Bali Back to Back

I had a chance to visit Bali twice within a few months.

Lebaran Family Trip

First was during the Lebaran holiday, in which I can absolutely say no to all my work. With my wife, son, and mom-in-law, we spent 4 days of colorful vacation in Bali. Considering our 23 months old boy Desmond, we wasn’t really¬†kiasu about taking early flight to Bali. Instead, we took a 3 PM flight, that led us to 6 PM arrival time in Bali. Upon landing, mom and Desmond had their dinner at the airport, being afraid of starving in the middle of traffic jam. Yunnie wanted Nasi Pedas Ibu Andika for dinner, so she and I decided to delay our dinner. However, learning from the traffic jam that actually happened, we cancelled the plan and had dinner at a restaurant near our hotel instead. To console ourselves, we bought some peanuts and beers (a bit of luxury back in our hometown) to end the day in our room (after Desmond fell asleep, of course).

Beach Life
Beach Life

Next day was beach day. After breakfast, we walked to Kuta to enjoy the beach. Desmond was very happy playing with the sand, Yunnie was enthusiastic in finding pretty shells to bring back home, while I played with the water. We spent more than two hours at the beach, then back to the hotel. Turned out our hotel was close to a popular food spot called “Sate Babi Bawah Pohon”. The bad news was to order some portion of it, I had to queue for about 45 minutes. We won’t risk Desmond to fall asleep before lunch, so he had their lunch inside the hotel restaurant, while the Sates are reserved for the rest of us.

We continued by buying some oleh-olehs at Krisna. It may confuse foreigners as it’s just a huge building selling snacks and clothes. However, for Indonesians it’s more than enough for them to buy all kinds of oleh-olehs all in one place. Then, we beat another traffic jam to go to Nasi Pedas Ibu Andika, the food Yunnie had been craving at from the previous day. Yunnie was the happiest, but mom was not really happy as the menu was all to spicy for Desmond (well, Desmond was happy too, he didn’t care). Therefore, after Nasi Pedas, we walked again about 1 km to find a “decent” food. KFC was the choice, and now Desmond and mom were both happy.

Penyu Island
Penyu Island

Third day, we traveled to another hotel. It’s a hotel that’s much closer to the airport, so we wouldn’t have difficulty catching our morning flight the next day. After leaving our bags at the reception, we took a cab to Tanjung Benoa, where an (overpriced) boat took us to Pulau Penyu (Tortoise Island). Aside from tortoises, the island also hosts snake, cockatoo bird, iguana, and other various animals. For lunch, we headed to the Pirate Bay restaurant at Nusa Dua. The waiter were hectic, not ready for sudden peak in visitors during lebaran. Many customers were complaining of their food not being delivered on time, and when I asked for a menu, the manager answered with pessimistic tone. Finally, he gave the menu after he was sure that I am okay to wait for an hour before our food was delivered. The food was (as usual) overpriced but not disappointing. Last night in Bali, we had a simple Chinese meal and a gelato to wrap up the day.

Last day, we woke up really early to catch our 8 AM flight. Desmond was still sleeping when we left the hotel, but very happy to play when he woke up at the airport. The flight was smooth, and we were back in Bandung in no time.

WSDC Business Trip

WSDC 2017 App

About a month after our first trip to Bali, I had a chance to visit this Island of God again. Our team had been trusted to build the mobile app for the World School Debating Championship 2017 event (if you’re curious, you can download the Android or iOS app). Me and my colleague Tommy arrived in Bali on 31 July evening, one day before delegations arrived in Bali. We then had a meeting until midnight, for final preparation.

Second day was absolutely boring for us. Most of the other committees were busy and the app was in the process of being distributed to the delegations, so no actual work was needed. Most of our time was spent inside our room in the Inna Grand hotel, while we occasionally walked to Sanur Paradise Plaza Hotel, where most committees and delegations are located (+/- 500 meters apart).

