Here’s a travel tip

Never decide to visit Singapore from Batam on a holiday weekend, even if it’s a Christian holiday (Easter) and there are mostly Muslims on Batam.

My 60-day period between visa runs was due to expire on April 4 (Easter Sunday) but since one day of the week is like all the rest to me, and since I don’t observe Easter, I wasn’t aware until the last minute the weekend was a holiday. Interestingly, they celebrate Good Friday in Muslim Indonesia as a holiday.

I could have traveled to Singapore on Thursday but I was hoping upon hope that my replacement credit cards might somehow magically arrive by then. No dice. And Thursday might have been just as bad, traffic-wise, because everyone on both sides of the Malacca Strait were off work on Friday.

So, after first compiling and sending out my daily news for, and dropping my laundry off, I grabbed my camera and walked to Harbour Bay, stopping at a bakery on the way for pastry breakfast to go. There was a line for tickets and I was close to the deadline for closing sales on the 10 am ferry but that turned out not to be a problem because the departure time had been changed to 10:15. (The printed schedules at the counter still said 10 am and I learned later that the times were different because the ferry operators had added boats for the weekend. The round-trip fare was Rp461,000.

The ferry was only about half full so I still did not know what I was getting into. Only when I arrived at immigration in Singapore did I get a clue. There was a huge crowd waiting, with many people held outside because there was no room in the cavernous inside waiting area.

After about 50 minutes of inching along the dual lines, people crowded together like the proverbial sardines, and only half way to the finish, someone had the bright idea to “release” some of us to the other side of the building, where there were five immigration stations and no one waiting in line. Ten minutes later I was free.

In addition to needing to get my passport stamped so I can stay another 60 days in Indonesia, I had two other tasks that I wanted to complete before trying to get on the earliest return ferry possible. I did not have much time, but if the first task was unsuccessful then the second would not be necessary and there would be plenty of time to catch the next ferry.

I mentioned in a previous post the difficulty I was having in Batam in exchanging my US$100 notes for rupiah. I still had $500 and the bills were mostly older issue, which meant I could not exchange them in Batam. I was told I would have no problem in Singapore.

So the first stop was the currency exchange counter right outside the exit from immigration. Confidently, I handed over the five bills. The Indian clerk looked them over, and carefully looked the 1993 issue bill over, feeling it, eyeing it. And then approving all five bills. I asked for $50 in Singapore dollars to use for my next task, and the rest in rupiah. Now I at least had a few bucks to hold me over until my new credit cards arrive (I hope) next week. And I could go on to task number two.

Even in Batam, where stores often carry Western food items you would have trouble finding in most of Indonesia, there are items you cannot find. Such as good bacon (pork is, after, all, forbidden in the Muslim religion). But I also needed Western spices (thyme, rosemary, black pepper, etc.) and I was hoping to find some other pork products, as well.

So, it was into the Vivo shopping mall adjoined to the Harbourfront Ferry Terminal, where there is a Giant grocery store three stories down and at least 200 meters from the terminal. The mall was crowded and I had very little time to do my shopping and be back in time to get my ticket for the next ferry.

I found my bacon no sweat and also some pork chops, half-price because they were past their sell date. Condiments were a little more difficult before a clerk guided me to what I needed.

Feeling somewhat empowered financially with my SG$50, plus the SG$26 I had brought with me, I began to look for other specialty items I cannot get in Batam – Dijon mustard, sour cream, real pickles, maple-flavored syrup.

I even lingered in front of all the cheeses available, which are extremely difficult to find in Indonesia. They’re not big on cheeses here. But they were too expensive and I was near my budget of Sing dollars, plus I thought I might need a few dollars for lunch. I was right about that; however, my total came to more than I had and caused me to leave behind the syrup and sour cream (damn!). I was still 33 cents over but the clerk took pity on me, probably because we had a nice conversation about Batam and food prices.

It was then time for the mad dash of maybe a half mile back to the Horizon Ferry ticket counter. But I was 7 minutes late for the next ferry (you have to get your ticket at least 30 minutes prior to departure). The clerk said it didn’t matter because the ferry was booked full anyway, so I booked for the next one to Harbour Bay leaving about an hour and a half later.

That gave me time for lunch and I needed to eat as my blood sugar was making me hyper. But I had no money for food – all the rupiah in my pocket was no good in Singapore unless I exchanged it for Singapore dollars. So I found an exchange stall and then went to the third floor where there is a restaurant with all sorts of Asian foods. I opted for one of my favorites – roasted duck and noodles, comes with a miso soup (clear chicken broth with green onions). SG$4.50. It was very good but my insides rebelled later for some reason.

I still had a 45-minute wait before I could go through immigration and get to the ferry waiting area. It was packed. My ferry was packed. Not a single seat available. I knew it would be important to get off in Batam in the front of the crowd or I would be facing another long wait at immigration. In this, I succeeded, crowding my way through the mass squeezing through the ship’s portal and rushing to the terminal.

