A Muslim with a razor at my throat

I have never allowed anyone to shave me. It always seemed like an unnecessary expense and I doubted anyone could give me as clean a shave as I could myself. But this week, I decided to get a shave with my haircut. I was told they both came in the same price. Previously here, my haircuts cost 25,000 rupiah or about $2.75. The barber always asked if I wanted a shave but I always declined.

The first problem I encountered was finding a barber shop open during the week after Ramadan. A lot of shops were closed for most of the week, and that included the barber shops. Finally, Hidayat, our driver, found an open shop after driving by three that were closed. This shop was definitely for locals and offered a haircut for only 20,000 rupiah ($2). In Costs Rica, I paid $3-4.

There were two barbers working and some locals getting cuts or waiting. They all looked surprised to see a bule there. I was offered a broken plastic box to sit on. I asked the barber to cut it short but he started with scissors and I knew he needed the electric shears. So, Hidayat told him shorter – and he sure did make it shorter! I also asked for a shave.

I wonder how many Americans would let a Muslim put a razor blade to their throat. I was nervous not because he was a Muslim, but because I had never been shaved by someone else and because he was, in fact, using an open razor blade on my face. They break a standard razor in half and insert it into a slim handle.

Surprise, surprise! Not even a nick, although I did need to re-shave a couple of spots later. I fully expected to be charged for both the haircut and the shave, but he pointed to the price sheet on the wall for 20,000 for both. I gave him 30,000 and he was happy.

Did I mention I also received a scalp and shoulder massage? Included.

Exploring once again

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Yesterday, we finished the second newsletter, most of which I handled. Sent it out to about 950 Western expats here. Now it’s time to explore.

Goodies, the restaurant,  is a focal point for many Western expats here. A lot of them are Australian, but I’ve met Scots, Brits, Dutch, Germans, Americans, Bahrainians and others. Many of these people are semi-permanent here, working on projects in the shipbuilding or oil and gas industries. They may go off for four weeks living on a barge in an oilfield, and then four weeks back here. Or they may be working at one of the yards here, supervising crews of locals. After work, many gather at Goodies for a beer and socializing. Sometimes they bring their wives or partners, mostly Indonesian. Doug does a good job of bringing everyone in for special events, like Roast Day Sunday’s, Free Beer Friday Happy Hour, a special Valentine’s Day dinner. The newsletter serves as the promotional vehicle.

My first trip solo (sort of)

Yule works on the new point-of-sale system in Goodies.

Tuesday, I decided to spread my wings a bit and go into Nagoya Hills. I hitched a ride with Nordin, the construction manager, who took me to the Hypermart, where there is a duty-free store. Nordin has worked at Smiling Hill since 2004. Unexpectedly, he accompanied me inside to assist. The only bourbon available in this store is Jack Daniels, at about $31 for a liter bottle. I also bought eight imported chocolate bars to give to female staff, which went over quite well (although I had to go back for more because I forgot a few of the girls).

I am now stocking good bourbon (Jack or Jim Beam) for myself, instead of buying cheap

Ken and the schoolgirls

stuff, for two reasons. First, the cheap stuff is not available here, and second, I find myself with more money to spend on such luxuries than I’ve had in a long time.

An Indonesian haircut

Wednesday, once the newsletter was finished and mailed, I asked Hidayat, one of the office staff, for a ride to a barber in Nagoya Hills. I asked him to drop me off and not wait for me, as I wanted to explore a bit after getting clipped. I think both he and Doug were a little concerned about me going off on my own, as they both gave me their business cards so I could call for a ride back or if I had any problems. But I was looking forward to breaking the tether for a little while, and had done the same thing in several countries over the past few years, and even dating back 40 years, but I played along. Their concern is appreciated but unnecessary.

The barber shop was a long, narrow room with four chairs facing a wall-length mirror.

Doug’s friend Amelia, who has her own stall on the side of the road

Most of the chairs were full, but only one person was getting trimmed. A young guy at the door ushered me  to a chair. They are meticulous here with the haircuts. Extremely.  My barber’s name was Hamzeh. I had memorized a word for what I wanted but once sitting decided to just go with the flow to see what the barber would do. All the barbers were men.

