Good samaritan in Singapore


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Every two weeks or so, Mr. Doug takes one or two  staff members over to Singapore to replenish the meat supplies for Goodies Restaurant. I did the trek back in February when I needed to bring my paperwork for my work permit. I volunteered to go again just so I could have a change of pace, and so I went along Friday with Doug and Hidayat.

The process involves bringing along empty suitcases and backpacks and going to two meat wholesalers for Canadian bacon (3-foot slabs), steaks (slabs), lamb shanks and sausages. This time, we also went to a Singapore grocery for a few other items and I took that opportunity to buy some items I can’t find in Batam. More later.

The day before, Hidayat took our passports to the Batam ferry terminal to buy tickets for

The fast ferry at Singapore ferry terminal

the 7:30 am ferry the next morning. Not sure what the tickets cost but I think it’s around $48 Singapore or about $40 US round-trip.

I woke at about 4 am and couldn’t go back to sleep. Finally went to Goodies about 6:30 for coffee and then we loaded into Hidayat’s SUV. Actually, it’s his friend’s vehicle but Hidayat is helping him sell it for about $9,000 Singapore.

At the ferry terminal, you go through a perfunctory security check before getting in line to have your papers checked and your passport and papers stamped. For some reason, my papers always seem to get a little more review than others but there was no problem.

Then, you go through another security check before going to the boarding area downstairs. It was crowded because people are still traveling related to the after-Ramadan holiday of Hari Raya.

The ferry is fast and comfortable, air-conditioned. Seats are better than airlines and more legroom. The trip takes about 45 minutes across the Strait of Malarca. Upon arrival, you again get in a line to have your passport checked and stamped, as you are entering a new country. Then you go through one final security check before entering the terminal mall. There, the process for us usually involves stopping at McDonalds for a quick breakfast. And I exchanged some rupiah for Singapore dollars.

Doug needed to go to the UOB Bank so we took a taxi there, about 10 minutes. The

Outside the UOB bank

contrast between shining Singapore and dirty Batam is striking, as is the skyscraper architecture. The streets are clean (no garbage alongside the roads or squatter shanties) and the traffic is orderly. Singapore is a VERY controlled state, part of the reason I needed to wear shoes and slacks – but I did have a batik shirt on.

While at the bank, I took the opportunity to snap a few pictures of the buildings, but there are many, far-more striking buildings in the skyline.

We then took a second taxi to a mall, and this is where the good samaritan story begins.

Singapore skyscrapers

Doug needed to go to the Australian Embassy to update his passport and I needed to mail two letters so we split up and met later at the grocery store in the mall. The mall had many upscale stores and I went in a sports clothing store as my bathing suit is wearing out. But $40 for swimming trunks was too much. The grocery was a modern store with lots of items you can’t find in Batam – but the prices, geez! $30 a pound for rib-eyes, for example, $12 for a pound of Hormel bacon (I wanted some but that is ridiculous).

But I did find a few items that the Hypermart in Batam does not carry – rosemary and oregano, BBQ sauce, American salad dressing, canned tomatoes, sea salt, Lifesavers, teriyaki sauce. About $30.

Next, we hailed another cab and began the ride to the meat wholesalers. This is where my day took a bad turn. My handphone was missing. It had slipped out of my pants pocket. Incidentally, that’s what they call cellphones here.

We tried to reconstruct where we had been and I figured it fell out in the second taxi we

Salvatore Dali statue outside UOB Bank

had taken. Doug keeps his receipts, of course, and the taxi receipts here have the time of the ride, the cab number, pickup and destination locations and taxi company name. At Rudi’s, the first meat supplier, Doug called the company, Comfort Transport. Rudi’s had them on speed dial.

Comfort Transport was cordial and very organized. My problem obviously is not unique to them or to any taxi company. But they had a system in place to assist the customer. (In fact, their Web site has a button titled “Lost and Flound.”) The Comfort operator called the taxi in question. The driver had my phone but was at the airport, about 20 minutes from the ferry terminal and even further from us. Doug told the driver he would call again when we finished at the second wholesaler across the street, O.B Foods.

When we were done at the second supplier, the driver, Mr. Tan, was called again and said

Bags full of meat – open bag with 3-foot slabs of Canadian bacon

he would meet us at the entrance to the ferry terminal. I was still skeptical this would all work out as planned but our taxi arrived and we headed to the terminal, more than 100 kilos of meat on our backs and on our rolling suitcases. We each also had a plastic bag of food to carry.

We had dispersed the food as equally as possible among the bags, as you are allowed 20 kilos per bag at the terminal before you have to pay a penalty for too much weight. Not sure why this matters for a boat but those are the rules. Even, then, all three suitcases were obviously overweight and our carry-on backpacks were bursting at the seams.

At the terminal, Doug texted Mr. Tan, who showed up within 10 minutes with … wait for it

Mr. Tan, who retrieved my handphone

… my wandering phone! It gets better. I was prepared, no, anxious, to reward the man for his effort, and his honesty. But he would not take anything from me, instead smiling and wishing us well. He did let me take a picture of him before he drove away, probably never again meeting the person he had helped. For anyone visiting Singapore, here is the number for Comfort Transport (6552 1111).

You can’t make this stuff up. I wonder if I would have had the same experience in New York, or Atlanta, or anywhere in the U.S.

The terminal was very crowded with departing passengers. I’m told there are more than 100 ferry trips daily between Singapore and Batam and it looked like they would be filled on this day. We got at the tail end of a long line to weigh and check our suitcases but a terminal staffer started telling many of us to just carry on all our bags. So, we didn’t have to pay the overwight surcharge – and after all that redistribution of weight. Through security and immigration again and then we waited in the crowded boarding area.

The trip back was as uneventful as the morning crossing and I was able to find a seat in front with lots of legroom, and able to doze for a minute or two until the baby in the aisle across from me became very loud. At the Batam Harbor Bay terminal, we again waited in line for immigration and customs, and one more time through security, before finally loading our bags into the SUV and heading home.

It was a long day. I told Doug he needs to find a local meat supplier because this was nuts, especially for him. He agreed.

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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