Batam is what Singapore was 40 years ago.
Despite it’s reputation as a island of pirates, who ride the high seas of the Straights of Malacca.
The shopping malls, great night life, and excellent range of hotels and restaurants, will allay your fears.
If you want to see what Singapore looked like, come to Batam.
It’s an island, roughly the same size as Singapore, with pristine beaches, and great views from high points of the island.
While catching the hydrofoil from Singapore to Batam, I met a group of Bangladesh immigrant workers, who were working in Singapore in construction. And Ali, from Malaysia, who I had spotted at the Departure lounge.
They were solemn atop the roof of the hydro foil, Heinekens and bottles of whiskey were opened up and being communally passed around. We pass freighters full of cargo moored in the port at whipping pace.
The ride to Batam is only 45 minutes, cutting off nearly 40 minutes from the slower ferries.
A Singaporean Custom boat cuts across our wake.
Manicured beaches and abstract buildings pass my sight of views.
The Singaporeans are all about details.
The lasting impression isn’t what one would call very lasting.
Now we are in international waters, the pirates of Batam have been patrolling these waters for hundreds of years, looking for booty from the cargo ships.
Even Lloyds Register admits as much, which is why they increase ten percent on insurance freight of goods being ferried across the Straights of Malacca. They claim Piracy has decreased since the government began aggressively patrolling these waters back in 2005,yet currently, there are no indications as to how long these patrols will continue.
We had left Singapore waters, and a new life was instilled in us as the ferry reached Batam. “Where you staying?” asked Ali, who was visiting his Indonesia wife, where he’s started his family.
“I don’t have any where to stay!” I replied, he seemed surprised.
Singapore receded , and the bright lights of Batam and the prospects of something a bit more edgy, permeated the air.
“Be careful of the Batam men, ” he advise me.
“You can’t trust them.” He said the women could be trusted. I get off at the ferry. A Burmese, who is carrying his little boy, is asking where to stay in Batam.
One of the Bangladeshis had invited me to go to Malaysia. No thanks.
The immigration guy, who seems irate, tells the group of Bangladeshi’s to change to the Visa on Arrival line. I get through customs. “What’s your purpose in Indonesia.” Travel of course.
Then I ask the immigration officer what’s a good hotel to stay at.
He calls a friend, and I’m told Harmony in the girlie bar precinct of Nayoya is quite good and only 400 000 Rupiah.
They are friendly here at immigration, and not as high strung as the folks in Jakarta.
This is the first time I’ve entered Indonesia by ship, and I’m enjoying the relaxed vibe.
I first met Nemo, (and he’s not a fish), outside of Mac Donald’s.
“You want something,” he asked, and in pretty good English.
“No, I’ve been told not to trust Batam men.” That startled him.
It startled me that I’d say something so daft.
Eventually I get his number, and said I’d call him if I need something.
There were hints of wanita in the air.
“You want woman?” is quite a common opener here amongst the local ojek (motorcycle) boys. Batam has that “I don’t care” feel about it.
It seems everyone is living the now.
And you can’t walk down the street more than a minute without a taxi driver or ojak stopping and offering you a ride, to a brothel.
I was on my way to Circle K, when one such guy stopped me on the road, and asked me where I was going.
I needed to see what was going down in this town.
For the past three days the bars have been closed due to Ramadan.
I got on his bike. ” 20 000″ he had the courtesy to tell me the fare.
We were going to see a lady show.
His sale pitch was right, and we arrived at a back ally.
Robert, a local Batam boy, was sitting on the curb.
There were hushed tones in Indonesia, then he shows me a photo album. “She very good.” I get his number, and ask the motor bike boy to take me home.
I pay him $5 and he’s gone. He didn’t get a commission, so I didn’t get a free ride.
Robert calls me back. “I’m busy,” I tell him. I’m on my way to Mac Donald’s collecting my thoughts.
This place is just one big brothel, and the men don’t mind promoting Batam in that light.
I get lost, take a left turn past a mosque and end up on a very dark and busy street, heading up a steep hill.
“Fuck!” I was losing it.
My sense of direction was rising to the occasion.
“Hello Mister!” I was carrying my Canon EOS and my wallet.
I turned back in same direction, and a motorcyclist stopped.
“You want ride?” Here we go again, he wants to take me to a brothel.
“No pay,” he adds.
I get on the bike and he takes me to the safe haven of the 24 hours Mac Donald’s.
“Many men speak rubbish,” he says, “so be careful.” I say Alhumdilllah.
He’s done a good deed during Ramadan, and I’m genuinely touched by this local who went out of his way to help a lost “bule” (foreigner) without expecting anything in return.
One local Indonesia woman told me that Batam is a heaven for Singaporean mistresses.
“They got houses, cars and that’s what it called “living life to the fullest” for them.” She says that most Indonesia men who come here are afraid to admit that the night life is wild for them.“I’m sure every married or single men in Indonesia who had been to Batam has experience it.”
“Business” is the reason for them to come here,” she adds with a cheeky wink.
Some of them have successfully “lived life to the fullest”, she continues, “and still live here. While others have move out to another city, ultimately to get rid of their “marks” on the past.”
Two ojec drivers outside of Mac Donald’s on Batam are standing where I met Nemo the night before. They look doggy and have stain’s on their present.
“Where is Nemo?” I ask one guy. He says that Nemo isn’t here and that he’s on standby. They tried to get me to buy Mac Donald’s for eight street children.
The other guy tried to sell me his crappy ring for 200 000 Rupiah and when I said no, he begged for 100 000 tip. After that I told them to fuck off for their great company.
My friend Nemo said they are idiots. “It’s one of many scams here. They saw you as a soft target. They weren’t street kids. They just wanted a free meal.”
Swings and round a bouts, but nine out of ten males I meet are pimps.
“If you go to Batam, “ explains Sally, an Indonesian tour guide. “Don’t speak to any motor bike or taxi drivers, they only want to take you to a brothel and get a commission, unless that’s what you are looking for.”
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, yep Batam has it all and more.
- Two ferry operators fined for anti-competitive behaviour (todayonline.com)