Haven’t posted in a while but, frankly, life has been pretty boring here since I returned from the States. Plus, I’ve been a bit melancholy since I returned. Why?
My trip to the U.S. underscored one reality to me, made me come to the realization that I really don’t have a “home” in the U.S. anymore. Hell, most of my family doesn’t even acknowledge my existence. So why bother maintaining ties to the U.S. (except for my daughter and granddaughter in Asheville)? Why do I continue to send birthday and Christmas gifts to those who shun me? No more.
But Asheville’s not my home. And despite still having a number of good friends in Atlanta and having lived there 22 years, Atlanta is not my home. Nor is Florida, despite my love of the Gulf beaches and fishing. I still tell people “Florida” when they ask where I’m from but that’s more for my convenience. It’s too hard to explain my reality and they know where Florida is. But it’s not my home.
After three years of traveling the world, I’ve come to the realization that home is where I am, where I’m living, at that particular time in my life. I’m still an American but what I’ve learned is that in America I am old and I am poor. In Batam, and in many other countries, I’m not old, not poor. Tough choice to make?
Anyway, as part of this epiphany, I’m trying to get around my current home more, and have decided to make a better effort at learning the language here. So this past weekend, I went exploring with an expat of more than 40 years.
First was Saturday night. One of our newsletter advertisers is al Frescos Restaurant at
Harbour Bay. They were offering some dinner specials and had a new band they were promoting. Plus, a former Goodies waitress, Ria, who I became friends with before she stopping working here, was now working at al Frescos and I wanted to show a little support. So, without camera, I ventured to Harbour Bay by myself for dinner. The salmon steak came with fries and a tossed salad, and at $5 was a great deal. Drinks were reasonable, as well.
From there, it was a short taxi ride to kampung bule for some pool.
On Sunday, I went touring with Bjorn, who is staying in one of the Smiling Hill apartments and has a vehicle. I talked him into doing something, anything, on Sunday, my day off, so I didn’t end up sitting around the apartment all day. Bjorn subscribes to this blog so I will try not to offend him here and to get my facts straight – because he will most surely call me out if I err.
Bjorn is a burly Norwegian with an interesting background. He has been a professional
diver and now is a shipping consultant. He’s known Batam for more than three decades and proved to be an excellent guide around the island, bantering continuously about the island’s history and the people involved. Bjorn suffered a stroke a couple of years ago, so the two of us look like an odd couple when we walk – both favoring our left leg and with a definite hitch to our gait. After seven months, my knee is still not good and I continue to wear a brace.
Many of the places we visited I had seen a year earlier when Doug toured me around the island, but Bjorn did take me to a few new sights.
We visited three of the resorts on the northeast corner of the island – Nongsa Beach, Turi Beach and Montigo Resorts. All three are relatively expensive vacation/weekend destinations. A lot of Singaporeans come to these places for weekend getaways or vacations. Montigo is new and mostly is trying to sell condominiums, although there are expensive ($200-300/night) rentals, as well.
We also visited a kampung (village) that the owners of Montigo Resorts initially tried to
buy from the locals. The site is beautiful, with a hill dropping down to the sea and a 90-degree expanse and view. It might be one of the best sight venues on the island. The locals turned the offer down. The village is relatively rich, although you wouldn’t be able to tell so from the outside of the houses. I’ve learned, however, that the insides often are stylishly done. They don’t want to show off on the outside, but inside is a different matter.
In this general area there is also a Chinese cemetery, complete with a crematorium. The Chinese burial plots are richly decorated and can take up quite a bit of space. This is another area that will not be built on by some resort.
Our journey took us the Kabil area of the island, which is east of the airport and south from the resort area. Kabil is essentially an industrial area, lots of flattened land turned into acres upon acres of fabrication facilities. Giant, 4-story hangars. Endless hectares of pipe in storage. Large, new glass and steel buildings. Wide, paved roads. And a port at the end for easy shipping. The contrast with this area and the industrial sites elsewhere on the island is striking, with Kabil looking much newer (only 10 years old), cleaner and organized.
Finally, when it was time for lunch, I was offered a choice. We had arrived at Rezeki
Restaurant, which is one of the best kelongs (live fish restaurants) on the island. I’ve reported on these before – often dilapidated-looking structures built on stilts over the water, with nets spread round the floor, dipping into the sea and holding various choices for a meal. Maybe the best seafood (and certainly the freshest) you can have on the island. And very inexpensive.
My choice was either Rezeki or something more adventurous. I think Bjorn was testing me to see if I would choose the safe over the unexpected. I did not disappoint and off we went in search of adventure. (I still want to eat at Rezeki but it is not convenient to Smiling Hill – about a 30- minute drive.)
We went to another kampung where we found the Riverside Restaurant nestled among rundown fishing buildings along the shore and houses along a narrow, dirt and rutted road. This was a smaller kelong than others I’ve been to, with a single floor above the water and the seafood nets out of sight underneath.
I let Bjorn order and we had mei ikan (seafood noodles), steamed prawns in garlic and chilis, baby keylan greens and calamari (satong, I think). Oh, and, of course, beer. Big bottles of beer. Bintang for me, Carlsberg for my European friend. The total came to Rp355,000, or about $35, with almost half that for the beer. Despite the abundant flies, the meal was excellent.
To top off the day, we went to a bar in Batam Centre, the Fresh Beer. And they aren’t kidding. There were 7-8 eight giant stainless steel cylinders with various types of beer brewed onsite. We had a dark brown (don’t know the name). This place was kind of like the micro-brew restaurants in the U.S.
All in all, an interesting day. Here are some more shots: