Visiting 2 Very Different Bridge Partner Schools in Medan. 

Our 4 days in Medan are a bit of a blur for me when I try to think back on what we did. This was largely due to heat exhaustion quickly followed by a 2 day virus for which the main symptoms were a blinding migraine and extreme hyper sensitivity to noise and light. 

Our departure to Medan was delayed 6 hours. Citilink claimed the delay was due to engine problems but when we saw the passenger numbers on the later flight we joined, we guessed that the true cause for the delay was ensuring that the flight was financially viable!! 

We were met at the airport by the principal of our Bridge Partnership School, Ibu Erna Julia together with the kepala dinas. The airport has changed significantly since our last visit to Medan and the front entrance into the airport is now dominated by a huge train terminal which we later discovered ends almost in front of our hotel. Had we travelled by train, we would’ve reached the hotel considerably faster than it took both Ibu Erna Julia and the kepala Dinas to drive us, even though part of the journey was on the newly built toll road. 

Our first full day in Medan was Easter Sunday and the PE teacher, Pak Ramses, happily met us at a nearby Catholic Cathedral so that Marg could experience an Indonesian Catholic Easter service. The service had begun by the time we were delivered to Pak Ramses by Ibu Erna Julia’s son- in -law. The church was absolutely packed and our enterance thankfully was during the singing of the first hymn. Before the singing finished, red plastic chairs were provided and we sat in the aisle, one behind the other near Pak Ramses’ wife. The sound of the congregation singing the Easter hymns was like listening to an enormous choir and it sounded heavenly. The service lasted a couple of hours and included communion. We had been handed a copy of the written service which I followed intently, enjoying the formal Indonesian. I wished that I could have inderlined unfamiliar words/ phrases for later perusal but considering our position in the middle aisle, where we already were under intense curious scrutiny, decided the lack of a pen in my bag was probably a blessing! The pews were arranged into 4 groups of 16 pews with about 8 people on each – therefore communion thankfully was streamlined and provided simultaneously to each bank of 16 pews. Very smooth operation. After the service, the congregation headed outside while wishing those nearby, Selamat Hari Paskah (Happy Easter). The exodus from the church moved very slowly passed a trestle table supporting boxes of water, cakes and a box of boiled eggs. As each person passed, they were handed one of each and then greeted again with, ‘Selamat Hari Paskah!’ 

The church building itself is absolutely beautiful and perfectly designed for the Indonesian climate. The cross ventilation was impressive with many well positioned windows and doors and I only began to feel uncomfortable towards the end of the service. The marquee structure you can see in front of the church was set up for children which allowed them to chat amongst themselves without disturbing the adults. 

The following day we headed into school. Being Monday, the first thing on the agenda was the flag raising ceremony. While we stood in the shade, many students stood in the hot sun for the hour long regimented ceremony that includes hoisting the Indonesian flag, listening to the choir sing the national anthem, repeating the 5 principles of the national Pancasila before finally promising to be diligent students. 
We were then ushered into the principals office to have a break before heading off to Pak Pahot’s year 6 class to teach them ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ song. They all did such an awesome job singing the various verses that we gave each group a packet of stickers to share. 

After this we returned to the  slightly cooler principals office, where the poor air conditioner was struggling overtime to cool a room where not only was the door constantly open but the walls were a couple of feet lower than the ceiling!! By this time we were melting in the heat and the cold water we were provided with was greatly appreciated yet the beautiful traditional cake could not tempt me beyond a taste of the soft red jelly pieces. It was delicious, but I was too hot and dehydrated and had absolutely no appetite. 

We headed off afterwards with Elizawati to her year 2 class. Her students are so little and were very overawed with our presence. Encouraging them to  sing ‘Old MacDonald’ with us was hard work as they were sooo timid and shy. On top of this, her classroom ventilation was non existent. All the middle level windows were closed and covered with instructional posters. With the increasing midday heat, I deteriorated so quickly that we were taken back to our hotel early afternoon where a quick dip in the pool and a short nap revived me enough for us to join Pak Pahot and his family for an evening jaunt to the PRSU (expo celebrating the establishment of the city of Medan). All ethnic groups from North Sumatra were invited to showcase their traditional foods, costumes and dances at this expo. As this was the final evening of the month long event, groups were gathering in front of their pavilions preparing demonstrations of a significant aspect from their culture. We enjoyed the Batak pavilion and had our photos taken here wearing traditional ulos making the traditional hand gesture which accompanies a well known Batak dance. This group below are from Nias island which is famous for its rock jumpers who can launch themselves 3 metres over rock walls. 

The following day, I felt considerably better thankfully, as Pak Pahot had arranged for us to spend a day with another of the Medan Bridge Partnership Schools.  This school could not be more different to ours. It is actually 2 small schools occupying a single site and operating separately yet simultaneously. The 2 principals work in the same office which is devided right down the middle by a row of cupboards. Both were extremely professional and respectful towards each other which created a friendly and welcoming atmosphere throughout the entire school. 

The principal and staff of the Bridge school welcomed us with a student drum band and we were then each presented with an ulos (red Batak shoulder shawl) representing our now close connection to their school. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our time there with the staff and students. We taught classes a few new verses for a song they knew extremely well – ‘If You’re Happy & You Know It’ and one class had a quick lesson on the Madison!! Our final class was without a doubt our most challenging. It was a double class of year 2’s working in the same room!! Boy, were they loud & chatty!! We sang ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ to get them out of their seats and active! Imagine 40+ active year 2’s in one tiny room, desks all squished in cheek by jowl!! 

Our visit to Erin and Mel’s Bridge partner School finished with a relaxed lunch of nasi pecel – lonton with green vegetables covered in spicy peanut sauce! Delicious! 

