Tuesday, March 31, 2015

B2B (Batam to Bintan, Indonesia) Ride Day 1




Pic - Judith

Pic - Berenda

Pic - Berenda

Pic - Berenda

Pic - Berenda


Pic - Berenda

I have always enjoyed riding the Riau Islands so when a request for me to organise one came up, it was not too difficult to say yes. Ying Chang had 2 cycling friends who wanted to try touring and so it was a delight to put one together. We have done a similar trip before some years back.

Our fun team of Ying Chang, VT, Claudine, Berenda and Judith had an amazing time riding and eating, or should I say more precisely, eating and riding our way through Batam and Bintan. For the rest of the story, we are privileged to have a guest contributor in Lovethefold for the first time!

I enjoyed reading it so much and I know you will to. Thank you Makan Mata for your kind permission to share this on LTF! 

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Written with my basic, broken, "convent school" English, I humbly share my reflections on Day 1 ride. Rather uneventful. Pardon my England though

Batam & Bintan Tour - 27 Feb to 2 March

Day 1 - The start of an Adventure!
The day started early for VT and Claudine. 5 am they were up and about. Taxi arrived at 6 am. Traffic into Singapore was good. They arrived at Harbour Front around 7.15 am, geared up and went in search for breakfast. Breakfast was an egg and ham wrap, downed with a cuppa of Cappuccino. Meanwhile, YC and Alvin were enjoying a McDonald breakfast. Berenda and Judith pedaled power to Harbour Front from their homes. Everyone arrived almost at the same time at the ticket centre at Harbour Front.

Pic - Berenda

Ferry tickets to Batam were purchased. Only SGD25 one way per pax for a journey of 50 minutes. The "not do good deal" is the porter charge of SGD10 to get our bikes up to the ferry. We set sail at 8.40 am. Judith's and Berenda's Bromptons were compact enough to be placed inside the passenger's area. Alvin's Tikit, YC's Dahon, Claudine's Tern and VT's La Pierre hybrid went to the open deck at the stern. Size does matter!

Pic - Berenda

Claudine and VT chose to sit at the open deck with the bikes as she tends to get sea sick easily.
The other team members prefered the plusher seats at the air conditioned passenger's area instead.
At Batam, VT and Claudine hurriedly disembarked. They thought they were one the last few passengers. However at immigration, there were no signs of the rest of the team. They then proceeded to the arrival hall to collect their bikes hoping to see them.

Strange!

Everyone else's bikes were at the baggage area. But they were not in sight! After much waiting, they finally spotted the other team members clearing immigration. It was revealed that they were seated at the hull of the ferry, waited for everyone to disembark, then, carried the bikes off the ferry. So, the SGD10 porter charge on the  bikes was for one way only!!! Thank you, team! 

Potty break for the boys and girls at the ferry terminal. When Claudine exited her stall, the whole lock fell off and off she ran! 

Suit up and off we went!

Just 5 minutes later, our first Brekkie at Ayam Bakar Presto. Alvin introduced the group to Teh Botol, which is actually bottled iced tea. Berenda ordered 5 pisang goreng while YC wanted a toast. The toast came in some chocolate spread and desiccated coconut.The pisang goreng however, needed patience. When it was finally served, it was not an order of 5 banana fritters but 5 plates of them. The bananas were drizzled with chocolate syrup and sprinkled with grated cheese. Yummy!!! Some young Indonesian men having breakfast at the same shop had a pleasant surprise when Alvin handed them 2 plates of pisang goreng, compliments from the team!


We began our more serious riding in Batam. Hot sun, hills but 30 mins later, another stop! This time, at a Nasi Padang shop. Claudine however was feeling breathless, then paled, finally threw up outside. Out came banana cheese. I guess everyone lost their appetite after that. The poor proprietor only managed to profit from drinks that day.

The ride continued in the hot sun. More hills. Spotted!!! Children on their home run, after school! Then, the air started to feel cooler. There!!! The ocean!!! And within minutes, we wheeled into Panggor Ferry Terminal. IDR2,000 per person for a ferry ride to Tanjung Uban.

Pic - Judith

Getting onto the ferry was a balancing act. No gang plank. You hop onto one boat, then you hop onto your designated boat, hoping not to fall into the sea! VT's hybrid bike was too big to go into the ferry. So, it went up the roof and had to be held down with ropes. Again, size does matter!
Pic - Berenda

Within 20 minutes, we arrived at Tanjung Uban, a small town by the sea. Again, the men played "passing parcel" to get the bikes off the boat. Thank you, brawns!

Lunch was at the first corner shop on the right, just outside the terminal. Ayam Goreng with Kerisik Kelapa, Sotong Sumbat Masak Lemak, Tauhu Goreng, Daging Cencang and Sambal Hijau make for pleasant burping!

