E@L and his occasional partner-in-crime, Thailand-based expat Long-Gun, head out for a scout around the more-or-less less reputable parts of Batam, Indonesia, where they have been marooned at a Gynecological Conference (you don't want to know what is being displayed on the 42" LCD screens on some of the booths and what those bicycle-pump-like devices are actually FOR.) L-G has read of a place called the "Honey-Pub Cafe" but he is not sure of exactly where it is in Nagoya, the seedy 'foreigner' part of Batam's "resort" (ironic chortle) town. It is supposed to be a good place for expats to have a quiet drink (id est to pick up local freelancers.)
They walk out into the balmy evening. The sky is clear despite an afternoon of rain, but somehow there are no stars in the sky, only a fingernail paring of moon. They look for somewhere to eat first. A Cafe De Paris which presents itself as a Deli-France clone seems the least occuous. It is obviously targetted at people like them. There is no-one like them in town this evening it would seem, or Cafe De Paris's marketing is not so good. Wary of Deli-France's usually sub-par food, E@L sits back until L-G's simple Boeuf Stroganoff arrives with some thick slices of flour-dusted, crisp-crusted soda bread. L-G is very impressed. E@L relents and orders the same. It is delicious. The waiters all stand around and watch them eating. Nothing else to do.
Usually E@L prefers to eat the local fare when travelling. Wherever you are, you'd expect the locals to be able to cook their local food reasonably well, right? But Western food in West-of-Nowhere, Indonesia? In Taiwan he knows it's generally a disaster. In Korea, where Western food means TGIF or Bennigans (all of which make Sizzler look like Troisgros) it is best to buy bulgogi every time.
Well, E@L is choosy about which restaurants he goes to in Sydney or Melbourne so why should he expect some unknown food purveyor in the fetid slums of Batam to be able to make an acceptable Boeuf Stroganoff? In fact, he is not such a big fan of "Western" food anyway and he would have been happy enough at any of the cleaner looking nasi padang plastic chair/table outlets on the corners of many of the streets they had passed by, but L-G likes his steak and carbohydrates.
After the surprisingly excellent meal, they ask the waitress at the Cafe De Paris if she knows of the "Honey-Pub Cafe". She takes them outside, points to the left of the block opposite and towards the intersection of the next street just by it. You can see it in a minute, just up there, she states. They follow her directions, wander around the "center" of the night-club area for a few minutes, but the "Honey-Pub Cafe" sign is not in evidence. They pass a "Blue Moon" Thai massage parlour and note its position should the "Honey-Pub Cafe" fall through.
As well as the continually tooting taxi-drivers desperate for their fare, hiding in the shadows of every street corner are three or four young men with motorcycles who when they see E@L and L-G standing around looking lost and vunerable are keen to take them deeper into places nefarious and ill-lit. One group also invites them into an adjacent KTV, the best in town they claim, where one room behind window-walls is thick with "pretty girls" seated uncomfortably on mismatched vinyl couches, looking bored and trapped (because they are bored and trapped.) This is certainly not E@L's cup of tea and he immediately turns back out, disgusted with himself for half-believing this could be a lot of fun.
L-G, being a more hardened campaigner, checks out the age, looks, and size of the women on offer. He asks the eventual question and is shocked. Here in this grimy, peeling-paint, malodorous sex-slave camp, the broken-smiled, cigarette-reeking, oily-haired boys-in-charge are asking tourists such us E@L and L-G to pay for a forced shag on some stained and uncomfortable mattress in a noisome room upstairs a price that could be easily be negotiated in the comfort and sophistication (tongue-in-cheek) of Orchard Towers in Singapore and for much prettier, more intelligent and enthusiastic (the benefit of free-enterprise) companions de nuit at the accommodation of your choice. Even L-G abandons the idea of utilizing this offensive and unethical establishment and comes outside to find E@L seeking further enlightenment as to where the more conventional and somehow less tacky and exploitative local outlets of the Assisted Ejaculation Industry are located.
He asks the motorcycle boys where the "Honey-Pub Cafe" for example, might be situated. They confer, and one seems to know so he points to the right, saying it's a long way up there. Can we walk? Yes, of course can walk. But ride better. No thanks, we'll risk being run down as pedestrians rather than being smashed into the air as in the usual outcome of car-versus-bike evening conflicts in these countries, thinks E@L who has had occasion to know.
They walk on for another twenty minutes, zigzagging across the road and up likely-looking side-streets, following these new directions, or going in circles, who knows? but still there is no sign of the "Honey-Pub Cafe". They find (or he finds them) another motorcycle-taxi driver who is prepared to take them to "Honey-Pub Cafe", yes, yes. It is that way, he points, in the direction from which they had just ambled. Long way? Of course it is a long way, how else could he generate and justify a healthy fare? They thank him and decline, turn back, cross the street, hopefully in the general direction of the "Blue Moon" Thai Massage Parlour.
You know, says E@L to nobody in particular and L-G in general, I'm beginning to think that there IS no "Honey-Pub Cafe." That it's a myth, a place of legend in this town, a ghost-pub, the Marie-Celeste of Bir Bintang, or a fable of bounty and beauty like Shangri-La, lost like Atlantis to the searches of men. It has become the very idea of itself.
It represents A Noble Quest upon which foreign men must venture forth (fifth, sixth) to test their manly strength, their character, their what's the word? Their mettle. For it is not finding "Honey-Pub Cafe" that is important, but like the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece, the love lost in the underworld... it's the search itself, the journey that is important - as are the stories of hardships overcome, the battles fought and won, the evil exploiters of vulnerable women brought to swift and violent justice...
I think it must be back where the other pubs are, says L-G.
It's a coming of age thing. It's the stuff of a monumental, archetypal, peripatetic, picaresque bildungsroman Great Asian Expat Novel thing, or least a blog or two.
A what? asks L-G.
A blog or two, says E@L
Yes, it cannot be far, nods L-G.
The conference exhibition itself was amusing enough, in an incredibly hot, boring, totally under-airconditioned way. Opposite E@L's camp was a fortified milk company (the new way for women to boost their vitamins and calcium is with augmented milk apparantly - there was fierce competition!) who had a booked a small local band to play all through the day at the exhibition. Terrific, E@L thought, this is going to be terrible. But they were relatively understated and quite good, doing a reggae type beat to everything they played.
Their version of Honkey-Tonk Woman was amusing:
"Zhimair, zhimair, zhimair, zer honkey-town blue."
He'll try and post a quick bit of a movie he took of them, if he can figure out:
a) how to edit it, and
b) how to post it.
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
Before someone makes a comment about Westerner sex-tourists exploiting the good ladies of Indonesia, E@L would like to point out that this is a tourist town that gets 99.9% of its trade from Singaporean Chinese and Malay visitors.
The sex-trade is certainly brisk enough in Batam, but KTV (karaoke) style brothels are the dominant life-form and they are not geared to Western tastes and culture. There are a handful (three in fact, not counting the mythical Honey-Bar Cafe) of more Westerner-friendly style pubs but we only saw only two or three other Westerners in the entire town over four days and nights.
It's the stuff of a monumental, archetypal, peripatetic, picaresque bildungsroman Great Asian Expat Novel thing, or least a blog or two.
My, what a big thesaurus you have. No, really. How do you come up with words like 'bildungsroman'? Even my browser spell-checker is flummoxed.