A holiday that turned out wrong – an Open Speech
It was the eve of National Day in Singapore. My family decided to break the usual routine of watching the national celebrations in Singapore but to visit Batam on National Day. Batam is an island a mere half-hour ferry ride from Singapore. On that day, we woke up, all fresh and keyed up to enjoy ourselves.
However, we got off to a disappointing start. No taxis could be hailed within sight and the few taxi drivers who pulled over were not too keen to bring us to Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. They explained that the terminal was a distance accessible by a deserted side road. The authorities did not allow them to impose an extra charge, unlike the allowance at the airport. Moreover, it might be ages before they could pick up a passenger for the return journey. Unbelievably, we were rather sympathetic. After a long wait, a taxi driver finally agreed to take us.
Upon reaching the terminal, we rushed in, all flustered and worried about missing the ferry. We were relieved to find out that the departure time had been delayed. However, our relief was short-lived. There was a long frustrating queue as the immigration staff could not cope with the unexpected crowd.
There was a mad scramble for seats when we finally boarded our vessel. The mild weather had changed and the day became unbearably hot. It was stuffy in the ferry. Many were seasick and vomited. The queue outside the toilets was a sad and disheartening sight.
Upon arrival, we waited for our coach. However, once onboard the coach, another disappointment awaited us. Groans from the passengers greeted the guide’s announcement that the watersports center we were scheduled to visit was burned down the day before. We would visit the Go-Kart center instead. This place was in the middle of nowhere and we spent a mindless two hours watching the kids queuing and then squealing in delight at the limited turns they get.
My family and I were not Go-kart enthusiasts, so Dad offered to pay for any souvenirs we wanted. But these were outrageously priced at the shops we visited.
Lunch was the only bright spot in the journey. The seafood dishes were varied and delicious. We tried sucking edible snail meat from the famous ‘kong kong’ snails. It was a nice change. We finally relaxed amid the breezy and tranquil seaside surroundings.
Batam city was dirty and rather squalid. It had just rained and there were mud puddles everywhere. We had to walk through the mud just to get to the few shopping centers. They invariably sold the same souvenirs. The unenthusiastic, bored salesgirls and beggars outside these tourist spots made us realize how comfortable an experience shopping in Singapore was!
We had not dared to try eating the many interesting roadside snacks or colorful syrupy drinks sold by vendors because of the constant presence of flies. Fear of dengue fever also reduced us to paranoid tourists slapping at mosquitoes.
Our tour guide blithely ignored our requests to visit a popular shopping center. We learned later that the place would not pay him a commission for bringing us there. Instead, the brazen man kept pushing us to buy his homemade cookies.
Thankfully, there was no wait for ferries on the journey back. We arrived safely but realized to our dismay that we were at the HarbourFront Centre, a considerable distance from our home.
There were no taxis in sight. It seemed that the roads leading to HarbourFront Centre were closed due to the National Day Parade. We whiled away our time at a coffee shop and waited restlessly for the roads to be opened.
However, it was a relief to be back in dear old Singapore! Never again, I vowed, would I celebrate a public holiday Day abroad!