Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Two Pioneering Resorts in Batam

It was still in the late 80s, I joined some of my friends to spend a short vacation in Batam.  Then, there were two resorts, namely Batam View Beach Resort and Turi Beach Beach Resort.. Both were quite pricey then, given there were not many good class resorts in the region and Bintan had yet to be developed as a tourist destination.   If I can remember well, a room night stay could have easily cost us around S$200 and it was in the late 80s where our wages were much lower then and competition was definitely less intense.  Batam View and Turi Beach were the only two good class resorts in the Nongsa area.  Finally, we chose Turi Beach, attracted by their standalone rustic wooden villas which has since been totally transformed into modern concrete blocks.  Batam View is a 5-storey building block which has commanding view of the South China Sea.  During our stay, we went to Batam View Beach Resort for their discotheque at the basement.  It was quite an in-thing and I remember it was packed to the brink.   

To get there, we had to travel by fast ferry from the then World Trade Centre Ferry Terminal to Sekupang Ferry Terminal.  The ride took us less than an hour and on arrival, we had to take a long coach ride.  Sekupang Ferry Terminal is located in the western side of the island and Turi Beach, together with Batam View Beach Resort are located in the north eastern region which is known as Nongsa.  Batam by the way is about two third the size of Singapore.  The coach ride will take us about 40 minutes.  With Nongsapura Ferry Terminal set up in the mid 90s, tourists can now depart from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and on arrival, less than 10 minutes by car to reach their hotels.  Then, it was quite a hassle to get to the beach resorts in Nongsa.  Only Batam View and Turi Beach have their own private beaches until today.  When Bintan made its foray in the later part of the 90s, the resorts in Batam has taken a heavy beating.  From there on, it is basically' survival of the fittest'.   

Given heavy investments from Singapore's big wig companies in Bintan and coupled with promotion support from Singapore Tourism Board, more and more tourists were lured to Bintan. 

Nongsa in the north eastern region of Batam has its own attraction too.  The lush greenery and kampong style living in the community remains largely unspoilt.  Development in the past years have not been too aggressively pursued vis-a-vis Bintan but it now boosts of international class golf courses, more resorts and even a movie town, among others.

For the two pioneering resorts, Batam View Beach Resort and Turi Beach Resort,  they have definitely weathered whatever 'calamity of sorts' that were thrown at them and to still remain in business, that says something about them.  Take a bow, people!

Saturday, January 06, 2018

An Introduction To Batam

If I can recall my first trip to Batam was either in 1985 or 1986.  I was still with KLM based at the airport.  A friend had suggested a weekend day trip to Batam which was already a ‘talked-about thingy’ in town.  One of the main attractions, if not the only attraction was the chance to purchase duty free items on the return.  I had no inkling on how this island so near Singapore was like and so, I joined the big wave of weekend crowd on one Sunday.  The departure was at Finger Pier Terminal in Tanjong Pagar.  The biggest ferry operator was Auto Batam (the company has changed few ownerships over the years and if I am not wrong, it is called Sindo now) and looking at the mad rush on weekends, they should be doing roaring business.  Personally, I will avoid big crowd if I can help it and I was in for a ‘rude shock’ when I arrived at Clifford Pier.  It was so packed like sardines and people were practically shoving each other to move in.  Granted no other choice, I had to go with the flow. 

The ferry terminal in Batam was in Sekupang.  The other ferry terminal was called Batu Ampar Ferry Terminal which is now replaced by HarbourBay Terminal in Jodoh.  Both these two nondescript terminals were notorious for its touting activities.  Tourists were harassed the moment they stepped out of the terminals.  It can be frightening.  We were spared as we travelled in groups and guides were there to handle for us.  It was still like a noisy affair at the terminal.  The long rows of coaches at the terminal well explained the huge crowd on any given weekend day trip to Batam. 

Once we had settled on the coach, our guide will start the usual introduction to us.  We were brought to this famous ‘Tua Pek Kong’ temple and we were told many had struck 4-D while praying for good luck there.  In the 80s’, Singaporeans had already started ‘the kiasu’ syndrome and many will ‘chiong’ to be among first to offer prayers.  I just explored around the premises and be amused.  ‘Tua Pek Kong’ temple visit still remains one of the must go places in the tour program.

