Last night, I decided to go to the Aceh warung (street restaurant) in front of my apartment building for what has become a weekly dinner. Though we can’t communicate, the couple who own the warung and I have become friends and the wife is an excellent cook. She’s also about 6-7 months pregnant with their first child.
I was planning on ordering something new but decided instead on a dish I’ve had before that she makes very well. The dish is called ayam bawang, a combination of chicken and garlic. The chicken is bite-sized chunks of meat and bone, and entire, unpeeled cloves are added. This is then covered in a light batter and fried in a wok. It’s a bit of work negotiating around the bones, and you have to be okay with biting into a whole garlic clove by mistake, but the dish is delicious, at least the way this woman makes it. I always add a side of nasi (rice) with katsup manis (sweet soy sauce), which is always too much by half, so I usually have leftover rice.
On this night, I was served by someone new, a man of about 35 who spoke good English and had lots of questions for me. He turned out to be with the Singapore police and was on undercover assignment in Batam. “This is Indonesia,” I remarked. “What are you doing here?”
His answer was unclear but something about monitoring the bad behavior of Singapore tourists in Kampung Bule (white man’s village). I had the sneaky suspicion I was being interrogated, and told him later that he did a good interrogation. We both laughed.
He mentioned marijuana and wanted my opinion on its effects. He said there was a lot of pot being smoked in the kampung because it was an Aceh-protected conclave. I should note here that Aceh is a very religious (Islamic) province in Indonesia that strictly adheres to Islamic law, with women required to wear hijabs (headscarves) and cover their body parts. Public caning is still used for punishment for some crimes.
But Aceh also is where much of the pot being sold in Indonesia comes from. And according to my Singaporean policeman, they smoke it there regularly, primarily because alcohol is banned. The hypocrisy is strong.
Anyway, we had a nice chat and I told him I didn’t see the drug use he said was out in the open in the kampung, including heroin and meth use. Couldn’t help but feel I was being tested, but he was very good at it.
All this time, there are maybe a dozen or so Indonesians, mostly taxi and ojek (motorcycle) drivers sitting around, some eating, others playing dominoes. They are used to seeing me here and sometimes we talk a bit. Always very friendly.
When I finished my meal, I still had a pile of chicken bones and garlic cloves, as well as half the rice I was served. But I was full. However, one of the Indonesians, a big guy of maybe 55 years, approaches my table, looks at my leftovers, and makes a remark in Bahasa that I do not understand, but did understand, if you know what I mean. I suspected he was criticizing me for leaving food on the table.
I asked my waiter for translation and he confirmed what I thought.The man, seeing that I was trying to find out what he said, came back over and criticized again. At this point, I lost it. Told him, in English, that it was my money and I would spend it as I see fit, that the chicken was finished and that I was full and didn’t want the rest of the rice. I did this a couple of times, with some frosty and loud language, before he finally gave up.
A table of younger Indonesians on my left, who had heard the whole thing, smiled at me and seemed to agree with me. As I got up to pay my bill (Rp 40,000, or less than $3), one of the regular taxi drivers there walked past me and muttered something about not worrying about the guy, insinuating that he can be a problem.
So can I if you give me any grief. But dinner was excellent and I headed out with my camera to document all the new bars and restaurants that are opening up in the kampung (to be reported on later at BatamExpat.com), telling my new Singaporean police friend I would see him soon.