Thursday, February 11, 2016

Deported from Tanjong Pinang, Riau, Indonesia

Welcome??? Maybe not, at least for cyclists.

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.


totobobo said...

Thanks for sharing Bro Al. This must be quite an experience.

VK said...

Duty is only charged on new or unconsumed items. Worn clothing or a used bicycle should be exempt?

Taiwoon said...

Great post! Must be quite a experience. There are still many places for riding and I am sure u will be exploring more places soon!

Unknown said...

I have been living in Indonesia for the last 22 years and seemed these "wolves" are already extinct, though I have met many about a decade ago. But I can definitely say that the younger batch are far pleasant.

Oldyonfoldy said...

Thanks guys for your comments. Simon, you are spot on. Many younger people in Indonesia are pleasant, easy going and very friendly. In fact, many older ones too. We were just unfortunate to meet Mr and Mr Wolf of TP Customs I guess :(

Unknown said...

Sorry for your unfortunate encounter. Did you manage to get the names of these wolves? Corruption is taken very seriously now. I'm from TPI and disgusted to know this happened. Let me know their names if possible.

Unknown said...

Sorry to hear of your experience, brought back memories of some of our encounters in Africa! The Good Shepherd was keeping an eye on you!

Unknown said...

Bintan and Batam isnt coruption free. Is the golf country club and other businesses paid the custom regularly for easy access. I went to batam and my passport was handle by hotel staff the moment i arrived at Batam. Holding on the some green card, we cut the quene without queneing. The above was explained by that hotel staff. Sometime money does do the talk. I am thankful i am a singaporean.

Unknown said...

Hi I would like to contact you regarding your blog post. Can I email you personally ?

Unknown said...

Thought the Laos' immigration was bad. I am fortunate that Indonesian custom usually ok when I only carry a luggage full of chocolates.

Unknown said...

May i ask u that can we (not singapore citizen) bring bird nest into singapore?
2 persons bring 500grams?

Rudy T. said...

I was born and raised in Indo. I last lived in Tg. Pinang before I left for the U.S. It's ridiculous that the gov't workers are still so corrupted. At least you got to keep the bikes. Sorry that you weren't able to visit your friends. God bless!

boedakberaket said...

Maafkan cara kerja pemerintah kami,sebagai orang tanjung pinang dan saya lahir di pulau bintan ini malu terhadap anda yang ingin berkunjung ke tempat kami

Unknown said...

Please do visit Dabo Singkep...i'm from dabo and currently stay at Batam
You can go to Dabo Singkep through Batam Island from Punggur Ferry Terminal
There is a ferry leave everyday from Batam to Dabo Singkep at 10.30 am
Dabo Singkep people more friendly and helpful...please ask me if u want to visit our island...ask me anything and i'll try to help...
Just add through my fb page Novalini Huang
I am really sorry for our custom...

Org tanjungpinang said...

I ever deported from sg by an ugly indian girl officer 10 years ago b4… my passport soaked in water b4, all pages n data on passport book r ok, just some smudge stamps on a page… then i visited sg with a friendly malay uncle officer, i asked him dat my passport is soaked in water b4 n he said dats ok as long as all data still there… he let me pass… 2 months later i visited sg again… then met dis indian officer… she said can,t let me enter sg, bcos of my passport… i told her dat last time i came n dat malay uncle said my passport was ok… then she replied me, dat time was dat time, dis time is dis time… i can't enter sg… dats all, no more excuse… wtf… then i have to went back to tanjungpinang on next ferry with another officer guarding me… dis officer said i'm unluck, met dis indian officer… dis exp make me know dat we have to choose officer for chop passport… cos every officer may differ… ha ha…

Unknown said...

Sorry to hear about your bad experience. My advice is You need to understand your right to answer ir question back the custom officer.The used Bicycle is considered your personal belonging (which you will bring back with you to singapore) not souvenir or merchandise items. Therefore, it is not subjected to any tax. For example used laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

Unknown said...