Electric clippers were used, very slowly and precisely. At first, I wondered if he would cut it short enough. Not a problem. He even went over the contours of my hair with the clippers at the end to make sure there were no hairs sticking out, or bulges in the hair. Regular scissors were used for the top. Then he mixed some shaving cream and water and applied the foam around my ears and nape of my neck. He pulled out a new razor blade, broke it in half, and inserted it into a handle. The contours of my hair line were then shaved. Then a dry towel around the shaved parts and then a wet towel. Finally, he gave my shoulders a brief massage. (The last part would have been so much better if he were a she, but whatever.) At the end, he asked if I wanted a shave, as I was carrying about a 4-day-old beard. No, thank you.

The price for this attention: 25,000 rupiah, or slightly more than $3. I gave him a tip of

The girls surround the bules at the Windsor food court.

20,000 rupiah. I had successfully navigated my first personal task on my own, without knowing the language, and now it was time to explore – on my own.

Walking around Batam

It’s amazing the curiosity a tall, white man can engender in a place like this, walking around alone, taking pictures. You wouldn’t think so, what with all the expats here. But a lot of people wanted my attention, obviously to get something from the foreigner, who was obviously a newbie.

When I left the barber shop, I had no agenda and no idea what was nearby, except I kind of had an idea where the Hypermart was. That was a destination, as I wanted to check out the stores for clothes, even though I had been warned that they don’t stock “big people’s” clothes in Batam.

I passed by a shop with a young girl outside and she immediately began talking and

street vendor

gesturing. About ll I understood was that she wanted me to buy a box of oranges, the traditional gift for Chinese New Year’s. I opted for a couple of photos and she was still all smiles when I left.

Next, I happened upon the remnants of the day’s central market. A couple more photos but two more vendors without sales to the bule. Then, a guy across the street started yelling at me but I couldn’t understand so I just kept walking. Two blocks later, I crossed paths with four cool-looking schoolgirls in the powder-blue uniforms. One came over to ask me the time, but I don’t have a watch. They agreed to let me take a photo and then an enterprising young man, obviously a driver for a local hotel, offered to take my picture with the girls. Of course, he put a hotel sign in view. One of the girls then asked him to take another shot with her camera phone, so who knows where my photo has landed in town.

I had managed to wander to the Hypermart, across the street actually, a very busy street

Kilroy is here. Too cute to pass up.

of four lanes and a median. While I had dared drivers in Sicily to hit me as I crossed streets there, this place is a little more chaotic, so I was hesitant. Along comes a guy who spoke some English and tried to stop traffic for me. He, of course, wanted a tip, but I was already figuring it out and didn’t need the help. He followed me for a bit before I passed the guard gate to the Hypermart, which is basically a four-story mall surrounded by  a four-block ring of stores.

While I did manage to find a pair of shorts that fit, pretty much all the shirts I found were way too small. For those, I’ll have to wait until Singapore. I bought some groceries but couldn’t find two primary targets – paper towels and cheese. They had a few cheeses but a small 6-ounce package of grated Parmesan was about $8, so I’ll learn to live without. I’m hardly doing any cooking anyway. I did pick up some more chocolate bars for the restaurant girls. A trip to the duty free for more Jack and it was time to hail a taxi for the first time.

First Indonesian taxi ride

Picture me walking outside with three plastic bags, heavy with stuff, obviously in need of a ride. Right away, I was offered a taxi to Smiling Hill for 50,000 rupiah (about $5.50) – much too high. I said no, that I wasn’t a tourist, that I lived here, but, of course, they had no idea what I was saying. I’m sure he caught my tone, however. The price was reduced to 40,000. “I’ll walk,” I said and proceeded to do just that, sure a taxi for less would find me along the way.  Before I had gone 20 yards, another guy rushed up and said 30,000. “Let’s go,” I answered. So, about a $3 cab ride up the hill.

Dinner off the reservation

I was planning a quiet night playing pool and maybe making a Skype call but received a call from Doug shortly after I returned from my exploring. He was taking the two men from Bahrain to one of the open-air food courts around town. Would I like to go? Duh!

What a blast! We went to the Windsor food court, which is a large cement plaza surrounded by food stalls, and two entrances. As soon as we entered, we were mobbed by a bevy of young women. Such is the life of a bule here. They followed us until we sat down, stood around for awhile getting our beer orders, and then several sat down with us. Their job is to work the crowd, selling beverages, for which they receive a commission. However, they seemed more interested in sitting at our table then working the crowd. In fact, there was a table of guys from Fiji nearby, and as we left, one of them asked one of the guys from Bahrain why there were so many girls at our table and none at theirs. Unfortunately, t’s a racial thing – the Fiji guys were black.