From here, we were returned to our Bridge School where we were collected by the amazing chairperson of the parent committee and his gorgeous wife, Ibu Siti, as well as Ibu Carin (also a parent rep) who drove us and Pak Pahot and another teacher out to a man made lake for rujak and es doger.   The lake is the result of a huge earthmoving exercise carried out when sourcing fill for the new toll road! 

Our final day in Medan was spent firstly at the school with a low key yet thoroughly enjoyable farewell that included a very talented student singing a few well known songs including a Batak number that requires everyone to stand and gently bounce while shaking hands slowly in the air simultaneously. We exchanged gifts of appreciation before heading out for lunch. I felt terrible for the afternoon teaching staff who were very disappointed that once again they could not join our excursion due to teaching commitments. 

We ended up at a river mouth where 2 restaurants were situated one on each side of the river.  Next to the one on our side of the river, was a small market selling seafood. A couple of the women from our group gathered to select and bargain for the seafood needed for our lunch.  Laden with several bags of seafood including prawns, squid, fish and crab, we crossed the river by boat to the restaurant on the other side where there were many groups already seated and enjoying listening to a man up on the central stage singing karaoke very loudly.  My heart dropped while around me, the Indonesians clapped their hands with joy and started dancing along. Unfortunately my head felt like it was going to split open with the noise, so I followed the Ibu-Ibu giving instructions to the kitchen staff about the preparation of our seafood. I then crept through the kitchen and joined the group who thankfully had chosen a spot not too close to the stage. Our coconut drinks were delivered first and then our dishes arrived thick and fast. What a feast. We sat down around with our backs against the outside of the compartment, lesehan style (cross legged on the ground) helping ourselves to the food we wanted and then eating it with our fingers! The best way to eat Indonesian food! There was so much food, yet somehow we got through it all!  

Afterwards Ibu Mei kindly gave me a massage and while she pinched my scalp and loosened my shoulder and neck muscles, we listened to the others from our group singing karaoke up in the stage. Margaret was invited to sing but she graciously declined and merely joined the backup singers/ dancers swaying in the background. The Restuarant Terapung Percut was such a fun way to finish up our visit to our partner school and an outing we will definitely include should a group of staff and/ or families ever decide to join us one day to a trip to Medan. 

A huge thankyou to the staff, parents and students of both the Medan schools (080643 & 080623) who helped to make this visit so enjoyable. We were spoilt rotten as usual and once again ate so much delicious food! Terima kasih banyak!! 


Sekolah AIS Batam  – The Al-Kamfi Islamic School

The AIS School (pronounced ‘ice’) is a Muslim school operating in at least 2 campuses that I’m aware of. While discussing the visit, Ibu Mia explained a few of the rules that we would have to follow; wearing a head scarf & no singing or clapping. The headscarf rule was the easiest one to follow however the no singing or clapping eliminated our plans to sing either of the songs Marg had created resources for, so instead we planned to teach a game popular with our students. 

In the car on our way to the middle school campus, Ibu Mia handed us the head scarves we borrowed for the day. She also pulled out her chador which is a black face covering that ties over the jilbab and covers her entire face except for the eyes. Ibu Mia wore this only briefly; to get from the car to the girls only school building and once inside the door, she untied it and put it back in her handbag. However many of the teachers and students, instead of removing the chador when inside, flipped it over their head once inside the building, where it can be repositioned quickly should a male appear. Occasionally male teachers from the boys school teach here too. 

This campus is a boarding school where the genders are strictly segregated with only minimal & I’m  guessing, fully supervised contact between the sexes. As we only visited the female student building, we can only assume the boys building operates in exactly the same way. 

The female students’ building has 3 stories. On the bottom floor, one of the rooms was being used as a canteen and as this was the only room on this floor that we entered, I’ve no idea what the other rooms off the corridor are used for. The second floor was all dormitories for the boarding students and the top floor is currently being used as classrooms even though originally designed as dormitories. They are currently building more classrooms to meet growing enrolment numbers. 

The game ‘heads down, thumbs up’ was enormously popular, even though volunteers had to be slightly coerced!! Ibu Mia offered a house, a bike and even shopping vouchers to whoever volunteered which had us all in fits of laughter. While it relaxed them all, we still had to resort to eenie meenie minne mo to nominate volunteers. 

Due to time constraints, we only played this game with 2 classes. Other students were also keen for us to visit them, so in order to visit them all briefly in the remaining time, we didn’t play any more games, we simply invited questions however this too required coercion. After choosing a random student using eenie meenie minnie mo, if they didn’t have a question for us, we asked them a question instead. We asked about their favourite food, their hobbies, their families or their pets. Most of the questions we were asked centred around our impressions of Indonesia/ Batam (what do you like about Indonesia/ Batam?) and my ability to speak Indonesian (where did you study Indonesian?).  Once we had finished talking, we were swamped with girls asking for our signature!! We felt like movie stars!!

From this campus, Ibu Mia drove us to another campus much closer to Batam Centre. This campus caters for students from playgroup to year 12. As we parked, we noticed that young kindergarten students were being collected by parents. This campus is for day students and it was interesting that only a few of the mothers collecting their children were wearing the chador; most wore just a head scarf or jilbab (hijab), which we also put on once we got out of the car. 

As with the previous campus, just inside the door were shelves for shoes and this one also had room for motor bike helmets. It was lovely walking around on the cool tiles in bare feet. This campus was air conditioned which was gorgeous after the previous campus which purely relied on ventilation through open windows. 

