The Big S
Went to Batam on Deepavali with Juls and Greg and learnt two things:
1. That Batam is just like Perling, Johor
So true. We entered through the main Batam centre by ferry, and the minute I walked out of the centre, I could've sworn that we'd ended up in Malaysia by mistake.
Certainly on first glance, it seemed like it. Bahasa everywhere, [even though yes, I know, that Bahasa Indon. is not the same as Melayu] the mega airconditioned malls, [these things are everywhere nowadays, and I swear the one at the centre was built for the express purpose of Singaporean dollars] and the endless rows of suburban houses and shophouses and trees.
But there are differences if one cares to look more closely. Streets are dirtier than in Malaysia, for one. [sorry, Candle] Some of the sewage drains I saw were filled with extremely noxious looking grey.... sludge that looked deadly to any living creature foolish enough to step in it.
Also, there is a diff in the shops over there. The streetside stalls all sell the same range of goods, namely wallets, caps, belts, shoes, and the huge piece of cloth that Muslim women wear over themselves. [sorry, i don't know the name of it] We walked a few km along one long stretch of stalls, and it felt like I was seeing the same cycle of stalls over and over again. Wallets, caps, belts, shoes, cloth, wallets, caps, belts, shoes, cloth, wallets, caps, belts......
The prices there are also generally cheaper than in Malaysia. Sure, you'll feel like a billionaire when you count your currency in terms of 10000s, but when you look at the prices, you feel more like, an upper class man? I did a double take a couple of times when, after mentally converting the prices in my head, it was still too low for me to believe.
Like, in the department store, a decent tee shirt, maybe about the Hanes standard, cost about 16000rp, which translated to S$4??? And we stopped at this beauty stop [hair salon/manicure/pedicure/facial/massage.... Good god, has anyone done this in singapore? It's a stroke of genius!] where we found that the price of a 45 min massage was.... S$8. Bloody fork! Juls and I ended up going for a massage each while Greg was left to play at the arcade. :p
Of course, the dark lining of all this is that you have to pay about S$30 from Singapore to actually get there. So when you count the transport, food, and massage.... it doesn't quite become so worth it anymore. ^_^! If you want to make it worth it, you have to do a hell lot more stuff than we did. But hey, once in a while, I don't mind doing stupid stuff like this.
2. We have big 'S'es written all over us
I think that it is inevitable that, if you live in any country for an extended period of time, it leaves its mark on you. I notice this in some friends who go overseas, and now I know it is on us, even in a nearby country like Batam.
The moment we started walking around the town, Nagoya, [sounds Japanese, doesn't it?] I felt as everyone knew we were from Singapore and that we didn't believe. We didn't even look like the local Chinese, even though we were plainly dressed in tees and jeans. What was it? We don't know, but I suspect a great deal stemmed from us speaking flawless English most of the time. ^_^! Bummer.... Can you stick out anymore in a place where 90% of all people we met spoke only rudimentary English? ["Taxi! You want taxi?" being one of the most common phrases I heard being thrown at us]
And even then, our clothes didn't fit in. What we wore and carried looked just a smite too good to have been bought from their department stores, which carried This-Fashion-like stuff. [which also meant that everything in the ladies dept was 10 sizes too small for me. ^_^! If I lived there, i'd have to buy everything from either the Muslim dept or the menswear]
But it wasn't just us. Even while I was having my massage, I saw this lady come in, and my first thought was: Singaporean. Again, the bag she carried looked too good, and most telling of all, she was wearing a light blue gypsy skirt, which I never saw being sold anywhere in Batam. The funny thing was that her face did NOT look Singaporean at all when I looked at it again, so....... i don't know. :p
Another lady was more obvious. She was a 40s odd woman wearing 2 spaghetti tops, cropped pants and huge colourful wedges. Oh yea, very HDB tai-tai chic......
But really, we didn't fit in. And I felt like everyone was looking at the huge S written invisibly on my forehead......
I guess in a way, going to such places just makes you appreciate home that much more. [ESPECIALLY for the clean toilets with running water in the flush and adequate toilet paper] Even when you go to nearby countries, with plenty of Asians and Chinese, it's still pretty obvious the way you stand out from all the other locals. While we were there, I had this weird feeling that people were staring at me, and whispering to each other, "Singaporean must be lah..." [on a sidenote, must learn Bahasa so this never happens to me, either in Indon or Malaysia.]
It's only when you come back to Singapore that you, I don't know, fit? That suddenly, your behavior and appearances cease to be weird or ill-fitting, and that you're able to disappear into the rest of the crowd, because you're just like the rest of them. Yea, I know there are plenty more countries which are waaaaay more accepting of weirdness than Singapore is, or more open than Singapore is, but as much as I don't fit quite into Singapore society, I still fit more into it than all the other countries that I've been to. That it's the only place I know I can disappear into the crowd, and that won't mind me ever being there. It's weird, I know, and possibly also because I haven't stayed in any other country for a long period of time, but hey, that's just my humble opinion... :p that's just me.