Singapore and Batam

July 14, 2014

Singapore is super cool. This financial and shipping hub has everything a cosmopolitan city needs. It has history, culture, wealth, prosperity, and class. It has a sparkling surface and a seedy underbelly. As great as Toronto is, TO has nothing on Singapore.

I had lunch with a work friend in the bustling financial center on Raffles Quay. I roamed through the downtown and the coast along Bayfront and Marina Bay. I walked the streets through Chinatown and dined on noodles from the street hawkers. I say again, Singapore was super cool. Ya it has the same stores and malls we find back home, but the vibe in this city has a different pulse. Life is not concentrated in small pockets, but is spread throughout this bustling metropolis.

I searched Google for things to do in Singapore and my eyes were directed to a weekly comedy show called Comedy Masala in the downtown area. I just had to see what the locals did for fun. There was a S$15 entry fee and the place was so packed there was no way the fire marshal would have been placated. Let me just say how funny the comedians were. The expatriate comics just shaded the local comedians, but the comedy was global, international, universal, and most importantly funny. The crowd was composed of expats and hometown folks. And they all laughed. They made fun of Singaporean cab drivers, they made fun of HK people, they made fun of Americans, and they made fun of themselves. It was so much fun to be wrapped up in that atmosphere.

After Singapore I was supposed to fly to Jakarta. Unfortunately I had some trouble with my flight – specifically it was cancelled by the local airline – so I ended up riding a ferry for about an hour to the island of Batam, Indonesia. This island, which shares a free trade zone with Singapore, is one of the most economic places I have visited. They have beautiful beaches and the best seafood I have ever eaten. The Harbor Bay restaurant in Nagoya has the best fried sea bass with thai sweet and sour sauce I have ever had in my life. Forget the thai sauce, it was the best piece of fish I have had in all my collected memories. I also ordered some scallops and veggies as an accompaniment and I could not have been happier with the way the scallops turned out. In the west you may pay something around $150 for this culinary delight (inclusive of drinks and tip). I paid around $25 for the freshest whole fish and scallops, prepared in the most delectable of ways.

As I was settling my bill I asked the waitress how I could get a short tour of the city. It turned out that her husband was a taxi driver and she arranged a tour for me for 150,000 Indonesian Rupiah (around $15). I accepted the bargain and within five minutes a car showed up ready to drive me around and point out the sights of the town to this naïve, silly traveler from a place far removed from the common experience of the locals of Batam.

I got to know Elismander, my driver, and it turned out he was from a faraway village on the western coast of the Indonesian Island of Sumatra. In five years of marriage he has only seen his parents twice. His wife was also a migrant to the economic free zone of Batam from another faraway village. She had only seen her parents once in five years of marriage. He was born a Catholic, moved to Batam for the economic opportunities, met a young beautiful woman, converted to Islam, and got married. What a story! They make around $700 combined in the busy tourist months and less than half of that the remainder of the year. They lived in a tiny two-room, 200 square foot hovel with their two boys (whom I met and duly presented them with a cash gift) and they have some of the brightest smiles I have seen on any two people anywhere in the world.

From these experiences, and many other empathic observations and human interactions, I learned firsthand just how lucky I was to be able to board a plane and take off to an exotic destination with relatively no hassles or worries. I went to the other side of the world and witnessed how some of the other people lived and approached their day, people that shared this same planet as you and me. Many of these people made as much money in a month as you would make in a day, or maybe less. This has helped me to appreciate my position in life and will serve as a constant reminder of how lucky I really am.

I have just arrived back home in Canada for a short while in order to take care of some things in anticipation of making my vaunted move to Korea as an English teacher. I am so excited to start this new chapter in my life and will definitely send out an update to you, my dear family and friends, as I settle in to a new life and routine. I hope to see you on the other side of the world!

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