Jumaya’s new shoes

After a long day at work, much of it driving around to do some reporting, I went to the department store at the end of the day to find Jumaya some shoes. Wanted something really flashy but all they had was all black or all white. Chose the black and managed to get just the right size, a little big so he can grow into them. The sales girl must have thought I was nuts, showing my flat hand and saying I wanted just a little bit bigger. We figured it out. He had totally blown out his only pair of shoes and was walking around with oversized, lime green rubber shoes.  think he was happy, but now I can’t get rid of him.

Also, the cable TB and Internet (yeah!) was hooked up in my apartment today. Good high-speed Internet, too. I’m finally able to post here at home instead of sitting outside the office early in the morning siphoning off the company Wifi. Anyway, here’s my new friend and his new shoes.

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A trip to Tanjung Pinang, Bintan Island, Indonesia

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I’ve heard often during my time here on Batam Island that I should venture off the eastern coast to the next island in the chain – Bintan. The regional government offices are located in the city of Tanjung Pinang and the area is more like the real Indonesia than Batam is, I’ve been told. Until this past weekend, however, I haven’t been able to align such a trip with finding someone to go with me and did not want to go alone (just not as much fun).

So I finally made the alignment and Dewi and I left at 9:30 am Saturday. Taxi  picked us up for the

Ferry loading at Punggur terminal, Batam

Ferry loading at Punggur terminal, Batam

45-minute (Rp 100,000 or US$8 – but Rp 150,000 on return trip with metered cab) ride to the Punggur ferry terminal, on the easternmost side of the island near the Kabil industrial area. The terminal was very busy and I was the lone westerner (bule) in sight.

Round-trip tickets were Rp 110,000 per person, or about US$10, not bad for a one-hour journey. There is also a Rp5,000 per person port tax each way. The Baruna ferry (Tel: +62-771-28578 in Tanjung Pinang, +62-778-479162 in Telaga Punggur) had comfortable seats and air conditioning, but no outside seating. It was full of Asians and one lone bule. Unfortunately, the windows were too high to see outside from the seats and too murky to take photos through.

Tanjung Pinang is located on the southwestern part of Bintan island and is the capital and largest town of the Indonesian province of Riau Islands. It is a port town and a trade center with ethnic diversity and with traditional villages and temples. It is a trading port between islands in the Riau archipelago.

In the Tanjung Pinang city, the low tide reach or the mud flat part was built with stilts and were mosquito and rat infested. Above these mud flat reaches, narrow piers or pelantars were built at higher elevations and the old city of Tanjung expanded with a maze of streets and alleys. The old pier with the name Pelantar II thrives as the fish market. The town has a large population of Chinese

The Dutch ruled over the islands for a long period, and their influence is distinctly

Arriving in Tanjung Pinang

Arriving in Tanjung Pinang

discerned in the island. In fact, several people asked my companion if I was Dutch, which confused her because she was not aware of the island’s history. The population of Bintan Island was about 350,000 in 2004, but it looks much larger now. The citizens are mostly ofe Malay, Bugis, Chinese and the Orang Laut ethnicity. Tanjung Pinang’s population is listed as 134,940 in 2004, but the city is very large and there are definitely more people than that living there.

Some of the well-known sites of attractions are the Penyengat, Tanjung Pinang city, Raja Ali Haji Monument, the Colonial Graveyard, Chinese Pagodas, and Banyan Tree Temple

Once disembarked in Tanjung Pinang, we were immediately beset with taxi drivers, but

Tanjung Pinang street

Tanjung Pinang street

my plan was to walk to a downtown hotel and stay where I thought the action would be, where I could have the best local experience. So we walked three blocks, trailed by one persistent man and incessant calls for taxis for a ride. I was only carrying a backpack and my companion had a small rolling suitcase.

We made it to the Hotel Laguna, which looked modern enough on the outside and had an online rate of about Rp 300,000 US$25/night) but it was then I was made to realize that while I wanted an “Indonesian” experience, my companion lived that life every day and was hoping for something more upscale. So we called for a taxi to take us to my second option, the Aston Hotel, which turned out to be a Rp 100,000 ($8), 45-minute taxi ride.