Ibu Mia had included this campus in our day to give us the opportunity to work with primary aged students. After a welcome cup of tea, we were accompanied to a year 4 class where the boys sat on one side of the room and the girls on the other. No matter what we did with the class, there was a clear division between the genders; they did not mix together. When playing heads down, thumbs up, the boys only selected boys and the girls only chose girls and when guessing who had touched their thumbs, the possibility that it was someone from the opposite gender was never considered. 

We made 2 friends in this class who stuck to us like glue whenever possible and provided us with a steady stream of  drawings, letters and finally a banana each, wrapped in pastry, which by the time we ate it was a little stale but still tasty. 

The teachers at this school were incredibly welcoming and so grateful that we were happy to spend time with them. While teaching, we were filmed and observed by several teachers who stood at the back of the classroom watching us. 

While teaching, my scarf kept falling down off my head into my shoulders. It was a large square, folded into a triangle which was possibly why it kept slipping backwards. Catching my reflection while wearing the scarf made me smile each time as it totally changed my appearance!! Thankfully, the teachers encouraged me not to worry about repositioning the scarf while working with women and children. Marg’s head scarf though, was a length of material which sat perfectly over her hair and did not once slip off!! 

After our first lesson, we were ushered back into the staffroom where we were provided with a delicious lunch and beautiful mango juice!!

Meanwhile all the students also enjoyed a break from lessons. Some ate and some enjoyed the freedom to run up and down the staircase connecting the 2 floors. Also allowed in the staffroom were children belonging to staff. While we ate they either ran around or lay down together on the tiles playing on their mums phone. 

Lunch time also gave the principal and a few of the English teachers time to chat with us in English about education. I really enjoy and appreciate opportunities such as this to chat candidly about a variety of topics. 

While chatting amongst women, the chadors were lifted but were replaced when the cameras were taken out. 

Our day here finished with us talking in front of the entire school to enable everyone to have the opportunity to ask us questions. Once again the genders sat separately with the boys st the front and the girls towards the back. 

The students were very noisy and Ibu Mia had to threaten several times that we would leave if they continued to be noisy and disrespectful. Thankfully, they quietened down well before Ibu Mia counted to 3!! As we listened to the staff introducing us, we noticed that each child had a sheet of paper and a pencil in their hand. My heart dropped. How on earth were we going to provide them all with our autograph? Ibu Mia came to the rescue with a clever suggestion – class photos!! We all trooped outside and stood under the school entrance to have our photo taken with the various year levels & genders!! 

What a brilliant day. It was truly amazing having the opportunity to meet and work with the staff and students of this terrific Muslim school. We are incredibly grateful to Ibu Mia for connecting us with them and look forward to distributing the penpal letters given to us by the older students once we get back home. 

Visiting SMK1 Batam – Sekolah Ibu Mia 

We have been so fortunate that Ibu Mia organised visits to several schools while we were in Batam. With Good Friday also being a holiday here in Indonesia, we had to squeeze our school visits into 2 days which has actually worked out well. 

Our first school visit was to Ibu Mia’s own school where she is one of the English teachers as well  as the first aid officer. SMK 1 Batam has over 100 staff and 1600 students and is situated on a 5 hectare campus. Unfortunately the principal was absent the day we visited and in her place, we were warmly welcomed by 5 of the 6 deputy principals. 

After the obligatory photos in the (absent) principal’s office, where we appreciated her air conditioning, we headed out to the reception area to photograph the official presentation from our school. Our gift was graciously received by one of the deputy principals on behalf of their absent principal. 

Ibu Mia’s school is a ‘SMK’ school, which in SA we used to call a technical high school and now has more in common with the programs offered at TAFE campuses. The pathways available for students at her school include computer, automotive,  engineering, welding, architecture and megatronics. SMK schools pathways vary from school to school just as TAFE programs vary from campus to campus.  

From the 1000 who apply each year to study at SMK1 Batam, only 400 are accepted. It is a highly regarded school for students seeking training in the above courses. 

Ibu Mia invited us to work with 2 classes from her school so that they could experience interacting with native English speakers. Thus, after some deliberation, we decided to use the materials Marg had created for our partner school in Medan, even though Ibu Mia’s students are considerably older. The ‘wheels on the bus’ props were disregarded in favour of ‘Old MacDonald’ which turned out to be hugely popular with 2 of her year 10 & 11 classes. 

I was able to incorporate some TPRS circling questions which was very exciting. They responded so well which was encouraging………   Is Budi a cow? No Budi is not a cow! Is Budi a cow or a mouse? Yes, Budi is a mouse!! For this reason, we disregarded the dog prop!! Didn’t want to upset anyone by suggesting they were a dog!! I also used Jason Fritze’s idea of a rhyme like eenie, meenie, minnie, mo to select volunteers when necessary! Worked beautifully!! 

Ibu Mia then played a game where the students sang the song together and then had to guess which animal Ibu Mia was going to sing about next. Anyone who called out the incorrect answer copped a penalty. They had to sing an Indonesian children’s song in front of the whole class. Before the lesson, I had mentioned to Ibu Mia my hope to video students singing this song, so it was a clever way to achieve this!! Two students, even though very embarrassed, sang beautifully with the rest of the class joining in the chorus. 

The next class offered to sing for us in appreciation of us spending time in their class and asked for our requests. I happily requested 2 songs; firstly the song my year 6/7 students are studying at the moment: Lupa, Lupa, Ingat and then secondly ‘Aku punya anjing Kecil’. Jeffery lead the singing with the latter and did a beautiful job even though it’s no doubt been a long while since he last sang it!! Stay tuned for the video!! My plan is to collect various people singing the song throughout this trip and slice them up to create one video. 

