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Batam, Indonesia

Trip in March 1998. All "facts" are how things seemed to me at the time.

An hours boat ride (from Singapore) and two more Passport stamps later, I was in Indonesia, or at least part of it, as apparently there are thousands of islands. This was a full day tour, with a minimum of four people per tour, and a meal included. There were five of us, an ex-pat couple now living in South Africa, Lynne and Roger, Two Scottish girls, Lindsey and Zoe, and me. We had one tour guide, a driver and a fairly large bus to take us round for the day. The main town is called Nagoya, and is pretty grim. Part of the tour was the wet market in Nagoya, and wet was the operative word. The floor was about 5mm deep in water, and the market itself was in a huge hall, indoors, in the heat, with about 1,000 dead fish, chickens and vegetables in there. we stuck togther for safety, and didn't stay in there long because of the smell. In the town, apparently they are not allowed to build higher than the mosque, so all the buildings are only two or three stories and this, coupled with the poor state of repair of the brickwork/plaster whatever, and the masses of poor people and poor roads etc, give the entire town the look of one which has just recently come out of a war. Certainly it reminded me of the ones you see in Vietnam films.

After the coach left Nagoya, we stopped at a souveniir shop (Called the Export Centre), which was quite neat. The shop has two storeys, and in England, would have about five staff. This place had about eighteen or so Indonesian girls in uniforms like the one the Singapore airlines hostesses wear. When buying something, there would be one to take it from you, one to do the till, one to give you your change,one to wrap it and one to put it in a bag. Talk about overstaffed. We were the only five customers at the time, and each one of us, while looking around, had a girl following about one step behind, not, I think, because they were afraid of shop lifting, but just because they were bored. They certainly looked it. They were very pretty though, and glided gracefully around the shop like models. The shop sells clothes made on the island for Fred Perry brand if I remember correctly.

Lunchtime. After a drive along part of the Island, we arrived at the Seafood Centre, three "Restaurants" next to each other, all selling the same menu. We sat down and the guide started talking about food, Chili crab, fish, squid etc. I figured this was because there was a choice, and I started thinking about which would be least likely to have me on the toilet all the next day. It turned out we would get all of the items mentioned and they arrived on the table in front of us, a sort of private buffet. I must mention that there were only five of us, and there were about 40 staff, including about 15 girls who watched us eat then pounced on the table to clear up as soon as we had left. As I don't care for seafood too much, I only picked at the stuff, although the squid was quite nice, and was I think wrapped in breadcrumbs, so didn't look to disgusting. Zoe picked one of the sea-snails out of its shell, and then put it down. On the way out, we passed a load of floor tanks containing live versions of of the stuff we had all just picked over. I looked at them. It was a mistake. I wasn't sick the next day though, or at all on the trip, so I'm either getting used to it, or it wasn't as dodgy as it looked. I can see why the trip has a minimum of four now though, it is for morale purposes at mealtime. At the end of the meal, the table is cleared in a unique way.. the girls pick up corners of the tablecloth and fold everything into a bundle. Food, cutlery, drinks, plates and glasses all end up inside the folded tablecloth which is then taken away.

Right next to the restaurants were a load of house on stilts, next to a big pond of muddy water. All around the island were loads of shabby looking houses, and loads of people with very little to do. Some of them had ancient Datsuns outside the house and were tinkering with them, many others were sitting around. The tour guide assured us that the rest of Indonesia was not like this. We were taken to the 'best' Chinese temple on the Island, and also we went past the "best" McDonalds. The Guide explained that on the Island, more often than not, "Best" also meant "only".

The last part of the tour involved a big beach too beautiful to describe here. Whilst there, I decided to try the local canned lager, Tiger Beer. It tasted just like most of the lager back in England, except that it had an immediate noticable effect, after just 1 small can, though this could have been helped but the heat and the fact that I hadn't eaten much.

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Copyright © M.F.Hughes 1998

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