DEPORT - to force (a person who is not a citizen) to leave a country
Wolves are known to wait patiently and attack stragglers especially those at the tail end of the sheep fold. We encountered something similar today as we cleared customs at Tg Pinang, Riau. We were the only ones left after all the crowds went through due to our bicycles being the last to unload from the ferry.
We were all happy and cheery as we began what we thought was another exciting Lovethefold Adventure to beautiful Singkep Island, deep south across the equator to visit our friends Hardi and Devi.
The immigration officials were cheerful and one friendly lady officer remarked that she liked my Da Brim helmet! Such warmth and I replied with a thank you and a big smile. With our passports chopped, we proceeded to get our bags x-rayed at the Customs as per the normal procedure. Unfortunately, a very gruff customs lady senior ranking officer probably in her late 40s with thick gold bangles and rings asked very rudely for our papers to bring in our bicycles. She demanded if we had an agent and we haven't the foggiest what she was talking about as we have been bringing bicycles to the Riau Islands with no issue on numerous occasions. She was soon joined by another wolf, this time a dark, slimy ciggie smoking man who was aggressive and arrogant. He wore a brown leather jacket over his uniform. They both insisted that I accompanied them to their musty office, away from public eye for "negotiations".
There, they badgered me for $100 per bicycle or $400. I was shocked that they asked in Singapore Dollar and not their country's currency, The Rupiah! Very suspicious indeed. The purpose they claimed was firstly that Dabo and Tg Pinang were a non-free trade zone unlike Batam so bicycles were taxable, even though our bikes were clearly very used. My Tikit is 7 years old! Then they asked what would happen if we met up with an accident while cycling? I was really confused as now, were they offering bicycle insurance? When I told them I don't have that much money with me, their translator a very young man who spoke decent English was appalled and asked very condescendingly why I came to their country with so little money?
Mr Wolf soon went on a tirade about how he was asked to pay duty for ciggies that he tried to bring into Spore and so, it was now his right (and probably revenge) to ask me to pay "duty" for our very used bicycles. When he realised that I was not going to budge, he dropped the duty fee to $200, then $150 finally. At this stage, I was getting really annoyed as he started to point his finger at me menacingly with smoke coming out of his stained teeth mouth literally.
Dear Bro George at that time came in out of concern to see what was happening and nearly lost his temper at the sight of how these 2 wolves were going for the kill. Mrs Wolf then knew that this sheep was holding his ground and told us harshly to go back to Singapore. We were not welcome into Tg Pinang until we came back with more $, were her parting words. Then strangely, she made a concession later and said we could leave one bicycle at customs while the 4 of us could make our trip with 3 bicycles. But we were not leaving anyone behind! She must have figured out that our Bike Friday Tikit or a Brompton was certainly worth more than $150. Also, there was no way we would leave our precious steeds with them.
I told her politely and respectfully please don't scold us as we are friends of Indonesia and were here to enjoy ourselves. I shared that we were simply going to pay a visit to our friends who just had a new baby in Dabo, cycle a bit and that we are not crooks but law abiding tourists who unfortunately are not swimming in cash. I passed her my name card and told her that I am a Pastor whose call in life is not to make trouble but to bless people.
Unfortunately, she and her partner were not going to be blessed financially by us and she instructed us to take the next ferry back to Singapore which was 430pm, another 5 hours. We were being deported! Our bicycles were to be kept at the Customs Office until we left on the ferry. KC with a twinkle in his eye suggested we sneaked our bikes off when they were not looking but alas, we had already missed the 1130am ferry to Dabo and who knows what trouble we could be in if we did that.
Meanwhile, Berenda our most able Chief Financial Officer was being asked by the Fish Quarantine Officials why we were stuck and were not leaving. She explained that we did not bring the required "paper" and were in the midst of negotiations. They smiled and shrugged their shoulders.
Leaving our bikes obediently at Wolves Den, we went to town for lunch, had a very lack-luster Nasi Padang after a bit of a walkabout in the afternoon sun. Somehow, we had lost our appetite. We got a SIM card so we could convey our apologies to Hardi, who was also upset at this whole incident. He wrote, "Saya sangat kecewa sama custom indonesia. Sangat memalukan..." roughly translated - He was very disappointed with the customs. Very embarrassing.
The SIM card shopkeeper sympathised with our plight and shook his head. Then, we took a van taxi to a spa at 3km marker to kill time. Indo Spa looked decent enough but they showed us an English menu where a normal tradition massage started at 270,000 rp or S$27. This was crazy in a place like Tg Pinang and catered mainly for tour companies. The incredible expression of my face brought it down instantly to $21. Still, we decided to walk out and the manager chased us and said would 120,000 rp do? That was more like it, and since we had to wait out for our ferry, we agreed. The soothing treatments did wonders to our dampened spirits.