We then proceeded to check out Panjang Jiwo Spa. 1 hour massage for IDR90,000. Having made bookings for massages, we then checked into our rooms at Hotel Pesona and agreed to regroup for tea. Alvin and YC went for massage, followed by Berenda and Judith. VT and Claudine were more interested in food. They came back with watermelon and Bakwan (vege fritters).

Pic - Berenda

When the team met again, tea was the next thing to do. Alvin ordered 20 sticks of Satay Padang. The satay man served us 3 plates of 20 sticks each before we hurriedly put a stop to it. He was thinking 20 sticks for each person!!!

Berenda and Judith were sent to secure Otak-otak. They came back with 10 otak-otak fish and 10 otak-otak sotong. Immediately after tea, we proceeded to dinner. More like a makanthon than a bicycle tour!
Dinner was at a restaurant by the sea, on stilts, swaying whenever a boat passes by. Sunset and seafood delight! Hors d'oeuvres was Gonggong, a type of sea snail, boiled in salt and dipped in chili sauce. Main courses were curry prawns, hot plate tofu, kangkung belacan, squid fried with salted egg and Foo Yong egg.


Pic - Judith

After the great tuck in, more drinks and coffee, a good dose of free wifi, the team left for some shopping. Alvin led the group through a narrow alley between the shops. The alley was dimly lit by orange light bulbs. The platform was an assemble of 5 wooden planks but as you go further in, some were broken and you then ended up with 4 planks and later only 3!!!!

The day was beginning to turn into a circus performance with boats hopping, bicycle juggling and now, walking on narrow planks pathway!

The boys checked out a bicycle shop while the girls were busy shopping for batik sarongs. Cheap! Price range from IDR55,000 to IDR65,000. Then, poop! Darkness!!! Power failure!

A norm in Tanjung Uban. No screaming or crying of frightened children left in the dark. Even the sarong shop had a ready back up light , powered by a generator. After much selection and very little haggling, Berenda and Judith came out with 5 sarongs! This was when they started regretting! Extra mass for the next few days!

Pic Berenda

The team cycled in the dark back to the hotel. Power failure and after working hours forced everyone out into the streets. There were so many motorcycles that night! The team was relieved that the hotel had a huge generator. Even the air conditioning in the rooms were still running. But nobody really wanted to stay indoors. After much debate, the team decided to venture onto the streets.

A pleasant surprise! As soon as they were ready to step out, power was back! Hurray!!!

One stall's sign read murtabak but it was the Chinese Ban Chan Kueh. Alvin said no to Satay Padang. There were more signs of Mie Basah, Tauhu Goreng and such! Then we came upon a supermarket! Mini Magnum with almond!

On our return trip to the hotel, VT spotted a sign, Terang Bulan. The stall owner explained he serves murtabak. Curiosity got to us, because we returned to order just one piece for trying. This murtabak was clearly no ban chan kueh. It is more like an Indian murtabak. Here, minced beef with egg and spring onions are wrapped in roti canai but deep fried. It was delish! More tea and coffee to go with Murtabak.


Then our makanthon continued on our return walk to the hotel. This time, Putu Buloh. Steamed rice cake, flavored with pandan juice, filled with gula Melaka and topped with grated coconut. Another yummmmmm!!!! This Putu Buloh owner was on a mobile stall powered by his motorcycle. He gave us a goodnight story of how he went about selling his food with a bamboo whistle, powered by steam, instead of using the conventional motorcycle horn. With that bamboo whistle, he had personalized his own call!

Key information:

Harbourfront to Batam Centre - 1 hr ferry ($10 bike handling fee)
Batam Centre to Telega Punggor - 18km bike ride
TP to Tg Uban - 20 min ferry
Accommodation in Tg Uban - Hotel Pesona


Sunday, March 29, 2015

A great man rode the bicycle

Designed by LCSG's Joeel Lee. My fellow Singaporean, avid cyclist and good friend.


Today the 29th of March is a very significant day for Singapore, and perhaps for the world too. After a long and painful week, the founding father of Singapore Mr Lee Kuan Yew was finally laid to rest. Since his passing away at 3:18am 23 March at 91 years old, people have been writing and reflecting on the accomplishments of this great man. He is truly God's good gift to Singapore. My life was put on hold these few days as I poured through every article I could find.