WSDC Photo Session
WSDC Photo Session

Third day, activities were starting in the event. There were requests from the committee of pushing announcements to participants’ mobile devices, one killer feature of our app. We also published daily newsletter prepared by the team to the app. Having get used in Bali, we walked further to look for good food for our lunch. We wanted to have a babi guling (roasted pork) as recommended by Google Maps and walked 1 km from our hotel. Too bad the place was closed for religious ceremony, and we had regular satay for lunch instead. In the evening, we joined the other committees and delegations to go to Institut Seni Indonesia Denpasar for opening ceremony. The ceremony was grand and Tommy was astonished with the performances.

Fourth day, I stayed in the hotel until lunchtime, as I had video call meetings with my students. Tommy went out with the committees to watch the first day of debates. At lunch time, I went to visit them at SMAN 1, one of debate venues. Tommy was not really impressed with the debate, with most of the time trying to not get asleep. At night, we had dinner at a simple seafood restaurant near the hotel. The restaurant, named “Mak Beng” was interesting, as it only serves one type of set menu: steamed rice, fried fish, and fish soup for IDR 45.000,-.

With the Jokomobile
With the Jokomobile

Fifth day, I woke up early to have morning run as usual. What was unusual, was many soldiers with their rifle were standing around the beach. Furthermore, entrance to the hotel building was guarded by another soldiers and metal detector. It turned out that our president Joko Widodo was staying at the hotel, to attend an event in Bali. After 15 minutes of waiting at the lobby, there were no sign of Mr. Widodo, so I decided to just take a picture with his car. Afterwards, I let Tommy having his personal time in Kuta, while I travelled to SMAN 7 to watch one debate match. It was an interesting debate between Czech Republic and Uganda on the motion of “This House would deny tax-exempt status to religious institutions that refuses to appoint female leaders”. It was interesting to note that Czech Republic, being located in Europe, took the Catholic Church as the main example during the debate. Uganda on the other hand, tried to insert Islam into the discussion, at least at the end of the debate. Major religion of Uganda is also Catholic, but I believe they understand more the situation in the third world countries. Unfortunately, they still lost to Czech Republic on this debate.

The day was closed with so-called “Cultural Night”. Located at Inna Grand Hotel’s pool side, each country opened a table showing their culture specials including local foods. Sweden offered me an innocent black jelly that turned out to be super salty liquorice candy (and watched me cringed with a big smile). Germany, having lost both matches that day, had a small note “At least we’re good at football” written on their table. Two handsome Qatar guys offered a super nice dates with their thawb¬†(special Arab clothes). What surprised everyone was after about an hour of cultural sharing, a DJ came out and start playing loud music (bet you won’t find it in WSDC official newsletter). Though it’s debatable whether this is in line with Indonesian culture or not, it did manage to let everyone released their tension, dancing to the beat but cleanly without alcohol.

Last day for me, I took a last picture of myself in Bali, in front of WSDC background. I had to come home early before the event finished at 11 August. Though my flight was at 13.20, I left hotel as early as 9.00 to buy some oleh-olehs. My Garuda Indonesia flight managed to entertain me with an episode of Big Bang Theory, a sitcom that I have not watched for a long time.

I really hope to visit Bali again sometime. It never ceases to amaze me.

Kuala Lumpur and Asian 5 Nations

Petaling Jaya Stadium

After a very long time, I finally had a chance to travel again. This time, was for Kuala Lumpur. My brother had the privilege to be the captain for Indonesia’s rugby team participating in HSBC Asian 5 Nations Rugby tournament. My dad was very excited to watch him playing, so he asked me and my wife to accompany him on this trip.

The three of us started our journey on Tuesday morning from Soekarno Hatta’s (CGK) Terminal 3. It was my first time flying from Terminal 3, and I had to admit that it was very well designed, despite its status as a budget terminal. Probably also because it was the youngest compared to Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. After two hour flight, we arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport’s Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT), a terminal built mostly for Air Asia flights only. This time, the phrase “low cost” really made sense. From the aircraft we had to walk to the terminal building for a few hundreds meter, and one can easily gets mixed up with domestic passengers or even those who were about to board the aircraft. Later I found out that this terminal was formerly a cargo terminal and used temporarily while they are building the new KLIA2 budget terminal.

