Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Batam pt 3: Revenge of the African Cheesecake.

Recap from my previous blog, Batam Pt2: The cabbie speaketh.

Planet 9 From Outer Space… Agent ZOR985XZ2…Bermuda Triangle…Urine…Perfume…missing Ewok.

Aside: This part may contain materials, facts and information that may deem offensive to certain quarters, namely lovers of dogs (or freaks) or supporters of Jerry the mouse. And it has nothing to do whatsoever to African cheesecake, which till today remains a mysterious entity, like Bigfoot. Its use as title is purely coincidental and meant to sensationalise the otherwise dull blog entry. End of aside.

And there we were, waiting for the ferry. I was feeling sleepy and still managed to strike conversation with Zeff and the Star reporter. Soon, we were to board the ferry and no untoward accident like falling off the platform occurred.

Why I said that? Well, the last time I boarded a ferry, a large number of us would have been in the water. And me, being of cat nature, is afraid of water. I shower twice a day and drink shitload of coffee and that’s as far as the intimate involvement with water goes. Otherwise, I hate to be in the sea or swimming pool.

This bad ferry moment happened when the family decided to visit Pulau Ketam (off Port Klang) recently. The platform was bare cement with splashed mud and trash, and there was nothing between the ferry and platform. And most Malaysians being kind, considerate and ever patient, lined up in a long queue and helped each other to board the ferry.

Haha! I was kidding of course. When the ferry was ready to be boarded, I found myself desperately trying to make sure that my mother did not slip when boarding, and she was she was making sure that a little grandnephew of hers did not get trapped between the ferry and the platform and find his way to the sea. It was chaotic.

But here, the boarding process was smooth like boarding a plane. And we found a nice corner to seat and soon we were off to Batam. As soon as I sat, I slept like a baby. Okay, babies nowadays are poor sleepers themselves, so I slept like a log. Hang on, do logs sleep. I mean, when they are cut they are, like, dead right? So, I slept like a cat…which does an awful lot of sleeping and napping. In fact the term cat-napping came….

Okay, okay, I’ll get on with the story.

We reached Batam after an hour an a half, roughly, and found ourselves in the immigration centre that is about as big as my old school cafeteria. One of the immigration officer suddenly made noise about visa, and the matter was quickly resolved when the guard on watch overpowered and handcuffed him, before bringing him to an interrogation room and beat him up with a rubber hose and Indonesian phone book.

Haha, just a little violence scene to wake you up. No, nothing like that happen. As I learned from previous trips to Jakarta, Indonesians are generally very friendly people, and somewhat very genuine. I can’t say the same about Malaysian immigration, because we use autopass for our passport when they are usually nowhere to be seen at the “Nothing to declare” exit.

A feeder van to Holliday Villa waited for us, and we were in the hotel in five minutes. We got ourselves rooms, and mine was at the ninth floor. We had about three and a half hours to kill before the dinner, planned at 6.30 pm (7.30pm our time). We were away from the town, and it was a long walk to the beach, so I thought of the best thing to do at times like this – sleep.

The hotel room was big. You can have a family living there comfortably. Of course, you will be paying through your nose or any other convenient orifice for that. The bed is perfect for a cabinet minister to have his nocturnal romp and the architecture is not complex enough for CCTV cameras.

I did my TV channel flipping and napped a bit and showered and got ready for dinner. At the lobby Zeff and the star Reporter waited for us. The girls were nowhere to be seen. Zeff offered several options for dinner and we settled for the best - dinner in the hotel and then we go out.

Apparently the most famous shopping spot in Batam is called Nagoya. Considering Singapore’s influence there, shouldn’t it be called something like New Changi or San Woodlands? Nagoya….hmmm…what awaits us there? But first, our first meal in Batam….(to be continued)

Watch out for Batam Ahoy Pt 4: I Never Planned For Part Four.

P.S. I swear, this just keep getting bigger and bigger and one day I am going to look at an empty Word file and my brain will quietly make its descent through my ears and find its way to the lavatory. Ah, the pressure and stress a writer endures.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Batam Ahoy pt 2: The Cabbie Speaketh.

Recap of the last blog:

Pua Chu Kang….Batam…Jar-Jar Binks…piles…Led Zeppelin…cheeseburger (double)…cabbie.