Another interesting must go place was at a road junction (I cannot remember the name of the road) which stood out as the one and only traffic light in the whole of Batam.  Nothing spectacular about it for it was just like another traffic light we get to see everywhere.  Because it was the one and only traffic light there, it became a ‘showcase’ to urbanized folks like us.  Laughable, right?

But there was one place that I was hoping to visit which was the much-talked about radio station on the island.  ZOO 101.6 was creating big wave when they went 24/7.  Then, our radio channels did not run 24/7.  People were tuning in on ZOO 101.6 and not long later, our local radio stations had to up the ante by going 24/7 too.  When we arrived, it was a small building block.  We were shown where the gregarious deejays were at work.  Yes, ZOO 101.6 did cause an uproar on the radio wave then.  Sadly, nobody talks about ZOO 101.6 anymore. 

We had our seafood lunch ala ‘tourist style’ in between our tour.  When we were at Sekupang Ferry Terminal for journey back, it was another ‘exhilarating’ experience.  People were rushing to buy liquor and cigarettes at the terminal as if it was free.  Well, that was the main purpose why most made this ‘hard-earned’ trip.  As for me, I bought none of it.  The terminal was also packed with people and this time, with loads of duty-free items. 

However, this travel phenomenon did not last very long.  Our super effective ‘chenghu’ were quick to tighten the loose knot by changing rules on duty free import from Batam.  As fast it had happened, the weekend craze quickly fizzled out too.  Now, people do not go to Batam just for duty-free items and Batam has more to offer too.  I will cover this in my subsequent articles which will come in few parts.  Stay tuned, people!   

Monday, January 01, 2018

My Childhood Friends

Life was very simple when growing up in the 60s.  Our house was a no-frills type that came with no rooms and the common corridor was shared by rows of other households.  Our family of seven somehow managed to squeeze into this tiny house.  Our door was always open and so too for some of our neighbours.  As kids, the common corridor was our playground.  We chased after each other, we shouted at the top of our voice, we played 'masak masak' with the girls and we even managed to cycle along the narrow corridor without major collision.  Yep, some adults did not like our noise decibels and we were sometimes chased away.

Dialects like Hokkien and Cantonese were commonly spoken and 'cursing' from the grown-ups was a common thingy.  We spoke Cantonese at home though we are Hokkien.  Communication with the other children was mostly in Hokkien too.

I have had few childhood friends but we have lost contact completely when we moved out in the late 70s.  I was already a teenager by then.  Tong lived next door to us.  They are Teochew and both his parents spoke Teochew to us.  I think I picked up smattering Teochew from them.  Tong is one year older than me.  He was good in sports and he was also quite good in his studies too.  I heard he is a teacher now.  I was just an average Joe in everything.  Sometimes, he will 'jio' me to play basketball in his house.  Yes, in his tiny house.  He will use wire mess to carve out a net and secured at the corner of the door.  The ball is the hard plastic type which was best for football than for basketball.  It was a miracle that the neighbour who lived directly below had never complained the running and the bouncing of ball from above.  Somehow, we got away scot-free each time. 😄

Liang Heng lived a door away from Tong's family.  He has few siblings and he is the second in the family.  I was closer to him than his other siblings as our age gap is quite close.  Like Tong, Liang Heng is one year older than me.  Liang Heng is always taller and bigger than me.  Not quite the studious type like Tong but we enjoyed each other company too.  I remember Liang Heng has muscular legs that I hoped I can own his pair of legs.  We played high jump using bamboo pole.  We also played football in the playground with other kids after school.  Skill-wise, we were quite equal.  In short, we were never the skillful type of players lah.  Sometimes, our ball will go into this household nearest to the playground.  One of us will have to pick up the ball but each time, we had a lashing from the house owner.  Not to be deterred, we still continued to play at the playground and the 'lashing' too.  😉 

Chye has an older brother and sister and his widowed mother raised them up single-handedly.  Chye is of the same age as me and we can click well.  We used to emulate 'kung-fu' moves in slow motion.  He will hit me and I will return the blow back but all in slow motion.  Ya, Bruce Lee was a big thing for us then.  In fact, Chye and I met again some years later.  We were posted to the same army camp but different companies though.  When we met, we can only muster few words to each other and never stay connected again.  The 'brotherly sparks' in us just didn't take off.  Years later, I heard from my mother that he has some mental issues.  I hope he is alright now.

