand floors and one hut was used for eating and food storage and the other area for relaxing. A barbecue was set up just in front, on the beach, and a fire was started. Meanwhile, I’m exploring. We were near one end of the beach where there was some rock outcroppings and a fishing pier. I left my fishing rod (still have the reel) inDSC_1412 Nevis so there would be no fishing today. The beach went on for about half a mile in the other direction, rocky areas dividing up smaller beaches. The water was typical, muddy close in and somewhat bluer 50 yards or so out. There was a lot of seaweed in the water, which made swimming not so great. Toward the end of the day, I did go in, and most everyone else waited until it was time to go on the banana boat.

Everything was well organized, with eating first on the agenda. I was first handed a nut-like fruit that has a white flesh. A quick Internet check for you reveals this is a mangosteen, which has a hard, thick skin that is dark purple with tints of red and brown.

Plenty of ikan

Plenty of ikan

Clasp the fruit between your hands and slowly squeeze it below the stem to reveal the bright white segments within, the larger of which may have pits.  It has a subtle flavor, a nice balance of sweet and tart. Then a small fruit with sections in it like an orange and with a citrus flavor. This is called a Klengkeng.  It is the size of a small grape, and has a very thin brown shell that you can break open with your fingernails. Gotta try new things, folks!

The fish and chicken dishes were laid out waiting for the fire to heat up, piles of what I used to catch for bait in Florida were already seasoned and breaded. A pan of shellfish (gongong) with chili sauce on the side was the appetizer, toothpicks available for digging the little suckers out of their home. A little butter and Parmesan crust and it would taste like  escargot.

A plate of chicken and rice was finally forced on me and later I tried some fish. (A lot later, like when I returned home, I made myself a big burger).

Once the meal was finished, everyone started getting pumped about going on the bananaDSC_1511 boat. My disaster in Malaysia parasailing convinced me my knee did not want to get on a bucking piece of plastic that they try to throw you off of in the open sea. So I was the official photographer. The “boats” have 5-6 places to sit on them, with a rope to hang on to. The charge is Rp25,000 per person, or roughly $2. We had nine in our group who couldn’t wait to ride the bucking fishing float for whales. BTW, the main thrill of the ride actually is being thrown from the float.

Once the riding was done, many of us walked the beach that I had already walked before,DSC_1532 taking more pictures. Some of the girls wanted to pose for my camera. Terrible job.

When we got back to the huts, all the girls started cleaning up like a planned drill. Spotting some monkeys in the corner of the beach where the people had left, I walked over to take a few shots. There were about a dozen monkeys going through the trash left everywhere. They just throw their trash anywhere here; the beach was decorated in plastic cups and papers, etc. There is a crew, and everybody did pay to be at the beach, but still, a little putting-the-trash-in-the-trash-can-right-next-to-you should not be hard. I guess Americans were the same way before there were littering laws.

All loaded up, we headed back home, but not before one more stop. The Barelang BridgeDSC_1538 area is a major gathering area for the locals on a Sunday. There are food stalls lining both sides of the road on either side for a couple hundred yards on both ends of the bridge. Almost all of them were selling grilled corn, fresh from the field and cooked while you waited. Apparently, this is what you do when returning from the beach – stop to have some corn on the cobb. Everyone was doing it. It’s wrapped in heavy paper, with a stick for holding, and spiced the way you want. We took ours to eat in the car.

All in all, an excellent, yet tiring day. How can you go wrong with just two men and a dozen women?


Posted in Sightseeing, Local Culture, Batam, Indonesia, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The quest for cable TV

What a morning! So much disruption and noise I needed two Excedrin. It started with a night of almost no sleep but was brought to blaring reality when the workers in the building began drilling holes in the concrete walls. Then the satellite TV guys called for the install, a day late, and speaking Bahasa. Then there were two other calls, one requiring me to run out to the ATM. It is now mid-afternoon and I need a nap, but the construction work is still going on so that will have to wait.

About the TV: I knew when I moved into my studio apartment above a bar in the Nagoya bar district (kampung bule) that I would need something to keep me occupied at night so that I wasn’t constantly being lured downstairs to play pool at one of the three dozen bars on the streets below. My apartment comes equipped with a 32-inch flatscreen TV but there was only snowy local reception, with 2-3 channels in English. I needed cable or satellite TV. The trouble was that no one I talked to knew where I could go to order the service.

Phone books are difficult to find here and there is no online business directory listing cable TV outlets. In addition, the signage on the shophouses can be confusing, and there are few street signs or addresses on buildings. So you really need to physically know where something is to find it. Like I said, I asked around but only one person said he knew where to go but I could never get more than that out of him. One person I asked was my regular taxi guy, Edi, who said he would look out for a place for me.