As mentioned, the cab driver was a polite guy. Here is the thing about the cab drivers in Singapore: They are as polite as heck. Can you believe it?

In Malaysia, you have to tell them where you are going first and chances are they are not going there. Name any place, including Planet 9 From Outer Space and chances are he’d say, “Nolah, not going that direction”, unless you offer him a bigger fare, your savings accounts and three cows.

I am generalising of course. There are many friendly cab drivers in Malaysia, and I have a neighbour who is one, and who has been useful in my days of no personal transportation. Plus he already owns three cows. Kidding.

Anyway, the point is, Singaporean cab drivers are very polite. All of them speak English and they are more than willing to talk about the country, and if you are Malaysian, say that “hey, I have been to Malaysia. I go to JB every month,”. That’s the sad truth, quite a number of Singaporeans have made it only up to Johore Bahru.

Or so, I thought until I saw the number of Singaporean cars zooming past me in the north south Highway, in no less than 150kmph .

Coming back to my story, the cab driver, let’s call him Ismail (real name Agent ZOR985XZ2) asked if we were going to Batam, and I said yes and asked if he had been there.

“If pakcik (referring to himself, not his uncle) go there, makcik will not like it. In fact, I will not be seeing makcik again,” he said.

Of course, he does not mean that Batam island is some kind of Bermuda Triangle-like place, though there is some points in that “disappearing” acts some Singaporeans perform from time to time.

What he meant, and what I understood having lived there for five years, is that the place is where many Singaporean men see as haven. Yes, in Batam you get good food, finally.

Okay, it’s more than that. In Batam, you get women. Both for personal or professional use. I mean, prostitutes services to pay for or gals to marry. What Ismail talked about was a growing social concern in Singapore when I moved to Malaysia back in year 2000.

There has been dissatisfaction amongst Singaporean women that men are frequenting Batam for two main reasons: sex for pleasure and sex for lifetime of ball and chain. Men were marrying Batam gals and were buying houses there to settle down once they are able to retire (In Singapore such thing is possible: retirement I mean). That this issue has any relation with growing number of single women in singapore is purely coincidental, I must say. Right?

Ismail also added that Batam is what Singapore is not. It is not the place where you work your ass off. It is not the place where women are as complex as the jigsaw puzzle you never get to finish.

Indeed, it is a place where restaurants with great seafood means the priest read the last rites to the fishes only minutes ago.

Yes, they say seafood in Batam is fresh as vegetable is in Cameron Highland as Malaysians know. In fact, that was the main attraction for me to accept this difficult challenging, life threatening media trip of visiting oil rig.

Ismail’s point is this: If a number of Singaporeans, especially men, are still healthy and not dropping like flies for stress induced diseases, its because places like Batam (and JB, I think).

Of course, the conversation continued to Malaysian and onwards (and whoa this is sooo shocking!) to Malaysian politics. There are stuff discussed and since bloggers get prosecuted and middle finger is shown to freedom of expressing your opinion in the blogsphere, I shall write it down with invisible ink (urine) and feed it to my cat.

Chances are the cat will spit it back at me. Come to think of it, I don’t have a cat. Phew!

In less than half an hour (any which way in Singapore you take less than half an hour if traffic is good. There is joke about driving in Singapore - “you don’t have to use the fourth gear”) we were in Harbour Front, a shopping complex/ ferry station/ immigration for ferry passengers/ free toilet service centre.

The place was as busy as any new shopping mall would be, and it has everything a mall has, including shoppers, aimlessly wandering loiterers and sales assistant who’d jump out of nowhere and offer to spray you with perfume. What cruelty!

One elevator ride up and we were at the counters selling ferry tickets. Tickets arrangement was done by Zeff (remember Zeff? You don’t? What’s the matter with you? How can you? Zeff is the Jedi master sent to assist Anakin to rescue a missing Ewok who last seen trying to kill George Lucas for not reviving them on big screen).

Soon, we were in the business of waiting for the ferry. So, we waited, and waited, and waited……(to be continued).

Watch out for Batam Ahoy Pt3: (working title) Revenge of the African Cheesecake.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Batam Ahoy pt 1.

Long, long time ago, in a galaxy, like, across the causeway, I was involved in a brief but insightful course on TV scriptwriting, with emphasis on situation comedy, which is usually referred to as TV sitcom, or, force-audience-to-laugh-with-canned-laughter-gag-series.