Of all my childhood pals, Pok Meng was probably my best buddy but it was short-lived only.  We are of the same age too.  He is a Hainanese and he has a younger brother called Pok Kok.  His mother and my mother got on well initially.  I remember we used to catch houseflies near the rubbish bin area.  We drifted apart when our mothers had a big quarrel that almost came to blows.  Over what?  I really don't know.  Since then, they were always locked at home and not long later, they moved out.  I was still in primary school. 😔   

Now we are already in our mid-50s and more and I hope they are living well.  Some could have become grandparents, I believe.  Looking back, we were not rich but we do have our happy moments growing up with the simplest of things we got to enjoy then.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

My Summary of 2017

It is the last post that reflects on year 2017 before the clock strikes past midnight.  How has year 2017 been for me?  First off and with slight tinge of disappointment, some lofty targets set for the early part of the year were missed as we inched forward.  There was an ambitious plan to partner someone to launch a business proposal which I thought was was quite unique and definitely one of its kind here but the investors 'did not bite' despite our best presentation effort put forth.  Thus, the business idea has to put on back burner for now. 😞

On the event front, our signature run events like Run For Light and Urban Aquathlon were successfully launched.  While the bottomline was nothing to gloat about but I enjoyed the whole process for both events.  Run For Light and Urban Aquathlon will continue to be featured in year 2018 and of course, I am hoping for a better outing this time.  Though we initiated OCC 3Ten Run in 2015 but we decided not to co-own the event which eventually went back to OCC.  However, we still managed OCC 3Ten Run 2017 for them as event organiser.  At least we do not have to worry about number and still get paid for it.

Perhaps I derived more pleasure and satisfaction from the few team building events I conducted for few companies.  The earning was also not that bad either.  Had I started to venture into team building years ago, things could be different for me now I did wonder to myself. 😄

The biggest surprise I received for the year is to get re-connected with a dear friend after more than one decade.  A surprise 'hello' email from this friend suddenly appeared on my laptop did get me thinking momentarily that this could be a spam mail.  Fortunately, it was not.  Yes, we have plenty of catching up to do now. 😃

What will year 2018 be like?  Admittedly, I am not getting younger anymore and some friends think I am going easy.  On the contrary, I am not slowing down and at this age, I am still hoping for a breakthrough in the few things I am doing.  Retirement to me means 'it's the end'.  As long as I am still healthy and alert, I will continue to find something to do even going into my 70s or beyond.  In short, I can ill-afford to retire.  I hope the few events that we have lined for 2018 will take us to the next level.  Is 2018 going to be a good year?  Yes, it is going to be one heck of a year but I have to work hard for it.  Year 2018, bring it on! 💪💪💪

Monday, March 20, 2017

8th Edition of Cycle Cruise On Superstar Libra - 10 to 15 March 2017

Group pic on first day of ride in Balik Pulau 

Time really flies and this was to be our 8th edition of our cycle cruise since our maiden trip in October 2013.  This time our adventure took us to Penang, Krabi and Phuket.  In our previous trips, we visited Penang and Phuket at least twice and Krabi was our first.  This trip was scheduled on 10 March where we flew with Silkair to Penang, cycled for 2 days and then joined Superstar Libra which will take us to sunny Krabi and Phuket to continue our cycling adventure.

Beaten track with padi fields in between and mountains from a distance in Balik Pulau 

We were supposed to have 32 of us including me as the tour leader but one had suddenly taken ill, thus 31 of us at last count.  There were few familiar faces in this trip.  Michelle and Aaron who did twice with us, Philip and his wife who did thrice and this time, they brought their younger daughter, Amanda along, Ronald, his wife and daughter, Josslin joining second time too.  Regular outdoor kakis of mine, power couple Tan & Jane and dainty Fenny were on this trip to keep me company throughout.  Among the group, we had a group of 7 fun seeking men who are cycling buddies, 2 lovely sisters in Deirde & Deryne, a father & son team and 3 gregarious nurses.  There were also 5 bloggers who were arranged by Star Cruises to shout out through their social media platforms as much as possible.  Alas, Xuejing who had been doing the planning since our inception trip did not follow this time and the responsibility fell squarely on me 😓 😓😓.