I was riveted reading about his growing up years, his political awakening during the Japanese Occupation during 42-45, his days at Cambridge as a Queen's Scholar, his courtship and secret marriage to his soul mate Kwa Geok Choo, his amazing work as a young lawyer with the trade unions and his election to office as Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959. After steering Singapore through a very difficult period with Malaya as part of the Federation, Singapore became independent in 1965. Since then, he and his team had taken Singapore from Third World to First World and the economic miracle is well known. At his most dignified funeral today, his impact not just in Singapore but the world was seen and felt. Over 150 foreign dignitaries paid their respect to Lee Kuan Yew. Heads and former heads of states from USA, China, Britain, Australia, Japan, Korea, Asean and even the King of Bhutan came personally to honour this great man. People queued over 8 hours in line just to pay their respects to him at Parliament House.

In my readings, I was very pleased to learn that the first thing he bought as a young man when he got his scholarship money in 1940 was to get a 3 speed Raleigh bicycle at $70 . This was significant to me as I remembered my own grandfather telling me that he too owned a Raleigh bicycle which he rode from Katong to Fullerton Building where he worked as a clerk. My father too inherited his Raleigh later on.


At that time, it was interesting that Raleigh had just introduced a 4 speed Sturmey Archer hub and this was available as an option to the already popular 3 speed model. This is a 1940 Raleigh advertisement that the young LKY probably drooled over.


I wonder what happened to his brand new Raleigh bicycle when WW2 broke out and Singapore was under Japanese rule for 3.5 years. LKY was a survivor and got a job as a translator as well as manufactured stationery gum under the brand Stikfas to supplement his income. Through quick thinking, he helped his family survived by concealing rice in jars cleverly covered on top with unsuspecting material.

When the war ended, LKY went to Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge where he described the roads as having many bicycles but only a few cars, buses and trucks making it ideal for cycling. He wrote that most teaching staff and students got around on bicycles and he bought himself a used one for 8 pounds.  When his girl friend finally joined him a year later, he used to ride to Girton some 5 miles away.


This experience with the bicycle continued with him as he journeyed through life, and riding his bicycle around the grounds of the Istana, the official residence for the Prime Minister, was part of his strict exercise routine.  He rode as well as swam religiously, which explained his excellent health all the way to his 80s. He only stopped cycling when he fell and age had finally caught up with him. Even then, he had a stationary exercise bicycle.


When interviewed about his thoughts on cycling, he remarked that "I think we should really consider special tracks for cyclists. Encourage it, then instead of this LRT and so on you have bicycle racks at MRT stations. It's better for everybody's health, it's better for the environment and it's certainly better than having the place or having the roads overcrowded with cars, taxis, buses. Doesn't make sense to me."

Mr Lee Kuan Yew is no longer with us and the best way to honour him is to carry on his great legacies. I cannot build economies nor shape governments or influence world leaders like him. But I can continue his simple legacy of cycling. Through his love for the humble bicycle, which has given him so much joy as a young man, helped him blossom his romance in Cambridge and kept him in the pink of health throughout his life, he has added another title that few know about - that of a cycling legend, at least in my books.

A great man like him rode a bicycle, and perhaps more of us should. In that sense, all of us who cycle are kindred spirits and I cannot think of a better way of honouring Singapore's founding father the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.


Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God. James 1:17


A Father's Love - Despite being an extremely busy man, LKY found time to teach his young son Lee Hsien Loong (presently the PM) how to ride a bicycle.

"When I learned to ride a bicycle, he was there.  Once when I was just getting the hang of balancing on two wheels, he pushed me off from behind to get me started. I pedalled off across the field, thinking that he was still supporting and pushing me. Then I looked back after a few minutes and and few seconds later I found that actually he had let go, and I was cycling on my own! He was so pleased, and so was I."
*LHL eulogy on 29 March 2015



Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Riding into the Belly of the MCP - inside finally, and out!

















We were very excited when we got up but first things first. Betong is famed for great Dim Sum breakfasts and we were not disappointed. The corner coffee shop just at the exit of the Betong Mongkollit Tunnel was a hive of activity in the early morning, buzzing with hungry customers. Betong has a sizeable Chinese population and this is reflected in its great cuisine. We ordered all our favourites and were pleasantly surprised at the price!

                                             

After the wonderful Dim Sum breakfast, we did a bit of a walkabout around town to aid digestion. It was interesting to walk past Holiday Hill, the hotel that took the full brunt of the car bomb in July. Heartening to know that it has been repaired and nearly ready for business.

                                              

It was very fascinating too to walk into a Chinese Temple up on the hill where lots of Chinese folk legends were depicted in statures and stories. Our camera had a field day trying to capture the multitude of colours and images before us. Our next agenda was the main agenda - The Piyamit Tunnels. Instead of cycling, we decided to get a 250B rented scooter to make our way there and this proved the wisest thing ever. Located 20+ km away near the Hot Springs, getting there was challenging even for our 125cc Fuel Injected Honda Click that strained and groaned up those mountainous inclines.


