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.