After visiting these classes, we were taken out for lunch to a kelong restaurant which was located after the 4th bridge past the Barelang Bridge (see previous post).  The restaurant is called a kelong, and like the kelong we photographed on Bintan, floats above the sea yet is much lower to the surface of the water and obviously is a restaurant and not a fishing vessel! This kelong also rested upon enormous plastic barrels and was connected to a building (the reception) that was anchored to the ground with concrete pylons. Around the edge of the platform where customers sat to eat were several enormous ponds with their frames made from PVC and covered in netting. Each pond contained a different type of seafood from which you could choose either prawns, squid, shell fish, crabs or fish. Following Ibu Mia around while she chose what she wanted, was a young lad carrying a stack of buckets and a fishing net on a pole (think butterfly net size). Once a choice was made, he dipped his net into the water, caught the required amount and placed them into their own bucket to keep everything separated. Then the buckets were stacked inside each other to keep those that could, from escaping. 

In the very centre of the restaurant was a larger pond in which were several enormous fish (see above). There were some in this pond that looked remarkably like ugly puffer fish!! There was also a long stripped snook looking fish and a humongous barramundi shaped fish that would win any fishing competition!! All were deemed too large for eating. 

Once we’d finished choosing the seafood, we sat at our table enjoying the cool breezes and es kepala mudah (coconut water with ice) which was delivered in an enormous green esky from which we served ourselves using a ladle. The ice was delivered on the side for those of us who can tolerate icy cold drinks. 

Our dishes were carried out to our table by waitresses as they were cooked. Altogether they made a colourful display. There were ginger/chilli prawns, chilli crab, steamed fish with ginger, capcay and kai-lan in kecap manis.

A huge thankyou to to Pak Hudawi, who drove us out to the kelong and then paid for our lunch. We are especially grateful considering that he had eaten earlier and wasn’t all that hungry! 

Thankyou so much to the staff and students of SMKN 1 Batam for your enthusiastic and warm welcome. And an even bigger thankyou to the amazing and entertaining Ibu Mia for making it possible. It was truly a memorable day.  

Pulau Batam (Batam Island) – Kepri

The next island on our tour is to the west of Bintan and is called Batam. Batam is just an hour  by ferry from Bintan. The ferries leave each half hour and as ours was less than half full, there was plenty of room in the suitcase corral for our suitcases. We have come to Batam to visit the irrepressible Ibu Mia who visited us 2 years ago. 

The morning we left Bintan, there was a power outage, so I wasn’t able to contact Ibu Mia to give her an idea of our ETA. Thankfully she wasn’t waiting outside in the baking hot sun, so we caught a taxi and headed straight to our hotel. 

The Hotel Eska has turned out to be a true gem. It is directly behind the Kepri Mall, meaning that  not only do we have access to a huge mall for meals and other necessities but we are also shielded from the busy traffic on the main road in front of the mall!! It is a great location and also not far from Ibu Mia’s perumahan (housing complex). 

Batam has been very hot and humid. In Bintan when grey clouds threatened, the rain and accompanying breezes would arrive to cool us down. So far in Batam, the grey clouds have gathered on the horizon and then appear to pass straight overhead and continue on towards Bintan!!

Batam (with a population of just over a million) is the largest city of the Riau Islands (Kepri) and is the capital city of Batam Island.  The island itself is just under 6km south of Singapore (35 mins by ferry) and is Indonesia’s closest point to the Singapore mainland. In fact it is so close you can see it from Singapore! 

I love this quote from Wikipedia regarding the history of Batam: 

Before Batam became a boom town, like its neighbor Singapore, fishing, maritime trade and piracy were the main activities. 

Since 2006, Batam has become a tariff and tax  free zone for goods shipped between Singapore and Batam.  In 2007, a law was passed to guarantee this zone for 70 years! No wonder it is a ‘boom town’! Ibu Mia explained that cars here in Batam are significantly cheaper than elsewhere in Indonesia due to them being tax free however cars bought on Batam can only be driven here. As soon as you head off the island, the car incurs a tax which is based on the length of time you plan to be away. 

One of the most popular destinations that tourists head towards would have to be the Barelang Bridge, also known as the Jembatan Habibe because he was the one who was behind its construction. It is actually a series of bridges connecting 6 different islands and takes it name from the 3 larger islands: BAtam, REmpang & gaLANG. The original reason the bridges were built was to encourage and support the development of industrial zones based on Galang and Rempang islands. 

Can you spot Ibu Mia and Margaret in the photo above?

Batam has been a fascinating place to visit. However, as this has been more of a work stop-over, our sightseeing has been limited to what we pass by on our way to schools or if taken out for lunch. I wonder if Ibu Mia has done that deliberately to ensure our return?? 🤣

Bintan – Kepulauan Riau (Kepri)

The contrast between the ferry terminals in Singapore and Bintan is enormous. Singapore’s terminal was clean and organised whereas the ferry terminal at Tanjung Pinang, the capital city of Kepulauan Riau, was hectic and chaotic and no doubt reflects the administration of each.

Bintang is one of about 3,200 islands in the Indonesian province of Kepulauan Riau –  the Riau Islands. These islands were originally a part of the Riau province on Sumatra but in 2002 they became a separate province. In the 2015 census, the population of the Riau Islands was almost 2 million and according to Wikipedia, is the second fastest growing province in Indonesia. Another interesting fact about the Riau Islands is that they are considered to be the birth place of the modern Malay language! 

After the fall of Malacca in 1511, the Riau Islands became the centre of political power with the sultanate of Johor based on a tiny island just off Bintan called Penyengat Island. This powerful sultanate lasted several centuries until the arrival of Europeans who in their search for a way to control the trade routes through this area, took control of Singapore. In doing this, the British broke the sultanate into 2 parts and thus weakened its cultural and political strength. The arrival of the Dutch was the final nail in the coffin for the sultanate. 