As we rode around in a taxi for the next two hours, I was impressed at how much cleaner and well-kept the city was compared to Batam. The roads were in good condition and the housing looked better maintained than on Batam. I was told that this is because 1. Tanjung Pinang is a government center, and 2. the people living there have been there for generations, unlike Batam, which is basically 30 years old and most of the people come from other parts of Indonesia or Singapore. In Batam, they just don’t have the pride of community that exists in Tanjung Pinang.

On the way, Dewi was busy on her smartphone and found a place on the beach, so we

changed plans again. The driver was told we did not want to go to the resort section of town on the north side of the island and we thought he understood. One hour later, we rolled into the Bintan Resort on the north side of the island.

Rather than turn back, I checked with the registration desk – no rooms. The place was packed with Singaporeans, which is what the resorts in this area specialized in. So we headed back to the Aston. The driver wanted Rp 500,000 for his trouble but my friend badgered him down to Rp 300,000. I don’t think he was too happy about it.

The day before, I had checked the Aston online and the room rate was about Rp 500,000 per night through booking.com. There were just two rooms available when we arrived and we were given one with twin beds for almost Rp700,000.

The hotel is modern and the room was well-appointed but one of my main gripes

Aston Hotel room

Aston Hotel room

when traveling was realized – poor Internet service. The hotel touts its free WiFi but it was not usable, perhaps because the hotel was full and they did not have enough bandwidth to accommodate everyone. I finally gave up trying.

We did stop at one area where there were a lot of people, mostly for a large food court, but we noticed a crowd and headed their way. Turns out it was mostly Chinese milling around stalls where they were gambling – a definite illegal activity. I snapped a couple of pictures before a tall guy came up to tell me it wasn’t allowed and that I had to delete the photos. Not a chance! Why he would think he could dictate to me when there was illegal gambling going on, I don’t know. But I have two rather indistinct shots of the activity above.

We decided to rest and check out the hotel pool and go exploring in the early evening. I

Enjoying the pool

Enjoying the pool

wanted to find the crafts market area I had read about and then get some dinner at an Indonesian restaurant.

After dark, we called a taxi that was recommended and went looking for the crafts market.  An hour-and-a-half later, we decided to head back to the hotel to try out the BBQ by the pool special (instead of Indonesian). On the way back, we passed through what I think was the area we were looking for. The driver didn’t have a clue what we were looking for.

The dinner was simply awful! One rice selection, one pasta selection, some ayam sate

BBQ dinner at Aston

BBQ dinner at Aston

(chicken on a stick), a seafood sate, beef so tough it was not worth trying, and some desserts too hard to describe.

Back in the room, I tried to get on the Internet but it also was a waste of time. The hotel provides free WiFi but the reception was worse than dial-up, which might have been because the hotel was full, with everyone trying to go online. Not very good for a 4-star hotel, though. At least the beds were comfortable and we were tired. I began to plot the new day, determined to take the lead and not depend on others for direction as to what to do or where to go.

A trip to another island was the plan.

Penyengat Island

Penyengat is a small island (about 2.5 square kilometers [0.97 sq mi] in area) located about

Penyengat Island

Penyengat Island

6 kilometers (3.7 miles) offshore of Tanjung Pinang, which was a religious, cultural and administrative center of the region in the 19th century of the Riao-Johor sultanate. The sultan had shifted to this place after Melaka was taken over by the Portuguese and he made it the capital of his kingdom. On the northeast end of the island many ancient Islamic relics are seen.

The Malay and the Bugis, to attain peace in the region, had cemented their relationship by establishing marital ties. Raja Ali Haji, who was the Bugis commander of Bintan and acclaimed as the hero of his people, married his daughter to Sultan Mahmud Shah of Malacca. The island was gifted to his daughter, Raja Hamidah. This union established peace between the Malay and the Bugis.

Following this, a grand mosque called the Masjid Raya was built on the island and is more

Mosque on Penyengat Island

Mosque on Penyengat Island

than 170 years old.  Hakka ethnic people and Indo-Malays reside here. And their village appears quite well off  Another historical fact is that in 1819 the Penyangat-based sultanate cooperated with Sir Stamford Raffles to hand over Singapore in exchange for British military protection.

