BATAM - And that is something you notice when you have arrived on the island of Batam, at some 45 minutes by boat from Singapore. Jakarta is a western city already with a young population that is not that tight concerning the traditional adat in the country, but in Batam this is exaggerated even more.
Because of the problems that lead to the resignation of president Soeharto in May 1998, there are a large number of ethnic Chinese, as they are named in Indonesia, on Batam. They went here because they were able to escape to Singapore if there was the need to do so. They have now permanently pressed their mark on the community of Batam.
The business district of Singapore.
Here you will see even more Western style clothing than in Jakarta and most other areas of Indonesia, with maybe an exception of the very southern tip of tourist Bali. The behavior of the many young people here (just like elsewhere in Indonesia) is different; many have tattoos in their neck, on lower legs and in places that are covered up with a thin layer of tightly fitted clothing.
When yo hop over to Singapore to extend a visa, go shopping or just to enjoy the many brands of beer that are available here in contrary to just across the border, a visit to Batam is also worth while. You will then see that the residents of Batam are doing their best to adapt themselves to Singapore, as if it were not really a part of Indonesia.
Most residents seem to want to be like Singapore. Things that are normal on Batam - or are at least seen as normal by a large portion of the population - are different than in Jakarta , or at least much more available. It is not a problem here for a couple to touch each other when enjoying their Coca Cola in one of the shopping malls on the island for example.
People will not take notice of smoking schoolchildren ordering a beer somewhere. However this is not allowed in Batam as in many other countries, the availability of beer and other things that are forbidden at such a young age are not a real obstruction for the youngsters here. Just ask for it and there is always someone that can arrange it for you.
Batam; being developed to be like Singapore.
There are enough people here that can arrange virtually anything if you ask for it. And this is just a regular Thursday afternoon on Batam. Youngsters will cross the border just as easy (they already have a passport and NPWP, so they only pay a return-trip ferry fee of 180.000 Rupiah) to do whatever they want to do, especially when mum and dad stay home or don't even know their children are not in school today.
What also seems to originate from Singapore is the tolerance on the island. The ethnic Chinese are a much larger group than elsewhere in Indonesia and they also own a large part of the economy here as well. Many nightclubs, cafe's and hotels are owned by this part of the population, that offers work to the pribumi
Indonesians living here.
This tolerance is visible in the way how the world changes here in the early evening hours of the day. It then changes into something that resembles a Western nightlife area with dozens of cafe's, clubs and hotels that all have their own function. While the foreigners present (Caucasian, Singaporese, Indians and whatever more) enjoy the alcohol that is widely available, a hajji
is drinking tea with a completely tattooed preman
For sure this tolerance for a part is fake, because if the one group was not here, the other group would not have a job, but over the years it seems that 'being stuck with each other' has slowly turned into 'working together with each other' to make Batam into something that is better than it is at the moment. Maybe, one day, it will actually resemble Singapore.