Some time short of 9am, four members from the quiz team with the ever-shifting name1we’ve been ‘Mixed Nuts’, ‘Yes, Dear’, ‘Grommit’s Angels’ and ‘Three-Digit Handicap’ boarded a high-speed ferry just south of Changi Airport. Our destination? The Indonesian island of Batam, a forty-minute ferry ride nearly due south across the Singapore Strait. The objective? Golfing, a foursome of Singapore expats chasing 2muchlower green fees and beer prices.
In Singapore, being a highly developed island much in the vein of Manhattan, land prices are at a premium. There are golf courses on the island, a good number of them too, even a few 9-hole public courses, but the 18-hole courses here are, to put it mildly, expensive. When you factor in the cost of the 19th hole, that cost skyrockets, as Singapore’s “sin tax” on alcoholic drinks makes even the most modest can of Tiger beer a bare minimum of S$3.503just under $3 USD at a hawker center, and upwards to S$104$7 USD just about everywhere else, especially at a high end golf course/country club, where the green fees can easily exceed S$3005Seriously, people, the conversion rate is about 70 cents USD to one Sing Dollar. You’re on your own here on out on the math.. So it’s good business for Indonesians to offer attractive rates on golfing (and any sort of outdoor activity that requires land use.)
Economics aside, we had another reason to cross the sullen grey waters of the Strait; the reason they were grey in the early hours of sunrise, the haze. Though rains had come during the week, and the haze seemed to recede on a warm Friday afternoon, Saturday morning started ominously with banks of low-lying haze drifting across the expressway as we headed out towards Changi. We had no idea what the weather would be like in Batam. The winds were moving the haze in a mostly northern direction, but the key word here is “mostly.” With limited satellite imagery6If you’ve not ever used NASA’s interactive weather satellite site, please do so. I’ll wait here. The US does science right, or has, right up until the Republicans cut funding to NASA all together unless they start coming up with orbital death rays., we simply had to take a stab in the dark (or the haze if you will) and hope that we wouldn’t be sucking down forest fire fumes as we shot triple bogey after triple bogey. The trip across was in a way eerie, hurtling through a grey expanse, the occasional freighter or tug the only things you could see. But as we approached Indonesian waters, we began to see something else.
Hello, blue skies. It’s been a while7Yes, I know it’s only been a week, but I meant within Singapore. Yes, we were in Indonesia, you know what, never mind. It’s my blog and I’ll be dramatic when I want to. You would too if the haze happened to you.8Thank you, I’ll be here all week..
We’ll never get anywhere with this story if continue with these asides9Hello, word count..
We had reservations at tee times at Palm Springs Resort, a name that a gentleman on the boat ride back had fun with when I said I was from California. Who knew I was so close to home? The course was amazing, tucked in between the mangroves and beaches of northern Batam. The coastal access kept a nice breeze blowing for most of our time on the course, which was quite the blessing considering how unbelievably hot and humid it was. Beverly and I managed to stay mostly unburned, as our previous redness began to give way to disgusting peeling skin. My golfballs, however, apparently couldn’t stand the heat, seeking out water as often as they could, the ungrateful sons-of-bitches. “Triple digit handicap” might not be a misnomer.
Oh, I could give you excuse after excuse. The heat. The humidity. It’s been a year since I’ve played, yada. The simple fact is that I was atrocious, and while we weren’t playing for money, or even pride, Indonesia left me a humbled man, resigned to the fact that I really need to find a driving range here in town. Or take more ferry rides.
You couldn’t ask for a better deal, actually. My quiz mate, the aforementionedyoung man from England had arranged an all-inclusive trip for the four of us, the ferry ride over & back, 18 holes of golf, buggy10cart, lunch and caddies11!!, all for S$14912I lied, I’ll do the math for you, $100 USD.. Lunch was Indonesian fare all the way around, nasi goreng – literally, “fried rice” – and Bev had an amazing curry chicken with rice. Beer was liberally purchased as well, sadly not inclusive, but when a round of San Miguel is S$16, who’s going to complain?
