Christmas at Goodies


Santa found his way to Goodies Restaurant at Smiling Hill, Batam, Christmas day. The neighborhood children could not have been happier, queuing up well before his arrival at the Goodies entrance. This annual event at Goodies features a large buffet, featuring turkey, ham, prime rib, giant prawns, cranberry sauce, potatoes, vegetables, salads, fruit, desserts. There’s also a live band and, most importantly, presents for all the staff and neighborhood children.

Back in Batam

Where was I? Waiting for the Singapore plane? Well. Now I’m sitting up in a bed in the downstairs suite of Neal and Emelda, after a rather interesting day of travel. Yes, I made it to Batam, but the trips seem to just become more complex every time you venture.

In London, I don’t think I mentioned food. I was in the Heathrow airport for nine hours, so eating was necessary. After all the on-the-go nature of eating on the trip to that point, I looked for a sit-down restaurant. Ended up at a place specializing in English and pub fare, with draft beers, so sounded good. Opted for their fish and chips, which was a little disappointing, especially since the chips were just French fries. Add a draft Fosters and the tab came to about $20.

Four or five hours later, nearing flight time, I decided on a place called “Eat,” which sits at one end of the waiting-to-debark “holding bin” we were all in. This place had a wide and interesting selection of sandwiches, including a BBQ pulled pork sandwich that I ordered. Very good. With a Diet Coke, $12.

The loading of passengers for our flight to Singapore was interesting, in that we first had to ride an elevator down a floor, then went down two or three long walkways, took a bus, another elevator, and something else I’ve forgotten. They do a good job in not losing people in the process. The 12-hour flight to Singapore was mostly long, uneventful. They did serve one of the best airline meals, if not the best, I’ve ever had. Now keep in mind that my frame of reference is eating on planes where the proletariat eats, not further up the food chain, so meals generally are pretty ordinary. This one was excellent – a three-pea/bean salad (OK), a good roll with butter, and a tasty basil rigatoni. Topped off with a red Spanish wine. Not only did this meal totally satisfy but I actually slept on a plane for the first time.

Of course, during the evening/morning, we did have two babies decide it was time to let us know they were not happy.

As we were touching down in Singapore, maybe two hours late because of thunderstorm delays in London, it suddenly hit me (Jack’s going to, love this one), that I was embarking on a completely new adventure, one that had less of a financial cushion than I had enjoyed previously, and one that might require me to reinvent myself in order to have any of life’s luxuries in the future. I’m not usually that self aware, normally just trudging along taking on whatever comes along without anticipating the event. You know, the “Eh, I’ll deal with it if it happens.”

But at least for the short term, I don’t have that financial cushion, unless I dig into my very limited savings. So it’s watch the budget. Which was difficult this evening when I went out to re-establish connections. But I get ahead of myself.

I had difficulties at the Batam immigration checkpoint. While I was waiting for go through the checkpoint, it occurred to me that maybe I should have bought a 30-day visa on arrival, since my KITAS (I thought) would expire in a couple more days. I was right but for the wrong reason.

I was flagged and asked to go to a side office, where a young officer asked me to sit and then told me the KITAS (my previous work permit, which had been invaluable in allowing me to get on the flight from London to Singapore), was past its due date, and that, inexplicably, I could not buy a visa on arrival. “I have to send you back to Singapore,” he said.

Without burdening you with the details, I was faced with a huge Catch 22. Finally, I called my ex-boss, who was responsible for my work permit, who said it had been cancelled after I left. I told the officer the work permit had been cancelled and suddenly the door was open. He left to talk to his boss and came back to say I was good to go once I purchased a 30-day visa on arrival ($25). It gets better.

This had all taken a good bit of time and I was sure that Bjorn, if he was even there to pick me up, would have left by now, thinking I missed the ferry. I had sent a text to him from the Singapore ferry terminal but he did nt respond. Turns out Bjorn never got my message that I was on the ferry. After I caught a taxi to Smiling Hill and showed up at his door, I found his place dark and no one answering the bell.

It was Friday and Goodies was having its usual free beer Friday so maybe he was there. But phone calls didn’t get through. So I left my luggage in his driveway and walked down the hill to Goodies, still in the sticky and probably smelly clothes I had worn since London. I’m not sure I can describe what came next.

One after another, the Goodies Girls ran over to hug me. One hugged me so hard she broke the reading glasses I had hanging from the button on my shirt. There were tears again. How long you staying, Mr. Ken? Are you staying at Smiling Hill? I certainly felt welcome. But I didn’t find my cat yet.

