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As Long as We Remember...

April 1, 2009

Paradise and Claustrophobia

Tom McLaughlin

Bintan Island, Indonesia – To understand Bintan Island one must gain a perspective of Singapore because Bintan is a resort to this small island nation.


Singapore, governed by a dictator, the son of the original founder after independence, lies at the very bottom of the Malay Peninsula. Freedoms of speech, press and assembly are forbidden. Opposition, quickly crushed, results in long jail terms. The parliament, a rubber stamp entity, approves all programs sponsored by the ruler. Negative articles in the foreign press means the publication will probably be banned.


Huge towering condos house the population. Health care, education and other trappings of a socialistic state provide the people with cradle to grave coverage. Jobs range from those who work on the docks to support the entrepot trade to the business men of the huge financial community.


The people live in these state designated condos. Views are limited to the next building. The government arranges housing so that families are within 2 or 3 km of each other to keep the family unit together.


I became claustrophobic in this city. In crossing the street, one moves from a building, to a line of trees, to a two or three lane boulevard moving in one direction to a center strip to another three lanes of traffic moving in other direction to a line of trees and finally to the next building. Very little sunlight permeates this area of perpetual twilight.


In the mall areas, people crowd together and hurry along to complete shopping chores. The underground also packs people together. Sidewalks are shoulder to shoulder.


This perception of life space, or lack thereof, causes a vast migration to occur during school and national holidays. The people travel all over the world to escape. Hotel rates skyrocket during these periods.


Singaporean entrepreneurs, in cooperation with the Indonesian government, have built a resort on the Island of Bintan, about an hour boat ride away. It is everything a westerner could hope for, the exact opposite of the Batam Island reported last week.


Divided in four or five different areas according to income levels, I stayed in the cheapest accommodations. For S$90 (US$.67=S$1.00) I resided in half a hut containing a large bedroom plus bath. The furniture looked like, and probably was, left out in the rain. The television was very small with fuzzy pictures coming in. The shower was a plastic hand held affair. The place was very, very clean and the bed comfortable.


But the beach! OMG, the beach! About three kms of very white sand hugs the oval lagoon with crystal clear water. Palm trees, flowering bushes and a few beach chairs line the shore. I think there were, at most, 10 of us there during my entire stay. A water sports center allows for most activities.


A restaurant served basic western and Asian foods. Breakfast, included with the room rate, hosted a wide assortment of choices on the buffet plus an omelets chef. I usually piled tropical fruits and newly baked pastry on my plate along with a glass of fresh squeezed juice.


Walking about half km up the beach or road, around a bend, a more modern facility appeared. A large swimming pool, gourmet restaurant, pub, and the usual shops associated with the tourist trade populated this section. People from the cheap section could use the facilities of the up scale one. Typical hotel rooms here began at about S$180 and up. The beach was no where near as pretty as mine and it was crowded with the “in crowd,” a group I have never been a part of and hope I never will be.


Continuing onward, the jet setter area (my words) had plush units built on a hillside in a secluded, gated area. Prices here started at S$560 but without the beach. At least I didn’t see one.


A healthy coral reef about 15 minutes off shore provided for the best snorkeling I have yet to experience. Bleached out areas and other signs of stress were absent. The fish, numerous and many different varieties, sparkled and swam with me in the pure clean waters.


In my cheapo area, I met young members of the Peruvian Symphony orchestra, French teachers, elderly visitors from Norway, a smattering of Brits, some who lived in Singapore and a few Americans.


One interesting group, film people from California, introduced themselves by name and a string of their film credits. I don’t know who they thought I was, or if this is the way people are greeted in Los Angeles.


They were led by a control freak who spoke for them. I informed them about the orangutan rehab center in Kuching and I think a revolt ensued when she tried to nix the idea about a visit.


I will go back to Bintan but only with a lover because this is a place of romance, cuddling, hand holding, and moonlit walks. I hope I will return soon.


Life is good.


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