Kepulauan Riau is the second largest tourist gateway to Indonesia after Bali! This province saw 1.5 million visitors in 2005 and with the number of ferries options we saw between Singapore and Bintan & Batam, I’m sure the next census will be even more impressive. People come here for many reasons – ranging from visiting historical and cultural sites to relaxing in resorts based near tropical beaches. 

Our arrival into Bintan was accompanied by light rain. Thank goodness our suitcases had been checked in because it would have been challenging disembarking in the rain and then navigating through customs and immigration pulling my suitcase. This was my first time entering Indonesia since the abolition of visa payments and it was so straight forward. However finding our way through the building was confusing. It was a true rabbit warren with multiple open doors and no sign clarifying which doorway was the correct one! We ended up outside quite suddenly only to realise that we hadn’t yet collected our suitcases! We tried to make our way back inside as each person we asked gave us a different answer only to be finally told to wait outside and a porter would bring it out. While we stood outside, we were constantly approached by men asking about our transport plans. All were disappointed to hear I had transport arranged. Then someone behind me said my name!  I turned and he asked me what hotel I was staying at. This poor fellow had been waiting at the ferry terminal since the earlier morning ferry to meet us! Our luggage arrived finally and we were charged Rp50,000 for them. I was gobsmacked at the inflated price even though we had been warned by both our Singaporean taxi drivers about this. It turns out everything on Bintan is expensive; largely due to the large numbers of  wealthy Singaporeans who visit and are prepared to pay these prices. 

Our drive to our hotel took us from Tanjung Pinang, the capital city of both the island and the province, and then past acres of land clearing and building develoment; apparently land prices here are booming. I’d read online before our arrival that food options around our hotel are limited so I asked our driver to stop off somewhere so we could buy soto ayam (Indonesian chicken soup). It was wonderful sitting in a warung eating soto and rempeyek (a Javanese cracker made with flour, peanuts and small anchovy type fish) and enjoying a cold glass of es jeruk (squeezed local orange juice drink). 

On arrival at our hotel I confirmed that our room had twin beds and was immediately offered a tour of the available rooms so we could choose the one we liked the best. We looked first at the newest rooms behind reception. The smell of paint was still strong, so they certainly were new! Even the ceiling was painted decoratively with clouds! Our tour then took us out along the boardwalk to the other rooms which are situated off the boardwalk over the incoming / outgoing tide. Both room options were suitable however a room with twin beds are only currently available off the boardwalk. Initially we preferred the rooms closer to reception but after our first night, we were very relieved that we had not stayed in one of those rooms as they are closer to the road, closer to the fishing boats heading out early each morning and the generator that was fired up early that evening! 

Our room is very basic (some have said rustic) containing 2 single beds, a bedside table, a hand basin, one Singapore power point switch and a fan attached to the wall. The whole room is on an angle as if it is slowly sinking into the sea. Each morning, it felt as though the room had sank a little bit more over night! The bathroom contains a western toilet, a shower, a bucket and dipper. Probably the best feature of the main room is the tiny window opposite the front door. The breeze that comes through this window has been gorgeous. Outside our front door is a verandah alongside the board walk where we can sit and look out at the amazing view. The boardwalk and rooms are all above the sea level and the water below is crystal clear but never particularly deep. At high tide it appears to be about 2 meters and at low tide about 2 feet. Along the boardwalk in the water is old netting and various other oddments that give the small fish somewhere to hide. The best hide though is a pile of huge clam shells and the variety of fish that congregate here is impressive. Our only dilemma with the water quality is that the bathroom plumbing empties directly into the sea below. There are no signs requesting minimal use of soaps or toilet paper unfortunately. Our contribution has been to bin our toilet paper and hope that it doesn’t end up in the sea after our departure. 

The hotel, Bintan Laguna, was originally built in 2002. It is desperately in need of a major renovation yet it appears the current owners are either unwilling or unable to do so and instead prefer to undertake minor repairs instead.  Yesterday a section of board walk was pulled up and replaced, the piers on another room were strengthened with more rope and bamboo and several rooms are having a back verandah added. However, while the rooms are not 5 star, the staff here are absolutely lovely and nothing is too much trouble.  The views here too, are stunning. Doesn’t matter what time of day we sit back and look out to sea, we immediately jump up and grab the camera. The light on the water is so picturesque. 

The hotel is in the Trikora district and not close to anything by foot. Visitors to this hotel either have to be totally happy with relaxing and enjoying beautiful views. Otherwise be prepared to fork out a lot of cash to hire a driver or motorbike to take you around. Nothing here is economical beyond the cost of the room. Breakfast is included which includes bottomless tea/coffee from 7-9am but outside these hours food and drink is either unavailable or very expensive at the hotel. Even a can of soft drink costs Rp30,000 (AUD$3). We were advised to buy our water before arriving which we did and saved our selves a small fortune. 

At breakfast on our first morning, we met a lovely mother and daughter from Singapore. Melanie and Bu Betty are regular visitors to this hotel because over 10 years ago they owned a hotel here on Bintan which unfortunately failed yet they still have close connections and friends here. They introduced us to Pak Atong, who kindly offered to show us around the following day at local rates. We also met Natalie, a single traveller from France. She asked to join us with whatever we had planned for the day to help cut costs but it turned out that all costs are per person and we saved nothing. Still, it was lovely to spend some time with Natalie as she is also a primary school teacher on holidays! 