A taxi ride from the airport to our hotel at Petaling Jaya cost around MYR 100 (SGD 40). At first I was surprised by the expensive fare for such ride, but even more surprised with distance when we started riding the cab. Spanning more than 50 km, it’s more than the length of Singapore from west to east! After almost one hour journey, we checked in at Eastin Hotel and looked for something to eat for our lunch.We found a small malay food stall amidst the commercial building. It reminded me of the food I used to eat in Singapore: relatively bland taste with some extra spices to replace chemical taste enhancer.

Pascal & Gorilla DollAfter lunch, we took the hotel’s free shuttle bus that brought us to Tropicana City Mall, where we bought some snacks and bottled mineral waters for our stock at the hotel. I didn’t miss the chance to buy some packs of Old Town brand coffee. Thanks to my former colleague Ronald, I became obsessed with this brand since I left Singapore. It is very expensive to buy in Indonesia, and it’s just half price when I bought it there. We wanted to buy a local mobile number for MYR 10, but I forgot to bring our passport with us, so the seller didn’t allow us to get one. We spent the evening by visiting another shopping mall, The Curve. It is adjacent to Ikea furniture shop, but we had only energy left to had our dinner there. I had the infamous Swedish meatballs dish, but unlike in Singapore the meatballs were made from lamb instead of pork, as the majority of Malaysians are moslems. We went back to the hotel at 9 PM, with another free shuttle bus provided by the shopping mall.

The next day, was the day of my brother’s match. It would start at 3 PM, so we had some time in the morning to explore Kuala Lumpur. We took a cab to KL Sentral, the hub for various transportation modes. From there, we took the Kuala Lumpur’s Hop-On Hop-Off bus. For about MYR 35 per person ticket, we could take a double decker bus ride to 23 destinations around Kuala Lumpur. As we didn’t have the whole day, we planned for two destinations to visit: the infamous Petronas Twin Tower and Chinatown. The rest, we would just take a good look from inside the bus.

Istana NegaraWe passed about 11 stops before the Petronas Twin Tower. At some stops, the bus waited for 5-10 minutes to maintain the 30 minutes interval, as well as giving the passenger a chance to take a quick look on the tourist spot. One of the interesting spots is the Istana Negara (national palace), where visitors can take picture with one of the two guards on a horse in front of the gate. Somehow I pity them, having all those military trainings just to be the object of tourist photography.

At around 10.30 PM, we arrived at the Twin Tower. The towers were as tall as advertised, but entry ticket cost a whopping MYR 80 (SGD 32) per person. We were not sure what we could get by paying that much, but didn’t want to take the risk of disappointment. We then just wandered around the shopping mall that is located just under the tower, but had to wait until 11.30 PM for the next bus to come. We continued our bus trip, but had been exhausted thanks to our earlier activities and the heat that started to come nearing noon.

What’s left from us were regained when we arrived at Chinatown. My dad liked my idea of having a bak kut teh (sorry, it’s not halal – but turned out there’s a halal version as explained here) for lunch, so we started looking for one. After few minutes of desperate attempt to find one, I finally went to a dessert stall to ask the seller for a good bak kut teh restaurant around, in exchange for two cold puddings purchase. The bak kut teh restaurant, is called “Big Mouth”, and located in a small alley not far from the dessert stall. The delicious bak kut teh plus the surrounding made me feel like inside a Hong Kong gangster movie somehow, which was a good experience.

It was almost 2 PM after lunch, which means we had to quickly find a cab to bring us to the rugby game venue in Petaling Jaya stadium. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the exact postal address. One taxi driver refused to take us, but another one boldly accept the challenge with only the fact that we should exit from highway at SS7, and a point in low resolution Google Map, thanks to the unavailability of data plan. After about half an hour journey, we arrived at a stadium in a middle of nowhere. The taxi driver insisted that that’s the stadium we were looking for, based on the fact that’s the only stadium around. But there was no signs of a match going to happen, so I insisted him to wait while I double checked with an officer on duty there. It turned out to be true, we came to the wrong stadium. Luckily the office gladly told me and the driver how to go to the correct stadium. He even rushed us after knowing that the kick off will commence in a few minutes left.

