Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Who Knew? Weekend in Bintan, Indonesia

New York is the city that never sleeps however Singapore is a city always open for business. There is  something going on continually, but that doesn't seem to stop R2 and I from wanting to escape the crowds and the heat on the weekends.

Our last mini vacation was to Bintan, Indonesia for 36 well deserved hours. Yes, I did say 36 hours in another country. Seems strange when I come from a land you have to drive four hours just to reach the border.

The long, sandy beach
The interesting part of this journey was learning we were taking Emerald Class on the ferry to Bintan. I was skeptical because I heard this story in Agra, India. We reserved a First Class train ticket to Jaipur and that meant the cockroaches were dead in your berth instead of bunking in on the seat beside you, in coach.

I have been on a bum boat, a speed boat and a Chinese Junk but this was my first time on a ferry in Asia so I was quite excited; that was until I saw the massive queue waiting to find the idyllic weekend paradise as well. Oh, so now the Emerald Class makes sense. We were processed and sent on our merry way to the lounge efficiently. The best $20 upgrade R2 has made. They even processed our Visa Upon Arrival for us without the lineup. I like Emerald Class!

Being the intrepid observer I am, I noticed how warm and friendly the people of Indonesia are. I thought the folks in small town Malaysia were kind but you can't beat the Indonesians for trying their best. Most don't speak a lot of English but they always greeted you with a toothy smile, and did their utmost to accommodate you.

Mind the flies
R2 and I went to the local hawker station, never the kind to sit long on a beach. We had a fantastic massage and the workers told us where the locals eat. Bintan is so small, there is little choice for food unless you head to the tourist spots. I wished we had made our way to the tourist hang-outs because I was having a hard time getting past the flies covering the food. I stuck to the safest bet; bottled water.

Cars from long ago remain here
While R2 was debating which food was going to give him less food poisoning, I sat at a dirty table and noticed three little boys staring, pointing and trying to get my attention.

One bravely tried his English and gave me a hearty, "Hello." When I returned the smile and the hello, he and his friends burst into fits of giggles and covered their eyes. It was delightful to see these 10 year olds so charming and completely shy over a white skinned, green eyed woman. It is a safe bet to say I stood out in the small non-tourist area of Bintan.

What happened next still has me shaking my head. We were approached, as you often are as a tourist to buy something, massage something or eat something. This is not the shocking part. What floored me is that R2 answered the men in Indonesian, which in turn, mystified them.

They asked him in their language where he learned to speak and where he was from. Imagine their surprise (at this point, I pretended I knew about this feat all along) when he told them he learned in Jakarta and he was from Mexico. It wasn't long before my 6'3" husband became a walking god amongst the townspeople. They all bowed and nodded to him, leaving us alone. I know R2 is quite fluent in Italian, Spanish, English, French and can speak a smattering of Malay but had no idea about Indonesian.  R2 is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you will get when he is around.

Not my photo but this is the lizard
Being in shock and not even wanting to ask why I didn't know he could speak this language, imagine my next surprise when a lizard flew by. It took a moment to realize it was a lizard and that yes, I did see it fly. At this point, I was in the Bizzaro World so seeing a flying lizard made perfect sense. Earlier in the day I saw a 220 pound Boa Constrictor so why not a flying lizard.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

