Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Batam Island and Golden View Hotel

My first trip to Batam was sometime in the mid 80s with some of my airport colleagues and I vividly remember we stayed at Turi Beach in Nongsa, then a very much sought after 5-star resort and of course, its rate was also rather stiff.  Batam then boosted of these two popular resorts, Turi Beach and Batam View.  The sleepy island, two third the size of Singapore was abruptly made popular when its radio station, Zoo 101.6 went 24/7 where many listeners from Singapore started to tune to its non-stop airing of music.  Then, the radio stations in Singapore did not run 24 hours but rendered no option when they realised many of their advertisers were turning to Zoo 101.6, they countered with their 24-hour radio programs to re-capture audience.  Much to their relief, they recovered quickly and now, nobody in Singapore talks about Zoo 101.6, let alone remember they were once 'the-talked-about radio station' in Singapore.

A follow up day trip made (still in the late 80s) with some friends on one weekend and the surge of crowd at Clifford Pier terminal (which later moved to World Trade Centre, now called HarbourFront) heading for Batam was simply unbelievable - short of a stampede, it was like bumper-to-bumper during boarding.  Among the so-called attractions on the Batam island, we were brought to Tua Pek Kong temple (many who went solely to pray 4 numbers, supposedly many struck rich so claimed by some believers), the one & only traffic light on the island (where the guide so proudly announced to us on the coach) and the nondescript building housing all the popular deejays from Zoo 101.6 who have become household names in Singapore then.  Another big lure was the purchase of duty free liquor and cigarette on the return, even on a short day trip but our government soon clamped down on this loophole.  Slowly, Batam lost its lure as a tourist attraction and not long later, Bintan emerged as a hot tourist spot in our region.  It was in the mid 90s era.

I was introduced to Ah Bee, the owner of present day Golden View by an acquaintance in the late 90s.  The site where Golden View sits nicely now was still a flat plot.  Ah Bee runs a popular seafood restaurant called 933 built on planks and poles above the water in the mouth of Tering Bay in Bengkong Laut.  He had another seafood eatery called 555 in Nongsa which was swept away in a monsoon storm many years ago.  He also runs a travel and coach company called Nusajaya 168.  Evidently, he is fond of 15 if we add all the number together (933, 168 or 555) but despite knowing him for many years now, I still have not asked him why the number 15 - for good luck, perhaps? 

Ah Bee is a self-made entrepreneur and he reminds me very much of one of our popular sitcoms character, 'Phua Chu Kang'.  No air, no fuss and no posh office for himself - his only work desk is the two dining table near the entrance of his restaurant which he eats and conducts almost all his meetings there.  He is a very hands-on type of person and when I was told by an acquaintance who used to work for him in the 90s that he had started to reclaim the water that fronts the bay around the perimeter of his land, I really had no clue how big and how much reclamation works until I witnessed it in recent years.  At that time standing at the balcony of 933 restaurant, I can still see the calm turquoise sea so near me but each time, I visited his place, the water seemed to move further and further away.  In Singapore, all reclamation works in Singapore is undertaken by our government involving bigwigs in the industry but this is the self-made man who oversees the entire reclamation project from the smallest detail to the last.  Since the late 90s, he has reclaimed some 200 hectares and work is still not done.  It is no small feat by an individual who has the bold vision to see far and dares to dream, to say the least.

As far as I can remember, Golden View was conceptualised and work started in the late 90s but briefly stopped during the financial crisis.  When most businesses in Indonesia were reeling badly from the damning crisis and many incomplete buildings were abandoned midway by owners, Ah Bee pressed on.  He built the hotel painstakingly, floor-by-floor started with the basement.  He was not in a hurry knowing too well the economic outlook was not favourable then.  At the same time, his reclamation work continues, good time or bad.  He emerged from the recession scath-free.   

Bengkong is not the town centre, Nagoya is and it is not a known resort region like the idyllic Nongsa though the bay front is close by.  It is definitely a big challenge to compete with the many city hotels in Nagoya town and the better known resorts, Turi Beach and Batam View in Nongsa.  What can a new player, Golden View offer to the market then when Bengkong is neither in a town centre or resort region?  The reclaimed land therefore plays a strategic role for the hotel. 

I would be wrong, it took them some seven years to build the hotel, stopped during crisis period and continued when time was better.  If I remember correctly, in year 2007 Golden View commenced its business.  This is a 10 storey building block which boosts of some 215 rooms and meeting facilities, among others. 

Ah Bee is not a hotelier, far from it but it does not deter him from taking a personal interest in running the hotel business, the travel business and among others.  Almost daily, I understand he is the first at work and last to live.  He is, of course fortunate to have his children who have come out of age to help him manage his businesses and his few trusted lieutenants too.  Hendra, one of his two sons is tasked to handle the travel business and if any, he is the point man for the organisation.  I have dealt with Hendra and though he is still a very young man in his mid 20s, he has already garnered the knowledge in running this business.  Perhaps very much influenced by his father, he believes in 'win-win' in any deal.  They know how to work well with travel partners, understand them and by-and-by, gained their trust and support.  They are prepared to go aggressive with pricing if need be, knowing too well unfilled rooms is a total loss and their other ancillary services will suffer along with it if there is no crowd.  One does not need to go to school to learn about economics for they know keeping cost low is critical to go the distance.  An example, switching off the aircon supply in the lobby area in the late evening on a typical low weekday to save on high energy cost is a sure no-no for a established hotel chain but where it makes commercial sense, they just do it. 