We finally arrived at Petaling Jaya stadium. But there was another problem, we alighted at the opposite side of the stadium entrance, it was raining, and the cab had already left us. That means we had to walk half the circumference of the stadium to get inside without cover. Luckily, there was another cab and the driver was taking a break inside. Not wanting my dad and wife to get sick, I asked him for his service.

“Where?”

“That side!”, I told him while pointing my finger to the opposite side of the stadium.

Confused at first, he finally accepted the ride for a token of MYR 3 (the official minimum taxi fare).

MBPJ StadiumWe spent the first half of the game trying to find where was my brother. We then found out he was wearing shirt #7, after asking another viewer who turned out to be a Malaysian studying in Jakarta, having played for Indonesia’s Banteng rugby club. Sadly, it was an uneven match for Indonesia, as Guam beaten them 38-17. Understandable, considering short training time for Indonesia, and the captain’s injury just a day before the match. However, we heard the good news days after we went back, that Indonesia beaten China for 37-13 on the final, securing the place in division 3.

Our return to the hotel was quite challenging, as the stadium was out of nowhere. After wandering about half an hour, we finally found a cab that could take us to the hotel area. However, we decided to go back to Tropicana City Mall instead, to get some consolation ice creams and stock up our bottled water for the night. Then we took another cab to the hotel. We were quite exhausted that evening, but still had the energy to wander around the hotel area for another local food dinner. We finally picked an Malay-Indian restaurant. It was almost closing, so the menu was limited. We ordered fried rices for our dinner, and got back to the hotel to rest.

The next day, we just laid down at the hotel, waiting for our flight back to Jakarta at 3PM in the afternoon. The three of us had to finish off about ten valencia oranges my dad had bought earlier due to extreme discount at the shopping mall, an offer he couldn’t refuse. After a desperate attempt to eat one by one, I squeezed the rest of oranges to make an orange juice, with help of a clean plastic bag. It didn’t taste so bad after all, but my dad refused to drink it after he knew where I got the plastic bag from (guess yourself). I spent the rest of the morning swimming with my dad, followed by preparing our stuffs for checkout.

KLIAThe hotel’s taxi ride to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) cost almost MYR 150, but luckily I asked for another option. A regular cab cost only MYR 100. Still more expensive than taking a SkyBus from KL Sentral, but we didn’t have the luxury of time anymore. We wandered around at KLIA main building for a moment, had lunch there, and took a shuttle bus to the LCCT, as our flight would took off from there. The journey lasted for half an hour, a long trip considering both are in the same area. The check in experience in LCCT was no better than the arrival. We had to walk quite a distance from entrance to the check in counter, immigration and the boarding gate. There were limited signages, and one can easily mixed up too, when walking from the boarding gate to the aircraft. On the bright side, the airport was generally clean and well-ordered.

Our flight take off at 3 PM closed our journey to Kuala Lumpur, with most of us sleeping in the plane.

YunnieBy the way, it’s my wife birthday today; somehow coincide with the hotel birthday. Check out also my brother’s game and winning speech here.

Be Amazed in Beijing!

Journey to Beijing

It was Sunday afternoon at home, when I watched the Singapore Open 2010 final. Indonesia’s Sony Dwi Kuncoro played against Thailand’s Boonsak. It was a tough match for both, but in the end Sony won the game and took the championship. As an Indonesian I am proud of him winning the game.

But never thought of meeting him in person.

