Friday, May 27, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 12: The Wildlife Edition

I spent another night at the Nusantara Resort, just north of Mempawah, West Borneo. You saw bits and pieces of this place in the last video. It was advertised as having a swimming pool, a fishing pond, miniature golf and beach access. The beach was a mud flat. The swimming pool was brown and the miniature golf course had been plowed over long ago.

At least on the mud flats, I got see these creatures, mudskippers, the strangest fish I've ever seen. After some time observing them, I have to conclude that the number one thing mudskippers do is chase around other mudskippers.

They can't even keep a basketball hoop maintained.
Everything about the Nusantara resort was dilapidated. Although anything but exciting, and still there was no beer to be found anywhere, it was a nice place to chill and relax.

At one point, I got see what happens when you put a camera onto an ant path.

Enjoy the video.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 11: Goint to Last Resorts

G'bye Singkawang. I enjoyed my stay.
So the journey around West Borneo continues. I was entering the home stretch of the holiday, vaguely regretful that this might be the last journey like this for me for some time.

As I've mentioned several times on this blog, the one thing that's been the best thing about my job here in Myanmar has been the time off. I've taught for 8 weeks, then I got a week off. Taught 8 more weeks, then got TWO weeks off. Another 8 weeks, then another week off. And so on.

Could the Samudera Indah Beach compare
to Pasar Pnajang? The video shows.
Talk about an ideal schedule to do what I love: travel around the most exotic region of the planet, southeast Asia.

Unfortunately, this schedule has proven to be not economically viable for my employer, and so it's been scrapped.

Just before the April break, we were told that the schedule was changing dramatically. All contracts that were going to be renewed would have our time off reduced from 10 weeks per year to 6 weeks. Gone were the weeks off between terms. Our business was going from being closed about 20% of the year to less than 10%. We won't be closed again until NEXT April.

Mind you, I have a contract under which I still am owed 6 weeks of vacation through next March. They have to honor that. What's going to happen is that I get to schedule my own time off  for 4 weeks (I'm thinking the entire month of December), and the other two weeks are going to just be paid out to me in cash.

Literally, at the end of the road.
Ultimately, the best part of my job has been eliminated.

It's kind of like what happened to me at Lowe's just before I decided to leave the country.

After some employee feedback (I think it was my argument that made the real impact on our CEO), new contracts are now going to include 8 weeks of annual leave, not 6. That's not as good as 10, but it's going to mean 3 weeks for the April Buddhist New Year, one week at Christmas, and 4 weeks flexible, to be scheduled by the teacher and the Director of Studies.

Oh, the horror. Only 8 weeks of paid leave. Americans usually get two weeks.

On to the video. This is the second-to-last installment in this series. I wander slowly down the coast of Western Borneo, checking out every so-called beach resort along the way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 10: A Day at the Beach

How's this as your kid's sandbox?
As the journey was winding down, I spent a couple of days at the Pantai Pasir Panjang Indah resort. The name translates into English as Beautiful Long Sands Beach, and the name is fitting. 

Hello? There's no one manning the reception desk.
In the previous video, you saw that there were quite a few other guests there at the resort. The beach and the hotel were somewhat busy. It wasn't at all like that on the second day. There had been a conference at the hotel the previous day. Now that it was over, it seemed like I was Palapa Hotel's only guest. 

Next to the Palapa Hotel, there were a long line of beachside restaurants and souvenir shops. They had little to no business. They stood empty. Now, there's nothing quite like a cold beer at the end of a day on the beach, and you might think that that would be a specialty of these restaurants.
Nope. Of the 20 or 30 establishments, only one sold beer. And it wasn't cold. This was something I remembered from my time in Indonesia 25 years ago: beer with ice. 

I got to talking with the proprietor of that one restaurant. I asked how business was. He told me it was okay, enough to feed the family. He also reported that they used to get a lot more tourists, even foreign tourists, but no so much these days. When I asked about the beer, he said that a beer license is prohibitively expensive. None of his neighbors wanted to pay for a license when the product itself just isn't in demand. Again, West Borneo is very Muslim. 

At the moment this picture happened, I was being painfully stung by a jellyfish. It really hurt and this was the last time I went in the water on the trip. 

I've been through the desert on a horse with one ear...

Beaches which face west are the best. 

 Enjoy the video. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 9: To the Lovely Pasir Panjang Beach Resort

As the motorcycle tour of Kalimantan Barat entered its second week, I found myself turning my two wheels towards the beach. I had been having a wonderful time riding through the villages and hills of Indonesian Borneo, but I was looking forward to settling in for a few days on a warm, tropical seaside. Give me a deck chair, a fresh coconut, sunshine and a good book, and I'm quite happy to just spend the day listening to waves crash in.
Look at those huge waves! Actually, it's a matter of perspective. They're about an inch high

The beaches south of Singkawang were just a short drive away, but I wasn't able to make a reservation online at either of the two resorts I'd seen on the Google maps. One had no web presence that I could find and the other came back as full. All I could do was just head over and check them out.

The Palapa Beach Hotel was buzzing with activity, but they did, in fact, have a room. There was an ongoing conference of healthcare professionals happening at the time, and so I was surrounded by other guests, all of whom regarded me with curiosity. Again, I had random Kalimantaners ask to take selfies with me.