After a poor breakfast at the hotel’s buffet, including bacon that was impossible to chew and orange juice that was orange drink, we took another 30-minute, Rp 100,000 taxi ride into town. Our driver took us to an office (?) at the ferry terminal where we left our bags in the care of a stranger and without any receipt. The ferry terminal to Penyengat was right next door.

The one-way fare to the island was Rp 6,000. To get in the ferry, you climb down some

Departure gate for Penyengat Island ferry

Departure gate for Penyengat Island ferry

concrete steps, no railing, and hop on the rocking front of the boat. The boat had a canopy and wooden slat seats situated too close to one another for a tall bule. It was packed and, yes, I was the only bule on board. In fact, I was the only one on the island while we were there.

Once we landed, we started walking along the paved pathways that circle the island. There is little to see, however, unless you’re into mosques. There were a few crafts shops and I stopped at one for souvenirs, buying a globe electric lamp made out of shells. Quite beautiful but it was obviously an impulse buy, as I don’t need a lamp.

Penyengat Island street

Penyengat Island street

The highlight of the day, and the trip, was lunch. We returned to the terminal pier, where there were several restaurants and chose the one closest to the water. There was a cooler outside from which you selected your meal from multiple types of fish (ikan). The fish was cooked to order and we had it barbecued while we waited at a table on the water’s edge. That might sound awesome but the shoreline had trash a foot deep right below us.

While we were waiting, a thunderstorm developed over Tanjung Pinang and we had a

Lunch on Penyengat Island

Lunch on Penyengat Island

front-row seat to the ensuing lightning show. Our lunch arrived, consisting of our whole barbecued fish (I had red snapper), some cucumber slices, white rice and chili sauce (not for me, thank you). When I ordered the fish, I thought it was enough for two but it was so good I ate it all, although not as completely as Dewi did hers (nothing but a head and skeleton left of hers).

The rain had stopped and it was time to head back, see if our bags were still where we left them, and catch the ferry back to Batam.



Back at Goodies for dinner

Back at Goodies for dinner

Technology kicks Ken’s ….

Not sure there is much to report today, or for the past few days, but there are actually some people out there who are concerned when I don’t post regularly. My biggest issue right now is technology.

Looks like, even if I try to be frugal, that I am a bandwidth hog. It’s so easy when you have cable for a flat monthly fee. You leave your computer (and thus its Internet connection) on when you’re not using it. You think not at all about downloading a movie, or watching endless videos on YouTube, or uploading your own videos. The cable is still there. The price is the same. The bandwidth is great. What’s to worry about?

I am now on my third SIM card. Bandwidth ran out on my second one last night and I can’t renew the first one until Jan. 15. This I deduced after three visits to the cellular store. Why three visits? Read on.


But first, the tale of the infected app. I’m sure there are many of you, like me, who use OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office. It’s free and it’s compatible with MS. Never had any problem with it – until recently. For some reason, files wouldn’t open except with a work-around. There was an error “shield” on top of the OO icon on my desktop. Something was wrong.

For some reason, a file that was instrumental in the working relationship between MS Office and OpenOffice disappeared. Every time I tried to open OO I had to allow an .exe file to be used. I was able to find some work-arounds but obviously the cure was needed. So I went to the Internet, searched for the file I needed and found several companies that said they could fix my problem.

Yeah, right! First, I tried to buy a software product ($10/month – only needed it for a day), but the company’s site basically crashed. So I went for the next economical provider ($30/year), paid for it, downloaded it, ran it, cleaned up my computer quite nicely, thank you – and, wait for it …….. Still had the same problem. I complained to the software company. They were very nice and suggested a way to fix my problem – after saying their software wasn’t really designed to fix my problem. After implementing their suggestions, the problem is now worse. In fact, I was unable to open the OpenOffice app on my desktop.

Now, we can go back to my Internet problem. My second SIM card actually ran out of bandwidth while I was trying to download a new version of OpenOffice. That means I went through 20 gigabits of bandwidth in about five weeks. And that’s with me trying to economize on the second SIM card. Bandwidth hog.