Playing with a caddy, though, that was a new experience. We had two, Paul and I rode with Din, an 11-handicapper who lives in Java and plays I would wager, just about everyday. Din’s advice was spot on, from club selection to putt location. In some ways it almost felt like the golf version of teeball, I was just not used to someone marking my balls and lining up my putts. I’m in sure in his mind, Din was shaking his head at this fat American crushing drives yet shorting 50 meter chips for birdie13how do you say “three-putt” in Indonesian?. If he was, he didn’t let it show – Din and Masata were laughing along with us, enjoying the best of golf, being out in the sun and playing a game.
Around noon, as we came off 9, the loudspeakers at the resort started to play the adhan, the call to prayer. This would happen again as we waited on 18, calling for the afternoon/evening prayer. In fact, it played to our advantage as we opted to skip the par-5 17 to ensure a timely arrival for our ferry ride back. The group ahead of us was finishing on 17, but had to hold back for two of theirs to complete their prayers. While half the foursome knelt towards Mecca near the 17th green, their other half popped open a few beers and waived us through. It was a good slice of daily life in the world’s most populated Muslim country.
Indonesia has an estimated 255 million people. Two hundred and fifty-five million. It is the world’s fourth largest country by population, and before you think that it’s a quarter-billion folks jammed into a tiny space, it’s also the fifteenth largest country by total land; seventh if you count their total sea and land area. It’s a massive country, though so rarely mentioned in the world’s affairs. Here, they are the southern giant, the massive neighbor to the south that Singapore keeps a weary eye on.
Where else can you see a city-state of 5 million hold its own against a rival 50 times its size?
Coming back into Singapore, we entered the grey nothing zone between the states. At some point, likely when we entered Singaporean waters, a crew member came up to the deck where we sat, watching the sun set over where Sumatra was burning in the hazy distance. He unfurled and raised the moon and five stars, the red & white banner that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing on every house and fence for SG50. My phone chirped back to life, now that I was back in my host country, displaying the text messages I had missed confirming our taxi ride home. Exhausted, we rode in silence back towards Queenstown & Holland Village; back towards home. Above us, the haze drifted silently between skyscrapers and around the cranes in the harbor.
We woke on a Sunday morning to a now unfamiliar sight in Singapore – blue skies. Patches of blue between the clouds and the haze, but blue none the less. Bev walked down to Holland with the dog and got coffee, bringing me back some kopi ‘O’ kosong, coffee with nothing, no sugar, and we ate cereal and watched college football. Stanford beat USC14#beatla, Ole Miss beat ‘Bama15hah hah. Sunday was our seventh anniversary; we celebrated by spending a lazy day together, watching sports, going to lunch at the hawkers and I made spaghetti and meatballs as we opened the first of our Four Bottles. The sun set, and Singapore partied to the roar of engines;
The Singapore Grand Prix had started.
For those unfamiliar with Formula 1 racing – which would be a good majority of Americans, I suspect – the Grand Prix is a race so unlike those you’ll find in Talladega. NASCAR mostly is raced on flat circular or oval tracks. The Grand Prix adds elevation and hairpin turns, and many of the circuits are held on city streets, most famously in Monaco. Singapore hosts a street circuit as well, the Marina Bay Street Circuit, and it is Formula One’s only night-time race. Its running is one of the big parties here in town, and of course, we stayed home and watched the race on TV.
I’m not a large fan of F1, mostly due to lack of exposure, but the street circuits are really fun to see. Watching cars race past where we first stayed in town at high speed, as the leaves fall and get blown every was a great way to really reflect on how far we’d come since we first arrived. The insane highlight of the night of course was the random yellow flag and Sebastian Vettel’s16the then race leader and eventual winner surreal radio call, “There’s a man on the track. There’s a man on the track.”
Just going for a stroll, lah? Well, why not? We finally had some clear skies.