The beach was nice, but one feature of the hotel confused me to no end. Dotted along the resort's boundary with the beach were some lovely gazebos, just as one might find in any beachside accommodation. They looked like just the kind of structure that I could lie in, nap, read and just chill. 

Nice gazebo!
Strangely though, the gazebos had hard concrete floors and nothing else. No deck chairs. No regular chairs. Not even a table. What are they even for? As I say in the video, it's as if the designers of the hotel had seen similar gazebos in other beach resorts and decided they needed them too without regard what guests might use them for.

Despite the hotel's wifi not working (I was able to get data off my phone), the little jellyfish stings in the murky water, the lack of beer and the very limited options at the restaurant, at least the beach was clean, the scenery was enticing and they did have coconuts. I got most of what I wanted. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 8: Pemangkat to Singkayang

It's called the Natuna Sea
It was another short jaunt from the town of Pemangkat down to West Borneo's second largest city, Singkawang. 

At the start of the video, I extoll the virtues of bubur, rice porridge. As I mention, rice porridge is sold in every country by different names all over SE Asia. Without a doubt, Indonesia makes the best. 

The food was perhaps the most memorable part of the journey other than the roads themselves. Every time I was hungry, I found the most delicious options everywhere I went. Not only is the food different in Indonesia, but the way they eat it different too. Eating with my hands is messy.  

I suppose you can guess what the sign says.
After finding a room, once again I turned to the Google maps to show me how to get to what looked to be an interesting zoological garden. When I stopped for lunch, I learned that the road no longer went all the way through to where the zoo was. That was okay, I had plenty of time and the little coastal road was worth it on its own merit.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 7: Sambas to Pemangkat

Part Seven. Leaving the city of Sambas for the coast.

I had this weird psychic premonition experience on the way out of town. Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew that police in SE Asia set up check points on the edges of towns, checking people coming in and out. I rounded a curve on my way out of Sambas and thought that it would be the perfect place for a police check point. Hadn't thought about the cops up until that curve. 200 meters down the road, there was a police check point.

I was a bit nervous, which explains why I forgot to turn the GoPro on. I was driving legally. My Myanmar drivers license, by treaty, is valid anywhere in ASEAN, but would the cops know this? I had the motorbike's registration. The rental receipt. I was wearing my helmet, of course. Still, I had read online at the Living in Indonesia Forum, that I still might run into troubles. The Kalimantan police were notoriously corrupt and greedy. They'd find something to demand money from me.

As it turned out, they didn't ask to see a single document. No DL, registration or anything. All they demanded was that I allow them to take pictures with me. Heh heh, okay. Enjoy the video

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 6: On to Sambas!

The Merasap Waterfall, the place I was
trying to get to when the roads beat me.
The Indonesian province of Kalimantan Barat reminds me in several ways of the American South, the southern states of the USA. Mind you, I lived in Texas for only a few years as a kid, and I've been in West Borneo for all of 12 days, but there are some similarities that can be pointed out.

First off, the people are very friendly. Hospitable. Willing to help out strangers for no other reason than it's the thing to do. They're good people here. There's always a smile ready to break.

Next, they take their religion seriously. Although I haven't been preached to or anything, if the American south is the Bible Belt, this would be part of Indonesia's Qur'an Belt. More women wear the hijab (the Muslim women's headdress) here than any other part of Indonesia that I've visited. I've witnessed everything shutting down for Friday prayers.
I got a little lost on my way back to the main road.
The locals weren't of that much help.
There's not a pub or bar in the whole province and I haven't seen anything as strong as a shandy in the hands of a local. A couple of the counties I traveled through (Sambas, in particular) were dry by law; alcohol was illegal there. A couple other stops were dry by default; none of the stores or restaurants offered beer because they didn't want to pay the large fees for an alcohol license to sell a product that none of the locals wanted to buy. Of course, Islam isn't the only religion here. There's lots of Christians too. Today, on my last day, here, a Sunday, I got caught in the traffic of a large church letting out.

Finally, like the south of the USA, there are some significant racial and ethnic divisions that go back centuries. In the coastal areas, the Malay people dominate. I've read that they control the government and the political power. They're very Islamic. Also on the coasts, in the cities, there's a very large population of Chinese who've been here for generations. They seem to control a lot of the commerce, but keep their heads down as Indonesia has had a long history of pogroms against their ethic Chinese community. That said, I've seen more Chinese temples here than I've seen in Myanmar, and it borders China. Lastly, there are the Dayak, the indigenous people who mostly inhabit the interior of the huge island. I've driven through lots of very poor, delapidated villages during my brief jaunt to the interior. I knew they were Dayak as I saw far more churches than mosques, and the Dayak are mostly Christian. They're the peasants.

Well, y'all, that be my uh-nall-eh-sis of why KalBar is being like 'ol Dixie. Yeeehaww!

Using mud to wash off the mud.
At the end of the last video, I was stuck in the mud. Some passersby, Dayak most likely, helped me out. I got the bike out of mud, and it had no problems starting. Unfortunately, I didn't get it on camera, but I got back through that particular mud patch with no difficulty, and was able to continue my journey to the Sultanate of Sambas.

On the way, I passed through a town with a really cool name: Supa. Sounds just like 'super'. There, I got the motorbike washed, and like everywhere else I stopped in the Borneo countryside, the locals were very friendly and fascinated by this foreigner in their midst.

In Sambas itself, I got to visit the Sultan's palace just as the sun was setting over the river. Remarkable.

Enjoy the video.


I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...