Early morning next day, I went to the airport to take a flight to Beijing. The company I work for has a program for selected newcomers of less than 3 years. The 130 of us were invited into a team-building-like program in Beijing, namely “Be Amazed in Beijing!”. I met my Indonesian colleague Hermanto at the airport, who was also attending the same program. We then went to the immigration gate, but just when we were about to go through it, I saw the most unexpected person: Sony Dwi Kuncoro himself! Building up courage, we approached him to congratulate and ask for some pictures. First impression was he is a shy yet very nice person. Well, I was already amazed even in Singapore!

Afterwards, we had a light breakfast and boarded the plane with another friend Hafidh and Olga. We took off at 9.30 AM sharp. The flight was a bit boring, especially because we didn’t sit at the same row. Around 3.30 PM, we landed in Beijing, and took a taxi to the hotel. Apparently taxi drivers in Beijing do not speak English well, and we had difficulty to talk with the driver at first. Lucky I brought a city map with a pointer to the hotel location, so we managed to tell him the destination.

Around 7 PM, we came down to the hotel open space to have dinner in standing party style. It was also a chance to know each other. It was interesting to meet different people from different departments from around the world; but even more interesting when I tried the meals provided. There was one food that tasted like cockles, and I ate them without reading the label. Only afterward I read the label, and found out that they were in fact snails! However it tasted good; and when I told this to a French guy, he said “Oh, we have that in France: escargot!”.

Exploring Beijing

The following days were mostly occupied with workshops and interactions with top management; but there were other interesting things as well. On one day, we had to play a game on exploring the city of Beijing, Amazing Race style. Our team were given the initial clue, then left in the middle of Hutongs area. There were some challenges, one of which was to find the “Silver Bridge”. Fortunately we had several Beijing colleagues with us, hence finding the bridge is particularly easy. The next task was to have one of us writing Chinese calligraphy on the street. Our Caucasian friend tried it, and surprisingly we had a full score!

After we finished the challenges there, we moved to another spot, the Forbidden City. We went there by public bus, again with the help of our local Beijing colleague. We entered the north gate, where one of us was asked to play a Chinese yo-yo. One of our French friend again surprisingly played it well, and our team got another perfect score. Then we were asked to go through the Forbidden City, all the way to the South gate. Though it was quite a distance (almost 1km), we didn’t feel tired as we were amazed by the architecture of the buildings inside.

We then took the subway to go to the next stop, Temple of Heaven. At this spot, we were asked to wear Chinese traditional costumes and perform some attractions, in front of passing by tourists. Even when we started to wear the costume, tourists had already taking pictures of us. More tourists came when we were performing the macarena dance. In the end, it was a shameful yet interesting experience. After exploring the Temple of Heaven, we moved to the last spot: the Beijing National Stadium a.k.a. Bird’s Nest.

At the Bird’s Nest, unfortunately there was not enough time to play the game, so we were just taking few pictures at the outskirt of the stadium. Then we went back to the hotel.

Silk Market and Return to Singapore

Fast forward to the last day. There were no more programs to follow, and my flight would be at 3.30 PM. In the morning I and Hafidh decided to go to Silk Market, which is about 10 km from the hotel. Unfortunately we didn’t really understand the distance at that time, and we just stupidly tried to go there by walking. Only after we have passed the Chaoyang park, we realized that we could not make it on time to the market. Hence we took a taxi and arrived at the market around 10, meaning we only have an hour to shop before we have to go back to hotel for check out.

Silk Market is a traditional market, where we need to bargain with the seller to get the best price. I remember my boss told me the day before, that I should start bargain at tenth of the asked price. It was hard to swallow at first the fact that they would really raise the price up to 10 times. But in fact they did! When I asked the price for a t-shirt, the seller offered the price of RMB 185 (SGD 37) each! We tried to bargain and even threat to leave without buying, and finally he (and us) gave up with RMB 90 for 3 t-shirts. We then went to a supermarket to buy some packed foods to bring back to Singapore. There we also met an Indonesian couple who were in Beijing for holiday. After some chat, we proceeded to the cashier to pay the foods.