I walked back to my apartment, about 3/4 of a mile, with my two shopping bags and a camera I did not use, in the hot afternoon sun. It was a long and tiring day, from 9 am to 4:30 pm. Here’s my food booty (SG$76, about US$60):


An Indonesian mall

The Avava Mall is about two blocks from my apartment, in the middle of the Indonesian population. It is where I had a “cream bath massage” two weeks ago and where I almost rented an apartment. The cream bath, incidentally, is a cream treatment and massage of your head – about $4.50. The mall is definitely for locals, as I was the only expat in sight. The pictures here are of a department store within the mall. Prices are much better here than in places where the expats shop. Wonder why.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Bought this vegetable at the fresh market. not sure what it is but added it to a beef soup. Tasted like a turnip. The other picture is of pak choy and spinach (I think), with garlic, before cooking.



Above the fray


The street below in kampung bule

Well, here I sit on the roof of my apartment building, watching the chaotic scene four stories below. I’ve been meaning to bring m y laptop up here to document the goings-on below and finally remembered. The laptop light I purchased in Costa Rica four years ago is also coming in handy, as it’s well after sundown. So with a Jack and Diet and a smoke on hand, let me tell you what I see almost every night when I come up here to relax and reflect.

First, the roof. The space is 30 yards by 50 yards, all open air except for about half, which has a high, corrugated roof over it. There are water tanks and TV antennas up here, lots of old bar furniture and the debris of the construction going on below. A 3-foot-high concrete wall encloses the entire area. At night, it is quite pleasant up here, often with cool breezes flowing. I usually come up right after my evening extended exercise walk and other exercises.

The big oak-covered taxi stand

The big oak-covered taxi stand

I think, as I sit, I’m facing west, with the Panorama Hotel looming large only a block away. Just past that is an intriguing street that doubles as a food and clothing bazaar or market. It extends several blocks and is a hub of activity at night and especially in the morning. To my right, three blocks away, is the Planet Holiday Hotel. To my left about a block away is the fresh market where I buy my meats, fish, vegetables and fruit. It sits in the midst of a bustling business district. Below me is kampung bule, the bar district. My laptop is sitting precariously on the 4-inch-wide concrete wall.

One of the pop-up restaurants. The other is usually set up where you see the reflection and car in the back

One of the pop-up restaurants. The other is usually set up where you see the reflection and car in the back

There is a busy intersection below, without any traffic signals, and I often just watch in amazement as the cars, motorcycles and pedestrians weave there way around each other without any discernible discord and, so far, no accidents. There seems to be some sort of tacit agreement among all these groups just to get along, make way for each other, and get on with their travels.

Right next to the taxi stand, abutting the first building on the block, is one of those “pop-up” restaurants I’ve mentioned before. They start setting yp about 4:30 six nights a week, putting up two 24×24 foot canopies, with tables for ix set up below. At the end closest to me, the barbeque chef has his grill going for the steady stream of fish and chicken orders he has every night. It’s fascinating to watch how he creates and works his coals. I think I’ve finally learned how to do grilling properly – from 40 feet up.

The main kitchen is at the other end of the tent. There, you will find fresh fish displayed on ice for you to choose. They have a wide menu range and I don’t have a clue what most of them are.I did order a meal for two, takeaway, and it came to $5 – BBG fish and chicken, baby keylan, rice, iced tea.

Just 100 feet to the west, and nestled actually one lane into the adjoining road, sits another pop-up. They also set up before sundown. Their menu is a little smaller but the BBQ chicken, greens, rice and iced tea that I had the one time I ate there was good, and only$2.70.

As I’m typing, one of the characters in this local nightly play has just arrived. The Troubadours are small groups of boys who walk around town serenading any outside diners (and there are a lot) and passing around a tip jar. There is always just one guy with a junk guitar, frayed and badly tuned strings, who thinks he can sing and, therefore, leads the band. He will have 2-4 others along for the ride, more or less, as all they contribute is what couldn’t really be called singing. I see two or three of these groups during my maybe one-hour roof visit and I guess they keep coming all night long, with different diners to entertain.

And before I forget, these pop-up are serving until 4 a.m., as they wait for the bar crowd to get off at 2 or 3 in the morning. I can hear them breaking down the metal components of the canopies at 5 a.m.

Another of the characters are the blind people and their handlers. I know this is an old dodge but at least one of the three I see asking for donations looks real. There is one woman-woman team. They look of similar age. The deal is that the one with sight leads the other blinded one, around and tells the blind one to stick out her hand when they are in front of a potential donor. I don’t know what, if anything, is said. The blind woman in this team looked suspect, as she was walking with a confidence you wouldn’t expect from someone who is truly blind.

The second pair is two men who look to be roughly the same age. The third team, the one that looks the most legit to me, has a man about 40 leading an older, turbaned man, who might be his father. I wonder how much these two groups of characters make in an evening.

OK, time for dinner.