My first full day back in Batam was hectic, tiring, frustrating and ended wonderfully.
As I’ve discussed on this blog during previous times of starting anew in a new country, finding someplace to live is the most pressing, difficult and stressful task I’ve faced with each new move. In Costa Rica, I happened to run into an American expat who led me to a nice 2-bedroom rental, albeit a bit more than I planned to budget, When I moved from my original location in Quepos to Jaco an hour north a month later, the search was helped by some Craigslist posts but there was still on-the-ground investigating necessary. Some help from another American expat with the move was also appreciated.
In Zadar, Croatia, I had reserved a “hostel” for a few days so I could look for an apartment. That few days turned into two weeks before I found an apartment about an hour’s drive in Vodice. In Catania, Sicily, the hotel clerk where I was staying while I did the rental search just happened to have a family unit for rent in town, where I stayed for two months before venturing to Batam, Indonesia. Lodging in Batam was provided by my new employer, so there was no stress that time, but on my return to Batam I am once again faced with the task of finding suitable long-term accommodation. Fortunately, ths time I have the help and guidance of several friends.
But my second Batam foray did not start well. The man I was supposed to stay with was apparently out of town. When I arrived at his unit at Smiling Hill, he was nowhere to be found. So I left my bags in his open driveway, hoping they would be there when I returned, and headed to Goodies, where I hoped he might be having a beer. Nope.
But my return was well received, with great hugs from all the waitresses, a few tears and lots of laughter. But no one knew where my supposed host was. It was past 9 and I wasn’t sure whether I would have to sleep on the concrete floor of the driveway.
Once again, however, help arrived, this time in the form of Neal, an Australian, and his wife, Imelda, a Filipino. I had played pool with Neal a few times and spoken a very few words with his wife, so it wasn’t as if we knew each other well. But they stepped up in a big way, offering me a bedroom and bath in their 3-bedroom apartment in Smiling Hill, which is where I’m writing this on Sunday morning. Been up since 4 a.m. as my mind is working too hard to sleep. Today might be the day when I find a new home. But yesterday was tiring and frustrating, ending on a high note at Goodies.
Even despite the long trip from St. Kitts the previous two days, I did not sleep well Friday night as my anxiety in finding lodging woke me very early about 4 a.m. About 6:30 I headed down the hill to Goodies for Internet and breakfast. At that point all I had had to eat for the past 15 hours was some jelly beans I had brought with me, so a full breakfast was in order. I might not do that again in the foreseeable future since eggs, bacon, toast, juice and coffee came to about $15. This was the first time I actually had to pay to eat at Goodies.
After catching up with Doug, my former boss, I headed down the hill to Nagoya, with the intent to walk around three different areas I had been told about. It was, of course, hot and humid. The bottle of water I brought came in handy.
The first area is called Happy Valley, an area of about six square blocks that sits behind the Planet Holiday hotel. Here there are mostly one- and two-story homes, all attached, with metal fences in front, and most with A/C. I just walked down one street and up another, looking for rental signs (note to self: look up the word for rent – disewakan). I already knew the word for sale (dijual), which I saw on several homes and finally deduced the rent word from the signs I saw, which were few and far between.
The signs all had phone numbers to call so I would stand in front of the unit and call, and then try to navigate the impossible language barrier. The first unit I called on was owned by an older Chinese couple, who came and opened it up for me. There was no furniture so I didn’t bother asking the price. After that, all I could find in this neighborhood was dijual signs, so I trekked across town to find the Lai Lai apartments that I had been told about. I was also told their few units with kitchens were taken and confirmed that when I arrived. The Lai Lai is a four-story converted shophouse, with mostly single rooms for rent. I was told several expats live there but it did not look from the outside like where I wanted to live.
Next, I walked another long way to the Green Valley area, where I did find several buildings with rent signs. However, the phone calls did not go well and I was not able to find out anything about the units. One of the people I called, however, turned out to be very aggressive and called me back when I hung up frustrated. but we still could not communicate.
By this time it was almost noon, and Jon and his girlfriend Ani had promised me in kampung bule the night before that they would take me someplace if I called them about noon, which I did. Ani turns out to be an apartment and home sales agent. We agreed to meet at Smiling Hill so I began the really fun walk up the steep hill on my very tired legs and cramping feet. Luckily, half way up the hill, a Smiling Hill employee on a motorcycle came by and offered me a ride. Thank you, thank you.
Once back at Neal and Imelda’s, I barely had time to cool down, much less take a shower, before my friends arrived. Now, one of the places several people had suggested to look at was Nagoya Mansion, a hotel-like apartment building about a mile from the center of Nagoya. It really looks like a modern hotel but they opted to make the units long-term rentals. I did not want this kind of living environment and told this to Ani to no avail. She represented a unit there and was determined to show it to me. The apartment was very small and pretty expensive.
While all this was going on, the guy who had been aggressive in getting back to me on the phone was still texting me about his house. Apparently he had another property in an area called Lucky Valley (don’t you love these names?), but when I showed Ani his message to translate, it turned out it was a house for sale, not a rental. So I texted back I was only interested in a rental, to which he came back with a rental price for the same house – $600 Singapore or about US$480). This is at the high end of what I can afford but I managed to schedule an appointment today to see it.
I also may see another studio with kitchen that another friend recommended, also in the Lucky Valley area, if I can get hold of that friend today. That one has just been renovated, is attached to a house in a gated community and rents for SG$300/month. So maybe I’m making headway, and it’s only my second full day here.
After my rather tiring house-hunting excursion, rested a bit before heading to Goodies for the cheapest dinner on the menu, bringing along my own JD to mix with Diet Coke. There was a good crowd there for dinner, a band playing, and Neal and Imelda were at a table drinking Merlot with another Australian, Darren, who also lives at Smiling Hill. I was invited to join them, which I gladly did, and watched the men eat some lovely tenderloins, while Imelda enjoyed a seafood pasta. Which brings up Goodies Italian chef, Marco, who I had been friendly with. His last day at Goodies is today as he is heading back to Italy. His dishes have been widely praised.A new English chef is due on the scene in a few weeks.
I was invited to share the wine and the four of us sat there for a couple of hours, with them doing most of the talking as three or four bottles of Merlot were emptied. Meanwhile, there was excellent music coming from the band, which included two excellent female vocalists. Finally, after they were finished with their meals, I ordered fried chicken wings and fries, a good but inexpensive menu choice. I stayed around until closing playing pool by myself. Still wired and with my biological clock still on Eastern Standard Time, went back to my room and found a friend to Skype with. It was a good ending to a varied day.