Boats and Hos in Batam
Since it is safe to say that most people haven’t heard about Batam – the tiny island of sin south of Singapore – I figured I would share my story for any middle-aged men out there who can’t get their yoghurt-slingers in action by normal means.
Back in 2010, a couple a friends and I did a backpacker tour of Southeast Asia. Before we left, we didn’t really have any plans for where we were going and when, but our main idea was to get from Bangkok to Bali without catching any planes. It was this idea of not getting airborne that brought us to Batam. (We eventually gave up on the Bali plans in Sumatra after a six hour bus ride with an abysmal lack of asphalt, leg space and breathable air, but that’s another story…)
To get to Batam, you need to catch a ferry from Singapore. We spent about four days there, mostly scrambling around drunk on some booze we found on the beach in the Pherentian Islands with a Singaporean guy speaking extremely poor Swedish and refusing to switch to “Singlish” following us everywhere. We had done most of the “must-do” stuff there like riding in the Singapore flyer, renting a scooter and doing drag racing with it and pretending to be retarded to skip queues at the Singapore Zoo. Needless to say, we were stoked to get moving again and to go to Indonesia.
The ferry left quite late in the evening, and when we finally got on, we soon realised that we were the only non-middle-aged Asian men there. The reason for that narrow constellation of people would become quite clear later during our trip. The ferry ride itself wasn’t really long and getting though the customs was just a matter of paying the $15 and getting the stamp. We never really planned to stay in Batam, and decided to just sleep on the benches of the terminal so we could catch the ferry to Sumatra the next morning. After about half an hour though, we were told to leave because the terminal was closing for the night. So we got a taxi and headed into what I assume was the centre of town.
One of the first things we noticed while driving in there was this huge ship up on the land. After some trial and error communication with our taxi driver, he told us it was actually a hotel that they for some reason shaped like a cruise ship. He also told us that there was a great nightclub there we had to check out whilst on the island. We eventually arrived at our hotel, which, by Batam-standards, was quite nice. The staff there seemed to be extremely happy to see us. It was almost as if we were celebrities or some shit.
This happiness didn’t end at the hotel: wherever we went, everyone came to talk to us, calling us “sir” and “mister” all the time. For this reason (and of course, the disco boat), we decided to stay at least one more day there. The next morning, we asked the receptionist what there was to do on the island, to which his first reply was to go to one of the bordellos. He explained to us that it was basically the only thing the island had to offer (hence the middle aged/old men on the boat).
All of us had obviously been in strip clubs before, but none of us had ever been in a proper whorehouse. We decided to try it out, even though two-thirds of us had no intention of renting someone (can you say that?).
We spent the most of the day just waiting in the hotel drinking Bintang, but when the night finally came, the adventures started. First, we went out to grab some dinner at one of the local food markets. This place had everything you can expect from a food market in Asia: plenty of cockroaches, both alive crawling around your feet, and the deep-fried ones. Of course, there was also the karaoke stand (more like full-sized stage) to ensure none of us would leave the place without bleeding ears.
We ordered the only Indonesian food we had heard of at the time, which was Nazi Goreng. The menus were all in Indonesian and we didn’t want to take the chance of getting served diarrhoea before our big night out. Seeing as our eardrums were being vocally molested, we tried stuffing all the food in as fast as possible. This was easier said than done seeing as every single person there wanted to talk to us. Finally after about four wedding proposals and being asked to join for karaoke duets a dozen times we made our way out and got a taxi.
When we got in, we asked the driver if he could take us to one of the bordellos. We didn’t think there would be too many to choose from in such a small place, but the driver had at least six or seven up his sleeve to suit our budgets and lusts in any way. We ended up going to one of the middle-range ones with free entry (we were backpackers after all). When we arrived, we were guided inside to see all the guys from the boat standing in line. Lucky we had been drinking beer earlier and were already quite tipsy, ‘cause the whole thing was fucking embarrassing. We were all shown into a room and placed on benches in front of a stage covered by a curtain, as if a show were about to start. My first though was that we might have to endure another ping pong show (which we’d promised ourselves we would never do again after Bangkok), but a guy soon came out and explained how it was gonna go down.
It was basically first-come first-serve: if you saw someone you liked, you just had to pick her first. When the curtains lifted, we couldn’t bring ourselves to do anything but make a run for it. Seeing the older men picking girls is frankly something I hope to never see again, and the smiles of those girls were as fake as any Louis Vuitton bag found in the few shops around the island. There is no guessing how old they were, but they were probably a lot younger than they appeared under all that makeup.
We needed to get cheered up, so grabbed a new taxi to take us to the nightclub boat. It wasn’t far away, and we were soon there. And I’m not lying when I say it was fucking incredible! There were hundreds of people, locals and probably some Singaporeans, shaking it loose. There was a show on stage with some really hot barely-dressed dancers. The drinks were cheap and the music awesome. And once again, everyone wanted to talk to us. We pretty much felt like superstars. It didn’t take long before the hookers arrived, though. And believe me – they were not shy! We all had our junk grabbed several times as a form of greeting.
While at first I found this funny (and quite nice to be honest…), after a little while it was just pure annoying. The girls weren’t pretty either, and as I said two-thirds of us had no intention of paying anything for those kinds of services. We found a place to sit and enjoy looking at the girls on stage. They were definitely giving us looks back and we started to get a little cocky. Maybe we were to strike gold in this shithole of an island after all.
After the show ended, the girls on stage came over to us. We were frothing for the approximately five minutes they spent at our table, though the exchange of words was very limited. One thing we did learn during that five minutes was that dancing was NOT their main profession, and you don’t need a shitload of imagination to guess what was…
By this point, the one-third of our group who actually wanted to spend a little money to deploy the “giggle stick” parted from us and went to scout for someone cheap. We stayed for a little longer to let him do his thing, but eventually we had to head home as well. As soon as we arrived back, we could tell there was some kind of drama in our room, and seconds later our mate escorted the clearly frustrated (and in my opinion, quite skanky) woman out while she appeared to be begging him for something.
It turned out she actually begging – she was pleading with him to let her keep the condom so she could “use the sperm to have a babies with him”. As my mate said: “That’s probably the first and last time any man ever had to fight a woman to keep the used condom!”
Even though I don’t want to go back to Batam, it’s places like this that makes travelling so fucking great. Shitty destinations often end up making the best memories. And it would be fucking radical to go visit that ship once again!