Our first stop was the Winter Flower Garden. Located high up in the mountains, it was nice and cool making it very conducive for plants and flowers. There are accommodations here and it is worth a stay with fresh mountain air. We enjoyed a great cup of freshly brewed Cappuccino, on a lovely deck overlooking the lake before riding down to the main attraction.

The Piyamit Tunnels of Betong was the launching point in the late 70s of many attacks by the Malayan Communist Party in their fight, firstly for independence from the British, and later for a communist Malaya. They were driven here from the jungles of Malaysia by the British and I was surprised that this was built as recently as 1976, nearly 30 years after The Emergency. It took only 3 months to construct with numerous tunnels dug in the rugged mountains and it was of course, bomb proof. The tunnels was the food and ammo centre for the MCP Army as well as had a hospital in the caves.


We had the privilege of meeting Ms Chung, a former MCP soldier who lived in the jungles for 12 years. She now works as a guide together with her former colleagues and is a wealth of information. Food was always scarce and the suffering they endured for their cause is truly admirable.

                  

There is a museum too which displays uniforms, weapons, cooking utensil, propaganda materials and even musical instruments. What was really sad was an internal purge that killed off many innocent members. I came away feeling very sorry for the MCP as their struggle since WW2 until 1989 when a peace treaty was finally achieved in Hat Yai, yielded not one square inch of soil for the MCP, and with so many people killed on both sides.


We felt very compelled to help out these ex-soldiers who by the grace of the Thai government, have settled at the border and spend their time seeking a living selling souvenirs and stuff to tourists at the entrance of the tunnels.
Riding back to Betong town, we had to navigate through some very steep descends so much so that the front disk brake of our scooter, with 2 of us on board, struggled to keep us from going off the steep cliffs. It was hairy to say the least. Lunch was taken at the many roadside stalls and once again, we were bowled over by the friendly locals. We did a bit of exploring Betong town and by chance, stumbled upon a workshop specialising in restoring old Mercedes Benz. The mechanic proudly invited us to have a peek inside the bonnet, and behold, these grand dames were replaced by none other than Toyota engines. He swore that these engines were more powerful and more economical than the originals and his happy customers can't be wrong!
 
 

As we were all tired out, we enjoyed another massage in town and decided to try the lovely street food outside our Hotel. We were spoilt for choice and we tried everything, this being our last evening. As much as we enjoyed our dinner, I was a little worried.
 
Our problem was how to get back to Malaysia and thereon to Singapore some 700+km away. There used to be a coach to KL from Betong by Alison Golden Coach but this was unavailable. In fact, there were no big coaches that come to Betong, despite this being a rather prominent border town. Out of options, we had no choice but to cycle across the border into Malaysia once more into Pengkalan Hula where there are buses that went to KL. Thanks to our good buddy and guru KL Mike Khor, a quick call to him got our bus tickets confirmed to KL at 930am and it was so kind and generous of him to treat us.
 

The next day we left early in the morning for the border after a lovely breakfast in the food court of the town's market. It was then an easy 8km to the Immigration and despite the climb, we felt invigorated and strong. Clearing customs on both sides was a breeze and we stopped at a hot springs resort just 3km after the border as we were early. It was nice to soak our feet in hot mineral water with no one in sight.
 

Arriving at Pengkalan Hulu, we had breakfast #2 - my favourite Nasi Lemak. If it was good enough for the well endowed local police who were feeding there, it was good enough for us. We had fun exploring the town and cycling around the lake. When our stylish double decker bus finally arrived, we folded our bikes and stored it in the luggage hold. The driver somehow was not happy about having foldies in his bus, but that was his problem. It was not till 5pm that we arrived in KL, all worn out. Thanks to some touts, we got our 2 tickets to Larkin JB and it was another 5 hrs in the bus. We arrived in JB close to midnight and enjoyed supper all red eyed.
 

When I finally got home at 2am in Singapore, I was totally all bussed out! Next time, cycling to Penang and flying home is a much better idea. But it is through times like these that make our adventures so fun and unpredictable. I slept with a thankful heart, knowing that we have entered the belly of the MCP and came home in one piece. But more importantly, we experienced a part of history in ways that books and videos cannot convey. We stood where the MCP Army once stood, we walked the caves that they dug, we breathe the same musty air that they breathed and saw and heard for ourselves, first hand their struggles and their hopes.

Lord Action once said that History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul. By that token, our souls have indeed been illumined and for that, we are humbled and grateful. Thus, may we always challenge ourselves to discover the rich history of the places we tour. My appreciation goes out to KC for his partnership in yet another successful Lovethefold Adventure and of course, to Almighty God who protects and provides for us so faithfully!
 
Pics fm KC and Al