My most recent trip to Golden View on a weekday with a friend has left a deep impression on how things have developed thus far.  Outside Golden View, the sprawling reclaimed land (then was just water aplenty) offers hotel guests and even locals varied choices to while away their times.  Ah Bee believes having myriad of activities will attract people and I cannot disagree with me.  I once asked him why he needs to reclaim when there is no shortage of land in Indonesia and he said, something to this effect, "The reclaimed land will allow me to plan ahead and maximise to the fullest when the time comes."  At the furthest end of the reclaimed land, one can see the shore of bustling Singapore on a clear day.  Some houses are already built and I believe in years to come, more houses will throng the vast land.  It just costs a mere S$30,000 to have a landed property near the sea.  S$3 million may not even get one a landed house in Sentosa, see the diff?  Team building, go karting and paintball activities are already in operation for quite a while now.  Always a must have, the sea sport activities are already up and running and more to be added.  They have even acquired Cheng Ho junk from Singapore for sea cruises around the bay.  There is this little miniature park which houses the varied cultures of Indonesia, a brief history lesson for visitors.  There is no entrance fee to all the attractions and especially on weekend, it is crowded with the locals.  Where there is crowd, they will patronise his eatery and joints and it is 'win-win', that's the key word.

This is the man who does it himself, guided by practicality and experiences from the hard knock in life.  The hardware is already there, the vision too though workmanship can be improved more and it is still very a work-in-progress.  Once his land has matured and investor confidence in Indonesia has improved, the future ahead is bright.  Hang on, Ah Bee.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Leisure Warriors @ NATAS Soccer Challenge 2012

We did not qualify for the second round, no sweat.  On whole, we were not in good form somehow, but we offered no excuses.  Did we play our heart out?  Yes, we did and in the most gentleman way we could for we did not earn any warning, yellow or red from the referee in the entire tournament.  If there is an award for fair play, I truly believe we should be the winner (the part is meant as 'self consolation').  I am proud to present our team, Leisure Warriors comprising Derek (team captain), Keith (playing goalie), Winston, Chong Meng, Tommy, Ming Wei, Tommy and yours truly.   

NATAS 'five-a-side' Soccer Challenge was scheduled for today at East Coast Park and kick-off at 1300 hours.  Six teams from each group and there are two groups and the top four in each group will compete in the quarter-final, semi-final and the final.  Each game lasted 5 mins only but it can test one's fitness even though it was only 5 mins on the pitch.  There were five teams in our group as one team mysteriously did not turn up.  We were in the second group and we had to play four matches.

Our first match was against the team from Hertz.  I should say we started off well.  I played upfront while our captain Derek will cover the back.  A short while into the game, I realised I have not fully covered from the left thigh injury I sustained in last week practise game.  Damn, I cannot risk it anymore.  I had few attempts at goal but each attempt was feeble, alas.  It was quite an even match and it ended nil nil for either side.  Jenny, our HR colleague dropped by to root for us.  After she left, Caroline and Nicole arrived and stayed to the end of the tournament..       

Our second match was against Citystate team.  I decided to play reserve, not to take any chance to aggravate the muscle pain in my left thigh.  We were under attack from the opposing team.  They could easily go two up had it not for the poor finishing by their lone striker.  Luckily for us, Keith did well to keep the score down but a short while later, they managed to score against us.  Evidently, some of us were rusty and not fighting for the ball - lack of fitness is chief suspect.  I decided to switch with Winston.  Again, I had few attempts at goal but poor finishing did me in.  By then, we were already two down and when whistle blew, we lost our second match to a better team.

After the break, we were up against the team from American Express and again, I played reserve.  One of my former colleagues, Thia was playing for American Express and when I thought I am the oldest player in this tournament, Thia is few years my senior and they are some who seem to be older than me too.  I have not met Thia for quite some time but he has certainly aged much.  Boy, he is still playing football in his 50s and this is his fourth participation.  They were certainly better than us, from controlling and distribution which put us under constant pressure.  Again, Keith did well to parry away the ball each time.  We were one down and I decided to take over from Winston.  I didn't play as well either, attempts at goal proved feeble each time.  Thia finally scored the second and last goal for his team and I knew we did not have much chance to draw level.  Again, we lost to a better team - kudos to them.

Our last match was against the team from Dynasty Tour.  Earlier, we watched them played against Citystate team.  It was quite a physical game and tension from either side was slowly brewing.  Fouls were committed by both sides.  Finally, a foul was made against a player from Dynasty Tour.  He was very agitated, threw a F word at the referee and earned a red card eventually.  With one player down, I must admit the Dynasty Tour team did well to earn a hard earned draw with Citystate.  Hey, this is not a professional game but why must they play in such aggressive manner?  I was hoping our last match against Dynasty Tour won't come to blows but if they draw first blood and admittedly I am ready for them too. 