A Week of Firsts

Life is filled with many firsts. First communion, first kiss, first dance, first marriage, but as you get older, those firsts are rare. When you are in another country for an undetermined amount of time, it is easy to slide into in a slump and fall back into familiar patterns of your life back home expecting everything to be the same.  It never will.
I made a conscious decision to have more "Firsts" while in Asia. I have been here six months now and my new experiences are slowly disappearing while I wait for my sister Lori to visit me. It was time for me to leave the computer and start expanding my horizons.
My son getting his ear candled in Singapore
My first First was something I have been curious about for a long time. Asia is the home of untraditional, holistic medicine, acupuncture, and herbs and potions that come in a variety of exotic forms. Recently, I had a chance to visit Revive Holistic Center on famous Haji Lane in Kampong Glam to alleviate my curiosity. I was pleasantly surprised to meet a tiny, dynamo of a woman named Pratima Nagaraj who has many credentials behind her name. She is not only a certified Hypnotherapist, she has an MBA, and is a Reiki Grand Master to name only two services she provides. She left the corporate IT world and has dedicated her life to helping others through various holistic methods.
Pratima explained the process, telling me hypnotherapy is not magic and if you aren't willing to modify your behavior, whether it is kicking the smokes, losing weight, managing pain, etc., it won't work.  You must have the willpower and desire to change. Hypnotherapy will provide the suggestions in your sub-conscious but you must be willing to accept the hypnotic suggestions. This was my first time with Pratima but I am looking forward to our next session where she will hypnotize me for two hours. If I feel as good as I did the first time (I was "under" for 25 minutes), I can't imagine the benefits of two hours. So far, her therapy and suggestions have revived my outlook on life.
He was a hoot!
My second First was meeting some "IN" friends that  took me to one of the most ultra luxe lounges in the world. I grew up  in small town Saskatchewan, Canada with two working parents so the thought of going to a night club that hosts the obscenely rich is not something I am familiar with. When you have four kids all involved in music and sports, there isn't money to hobnob with partygoers at Pangaea in Singapore.
They call Pangaea the Ferrari of the Nightclub world and I believe it. Partygoers have animal skinned sofas to perch on and 1,000 year old trees to set their drinks when they become weary of holding a $50 Martini.  For the opportunity to do so, the wealthy can reserve a table for $2,000 all the way to $15,000 for the Dragon Den meant so the uber rich can lord over the merely rich. This is "THE" spot you will see A-listers like Madona, Kate Moss and John Travolta but I wasn't so lucky. What I did get to see was a marvelous cross dresser named Miss Stevious who was decked out in fucsia pink from head to toe. We compared clothes and he asked if I would give up my blouse and purse which matched his cotton candy wig. Find your own bag, buddy.
My third First was an invite to a Japanese friend's home. While this may seem like an everyday occurrence, it is not.  Japanese are more accustomed to entertaining outside their home because most houses in Japan are so small. My friend Mami (Mommy) is a wonderful friend, who has been learning English while living in Singapore.  We don't always understand each other but we have many laughs and a lot of Charades. She invited me and a few other friends, one being Korean, so believe me, there was a language barrier.
Mami has me hooked on Takoyaki
None of that seemed to matter when Mami began preparing Takoyaki which is a ball-shaped Japanese snack filled with grilled octopus, pickled ginger and sprinkled with dried seaweed. Delicious, delicious, delicious is all I can say. We laughed so much because almost everything we said had to be translated into Korean, English or Japanese. I did manage to teach the ladies important western phrases.  "Shake your booty," "Get out of my face," and "Sucks to be you" are important expressions every person must know.
My fourth and last First was conquering a beach. I have tried countless times to ride my hybrid bike to Changi Beach, in the far eastern heartland of Singapore. I have only been there once before when R2 and I got lost riding and thought we were going to expire in the mid-day sun. Changi Beach is about 20 km from my home and I have never been back since.
After my trip to the hypnotherapist, I decided I was going to make the ride; 40 km in total. I am not only happy to report I conquered the beach, and then some, I went back again. It seems what Pratima has suggested to me through hypnotherapy has done the trick. I am a new woman, ready to tackle anything.
Changi Beach - you don't scare me
A week of Firsts was an eyeopener. There is nothing you can't do, if you set your mind to it.  I will take that under advisement when my sister from Moose Jaw and I go on the hunt for perfect sand in Phuket, Thailand or dance with gorgeous ladyboys on Patong Beach. No matter what the next First will be, I am well equipped;  not bad for a kid who grew up in a prairie town of 35,000 people and didn't step on her First plane until she was 18 years old. 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Who forgot the Petrol?

