Bintan 1999 - 2000

The start of something special...
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I don't have a great recollection of the time-line of my stay in Bintan, but what I do know is there was 'before-Alma' and 'after-Alma'. Alma being one member of the in-house band, my new girlfriend at the time, now my wife and mother of our children. It all started when the original in-house lobby and night club band - made up of two couples - had an argument while performing and a decision was made to move them on. I distinctly remember the announcement in the morning briefing - the new band would be arriving shortly and would consist of three girls and one guy. I knew right there and then that something was going to happen, and happen it did. Alma and I got together pretty much straight away and despite such in-hotel fraternizations being heavily frowned upon, we made it work.

Anyhow, back to the start. I left the UK for the second time in the early days of 1999. Of course I'd left before - just over two years earlier - but after spending a lovely Christmas and New Year week with family and friends, it felt like I was leaving all over again.

I don't remember too much about my journey or arrival - certainly not as daunting as the previous time, but I would surely have flown into Singapore and worked my way via taxi and ferry to Bintan - the largest of the Indonesian Riau Islands. Given that Bintan was a holiday island for the Singaporean market and there were no local housing options, I checked into the hotel and was left to settle in.

From memory, I got going with both work and play, and formed a good relationship with both my Management colleagues and my staff. My colleagues were also my friends as we all lived in the hotel so were together pretty much 7 days a week. My staff were great too and I immersed myself in their lives and culture. I really felt that Indonesia was my future - I liked the culture and was even able to grasp the language pretty well. I have always felt that if I stayed there a little longer, I would have finally been fluent in another language.

I distinctly remember my first Chinese New Year in Bintan - the first time we had been at full occupancy since I arrived. It was bedlam and we ran out of sunloungers and towels by about 8am! I'd never been under such pressure before and it made me realize that I had a pretty big job on my hands. But we all got through and I gradually improved the situation for all concerned.

I settled in to life in the resort and enjoyed the routine, albeit rather predictable, although I soon had another interest. The resort attracted numerous stray cats who would invariably cause a nuisance due to their regular night time yowling. Anyhow, I came across an abandoned kitten, probably only 1-2 days old and nursed her for several weeks until she was old enough to survive. I lived on the ground floor at the time so would feed her once a day with some solid food and let her wander and fend for herself at night. During the day, she would follow me everywhere - I would walk round the resort and she would run wild and free but stay close and come running when I called her. Unfortunately the cats were rounded up one day and despite them knowing that this particular one was tame and well looked after, I never saw her again. 

I was a bit of a maverick in Bintan - I enjoyed being my own boss and made some rather bold (and strange) decisions. A couple of my colleagues had adopted two macaques and they were housed in a cage in our open air leisure centre. Whilst in the market one day, I came across two slow loris - delightful little creatures - who were likely destined for a less than favourable outcome as they are often used for medicinal purposes. Anyhow, we had a nice cage made up for them and I would tend to them and feed them a diet of crickets and fresh fruit. Just before I left, I went one further and bought an another large monkey from the market, but as I left soon after I didn't see how that turned out. Not too well I suspect.

I'm in my post-Alma life now, and as we both lived in the hotel, we saw each other most nights - I would hang out with my colleagues while she was on stage in the lobby. We'd then eat together before her next set, although I'd usually turn in before she finished her sets in the hotel night club. I would work six days a week and Mondays was our regular day off which meant a day trip to Singapore. We got to know it pretty well - we would get the ferry over first thing, usually with a few other colleagues and we'd all go our separate ways before meeting up again for the ferry home. I can't recall everything that we got up to, but there was one mean grill restaurant that we'd go to - Papa Joes we think it was called. I's also buy 1-2 VCD discs of Friends - I collected about 30 of them in a few short months. On the way home, I'd pick up a bottle of Jim Beam and a kilo? pack of peanut M&Ms from duty free. We'd then order room service in my room, invariably watch Charmed and I'd consume almost all of the M&Ms before taking a fruit plate over to feed my slow loris. Lovely days but time moved on and Alma eventually quit the band and I went home with her to Cebu in December 1999, just before the big Y2K celebrations. It was my first visit to Cebu - a place we now know so well. 

I was put in charge of the hotel's Millennium - Y2K as we called it - celebrations and my 'piece de la resistance' was the 'sunrise cocktail' - a chance for guests to witness the first sunrise of the new Millennium. I scouted locations - not an easy task as it wasn't visible from the hotel or grounds, so I found a lovely spot on the golf course and arranged transport there around 5am ready for the sunrise around 5:45am. The evening went well and although I was on duty, I certainly had my fill of booze - probably the Jim Beam again. I was pretty lonely to be honest, I don't recall being with any of my colleagues and I ended up with a good bunch of Aussie guests as we hotly debated the merits of republicanism and their recent referendum. I don't remember midnight itself - I was definitely still around but don't think it was all that memorable and no photos survive. I have no idea how the night ended, but my next recollection was waking up around 9:30am. I'd completely missed the main event! 

Whilst I enjoyed my work and life in Bintan, it wasn't a long term sort of place and I was in contact with my employment agent who offered me two possible jobs - one in Abu Dhabi and one in Oman. She was pushing for Oman - promising a more authentic experience, but I opted for Abu Dhabi. I'd heard good things about the UAE and although I didn't think too much about Oman - that authentic experience would come later. Alma was back visiting me in Bintan by the time I left and we went our separate ways in Singapore Airport - me to Abu Dhabi, she back to Cebu until we finally got together again over three months later.

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