Natalie explained that the main reason she came to Bintang, was because she’d heard that the beaches here were stunning.  She had hoped to laze around on white sandy beaches and swim in turquoise seas, all of which are definitely available in Bintang, just not within walking distance.  We tossed up between getting a driver to take us north to a beach recommended by others or go by boat out to White Sands Island just off the coast here.  The receptionist said the water would be cleaner off White Sands Island, so we went with that option.  Knowing what I now know, it would have been much cheaper to have rented a car and gone north to the beach there, yet I’m pleased we did explore White Sands Island too.  It cost us Rp350,000 per person for the trip if we wanted to snorkel on the way or Rp250,000 if not snorkelling. We stopped the boat just off the island to snorkel. The water was a beautiful temperature and very bouyant. It was lovely just lying back in the ocean floating when not snorkelling. The snorkelling was enjoyable but nothing spectacular. The coral is in a very sad state and there were hundreds and hundreds of beautiful black spiny sea urchins. In the centre of of its body was a fluorescent mouth looking body part and around that were 4 sparkling diamond shapes. Quite beautiful yet intimidating with its long spiny prongs and given that the tide was going out, I was not comfortable with the reducing distance between me and the top of their spines! 

While swimming, we noticed that a storm was coming in. The sky over Bintan was black with lightening and thunder. We clambeted backninto the boat and headed to White Sands Island and got there just in time. A thunderstorm blew in and all the equipment out on the sand had to be rescued before it blew out to sea. We were ushered into the equipment room as it was the only outdoor space protected from the wind which was very cold on our wet bathers. We sat there shivering while watching an enormous  blown up unicorn shuffling to and fro in the wind to while waiting for the  nasi goreng and glass of water lunch that was included in the cost of the boat trip. 

As we finished eating, the storm finished and we headed outside to explore. The north eastern point of the island is a beautiful sandy beach with azure waters. The beach itself has been set up with all sorts of relaxing ways to pass the time. There were hammocks, lounge chairs, swings, a restaurant, and a shed full of snorkelling and diving equipment as well other water sport options. 4 huts are available for overnight stays and I was quoted Rp288,000 per night. Considering that includes breakfast and the boat trip out, it is very reasonable. The only hiccup is that you have no alternative restaurant options. Food and drink prices were exorbitant. It would be a gorgeous spot to relax for maybe one night. While we were there we saw several groups come and go. Seems to be a popular destination for day trippers too. 

We were told before we arrived at our hotel, that there were no places nearby to eat out. However we have since discovered there are several nearby warungs – lesehan style (a raised hut with a low table in the middle of the floor around which everyone sits). The food hasn’t been spectacular but it is definitely better priced to what is on offer here at the hotel. After our day at White Sands Island, we visited a nearby warung where we ordered ikan bakar (grilled fish) and sat right by the waters edge watching the almost full moon rise, the lights come on in the nearby fishing village as well as millions of huge bats flying from an island across the sea to the mountain behind us. 

Yesterday Pak Atong collected us and took us for a drive. We began by heading to Lagoi where all the very expensive resorts are located. On the way we stopped to take photos of kelong – fishing vessels that are constructed from timber and float on empty plastic drums. They are largely a square wooden platform about 2-3 meters off the surface of the sea with a tiny hut in the centre and a light post on 2 sides. Under the platform are several winches of netting. The kelong go out at night to primarily catch ikan bilis (tiny fish). They firstly lower the nets and then turn on the lights. When full, they use a generator to winch up the nets. Pak Atong explained that to build a kelong costs about Singapore $250,000 and this can be recouped in 6 months. No wonder there are thousands of kelong. 

Our next stop was Trikora Tiga. Here we discovered a well kept local secret. A beautiful bay rivalling White Sands Island. Unfortunately it is not within walking distance from our hotel, but would be well worth a days outing. It is obviously a popular spot for locals as there was a lot of rubbish but it didn’t in any way detract from the sheer beauty of the place. I will let the photos speak for themselves. 

The drive from Trikora Tiga to Lagoi was via a very new road flanked by some of the reddest soil I’ve seen outside the Northern  Territory. We passed jungle, swamp, palm oil plantations, villages and land being cleared. With the red soil laid bare after being cleared, it truly looked like the earth was bleeding. To access Lagoi, we had to pass through security before driving down concrete roads with manicured gardens on either side. No wonder this area has been likened with Nusa Dua in Bali. In Lagoi are some of the most expensive hotels on the island but even though it was orderly and manicured, it felt so bleak and lacking in character. We walked around briefly and then headed off to Tanjung Pinang. 

On the way, we dropped in to Pak Atong’s family house and property where we saw his ailing dragon fruit vines and then met his beautiful family. We were served with freshly fried banana that melted in our mouths. We were encouraged over and over to eat another and it was impossible to resist. On our departure we were presented with more and they were just as delicious later in the day. The family house was surprisingly cool inside – obviously built to maximise airflow. Inside we met his elderly mother who has limited mobility due to a recent stroke. She was very pleased to meet us even although her Indonesian matched my Mandarin! 

After lots of photos, we headed closer to Tanjung Pinang for lunch. Pak Atong’s wife, Damai, joined us although we did have to go via their home so she could change her shoes.  She was wearing her gardening thongs! We ate at a Padang restaurant. The best thing about Padang food is that all the dishes available are displayed in the window. You point to what looks good and then they put portions in a small bowl which the waiter brings to the table. You only pay for the bowls that you tried. So, if eating at a Padang restuarant, don’t try everything unless you are happy to pay for it regardless of whether you had a mouthful or finished the entire bowl. The food was beautiful. We had curried jackfruit, eel, cassava leaves, rice and potato cake. It was a beautiful meal. 

We headed back to the hotel via the Buddhist temple which unfortunately is closed on Mondays. Looked impressive though and sits high up on a hill where the view over Tanjung Pinang would be spectacular. 

Overall our trip to Bintan has been very relaxing and we have been very fortunate with the weather.  It’s been a lovely way to begin our 2017 Indonesian adventure.  

Day 1 – Singapore

Here Margaret and I sit at the Tanah Merah Ferry terminal in Singapore with just over an hour before our ferry departure which will mark the official beginning of our 2017 Indonesian adventure to Bintan & Batam (Kepulauan Riau Province) and Medan & Bukit Lawang (North Sumatra province). On the horizon looking toward Indonesia at the moment are low clouds & misty rain which contrasts to the warm sunny weather that greeted us on our arrival into Singapore yesterday when although feeling very weary’ we were also delighted to have finally arrived on this trip which was booked 12 months ago! 

Our flight began with beautiful, clear views of Adelaide and then York Peninsular and then finished with a fly over Bintan Island! How cool was that!

We spent yesterday afternoon experiencing Singapore’s public transport. We caught various buses and trains as well as a taxi. We began by making our way to the hotel from the airport by bus, following the directions given by the hotel on Agoda. The instructions were spot on and the only issue we faced was lugging our enormous suitcases (fpul of ) through the narrow passenger aisles. Its also a nuisance that Singapore bus drivers don’t carry change. The fares ranged from $2.20 to $1.70 which assume you arrive in the country with small change!

Our stop over was at one of the Fragrance hotels and although I’d read somewhere that it was located in a seedy area, we were both pleasantly surprised. The hotel itself was clean and well presented, the staff were very friendly and helpful and our room was small but well presented. Once organised, we headed out straight away to the ferry terminal to get some information about our trip to Bintan the following day. We’d read that you needed to be at the terminal 1.5 hours before sailing, and we also wanted to make a decision about which ferry we would take. There are 3 ferry operators and 3 different ferry terminal options on Bintan! As I’d forgotten to ask the driver I’d booked to meet us in Bintan which terminal he preferred, we hoped a trip to the ferry terminal would help us with this decision. Of the 3 ferry operator businesses, all were closed yet in one, a girl was sitting and she happily answered our questions. Consequently we decided that we would take the ferry to Tanjung Pinang where hopefully I can get a phone SIM card and then ring our driver with our location! The 9:30am trip was booked out (not our first choice thankfully) yet there were still heaps of seats still available on the 11:30am ferry (a far more civilised option). 

By this time, it was after 6pm and we were so tired that the idea of backtracking by bus/train/bus was not appealing, so we grabbed a taxi and enjoyed being able to relax while someone else did all the navigating! 

He was a delightful cabbie – 67 years old with 2 children in their 30’s, both of whom refuse to get married and supply him with grandchildren!! He dropped us off at our hotel and we walked down the street to a corner food court. Here were about 4 food stalls and one drink stall with many small tables and chairs spread about for customers. All I felt like was rice porridge (congee) which luckily was available. I ordered it with green vegetables and the kuah (liquid) from a chicken curry dish. It was absolutely delicious and hit the spot. Washed it down with a cold sprite! 

After a good nights sleep, we headed back to the food court where I hoped I could order another bowl of congee however it was not yet available and the nasi lemak on offer was not very appealing. Instead we retraced our steps back to a shop selling nasi bungkis (rice wrapped in banana leaves) and otah (beautiful minced mackeral spice slices). Absolutely yummy. 

Our ferry is about to board, so I will finish up and join the throng with my ticket ready for the scanner.

 Here we come Indonesia! 🇮🇩 

Sampai jumpa Surabaya, Halo Bali!

Jan 1st, we spent traveling. It felt as though we spent the entire day sitting. Firstly at the airport where our plane was delayed  

 and then in Bali where our baggage took forever to hit the carousel and then in the car to our respective hotels where we managed to hit rush hour. It was 8pm before Lenny finally reached her hotel because after dropping me off at my hotel, she had to head back to the airport to meet her husband, Henry,  who had flown in from Jogykarta to rejoin the family for the final leg of their holiday. 

While I had hoped to stay again at the Bakung Sari Hotel while in Kuta, their prices have gone through the roof being high season, so instead I am staying at the Jesen Inn 2, which is in the gang (alley/lane) next door. I just love this area of Kuta because if you walk north to Jln Bakung Sari, you are in tourist Kuta and if you walk south to Jln Kubu Anyar, you are in the more Balinese part of Kuta. On Jln Kubu Anyar, you can buy nasi bungkus for Rp12,000 but on Jln Bakung Sari, the food options are more tourist oriented. I did follow an elderly lady pushing her bike and ringing the bike bell down Jln Bakung Sari late yesterday afternoon selling her nasi bungkus to the locals working in the salons and various other tourist shops. I did not buy it from her though because waiting back in my room was nasi lawar complete with one of those delicious fish sate cooked on a flat Bamboo stick. (What are they called, Dad?) It always amuses me that back in Australia, rice is never left out of the fridge for long, yet in Indonesia, nasi bungkus can be assembled at home, transported to where it will be sold and it will then sit for who knows how long before being sold. The fellow selling nasi lawar yesterday, looked as though he’d only just arrived because his bowl of rice was still quite full. Still, I had no reservations about leaving my nasi bungkus in my room while I popped out to do some jobs and have a swim! The nasi lawar and swim were a lovely way to finish my last day with Lenny and her family, before I head to Jimbrana to spend the rest of my time here in Bali with my friend, Kadek. 

I was collected by Lenny around 9:30am and finally got to see Henry again. He was flanked by both children who were thrilled to see him again! The drive to Mas took us via Sanur where as usual, I saw many changes. A huge intersection just out of Sanur with a Ramayana statue was one! We were heading to Mas to join Ayu, Wahyu and their son Nanda for lunch at Wahyu’s parents house. While Ayu and Wahyu are both living and working in Surabaya at the moment, and Nanda is going to school there, it was great that we all happened to be in Bali at the same time. My sister too had been invited but sadly it was the very day she was flying home to Australia. It would have been brilliant had the timing been better. 

