It was the eve of National Day in Singapore. My family decided to break the
usual routine of watching the national celebrations in Singapore but to visit
Batam on National Day. Batam is an island a mere half hour ferry ride from
Singapore. On that day, we woke up, all fresh and keyed up to enjoy ourselves.
However, we got off to a disappointing start. No taxis could be hailed within
sight and the few taxi drivers who pulled over were not too keen to bring us to
Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. They explained that the terminal was a distance
accessible by a deserted side road. The authorities did not allow them to impose
an extra charge, unlike the allowance at the airport. Moreover, it might be ages
before they could pick up a passenger for the return journey. Unbelievably, we
were rather sympathetic. After a long wait, a taxi driver finally agreed to take
Upon reaching the terminal, we rushed in, all flustered and worried about
missing the ferry. We were relieved to find out that the departure time had been
delayed. However, our relief was short-lived. There was a long frustrating queue
as the immigration staff could not cope with the unexpected crowd.
There was a mad scramble for seats when we finally boarded our vessel. The
mild weather had changed and the day became unbearably hot. It was stuffy in the
ferry. Many were seasick and vomited. The queue outside the toilets was a sad
and disheartening sight.
Upon arrival, we waited for our coach. However, once on board the coach,
another disappointment awaited us. Groans from the passengers greeted the
guide's announcement that the watersports centre we were scheduled to visit was
burned down the day before. We would visit a Go-Kart centre instead. This place
was in the middle of nowhere and we spent a mindless two hours watching the kids
queuing and then squealing in delight at the
limited turns they get.
My family and I were not Go-kart enthusiasts, so Dad offered to pay for any
souvenirs we wanted. But these were outrageously priced at the shops we visited.
Lunch was the only bright spot in the journey. The seafood dishes were varied
and delicious. We tried sucking edible snail meat from the famous 'kong kong'
snails. It was a nice change. We finally relaxed amid the breezy and tranquil
Batam city was dirty and rather squalid.
It had just rained and there were mud puddles everywhere. We had to walk through
the mud just to get to the few shopping centers. They invariably sold the same
souvenirs. The unenthusiastic, bored salesgirls and beggars outside these
tourist spots made us realize how comfortable an experience shopping in
We had not dared to try eating the many interesting roadside snacks or
colorful syrupy drinks sold by vendors because of the constant presence of
flies. Fear of dengue fever also reduced us to paranoid tourists slapping at
Our tour guide blithely ignored our
requests to visit a popular shopping centre. We learnt later that the place
would not pay him a commission for bringing us there. Instead, the brazen man
kept pushing us to buy his homemade cookies.
Thankfully, there was no wait for ferries on the journey back. We arrived
safely but realized to our dismay that we were at the Harbour Front Centre, a
considerable distance from our home.
There were no taxis in sight. It seemed that the roads leading to Harbour
Front Centre were closed due to the National Day Parade. We whiled away our time
at a coffee shop and waited restlessly for the roads to be opened.
However, it was a relief to be back in dear old Singapore! Never again, I
vowed, would I celebrate a public holiday Day abroad!