For the first time, Penang cycling tour specialist from Mata Hari led by SJ mapped out the cycling routes and also provided ground support throughout the expedition.  Save for Michelle and Aaron who brought their own bikes, the rest of us just rented mountain bikes from Mata Hari.

Our flight to Penang touched down at about 1130 hrs and by the time, we cleared immigration and customs, it was near 1300 hrs.  SJ and his team were already there to meet us.  Soon, we were transported to Balik Pulau for our first ride in Penang.  Our previous rides in Penang were in the heart of busy George Town but this time, it was a completely different cycling experience.  Balik Pulau is located in the rustic southwestern region of Penang island.  It was an easy ride where we cycled past padi fields, streams, Malay kampungs and Chinese fishing village with the mountains in full sight.  Easy ride aside, this ride also enabled the support team to identify those who will need help in our subsequent rides which can be challenging.  We ended our half day ride in a goat farm before being transported to Equatorial Hotel for a good night rest 😄😄😄.  

Goat farm in Balik Pulau

Day two of our ride will take us to Mount Jerai in Kedah state, typically it will take some 1 and a half hour drive from Penang but our coach captain somehow took us on a longer ride  😒😒😒.  Mount Jerai stands at 1,217 metres high and from the foot of the mountain to the summit, the distance is some 11 km.  To ride all the way up to the summit, one has to be a heck of a hardcore cyclist.  SJ called this mountain, 'a beast' to psych us before our roll-off.  We did not start our ride from the foot of the mountain but started some 20 km away where we had a fairly nice ride before commencing our climb.  I knew at some point during the climb, I will sustain cramp due to lack of cycling mileage and I was right.  Admittedly, the weather was hot as we started our ride at near noon time.  Local cyclists would have started very early in the morning before sun rises.  Our support team made sure there were many stops for us to be hydrated.  There were few who were already struggling at the start and had to give up at some point.  Everyone was constantly reminded to keep hydrated throughout.  When we gathered at the foot of the mountain to commence our climb, we were briefed there was a break at every 3 km where we can decide to stop.  True to our Singaporeans' 'kiasu' spirit 😉, majority decided to give it a go.  It was one heck of a tough climb I must admit.  Many decided to stop after 3 km climb and rest of us including me stopped after 6 km.  After that, we took the van up to the summit to have our afternoon hi-tea.  The view at the summit was covered by cloud, otherwise it offers magnificent view of the padi fields and the town on any given day.  We then headed to George Town for a good rest.

Group picture before taking the climb at Mount Jerai

There was no ride on day three, Sunday as we were to board Superstar Libra in the afternoon.  Morning was spent roaming the town with Tan and Jane.  At about 1400 hrs, after checking out from Royal Bintang, we took a short walk to Sweetenham Pier to join the cruise.  By 1500 hrs, everyone was already on board Superstar Libra and own leisure program followed.  Jason, the journalist from a Chinese media and Lacey, one of Star Cruises' sales managers will join us for our ride in Thailand.

At the summit of Mt Jerai 

Day four - the ship arrived in Krabi at about 1000 hrs.  As disembarkation was by tender boat, our bikes had to be physically carried to the boat by our support team and ship crew first.  The boat ride to the terminal took some half an hour and I was already feeling the searing heat of the sun.  It will be one hot ride I thought to myself.  On arrival, we were met by the Thai support team from Eco Ride.  We rolled off at about 1100 hrs.  The route was fairly rolling with highest climb at 132 metres only.  It was a big loop covering some 45 km with lunch stop at the famous Ao Nang Beach.  Save for the hot weather, the ride was easy for everyone and traffic was light.  We rode past hills and some villages, an idyllic sight.  By 1600 hrs, we reached the jetty safely.  We bade farewell to our Thai support crew before returning to the tender boat for Superstar Libra  😊😊😊.  As a reward to all, we have had gala dinner at Four Season later in the evening.  