Yesterday, while coming back from my first job-related appointment (where I learned something about materials distribution for the oil and gas industry), Edi said he had found an Indovision TV outlet not far from where I live. We stopped on the way and Edi came in to help with translation.

I was seeking Indovision’s cable TV service but they told me it was not good in kampung bule and recommended I use satellite instead. I have never used satellite but the Orange TV package comes with all the available extra channels and was only about $300 for a year, pre-paid. You also buy the equipment (satellite dish, called a parabola here, and modem). To make matters even better, they said they could install it that afternoon. I handed over my credit card and anxiously awaited my new TV service.

Of course, this is Indonesia, so the installers never showed up that afternoon. I didn’t really expect them to. But they did call this morning, amid all the noise and confusion that was my apartment building at the time. Three young guys showed up and attached a dish to the roof and within about an hour I had premium service. For $25 a month, not bad. It will save me far more than that each month by keeping me inside most nights.

Like I said, I had my first work appointment yesterday, as well. Interviewed two Americans who have been here for four years, one from Texas and the other from New Mexico. Their company stores and distributes pipe and other materials for the huge Gorgon liquified natural gas project going on in Western Australia. I did make the mistake of showing up with shorts on and was not allowed to walk the yard for safety reasons. Had to take pictures through car window. This was the first of perhaps 10-12 of these client articles this customer wants me to do. Later, as I fruitlessly waited for the TV guys to show, I wrote the first draft of the article, sent out some follow-up questions and processed the photos (pretty boring stuff of some workers and a crane). Finished up the article today and sent it to the client for approval.

Sunday night, I was expecting to have my first experience as the new building manager, as a woman from one of the bars was supposed to look at one of the flats here. She never showed so there goes that possible commission.

The construction workers are busy creating several new apartments here, which is why all the noise. Two new single rooms have already been finished and a one-bedroom unit is also about ready. I think the drilling is for another one-bedroom unit. Meanwhile, the former building manager’s apartment needed cleaning and also should be ready for rental shortly. Now I need to find a way to market all these rooms and apartments.

This coming Sunday, I have been invited to one of the bar’s employee outings. We’re going to the Barelang Bridge and a beach, I’m told. Should be a lot of fun and some good photo ops.

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Doesn’t work? Never mind.

Today was the day for me to go to Batam Centre to get my “smart card” to allow me to breeze through immigration on my upcoming every-60-days trips to Singapore, under the rules of my new multi-entry business visa. Batam Centre is a $5 to $7 taxi ride each way. My driver was on time but he and Edi, my main driver, both insisted that the smart card office was in the immigration building next to the ferry terminal. My agent told me to go to the ferry terminal, but I listened to the drivers, thinking maybe the buildings were one and the same. Of course, they weren’t but the mistake was rectified.

Lina from Okusi Associates was waiting patiently. I handed her my passport and prepared to hand her the fee of about $150 when I was called into the back to have my picture taken and fingerprints scanned. The picture was no problem but for some reason their electronic fingerprint scanner would not take my prints. It was almost funny to watch, as at one point I had three people staring at the screen, while several different people tried to scan my fingers. Each would take a tissue, wipe the scanner face, wipe the end of my finder, press my finger into the scanner, and then look bewildered as nothing happened. Over and over again this happened, as if repeating the same process a number of times, by different people, would have a different result. I choked down the urge to suggest they reboot the system.

Maybe I shouldn’t have suppressed that urge, as their solution was to say, “Sorry, maybe come back another day.” They didn’t seem to understand that it was expensive for me to make the trip and that even if I did there was no guarantee the scanner would work. Even Lina said, basically, “Oh well.” This is often the reaction you get in these situations here. Customer service is often an oxymoron.

On the way home, I satisfied my anger by remembering I saved $150, although now I will have to endure the immigration lines on both sides of the strait when I make my mandatory 60-day visits to Singapore. And just for perspective, those trips will almost always involve me taking a ferry to Singapore and then getting on the next ferry back to Batam, unless I have some specialty shopping to do.

Also on the way home, I had the driver stop at a garden center along the road to pick up some bags of soil/sand. A little raggedy man with most of his teeth missing said 15,000 (rupiah). Having already priced these bags at Rp10,000 elsewhere, I told him 10,000, saying where I could get the dirt for that price (about 90 cents for 5o pounds), and we went back and forth before a woman came up and agreed to my price. Why do I need the soil? I am starting to grow some herbs and vegetables again, this time on the roof of my apartment building. There were large pots already on the roof and the dirt filed three of them, which now also have basil, oregano, sage, cucumber and tomato seeds planted.


Posted in Batam, Indonesia, Passport/Visa, Singapore | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments