Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Pulau Batam delivery

The isle of Batam is only an hour by ferry from Singapore. It used to be jungle only, peppered with some drunk locals and Malacca straits whores. Now it's a huge joint development by Singapore and Indonesia, sprouting industrial zones, cheap housing and sex trade.

My uncle had a cosmetics deal at a friend..s hair salon, Win Spa 2, so I had a "cream puff" head massage while enjoying the inimitable Asian interior aesthetics of baroque and 70s schnitz, and a remarkable jazz radio.
We dined on "kimchi chiki" at a Korean restaurant where the staff was cheeky and incompetent, by Batak standards. The restaurant was at the mezzanine of the Hotel Planet Holiday, gleaming in reddish gold chandeliers, and humongous fish tanks in the lobby that lent the over the top surroundings the welcoming ambience of a very bright seafood restaurant. I thought it was fine because I enjoy this seventies extravaganza, but I was told the hotel had just opened. We went for coffee at the Sky Lounge, infused with blue neon lights that made us look like trapped mosquitoes. The band was extraordinarily uncoordinated, and the disparate customers could barely carry a tune, from "I will always love you" to "Tears in heaven" and the inevitable "Hotel California". We preferred to sing on our own at the Hotel Puri Garden..s Barong Karaoke, where I chose songs for my uncle to belt out with a fervor seldom witnessed in these parts: "Please don't let me be misunderstood", "Mack the knife", "As tears go by", "Top of the world", "Crazy", "Highway star", "Don't let me down"...

We then proceeded to what's left of the red light district, since the casinos had to close down because of 1) immoral distraction exerted upon industrious Singaporean bread winners, and 2) the Sands casino project in Singapore. I mean, "Integrated Resort". The Singapore government doesn't like the word "casino".
In dark beat up alleys we found the Steps Café, an old rock bar where a few bored working girls entertained two drunk seniors of the community, middle aged Chinese gangsters in snazzy sneakers played intense games of pool, and a fabulous young rock band played requests from one table. Their renditions of "Simply the best" and "Bohemian rhapsody" were bold and earth shattering. Still it felt a little cold and lonely on this Tuesday night.
So we left the muddy quarters, and as midnight struck, the dark roads filled with an endless outpour of workers, stumbling out in the dark like students after a day's worth of exams. The factory night shift. Only then I understood the strings of otherwise empty food stalls by the roadside. Most of the workers hopped onto scooters and trucks, and disappeared into the zone, endless rows of prefab dorms still dusty from their box kits.

We moved on to Club Pacific, a large, dark disco where hundreds of kids, working girls and waiters after work, as well as factory workers with their badges still on, were jumping furiously in ecstasy. It packed more clubbers that night than all of Singapore.

However the acid techno was hard on our aging ears, so we escaped to Hotel Planet Holiday's infamous discothèque, Ozon. That immense ballroom was packing even more people, crazier, more brain-melting music, with a few middle aged, overweight Westerners rubbing against the local fare, some thugs accompanied by bored bodyguards who were more interested in the local boys, and one betty boop who danced furiously while slapping any man who groped her. When the stolen Queen riff introduced "Ice ice baby", the crowd went wild. It never fails, sadly. Except this was a dangdut two-step remix, with a slowed down bassline, and accelerated vocals in Bahasa. Think smurfland on drugs. On stage four strong girls were writhing in night-market sequin bikinis and feather boas, improvising desperate choreographies that had the males hypnotized. It felt like I had landed on an outpost planet in a galaxy far far away from Patpong.

The blasting air con chased us out across town to Club Z, an even bigger discotheque that was unexplainably empty, save for an r'n b band playing over-eagerly, perhaps were they auditioning, in front of an even noisier group of young Chinese girl brats squealing and swearing in Fukkien.

We checked in to the Puri Garden, where the carpets and wallpaper are deliciously "Shining", this time truly from the eighties.

More tips to Batam here.

No comments:

Post a Comment