Huffed and puffed up the slope in Phuket

Day five - we arrived in Phuket at around noon time.  If Krabi was hot at 1000 hrs, it was even hotter in Phuket at noon time.  Just like Krabi, we had to take the tender boat to go shore but the ride was shorter, about 15 mins.  Again, bikes had to be loaded onto the tender boat before we could embark. We had cycled in Phuket on two previous occasions and everyone had been made aware that it was going to be rolling throughout.  Our ride will start in the popular Patong Beach.  Traffic was heavy at Patong Beach.  It was near noon time when we were ready to roll off.  This time there were 23 of us plus 5 support crew from Team Mata Hari.  Since we had the whole day till midnight, the rest preferred to spend the leisure time instead of cycling in Phuket.  Perhaps, the expected tough terrain did play a part too 😏😏😏.  The ride took us to Karon Beach on the east coast heading south.  We rode past Kata Bay which offered one of the best scenic spots but at the same time, we had to manage climb after climb with the steepest climb at 193 metres being the highest point.  Many had to push the bikes.  It was heartening to see Ronald's wife, Mrs Yeo who is a leisure cyclist puffed and huffed up the rolling terrain.  Philip's daughter, Amanda is another fighter.  Giving up was never her motto, she just pressed on slowly but surely.  SJ team did a marvellous job covering the front and back.  Even at every turn, there was a marshal to usher the cyclists through so that no one was left behind.  They even helped to push some cyclists on the climb.  I was impressed I must admit.  We stopped briefly at Rawa Beach and took a less steeper road back to Patong Beach.  We were a little concerned of returning after last light, given we were behind our planned scheduled.  Fortunately, when we arrived back, it was around 1930 hrs which was not completely dark.  We gave three loud cheers to Team Mata Hari before we dispersed.  It was a challenging ride, some 45 km but definitely a good one.

Group pic in Patong Beach before rolling off

Day six, while still on board Superstar Libra on way back to Penang, the Hotel Manager helped to present nice completion certificates to all the participants.  In one of our lighthearted moment while waiting to disembark, some of the guys were sharing their own personal encounters during the ride.  One of the guys from this group of 7 who is affectionately called  大 ('big brother') for his seniority finally confessed that he was 'conned' by his friends to join. He is not a regular cyclist, in fact he was not familiar with the gear system of the bicycle and had been struggling to keep pace throughout. He thought it was like another ride in East Coast Park but he soon realised too late, he was 'tricked' into it. He didn't have a proper shoes for cycling until his son reminded him. We certainly had a good laugh at his 'misery' but he took it in his own stride. Another in the same group of 7, Mark did confess he is a roadie and therefore, found it hard riding on mountain bike where pace was too slow for his 'liking'. He will always come to me and asked when are we going back to hotel which actually puzzled me, I must say.

View of Karon Beach from the top

When the ship came alongside the port at about noon time, we were transferred to Queensbay Mall to spend the afternoon lazing around before heading to the airport for flight home in the evening. On touching down at Changi Airport, someone I hoped to see at the airport was there to meet me.  Home sweet home!    

The four of us at the summit of Mount Jerai

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Army Mobilisation Exercise In The Early Years

Nowadays sensation news, be it real or fake will reach to the masses almost in an instance, all thanks to the availability of social media platforms.  In the early years where the masses relied heavily on mainstream media for news feed and it means receiving it one day later at the earliest.

How did we manage army mobilisation exercise in the 80s where even pager had yet to make an entrant to the communication sphere?  If I can remember well, there were two types of mobilisation, one is the 'silent mobilisation' and the other is 'open mobilisation'.  Silent mobilisation posed the biggest challenge to recall personnel back, given the tight time frame and the contrary, activating open mobilisation was rendered much easier.  The latter required a core team comprising person overall in-charge to second in-charge, to third in-charge, so on & so forth.  The I/Cs will be given a list of people's contacts to get in touch with once the recall was activated.  For open mobilisation, the code names of the affected units will appear on national TV and also broad casted via radio stations.  Once the personnel got the recall activation on TV or radio, they will then head back to their respective units to be accounted for.  