Bjorn was not there, however, and no one could figure out where he was unless he had gone to Singapore. Meanwhile, my luggage is sitting in a driveway and I have no place to stay. So I’m at Goodies, not knowing what to do about a place to stay for the night and up walks Neal and his Indonesian wife Imelda. Neal and I had played some pool and he lives at Smiling Hill, up near the top of the hill. His wife had always been friendly. When they learned of my situation, they offered the bedroom suite in their 3-bedroom apartment, with its own bath.

So, that’s where I’m writing this from, unable to access the WiFi here because they have gone to bed and I didn’t think to ask for the security key. But I’ve jumped to the end of the story and there is more in between.

As you might expect, I was a bit juiced and unable to settle down for sleep. Still am. Plus, I wanted to see what my situation was with a certain Batam lady. So I took a quick shower, changed and was in a taxi to kampung bule.

Turns out my bar foray afterward was good for establishing some future marketing connections, as I ran into several people who may need my services or who might recommend me to others. I also ran into a friend whose girlfriend finds apartments for expats. I did, however, have to rein in my largesse in buying drinks. Just told the ladies I didn’t have a job and they seemed to understand. I’m supposed to meet with the girl about apartments today (Saturday).

Anyway, I hope to post this in the morning, after which it’s off to Nagoya to try to find a place to live. It’s good to be back.

P.S. For those people who might think I bailed on the Nevis thing too soon, trust me, it was an excellent decision. I can’t describe how much better I feel right now, even without a job or someplace to live. The Nevis job situation was awful, the island almost like living in exile, with virtually no one to talk to, to socialize with. It’s all good. I like Asia, I like the people, and I can afford to live here. I know a lot of people on Batam, have a good reputation (I hope) and there are opportunities for me here. Nevis was a dead end. Nuff said.

The journey begins” Batam to Singapore

To start with, if I have the choice, I will not fly British Airways again – and I haven’t even boarded the plane yet! But I’ll get back to that shortly.

The trip to Singapore’s Changi airport went off about as planned, although the goodbyes at Smiling Hill were difficult. Most of the Goodies girls were there at 4 p.m. to see me off, even if they weren’t working at the time. Dewi was there, too.

Originally, Doug was going to take me to the ferry terminal, which would have been a fitting conclusion to my stay in Batam, given that he was the one who met me when I arrived 2 ½ years earlier. But he had to take his wife to the hospital, so the duty went to Bjorn, who had earlier offered me the ride. Ian and Sylvia joined us. I said goodbye to Dewi at Goodies. Also took a call from Doug, who apologized that he wasn’t there and wished me the best.

Bought a one-way ticket on Prima Ferries and my companions sent me off at the check-in gate. Learning to navigate with two suitcases, a backpack and a laptop case will take some time, further more difficult since I was also carrying my pool stick and fishing rod taped together and originally strapped to my backpack. That arrangement soon failed, and I was forced to carry them separately.

On the Singapore side, there was just our ferry waiting for immigration so the line was short and fast. I was stopped at the baggage check, however, as their scanner picked up something strange. Turned out it was my fishing reel.

A quick trip to the money changer to get rid of my rupiah and it was on to the taxi stand. There was a long queue for taxis, which meant at least a 45-minute wait. But there is always someone ready to help you avoid the queue – for a price. The driver wanted SG$60 for a $25 ride, but fortunately there was an Aussie there who was also going to the airport, so we each spent $30. Well worth the extra $5 to avoid the line.

I was able to check my bags in right away and get my tickets – except that I was only entitled to check in one bag. Care to guess how much British Airways wanted for the second bag? SG$138 ($112). “Do I have to pay that again for my flight to St. Kitts,” I asked. “Yes sir.” To which I mumbled to myself (but loud enough for both the check-in crew to hear), “Well, this is the last time I’ll fly British Airways.” I followed that up by telling them it was not their fault but that this was plain robbery. I’m ticketed through to St. Kitts, however, so maybe they were mistaken about the second charge. I’ll let you know.

As I write this, I’m sitting at a small restaurant in the terminal, having just finished half a sandwich and a Diet Pepsi (SG$8.70). I arrived here an hour earlier than I expected and I still have another 2 hours before they open the gate area.

Late note: Security for this flight is a little different than I’ve encountered before. The gate is all by its lonesome, with a special baggage check involved. And guess who was patted down. Anyway, I found some more free WiFi so am able to post this beginning to my journey.