Berjaya flies in and out of Tioman
There are days you need a vacation from the vacation and that is what we encountered on a trip to Pulau Tioman, Malaysia, a tiny diving island near Singapore. There is only one airline that flies to Tioman or you can take a ferry but either way, it is diminutive retreat with limited activities unless you are into Scuba, in which case, it is Nirvana.

We only spent two nights in Tioman and that is about all you can take in this tranquil region. Don't get me wrong, the white sand beaches, the crystal clear waters that are near perfect for snorkelling and the hospitality of the people make it a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of Singapore. You can amuse yourself by watching the naughty monkeys run to the trash bins, steal a flapjack, chuck it because it isn't up to their high standards and run back for a waffle covered in chocolate sauce. If this isn't enough, you can head to the beach bar where a Philippine trio is playing 70s cover hits. What a way to relive your childhood music memories. Can you say Elevator Muzak and Barry Manilow?

With all these activities covered by the second day, we decided to hitch a ride to the center of town; always where the action is, anywhere in the world. What we didn't realize is that we would become the daily commotion for the locals.

We traipsed off the property and were met by one of the three "taxis" on the island. The driver told us for 30 ringgit ($9.50 CA) he would drive us around the island and deposit us to our doorstep. The resort is located up on a hill, about 4 km from the center of town so for three of us, we thought, "Why not?"  Why not, indeed.  Little did we know his dilapidated Suziki would break down no less than five times.

Gas wasn't the only thing this vehicle needed!
I am not certain he used any gas as we manoeuvred down the hill. He may have had it in neutral and was praying he didn't have to stop for a rogue rooster.  When we reached the bottom, that is when the trouble began. The driver leapt out, lifted the hood and jumped two wires. That little boost lasted another km or two so he pointed out the fresh seafood eateries, the local massage hut and where the tourists buy the duty free goods. That was the extent of the town and his tour.  It was also the extent of our ride.

The stolen kiddie bike
Once again the car died; he jumped out and tried to start the engine with two blue wires.  At this point, we weren't sure he legally owned the tiny 4X4.
He managed to get the vehicle to the side of the road and ran over to some kids playing on the street. He stole the kid's bicycle which left the boy howling like a monkey. It was a sight to see, a grown man peddling madly on a bike meant for a seven year old.

I started to take the boy's photo and he forgot about his bike. He began posing for me, which seemed more amusing to him than his broken down, stolen bike. It took about 20 minutes before our driver returned with some petrol in a bottle and the kid's wheels.  He managed to pour in the gas while we managed to hide from the scorching sun. This was really turning into a comedy of errors when he said there was air in the tank and the gas wouldn't go down. It wasn't long before men from the town began to gather around and debate the petrol issue. I left them to do what men do best, bicker, argue and contest how to get the junker started.

A tiny house along the road
I strolled up and down the only road, observing the women in the hijabs riding scooters with their scarves blowing behind them, a ten year old kid driving a motorcycle carrying two boys behind him, a few chickens and roosters pecking for food and huge fruit bats barely one meter above my head. We were getting our 30 ringgit on this trip, whether we wanted to or not.

The kid with his bike back
In ten minutes, I heard the sputter of the tiny engine so I made a beeline to the car and jumped in on the fly. R2 was already riding shotgun and said, "Let's get back to the beach before we end up walking that steep hill." Not something I wanted to consider in 34C heat with a narrow road leading back to the hotel.

Waiting, waiting, waiting...

I have learned after searching for the perfect beach in Asia, it doesn't exist, at least not to Tulum or the Bahamas standards. There are no mammoth clubs and resorts like you would find in Mexico or the Caribbean. The beaches, the water, the pools, the food and the resorts are different. That isn't to say you won't have a pleasant time on Asian beaches, I just had to change my way of thinking. The more places I visit, the more I am charmed by the quaintness of the resorts and the hard working people that make each trip an adventure. I still have so many islands, resorts and recommendations to try from Boracay, Philippines to Koh Samui, Thailand to Bali, Indonesia. It is a hard job, but this prairie girl is up for the challange.