It was 11 already, meaning it’s time to go back to hotel to checkout at 12 noon. This time we used the subway to get to the nearest station from the hotel, followed by a taxi ride for the rest of the journey. Getting a taxi part was not so easy, since it was too close to the hotel already and most drivers were reluctant to take us for such a short distance. Fortunately we found one who were willing to take us, and we managed to check out on time.

About 1.30 PM, we arrived at the airport, but alas, the flight was delayed by an hour and half. On the other side it was blessing in disguise, since I could have more time for lunch and sightseeing inside the airport. When Hafidh and I were about to pass through the immigration check, there was a sudden commotion building up. Many girls suddenly screamed with camera in their hand, all rushing into a guy who turned out to be a Chinese celebrity. This guy was heading through the immigration as well, hence making us more difficult to pass through, considering the crowds there. Oh, and he’s not that handsome anyway.

When we finally boarded the plane at 4.30, all passengers were seated, then something scary happened. Before the plane started taxiing, the engine suddenly stopped and the electricity went off, including the air conditioner. And it happened twice. I have seen this problem many times with cars, but this was the first time I saw it happened to a plane. Few minutes before take off.

We finally took off at 6 PM, and luckily nothing bad happened during the take off and our flight to Singapore. And that was the end of this adventure.

More pictures from Beijing at this link.

Indonesia Trip (Part 2)

(continued from http://pascalalfadian.blogspot.com/2010/01/indonesia-trip-part-1.html)

Indonesians don’t really like to take public bus for inter-city travel, unless they want to save money. Instead, private companies sell services to transport people from one city to another using minivans. Very similar concept with public buses, only better. And more expensive. Locally they are simply called travel.

I took one of this travel to go to Bandung. Departed from Jakarta at around 8.30 AM, it took a smooth 2-hour journey to Bandung. Or maybe because I fell asleep during almost the whole trip, exhausted with abundant activities in part 1. At Bandung terminal, I took a cab to go my girlfriend’s house. Unfortunately the traffic was so bad in the city. There was a festival at Braga area, and the whole street was closed, causing jams on other roads as well. Slightly delayed, but I reached there just in time for lunch.

The next few days were spent visiting shopping mall for, err, shopping. We also tried watching movie in Ciwalk Premiere, whereby we can sit in a comfortable electronic controlled recliner seat. Very similar concept with GV Gold Class, only much cheaper. The price is Rp 50,000 or $7.5 in SGD. Personally I didn’t really enjoy the lavish seat. It made me feel sleepy, and I went there to watch movie anyway, not to cuddle myself. Thanks to the non-stop puzzle in the Sherlock Holmes movie that kept me awake.

On the new year eve, we fired fireworks at the attic. Most of them are small rockets that emits whistling sounds. The attic was transformed into Baghdad-like in the night as we could see on TV during Bush’ presidency period. There was even one firework that shots 6 fireballs, each will explode in the sky. My friend enthusiastically asked me to hold the tube in my hand tightly, and point it to the sky while it shoots the fireballs. I read the instructions for a while, and found a bold text warning “DANGER! DO NOT GRAB WITH HANDS”. When I asked her whether I really should do this, her answer was “don’t trust the text, it’s wrong”. Luckily my hand managed to survive after two set of tubes. It’s only that the fireworks throw a lot of dusts, covering my face and body, forcing me to take another shower in the midnight. All in all, it was a very good experience, especially with the fact that you may not get this in Singapore, as either the SCDF* will quickly come, or your neighbour auntie yelling at you for endangering her life.

The day after new year, I went back to Jakarta. I took the same travel I used earlier. Reached Jakarta around noon, my dad and brother picked me up for lunch before going to grandpa’s house. Wanted to be quick, we stopped at a small shop selling satays and fried rice. I tried the fried rice with mix of mutton, beef and chicken meat. It contains so much sweet soya sauce, but the taste is just perfect (it’s been a long time since last time I ate food with such strong taste). Afterwards, we went to my grandpa’s house. He was very healthy in his 90s, and I am sure his diet does not include the kind of fried rice I ate earlier. Lastly, we went to pick up my mom, but it was too late to take dinner outside. So we just bought a fast food to take home.

