Friday, December 26, 2008

Bintan redux

The Indonesian island of Bintan can be an idyllic getaway for the weary traveller caught up in the hustle and bustle of city life. To start off with, there is Bintan Club Med, for those who really want to relax and let the resort take care of everything, from organising activities for the kids to cooking up a storm to snorkeling. That's Club Med's style. But for those who have a limited budget, you can try Bintan Nirwana Beach Club or the lesser known Bintan Agro Beach Resort. Those more discerning will certainly check into the Banyan Tree Resort and Angsana Resorts, both promising Spa facilities and luxurious living quarters.

I was down in Bintan this month. Over the years, I have been to this island, which is 2 times the size of Singapore, about 3 times - all for holidays and relaxation. Frankly, there is nothing much else you can do on this island, unless you want to live and work there like the locals. I doubt that Singaporeans will ever survive the hygiene conditions. Anyway, there aren't any industrial parks on this island akin to those on the Indonesia island of Batam, probably because Batam is nearer to Singapore.

The first time I came here, the company I worked in, which has less than 15 people, treated its employees to a stay in Bintan Lagoon Resort. The second time I came I stayed in the Banyu Biru Villas, which are made up only of 2-storey Bungalows that accomodated from 4 to 8 persons. The family could cook their own meals here as all bungalows came with a kitchen. I have the best memories of my visits to Bintan here. We booked into an 8-person bungalow with the extended family, but one day into the stay, a nephew had tummy aches and the concerned parents took the boy home to Singapore. Over the next few days, others in the extended family left, family by family (they had committed to stay only that many number of days) until mine was left. Suddenly it felt spacious for 3 people to live in an 8-person bungalow, but I couldn't complain. It was really idyllic. All told, beach resorts can be quite noisy and crowded.

This year, I checked into a less expensive beach resort - the Agro Beach Resort. Bintan hasn't changed a lot since my last visit about 8 years ago. This time, I had the pleasure of a young tour guide all to myself as we travelled into town for a shopping trip. She is a native and a Chinese. We struck up a conversation and she told me about life on the island, the school system and the school that she attended as the bus passed by it. Schools in Bintan didn't teach English. The language of instruction was Indonesian, and they don't have a 'second language' taught in schools. Whatever other language they knew was picked up at home (their Chinese dialects) through their parents and elders. They learnt how to speak Mandarin through Singapore's Channel 8 Chinese language channel, watching the drama serials on TV, which they can receive quite clearly on this island.

I shared a little of what life was like in Singapore. She has relatives in Hougang, Singapore, which she lives with whenever she goes to Singapore. We compared notes on the good and not so good points about living in Bintan and in Singapore, on Bintan's relative under-development, compared to say, Malaysia or even Batam, and everything else in-between. I was sorry about the rest of the people in the bus, but as I had chosen the seat right at the front, it was only natural that she spoke more to me than anyone else.

Yes, coming back to Bintan never ceases to engage and refresh me.

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