This morning (Jan. 11, 2012), when I couldn’t access any Web sites or e-mail, I realized it was time to walk to the WIND store for a recharge. I had prepared a written translation of what I wanted. No problem. For 15 euros, I have another 10 gigs to use until Feb. 11. Of course, that won’t be nearly enough, but I still have my other SIM card that can be recharged on Jan. 26 for another 10 gigs. Just have to make it two weeks.

Not quite. When I returned to the apartment and test drove my recharged SIM, I couldn’t get on the Web or receive e-mail. Another trip to the WIND store, but I had to wait for three hours until they reopened at 4 p.m. I already suspected, by the way, that the reason the card wasn’t working was because the end of the previous month wasn’t until Jan. 14, three days away.

My second visit to the WIND store was somewhat stressful (due to the language difficulties) but the woman told me she needed to see my laptop. I thought this strange and useless but I left, went back to grab my laptop, and returned to the store. (As an aside, counting when I went on my morning walk, this now makes three times I’ve had to climb those darn stairs today. The knees are not happy.)

Of course, Web pages showed up at the store, albeit very slowly. Apparently, they have a better connection there than I do. However, the woman told me (don’t ask me how), I would not have anything better than dialup speed until the 15th four days away. Not acceptable, I said, sort of. I need it today (oggi), now (adesso). I actually used those words.

So what happened? I insisted on buying a new SIM card for 30 euro. Four days without Internet was too steep a price to pay. I can only watch reruns of a select number of shows I’ve downloaded so many times before nausea sets in. She was surprised. But I still didn’t have what I wanted. The card would not activate until the following day. So I’m writing this the night before my Internet capabilities go back online.

Oh, and one more thing. Apparently, in all this mayhem, I’ve lost the first SIM card. It may be at the WIND store. I’ll check. The significance is that you only pay 15 euro to recharge a SIM card, but 30 euro to get one initially. Hopefully, I can stretch my two remaining cards to last until Feb. 20. I doubt it. (P.S. Found my lost SIM card on the kitchen floor the next morning – after walking to the SIM store with another written translation asking if I had left it there.)

Everything is working fine now. I was even able to download OpenOffice this morning – only to see I still have the same problem with it. I love technology.

On to Greece

My next stop in my journey may not happen (more later) but my research and outreach is bringing benefits. I now have at least four possible apartments, including possibly renting a private room and bath in a building for students. That would be wild. I’ve asked if they will accept an old guy like me. I’ve also been able to connect with a couple of expats in Athens and it looks like I should have a good support network there. Starting to get pumped!

But, wait …

After 21 months of sending out resume after resume and never receiving an interview opportunity, I might have gotten a nibble. This is a startup English-language newspaper and e-newspaper for an expat community in …. wait for it … Indonesia. A seasoned australian who has lived in Indonesia is heading up the operation, which will include all the usual digital bells and whistles now associated with publishing. You know, blogs, Web sites, social media. They need someone with exactly the kind of experience I have, as well as someone with some international experience. There’s a lot of writing involved, too. Here’s some of what was in their ad:

“You will be accommodated within a resort-style community, occupied mainly by friendly, informed and well-travelled Western expats. It has a swimming pool complex (all year round), restaurant/bar, international satellite TV services, wireless Internet and more. It is located close to modern shopping, health, entertainment and other facilities. You will easily be able to explore other cities and regions of Indonesia, travelling by inexpensive and modern domestic air services. You will be a short ferry journey (about an hour) from Singapore from where you can readily explore other destinations in South-east Asia travelling on low-cost Budget carriers like Tiger, Air Asia and Jetstar.

“A basic retainer/living allowance of … per month. Free air-conditioned accommodation with Western comforts and facilities and maid service. Food allowance to cover meals provided from our restaurant (good Western and Asian food). Staff discount on drinks purchased from our restaurant or bar. Reimbursement of all reasonable work-related expenses, including mobile telephone costs. Company-paid Work Permit and Visa after one-month trial.”

And I would be able to repackage anything I write to sell freelance anywhere else. So, if this job comes through, I’m afraid Greece will have to wait.