For our last match, I played reserve again.  The physical fitness of some of our players is telling for we were waiting for ball, more than challenging for it.  To our pleasant surprise, Derek drew first blood and scored our first goal.  For the first time, we were leading the game.  Keith played his heart out, either parrying away the ball or diving to reach for it.  Few sure goal attempts were saved by him, I'm impressed.  A tackle was made on Derek who fell flat and for few seconds, he was not moving.  Someone shouted for 'medical attention' but to our relief, he managed to stand up.  A foul was not given by the referee, funny.  The opposing team managed to slip one goal in and to our disappointment, they drew level.  They even went up one up against us.  I decided to change with Ming Wei in hope to draw level, at least.  Again, I could not muster much energy to harass their defence.  We lost this match, 2-1. 

We did not qualify for the second knock-out round.  We were still in high spirit, for we did try our best though our form did let us down at the end of the day.  If I have to name the 'Player in our team', the accolade should go to Keith and for the 'Golden Boot', no prize for the right answer and that is Derek for his solitary goal.  This is just one tournament and also our first, but Leisure Warriors team can train and be ready for next year.  I am likely not be with the team for next year but I hope they can keep going and I wish them well in future tournaments.  Hip, hip, hip...hooray (3x), team Leisure Warriors.  Good job! 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2012


It's my second consecutive Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2012 which was flagged off this morning.  Prior to the run event, I have created an event on HTTB site which garnered some 20 members signing up.  Separately, Aranda Country Club also managed to get some 20 of us to sign up for this meaningful run. 

On Saturday morning, I had a futsal practise match with some of my former colleagues as we were making preparation to compete in the coming weekend NATAS Futsal Tournament for this first time.  We have been preparing well and this will be out last practise before the tournament.  During play, I felt pain on my left thigh and I realised I had pulled my muscle while kicking the ball.  I could not carry on play with the guys, preferring to give my left thigh a rest as I remembered I still have the Yellow Ribbon run the following morning. 

I still feel the pain on the left thigh this morning.  I was walking with a slight limp but still chose to go for the run event.  "If I can't run, at least I can walk the 10km.", I told myself that.  Further, prior pick up arrangement had been made with some friends and I don't want to disrupt their plans at last moment notice.  So, 'die die' must go lor.

I received Dora's short text before 6.00am this morning informing she was on the cab on way to MacPherson station with her son, who will be running for her.  She is still nursing a knee injury.  By 6.15am, I was out of my house and on way to MacPherson station to pick up Dora and Howie, well before the scheduled time at 6.30am.  After picking them, I drove to Paya Lebar station to pick up Shirley (a member from HTTB) and after picking her, I headed to Meiti's place at Telok Kurau.  CK will meet the rest of my GP Riders gang at Aranda Country Club and take their transport as my car is full. 

I expected jam at Loyang Way as one side of the road will be blocked for the run and thus, I took the longer route, travelling to Changi Coastal Road via ECP.  Fortunately, the traffic was smooth along ECP and the public car park near Changi Village was not even full.  It was around 7.00am when we arrived, some 45 mins away from the flag-off. 

CK and my GP Riders members had arrived early and they were sipping coffee and tea at a nearby coffeeshop.  They later joined us at the traffic junction to walk to the start point together but they had to leave us as Meiti and Howie were still queuing for toilet at the coffeeshop and it was nearing 7.45am. 

By the time they were done, 10km event had already commenced and we wasted no time, not even doing any warm up and off we went.  Dora was planning to meet us at the end point.  Fortunately for me, I can still run albeit at much slower pace.  I was pacing Meiti but CK and Howie were not within sight almost immediately.  The weather was fantastic throughout, I couldn't ask for more.  It is the same route as last year, started near Changi Village and into the rustic neighbourhood.  It is not flat though, fairly undulating throughout and can pose a challenge to many runners.  After about 5 km, Meiti was feeling the strain on the up slope and she decided to walk for a short while instead.  I joined her.  On whole, she was doing fine and by my reckoning, we were averaging around 7 min per km.  I can still feel slight pain on the left thigh but very much bearable though. 

At around the 6km mark, I met Mui Huan who was running and at the same time taking pictures along the way.  We joined her from there on.  When we reached the entrance of the prison, it was slightly more than 8km.  More pictures were taken by Mui Huan.  Both the two ladies gave a last pose with the wall as the background before we headed all the way to the finishing.  It is a clean and huge compound inside, the high walls around the circumference remind me that this is a prison, no doubt.

When we ran past the finishing, the clock showed 1 hour 20 mins plus.  CK and Howie, both did under 1 hour joined us later - congrats.  We went back to Changi Village where Dora was still waiting for us.  I did not join my GP Riders gang for photo taking at Aranda Country Club, chose to ferry the rest back instead.  Thumbs up to the organisers for another meaningful event!