I remember I was the second or third I/C for my group.  During our active days, we were activated in a silent mob.  The I/C before me will come to my house and then handed a list of contacts staying within 5 km radius of my place.  We will then list down the contact details among ourselves and went on with our given tasks.  We had to do so within few hours time frame and when the visiting task was done, we will don our number four uniform and headed back to our unit for reporting.  I remember I went on foot to  the residence of each of the recall personnel to hand them the activation notice.  If the person was not at home, someone from the house will have to acknowledge it.  I think I was given some 20 contacts to get in touch with.  I can't help feeling trepidation of sorts in bid to complete the task within the given time frame.  Pager was still not developed yet, let alone smart phone of the present and our means of communication was very much dependent on land line.  In the absence of mobile phone and Internet, we can still take comfort that majority of the personnel can still be contacted and made it back to camp in time.  This silent exercise was even activated when we were reservists.  During our time, we had to do few silent mobilisation including one or two open mobilisation

I now wonder how silent mobilisation is executed in present days.  Does silent mob using the old method still apply?  I think creating chat group on FB should suffice unless MINDEF feels it is unsafe to do so.  😏😏😏

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Summary of 2016

I have not been posting many articles on my blog for the entire year of 2016.  Yes, I have been too laid back I have to admit 😏.  However, no matter how laid back I can be over the one long year, I will always make it a point to post my last entry of the year before the clock strikes past midnight...yes, that is the ritual of sorts for me.

Looking back at 2016.  The few milestones that I can be proud of should be the Compressport Rail Corridor Run in January and the blueseventy Aquathlon event at Orchid Country Club in July this year.

On Compressport Rail Corridor Run, we were hoping to get 5,000 runners in our inaugural event - our collaboration with Compressport.  Boy, as we shouted more and especially the news from the authority announcing the closure of the green corridor belt for three years due to pipe laying project, we were able to capitalise on it by telling the running community that ours will be the last rail corridor race.  The sign up simply took off like a rocket from there on.  At long last, we were able to garner about 7,500 runners.  In fact the overspill helped a rival event much to our displeasure somewhat 😠.  It was also my first as race announcer entertaining some 7,000 runners who were waiting eagerly to be flagged off.  I really got a high doing that, truly enjoyed the electrifying atmosphere then.

Another outdoor event that I enjoyed most was the inaugural blueseventy Aquathlon event at Orchid Country Club though monetary gain came to naught.  Admittedly, turnout was not to our expectation owing to clash of a similar event on same day.  We had less than 400 but the whole experience was unique for the participants as well as for us, the organisers.  It was our first managing the swim leg where each swimmer took the plunge into the pool at every 10 seconds interval and boy, it turned out well.  It was a personal project with Pekya and in collaboration with blueseventy, our sponsor.

If there is one event I didn't enjoy a bit in 2016, it should be the iWheel For Fun event 👎.  I actually lost interest in the event midway through it; more to do with personality clash with some and I was even prepared to drop it completely had it not for my partner who was persistent all the way - thanks to him actually.  Notwithstanding, we bite the bullet to make sure the event went on without hitches and after that, I just want to put all this saga behind.  Not my kind of event I must say 😅 .

The second edition for OCC 3Ten Run in September this year was another challenging one for us.  Unique because the run was in the golf course but somehow, it just didn't get the hype from the running community.  We tried hard, really hard to promote it and the run event went on and ended well too.  The laying of the plywood over the drain that covers some 4 km within the golf course was a nightmarish experience.  I went back home at about 3 am in the morning after the event, took my 'so called dinner' at the 24-hour McDonald's near home.  Event organiser like us never had it easy sometimes; rather most of the times.          

In between, I have had the opportunity to facilitate some corporate events like Munich Re, Canon Singapore and Hard Rock Cafe.  In fact, Munich Re is my repeat client.  I must be good, right?  If I don't measure up, they won't want me to facilitate the second time, right?  Hmm, I am not humble leh, lavishing praises on my own.  This time I brought the whole team on a cruise vessel and made them swim, run, make up cabin and set up dining table including their CEO 😀 .   Importantly, they had a good time onboard....I win liao lor!

Many friends have predicted 2017 to be one challenging year especially with twitter king, Donald Trump in-charge of the sole superpower.  Dangerous situation if handled badly but guess, everyone is in if it has to happen.  On the contrary, I am looking forward to 2017 with positive hope for some of our events planned for the year.  For starter, we will have our Run For Light 2017 happening on 14 Jan at the iconic Gardens By The Bay.  It is also our first where we will attempt to break the Guinness World Records for the largest resistance band demonstration on the event day.  Wish us luck, people!  Happy New Year to all!!!