The next day, I had to return to Singapore, with my brother again dropped me at the airport. There was an automated check in machine for AirAsia flights, so I bothered to give a try. Unfortunately the machine didn’t respond at the stage of sliding my passport. Seems that I have bad luck with travel documents (see part 1), and the queue for normal check-in was too long already, so I decided it is best to join the queue and use old fashioned way.

At the immigration gate, I was slightly delayed by the tax officer. In Indonesia, we have a special tax of Rp 1,000,000 (+/- 150 SGD) for Indonesian nationals going abroad. An exception for professionals working outside Indonesia for more than 183 days like me, with a proof of passport and work visa. Unfortunately, I’ve just renewed my password recently, and the officer argued that the new passport didn’t have enough information to show that I have spent for more than 6 months abroad. He asked for my old passport, which unfortunately I have put in my checked baggage. After some arguments, he asked me to go to the immigration office for “special treatment”. So I went there, and lucky for me that the officer at the office gave me the clearance without even a single question. Moral of the story: either you bring your old passport for the first 6 months of new passport, or, try to stay away from unfriendly officers.

The rest of the journey is interestingly normal. I took the on-time flight, arrived on-time, and clear the automated gate easily (this time I knew what document to insert!). And so I arrived back in the on-time-country, Singapore!

* Singapore Civil Defence Force

Johor Trip 2009: The Zon

The clock showed 10.40 am, and I was sitting inside the examination room at NUS. I was doing the last exam of this semester, for the subject “Network Security and Management”. I saw several people had come out, it seemed easy. Myself, I’ve answered all questions, but was not having 100% assurance they would satisfy the professor. Ah the heck, if I stayed there 5 more minutes, I would be forced to wait until 11 sharp, as the rule says nobody can go out of the room in the last 15 minutes, even if he has finished the exam.

Then I made up my mind, I called the professor and asked his permission to go out, and start the getaway journey to Johor Bahru! Call me lousy, but I prefer Johor to other fancy destinations in Malaysia for its proximity to Singapore as well as cheap prices.

I spent about 30 minutes in Clementi before going to Johor to open a new bank account (yet it’s out of the scope of this story ;P). Therefore I started going about half past eleven. Because the day before was a public holiday, and the next day was Sunday, I was hoping it wouldn’t be crowded in the immigration. It was true that on the Singapore part, it was a breeze. In Kranji MRT station, the SBS bus even had to wait a few minutes to wait until the bus is full. Yet in the Johor side, the road to immigration was slightly jammed by private cars. The immigration clearance was smooth, though.

(Psst, here’s a dirty little secret: my birthday was coming up, and rather than spending more money to treat my friends in Singapore, I’d rather spend more on my time to take them to Johor for half-priced food. But that’s what I call sacrifice! Oh yes, so for that reason, I would like to survey the place I have found at the internet: The Zon, a duty-free shopping mall). Therefore, when I arrived there at 1.15PM, I started to look for a transport to the Zon, which (according to the map) is close to Ferry terminal to Batam/Bintan.

At first I tried to go there by bus, as I’ve researched the numbers of buses going towards Zon. Alas, I couldn’t find where those buses stop. With my belly already screaming for calories, I finally decided to take a cab anyway. There was a taxi counter, where for each trip the passenger is required to buy a certain printed ticket, mostly to prevent the driver from overcharging the passengers. The trip was a breeze 10 minutes, but just enough time for me to chat with the driver, a guy in his 50s. I couldn’t speak Chinese, and he couldn’t speak English. So we tried to speak with Malay/Bahasa and he started to blame me that I couldn’t speak Chinese although I’m a Indonesian-born Chinese. And as usual, I played it safe by blaming Mr. Soeharto.