We caught a friendly taxi van back to the jetty and found a nice cake shop where we sat and enjoyed a delightful afternoon tea. Strolling back to the departure jetty, we were asked to give Angpows (Red packets with $) incessantly from various strangers and that really made us want to get out of this town asap. Some of the staff asked why we were going back so soon and where were our bicycles? We just smiled. No need to say too much. Thankfully, the young customs officer who spoke English and translated our conversations allowed us to take our bicycles with no drama. I asked gently if he was a university graduate and he nodded, very pleased at the recognition of his English ability. Sadly, his bosses are such poor examples and I hope he doesn't follow in their footsteps. It is up to the younger crop of officers to make Indonesia better. We proceeded upstairs to clear immigration and never felt happier being on the ferry back to Singapore.
Every country has the right to decide who gets in and who doesn't. As guests, all who enter must abide by their rules and law. We respect that and it must be said that we are also not expecting any special privileges whatsoever as we are all merely just ordinary people. However, when it comes to blatant corruption, demanded in such a crass and rude manner, we are only too happy to be deported. After all, how can anyone enjoy staying in a place when the welcome mat has been withdrawn?
Arriving in Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal Singapore, we were greeted with the most beautiful of sunsets. The orange hue and warmth perked us greatly and we knew instantly that being in Singapore's terra firma was certainly the right decision. We nearly got devoured but survived. In my heart, I knew we were protected by a very able Shepherd.
Real courage is when you know you are licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird.
Lesson Learnt - I will still continue visiting enchanting Indonesia because I have met many wonderful and nice people there. Despite today's incident, Indonesia remains a great country for bicycle touring known for its quiet roads, great culture, history and friendly folks. From the FB postings in response to this blog post, many have shared similar negative experiences and that is sad. Perhaps we can blame the CNY season or low salaries but to be fair, many have traveled smoothly with no incidents, as I had before.
However, I will not recommend entering through Tg Pinang with bicycles for now. The northern ferry terminal of Bandar Bentan Telani is relatively problem free as many Westerners and golfers go through there and is a better bet. Clearing immigration and customs at Batam Centre, then cycling 18km to Telaga Punggur ferry terminal, catching a ferry to Tg Uban, east of Bintan is another safer option.
Meanwhile, will be seeking clarification from the relevant authorities about their custom's policy on bicycle tourism so stay tune. I do hope that we bicycle tourists will be welcome as we play our part in building and fostering bridges of friendships with our neighbours.
Don't let these situations put you off and I hope you will keep exploring and keep riding. The world is 99% of the time, a very welcoming place!
Update Feb 15, 2016
As at Day 5 of this post, there have been over 9000 hits, and requests for more information/interview by the local Singapore media. This is obviously an issue that resonates with many. I am truly grateful to all who wrote in, gave support and shared nuggets of wisdom and advice. Terima kasih indeed! However, it is not my wish to fan this small fire and I would like somehow for this incident to turn into something good, something beautiful to reflect the strong friendship and bond between the peoples of Singapore and Indonesia.
Update Feb 18, 2016
It is Day 8 and I have been very encouraged and impressed at how serious the Indonesian authorities are taking an interest in this case. Was surprised and deeply honoured when a Tg Pinang MP Ade Angga wrote to express support and promised an investigation into this unfortunate event. Then today, it made the news of the BatamPos, a local newspaper.
In the evening, I received another post from the Head of Compliance, Enchik Muchsinin Husien writing in to apologise for his staff behaviour, started investigation and requesting for more information. I am very humbled to hear from another important man in the Indo govt.
For the record, it is not my wish to see these 2 officers prosecuted because like us, we all have our families to support. Truth be told, we all have made mistakes before and people have been gracious and kind to us. If the message is received loud and clear to the Customs Officials that corruption of any sorts are not tolerated in the future, that will be a most desirable outcome.
With all these assurances, action and warmth from our Indonesian friends, I feel that the Riau Islands are not to be avoided just because of this one-off incident (at least for me). I was hoping that some good will turn out from this and I believe it has :) They are deserving of our support and I have had nothing but the most enjoyable times discovering and exploring these wonderful islands on my bicycle, meeting so many lovely folks on my previous trips.
Let us all do our bit to build the warm relationship between Indonesia and Singapore, as well as other countries because at the end of the day, we are all neighbours, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and friends or kawan kawan.
Update Feb 21 - According to this website, sports equipment (bicycles included) are allowed in duty free provided they return with the tourist. Therefore for our case, the custom officers were clearly wrong in demanding "duty" from us for our bicycles.
• (Video) cameras, portable radio cassette recorder, binoculars and sport equipment may be imported by tourists provided also exported upon departure.