It was the late nineties and the land was the Island of the Republic of Singapore. Times were different then. The country’s prime minister was Goh Chok Tong, though the real man behind the scene was still Harry Lee Kuan Yew, the then senior minister. Of course, things have changed now, the prime minister is Lee’s son, Lee Hsien Loong, and the man behind the scene is….err, never mind.

The assignment given to us trainees at the end of the course was to write a Pua Chu Kang Pte Ltd script. The still popular Singapore made sitcom is known to all of us, having been popular in Malaysia as well, and at that time it was probably in its peak. And one of the lead character, Pua Chu Kang (played brilliantly by Gurmit Singh) has this memorable used-till-death line, “Best in Singapore, JB, and some say, Batam”.

That , dear blog visitors, today’s subject is Batam

Blog visitors: and it took you three paragraph to get to that, you piece of cat booger. And you have to bring us back to the nineties for that! Why, we are now having memories of short lived boy bands, that stupid Tarzan and Jane song, Spice Girls, Baggio’s missed penalty, Jar-Jar Binks, Hello Kitty, noooooooooooooo!!!!

Okay, take it easy. The point is this: Batam was popular amongst Singaporean. I did not have many friends then, so I knew little about Batam Island, except that it belongs to Indonesia and most Singaporean behave as if it is theirs.

Well, moving on, I returned to Malaysia, and grew up to be a full fledged healthy journalist with sinusitis, light asthma, gastritis, occasional knee problem, piles and expanding forehead that should soon rival Phil Collins in due time.

And I had the opportunity to go to Batam this Monday. And I thought, hey, let’s find out what Pua Chu Kang does there.

I did hear a few things, but as usual realiable information came in form of a cabbie. Yes, those wonderful talkative taxi drivers. Go to any country, and even when you and the cabbie can’t find a common language to speak to, they will somehow, even maybe through telepathy, reveal to you that “THE GOVERNMENT SUCKS!”

Anyway, it was a assignment to cover a contract signing between UMW Toyota and some company (hey, I did the reporting for our paper, go and read it) one some jerk o_, I mean, jack up oil rig. But, it was nice of them to bring few journalists there, a dude from The Star, and three gals from Bernama, Utusam Malaysia and The Edge (our rival) respectively.

Oh, for those who don’t know, I work for a business daily called. The Malaysian Reserve. And yes, we get lots of “reserve” puns and bad jokes from the CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, and any other C_Os, you can think off.

“Hey, I thought you have enough…Reserves…from the Q&A just now, hahahaha!”

“Wah! You from Malaysian Reserve ah? Hey, you got enough reserve for the country ah? Hahahaha!”

“Where you from? [I give response] What Reserve? [My clarification] You with government ah? [My clarification, sheesh] But why Malaysian? [My explanations, while hiding my lack of patience] Reserve huh? But you say its business paper? (I fake a heart attack and rushed to hospital).”

Anyway, we had a guide, a PR guy (not girl, unfortunately) Zeff, who is one of the most unpretentious, totally politically incorrect PR person I had ever seen. Good! I told him that I don’t trust extremely polite and terribly PC PR person, and he can cut the mustard any time. He sighed in relief. But we couldn’t find any mustard to cut.

Another good thing about Zeff: He is a rocker! He recommended a place where he says, they play stuff in case you like bands like Led Zeppelin. Are you kidding, I am crazy about Led Zeppelin. Finally a rocker PR dude.

Back to our main story.

Flight to Singapore was on Monday morning (August 11, 2008) and we reached Singapore in an hours time. We had some time before ferry ride, but not too much Zeff suggested that we have fast food or something. Nobody voted for “or something” so we walked to the nearest McDonald outlet once we were out of the immigration.

After the healthy, wholesome double cheeseburger safely sent to my stomach, we got on two cabs to Harbour Front, where the ferries to Batam island are.

And that was when we had time to talk to the cabbie. The driver, a polite Malay guy in his late fifties, was more than happy to talk to me in Malay. Yes, most non-Malay Singaporeans of my generation (thirty somethings) do not speak Malay.

Like many knowledgeable, wiki-pedia rivalling cab drivers, he talked about Singaporeans and Batam….(to be continued )

Batam Ahoy Pt 2 will be written and posted as and when I am not lazy. If I am too lazy, I might drop it and write about the mysterious African Cheese cake. Bye.