Every 10 minutes or so, the roster of girls sitting with us would change, with several

One of the girls at the food court.

coming back a lot. I learned later that they were available the next day if you were interested, and would come to your apartment.

The food stalls served mostly seafood and vegetables. Many had live fish and crab tanks. There was a karaoke stage and people signing. TVs were showing movies and sports.

Doug ordered the dinner, 6-7 plates of seafood and vegetables – scallops served on flat, scalloped  seashells, steamed shrimp, sticky rice, mussels in a hot pepper sauce, a local green leafy vegetable with shrimp, barbeque calamari and beer. Excellent all. About $12 a person.

Learning the language

Learning languages is hard for me. Even understanding and repeating names ties me up. But I’m picking up a few words, partially because Doug helps occasionally. And now one of the restaurants waitresses has taken it upon herself to tell me words when I asked for something in English – like susu for milk and mentega for butter, and today, payung for umbrella (it was raining hard when I went to the restaurant for coffee mid-morning). She’s a sweetheart of about 4-10 and a little heavy. I can use all the help I can get.

Winding down in Vodice

Only two more days before I get on the bus to Zagreb and then the plane to Rome. Definitely getting amped.

Yesterday, Visjna brought me a piece of her homemade pumpkin pie, complete with whipped cream. Yum! Tonight, I’m treating her and her family to a pizza dinner. Hint: It’s not Dominoes. Or Pizza Hut. It’s Halo’s.

It’s cold enough here now that I need three layers of clothing on my walks. I’m not sure it will be much warmer in Italy but I’m getting used to it. It is a lot different than walking around in shorts, t-shirts and sandals like I did in Costa Rica.

The above slide show is the result of me taking my camera with me for one final walk to the Adriatic. I wanted to collect some beach sand as a keepsake. Emptied out my plastic pepper shaker for the container. Here, beach sand is really “beach pebbles.” No sand.

Once again, the task of unbundling myself to leave is a challenge, although not nearly like leaving Costa Rica, nor especially the long process of leaving Florida. At least here I haven’t bought a lot of stuff to get rid of, although I am winnowing down my belongings so that I only need one suitcase instead of two. The biggest challenges are trying to leave with little or new food left in the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets, and wearing clothes my last two days that I’m not taking with me (since I will not have time to wash and dry them). Despite my best efforts, I’m guessing there will be some food left over.

Also, I finally walked into town to get a haircut for the first time since I left Costa Rica the end of July. Actually, I walked down twice. The first was in the middle of the afternoon, but I learned that the shop is closed from noon to 4:30; so I went back the next morning. The shop was maybe 10×10, with two barber chairs and two customer chairs. The barber was a young guy. Had to wait on two customers ahead of me.

As I’ve discovered, when you don’t know the language well you are usually at the mercy of the barber. I brought a written translation for what I wanted but didn’t use it because I thought he understood me. So what I have is military-style whitewalls on the sides and longer hair on top. Not a bad look, just different. The cut cost $8 and was professionally done.

My bus to Zagreb leaves Vodice at 9:50 Monday morning. It’s a 4-hour trip. Once I’m there, I have to take another bus (if I can figure that out at the station) or a taxi, which would run me $25-30. My flight leaves at 5:15 p.m. so I have plenty of cushion time. The plane stops in Munich, where I change planes. I arrive in Rome at 9 p.m. I am already booked for three nights at the Hotel Seiler. On Tuesday and Wednesday I will be doing the “hop-on, hop-off” bus tour, where you can get on specific buses at various places and ride to different tourist sights. You can get off wherever you want, walk around, take pictures, have something to eat, and then go back to the bus stop, get on another bus and go to the next stop. I don’t think there are any tour guides for this but all I should need is a map.

On Thursday, Thanksgiving back in the States, I will be flying to Cantania, Sicily. I have a hotel for three nights (Hotel Catania Centro), time I will use to frantically try to find a place to live for three months (maybe less if the rents are too high).

One thing these hotel stays will do is force me to eat out among the locals. That should be interesting. I can’t wait to have real Italian food cooked in Italy.