Our driver had difficulty locating their house which isn’t too surprising as once we left the main road, there were no sign posts. We called Wahyu and his father drove out on his motor bike to lead us back to their house which we’d passed. 

Wahyu’s parents house is in a typical Balinese style compound where several family members can live together. After being introduced to Wahyu’s parents who greeted us out the front, we entered their walled family coumpound through a decorative gate.  Immediately to our right was the kitchen while to our left was a large balai (open building used for entertaining friends/family or just relaxing). This balai is the larger of the 2 in this compound and it was a hive of activity. Men were busily constructing a sign and various other structures for a wedding package order. Also in the balai were 2 women decorating glass jars which would hold flowers at the wedding reception. It was quite frantic because the wedding was the following evening! Where ever we looked were items for the order. Buckets and buckets of white roses and gypsophila which had been shipped in from Bandung, tied bundles of decorative looking drift wood, sliced chunks of wood that look more to me like traditional mortars (& pestles), carved bamboo looking poles as well as other trendy stuff that will hopefully be recycled!

We headed passed them all working flat out after saying hello and were invited to sit in the smaller balai which was set up like a sitting room. There was a carpet square on the floor, a sofa and a tv against one wall as well as a fridge against the other wall! Balai’s traditionaly are open on 2 sides and walled the other 2 and are always the coolest place to sit during the middle of the day. Immediately after the 5 of us sat down, we handed our oleh-oleh to Ayu who immediately put it all aside and then placed on the carpet a bowl of broad bean snacks and a tray with glasses and pineapple juice. We talked briefly with Ayu and then Wahyu joined us. He had been resting as wasn’t feeling very well. 

Suddenly Ayu was called by Wahyu’s mum to help take the food out to the table in the garden where there was a lawned area perfect for eating al fresco. Lenny then asked whether there was sambal mentah (uncooked chili sambal). Wahyu’s mum turned to Ayu and Lenny and said defensively, “I wasn’t told I had to make that too!” We laughed at the typical Balinese response! While pretending to be gruff, she was actually thrilled we asked for it and we were given an impromptu lesson on how to make it. 

1. Peel a large number of garlic and eschallots.  

2. Slice finely. 

3. Add finely sliced kaffir lime leaves and cabe rawit (tiny spicy chili) 

 4. Fry terasi (shrimp paste). 

5. Mix everything  together and serve.  

 Absoilutely delicious! 

It was then carried out to the table and we were all invited to eat. Ayo makan, makan!  

 I did not take much convincing and enjoyed the urap (vegetables with coconut), tempeh and over my rice the kuah (liquid) from the ayam betutu  

 which is a traditional Balinese dish and saying that it is chicken cooked in spices, which it is, just doesn’t do it justice.  The meal was simply delicious and sitting out in the cool garden chatting together was so lovely.  

 Again typically, at the table was just Lenny, Henry, Ayu, myself and Wahyu. The children ate in the balai and the other adults waited until we had finished eating before helping themselves to the dishes.  While we sat there patting our full bellies, Ayu served a dish called, I think, coco de coco. It is a clear sweet drink full of white cubes of a firm jelly consitency enjoyed from a glass with a spoon. So refreshing.  We mentioned that we had passed Pasar  Sukawati and before long we had said our goodbyes and thankyous to Wahyu’s parents were in 2 cars heading to Sukawati with everyone except Wahyu who no doubt fell back into bed!  

Being New Year, it was packed with domestic tourists. We followed Ayu to a stall run by their neighbour. Lenny bought all her oleh oleh (souveniers) there while I bought 2 lengths  of material I hope to have made into sarongs that tie up with just a button rather than a knot which I much prefer these days. While Lenny was busy selecting her oleh oleh, I passed the time chatting to a fellow shopper who comes from Kalimantan Timor.  She was on holiday in Bali with her friend who is a primary school maths teacher. I also enjoyed listening to Lenny & Henry’s son telling  his life’s story in Indonesian to a seller in the adjacent stall. It was hilarious. The adults listening were all in stitches. He told them all the story of how how Lenny & Henry met in Australia, where they had lived in Australia and when and why they had  moved. Tsen loves talking and with a captive audience, he was in 7th heaven. If anyone tried to interrupt him with questions, he would dismissively answer and then return to his story. They were curious about my connection with his family but any questions about me where irrelevant and answered briefly before resuming his story from the exact point he’d been at when interrupted! It was absolutely lovely listening to both Lenny’s children and Ayu’s child who are all fluent in the languages spoken by their parents. Tsen and Meme speak Indonesian, Javanese, Mandarin & English  while Nandu is fluent in Javanese, Balinese, Indonesian and is also learning English. 

Before heading back to the cars, we crossed the road to buy kebaya, the traditional shirt that is worn by women with a sarong. I bought a blue one already made and the material for a white one, which again I hope the tailor near Kadek’s has the time to sew up for me.

The drive home went very quickly with a brief visit to the widow of Lenny’s  father’s  close friend and before I knew it, the driver had reached the top of Jln Kubu Anyar where I insisted I was set down because the traffic was worsening rapidly. When that bad, it is quicker to walk than to drive! I said a very quick thank you and goodbye to everyone before they drove off to Benoa where they are staying. It felt so strange not making plans for the following day. It has been so lovely spending time together after not seing each for such a long time.

Thank You  Lenny for allowing me to tag along with you and your family for this past week. I loved every single minute of it! Look forward to traveling with you again one day! Where shall we meet next time? Jogjakarta? Bandung?