Two moving experiences


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Hidayat, Melissa and Peter head to the dock and our ride to the island kampung

(Sorry about the number of photos, but it was a big day.) Instead of attending the golf tournament today (Sunday, Feb. 19) where I was just going to be taking pictures while everyone else played, I was able to join Melissa and Peter on a special tour. Hidayat was our driver, guide and translator. Our itinerary: first to the Barelang bridge, where we would catch a boat for a trip to an island with a kampung (village), then to lunch at a kelong restaurant, then to the Vietnamese village. The first and last were eye openers.

First, Peter is a trainer, not sure of what, and goes from country to country following the needs of the oil industry. He’s a blustery, squat-solid Scotsman who spent 22 years in the military. He will be moving to Cameroon in a couple of weeks for his next posting. His wife, Melissa, is a Brit. (I have a harder time understanding her accent than his.) She has been an ad director and Web designer and recently lived and worked for five years in China. Hidayat works at Smiling Hill. He was assigned to us for the day.

The Barelang bridge as seen from the water

I have already been to the Barelang bridge and posted photos of the rather impressive suspension crossover. We parked at the top of the hill, told a guy why we were there, and walked down to the water a hundred meters or so. There, a dilipated sort of dock jutted out into the water, the tide coming in. Two people were fishing from the end of the dock. Turns out they were catching and cleaning fish about 4 inches long! Meanwhile, I could see ample live bait in the water that could have been used for big fish.

The wooden boat arrived shortly after we did. The pilot wanted 200,000 rupiah. We were told to pay between 50,000 and 80,000. We said no and he came down to 150,000. We made an offer of 100,000. He said no. Peter and I agreed that the “walk away” strategy was best and so, as we walked away, we told him never mind, we would find someone else. The 100,000 rupiah figure (about $11 US) was quickly agreed to.

Island kampung living

The boat was kind of like a dugout, with a low-hanging canopy to keep the bules out of the sun. It was a calm day and a nice ride across a few hundred yards of water to the nearest island. It was ringed by houses built over the water. I fact, after a tour of the entire island, it did not appear that there were too many houses that were NOT built over the water.

The island is dominated by a gold-colored mosque, easily the most ostentatious building in sight. Just inside the shoreline, and circling the entire island, is a cement walkway.

It wasn’t long after we landed that the children of the island began to gather around us.

My favorite shot of the day. A young girl on the kampung island.

This we were forewarned about. We were encouraged to find one of the island “stores” and buy lollipops or something to give out to the children, which we did. Peter gave Hidayat 50,000 rupiah and he came back with a sack of small packages of potato chips. Peter expected to spend the entire 50,00 but instead got 30,000 back. Good, an honest store man – even though he was dirt poor.

The chips didn’t last long. We soon began to feel like Pied Pipers.

We walked around the entire island, very slowly, with a carpet of children in our footsteps. We stopped once because an older woman was tending a juice stand and was wearing a bright turquoise dress. A lot of the people in the kampung were wearing their Sunday best. I thought this woman would make a nice character study and asked Hidayat to ask her if it would be OK if I took her photograph. She didn’t understand, saying she was not beautiful. I took a few shots anyway.

A typical hoouse in the island kampung

These people are living in extreme poverty, yet seemed happy in some strange way. But I don’t buy the notion, that I hear on occasion, that this is all they know and that they are content with their lives.

The front of the kelong sefood restaurant where we had lunch

I wasn’t hungry (had a big, late breakfast) but it was time for lunch so we stopped at the kelong Doug and I ate at two works previously. There are three of these seafood, built-over-the-water restaurants on this one offshoot street from the main highway just past the bridge. The one we ate at had the most customers – by far. These restaurants feature sections of the floating dining floor where nets hanging into the water take the place of seating area. In the nets are the various seafood for sale – live. One net will have live shrimp, another grouper, another sea bass, another some really large fish (30 pounds).

Peter turned out not to like seafood, which made his experience something less than exciting. Both he and his wife seemed reluctant to just go with the flow, as they tried to make the menu conform to their wishes. Finally, we ordered some rice, steamed fish (only for Melissa), calamari (mostly for me), a chicken dish that was not univerally liked, and chinese cabbage. Oh, and a very large Bintang beer for me. The total came to about $31US for four people.

Our next destination was the Vietnamese village on another island, three bridges away. I wasn’t really expecting much. It didn’t look like much. First, though, were the monkeys. Peter was really into the monkeys. We stopped to buy food for the monkeys. We sent out search teams for the monkeys. (Just kidding.) They showed up soon enough, parked alongside the roadway, just off the asphalt.

So then I got out of a perfectly good suit of armor to confront my foe head on. The mighty monkey. They were pretty tame and very fearful. I wondered if we should be feeding them processed bread, or if feeding them anything was a good idea,

A painting by one of the Vietnames refugees depicting the people fleeing their own country

Once through the monkey gauntlet we proceeded to the Vietnamese village. Now, I’ve been trying to research this thing for you, but I’m coming up empty – so, from what I think I know:

After the U.S. left Vietnam, there were hundreds of thousands of people who would lose their lives or spend lifetimes in prison if they did not leave their native land. (Preaching again.) Because of the unethical policies of the U.S. pertaining to Vietnam half a century ago, these people were forced from their homeland, to a foreign shore, where they knew neither the culture or society.

So what did they do? They crowded into small boats and set course for places they had never seen. What was left of their lives, they carried on their backs. When they arrived in Indonesia, the people here found a place on an island where they could relocate, mostly temporarily. Galang island. At one time, I think there were 170,000 Vietnamese in a relatively small area, living in squalid conditions. Maybe that was the number who passed through the “camp,” but either way …

This site had two of the boats these people used, set up as a monument. And there’s a museum. With some extraordinary paintings. One, in particular, hit me hard – a painting with a ball of fire at the top (signifying the state of Vietnam), a long line of what looks like people leading to the front of the painting, culminated by closer looks at the people suffering and fleeing. I can do it no justice. Nor can my photograph.

I was pretty bummed at this point, carrying the weight of my country around this memorial to our … ah, just don’t go there, Ken.

The bathroom at the locl beach. 3,000 rupiah to use (about 35 cents) but not worth even trying

From here, we took a side tour to a local beach. Got my feet wet, as is my custom. Considered using the bathroom until I got a good look. They want you to pay to pee here?

The ride back was very long, the dinner not quite right, and now I’m loading photos and writing. It can’t be all bad!

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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