About 13.30, I reached Zon, but sad to say that it was below my expectation. There are only few shops, mostly selling liquors or pubs that open at night. There was no food court and the McDonald’s stall only sells ice cream (but there was a Starbucks stall, though – weird!). Then I just went into a pub-style pizza restaurant, with most of the people inside were smoking. D’oh! Luckily I could find a seat that was far from them. I ordered a smoked salmon and an orange juice. After wandering around for an hour, I came into conclusion that the place is not worthy enough to spend time with my friends. Then I decided to go back to civilization: The City Square, another shopping mall near the immigration.

I started walking outside to find some mode of transportation. Don’t want to give up the experience of taking a bus, I tried to search for a bus stop outside the shopping mall. It was interesting to see around, where there are traditional markets, hawker-style food stalls and the beach. Across the strait you could see Singapore main island, specially the Senoko power plant. After a few more meters of walking, I heard a loud noise of drums being played. It turned out to be a traditional Chinese drum practice by high school students in a Chinese school named “Foon Yew”. And where there is school, there should be delicious-yet-high-in-additives food! So I stopped by a rujak stall to taste some. I also bought a drink named “special teh-c”, which basically is a mix of tea, condensed milk and cendols. And yes, it is good, better than the Singapore ones.

I spent a few minutes sitting in a bus stop before giving up as for almost half an hour, only one bus passed, and it didn’t seem to stop at a place I know. In the end, I decided to take a cab instead to go back to City Square mall. I spent few hours in the City Square, and another few in Kotaraya Plaza, hoping to be able to wait until 6 pm, since I wanted to try riding the Malaysian train back to Singapore. Based on the schedule, the train departs from Johor Baru at 7 pm, and tickets are sold only one hour before departure. The last time I tried to take the same train, it was delayed by one hour, forcing me to take the bus instead. I was hoping the train wouldn’t delayed again this time.

So I spent another few hours wandering around in City Square, since it is just across the station. I wanted to have dinner there, but since I was still full from the rujak and teh-c, I decided to buy a take away food instead. Only few minutes before six, I bought a grilled chicken rice pack, and rushed to the station to buy the ticket; hoping that I could eat my dinner at the station’s waiting room. Unfortunately, this time again, the tickets were sold out. Disappointed, I got out of the station and find a place to eat my dinner. I couldn’t bring it back to Singapore since there is a restriction on importing poultry products.

The trip back to Singapore was not so interesting, may be because I’ve lost interest on the trip due to the train delay. However, I am still grateful for the mini-backpacker experience, and some half-priced music CDs and food I bought from a local store!

To go to Johor Bahru, you can take train to Kranji MRT, followed by SBS bus 160 or 170 bus from there. If you go from the west side, there will be announcements to take bus from Woodlands instead, but I wouldn’t recommend it since there are less buses departing from Woodlands.

You can see few pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/pascalalfadian/JohorTrip2009

Johor Bahru

In contrary to popular belief, going to Johor Bahru from Singapore is inexpensive and hassle-free for Indonesians (and other ASEAN countries nationality).

To go there, you can take a bus from either Jurong East, Kranji, or Woodlands MRT. I usually take SBS170 from Kranji. The price is around $1 per ride. Expect some congestion in Malaysia immigration if you go on weekends, especially on daytime.
Before going, be sure to see the alighting point. Buses from Singapore can alight in one of two terminals: Kotaraya or Larkin. I prefer Kotaraya since it’s closer to Singapore and have more attractions (in fact, I’ve never alight at Larkin).
Meal is inexpensive compared to Singapore. Usually they have the same nominals but halved currency! Last time I ate for lunch for only RM 5, or $2.5, for a fried rice plus orange juice. Even if you shop you get cheaper prices (I saved $5 when buying an Anlene milk!). The two shopping malls worth to visit are City Square (high-end) and Plaza Kotaraya (low-to-med, but has a supermarket).
If you seek nature, you can go to the nearby public park to the west of immigration checkpoint. Inside you can also visit the zoo, Sultan’s palace, mosque, etc. The beach is located even more west at Danga Bay. I visited there but only during the afternoon. Good to try during the night as it is famous for the nightlife. To watch movie you may try the Cathay Cinema in City Square. The price is around RM 10 for a movie.