I'm so sorry for your uncomfortable experience in my city. My name is Ade Angga, member of local parliament here. I hope you can give me a name that asked you some money. I promise I will follow up your complain. Here is my email I hope it will not happen again to another tourists..

Elio said...

I'm very sorry to hear about your experiences with the local wolves. I'm from T.Pinang and grow up in singapore and lives in singapore and my spouse and children are Singaporean.
I know of these wolves that you mentioned as I just went back for CNY last week and remembered their faces.
So sorry again for the terrible experience because these wolves.. to make you feel better, they don't just attack tourists..local they also want to makan. Thanks for putting kind words for Indonesia as a whole despite this ordeal. Indonesia is improving under the current government but much changes can't be achieved.

Oldyonfoldy said...

To all my Indonesian brothers and sisters who wrote in to express your kind support and empathy, Ello, MP Ade, Yanti, Novalini, Johari and Rudy, I want to say a big terimah kasih to all of you. I share your desire to make your country grow and prosper, especially the area of Tg Pinang. There is so much room to develop tourism further as Bintan is a very beautiful island and I have been there more than 5 times, taking many friends with me and enjoyed every trip!

However, it is sad that because of some corrupted officials, many tourists including us are frankly very reluctant to visit. I hope MP Ade can fix this disease.

Perhaps the Tg Pinang Tourism Board can organised a Visit Bintan month or perhaps a bicycle event called "Bike/Biak (as in biak/all is good) Bintan" where cyclists can come and enjoy various rides from Tg Pinang, welcomed and flagged off by the Mayor or MP Ade :)

Oldyonfoldy said...

Thanks Tresya as well. Sorry I missed out your name :)

Unknown said...

Hi, let me introduce myself first, my name is Muchsinin Husein. I'm a Head of Compliance on Services Function at Specific Regional of Directorate General of Customs and Excise of Kepulauan Riau in Tanjung Balai Karimun that oversees Customs Office of Tanjung Pinang. We apologize for your bad experience with our officers. We would like to thank you for your information. We have processed your complaint. We have formed a team to investigate this issue. If you don't mind, we need your contact (e-mail) to ask you more about this problem. Thank you.

Oldyonfoldy said...

Dear Enchik Muchsinin - Head of Compliance,

Thank you very much for writing on my blog. I am very honoured that such an important official like you is taking an interest in this bad experience we encountered. It encourages all of us to know that your lovely country is serious about tackling corruption.

I have no desire to see those officers punished because like all of us, they have families to look after. I believe you will know who they are by their scheduled time of duty - 1030 to 1130 on Feb 11, Thu. I'm happy to write to you if you can kindly give me your email and need more information.

What is more important is that a strong message be made to your officers on the ground that corruption of any sort should not be tolerated as it tarnishes the good reputation of all the other hard working and honest staff you have.

If there is any feedback I can humbly offer, I would like to suggest that a warm, friendly and welcoming environment be created by your officers. We were spoken to very coldly and disrespectfully. They are the first line ambassadors of your country and they make or break the impression for tourists.

I believe the peoples of Singapore and Indonesia have a strong and good friendship. Let us continue to work together to be great neighbours. I hope you can come visit Singapore one day :)


Unknown said...

Dear Mr. Al, I would like to inform you the progress from the investigation we've done. We interviewed the three officers that were on duty at the time. They have been counseled that their actions are not in accordance with Customs' best practice. They have been given guidance and briefings to increase their knowledge for better service in the near future.
Thank you for your feedback and apologize for the misunderstanding. We welcome you to explore Wonderful Indonesia in the future.

Muchsinin Husein

FA Purawan said...

Very sorry that you have experienced such atrocity in my countrty. It is very understandable if you felt anxious or even scared through the incident. But in many of my own experience, dealing with local officers can be rather easy, if you sure you are on the right position. Just a bit of tip, if situation permits, you can ask for the rules in written form. Ask like "All right I'll pay, but let me see the undang-undang (the law statement)". You may add small excuses like "you needed some prove or receipt to reimburse the cost to your office back in sg, and such".

It's true, that some of the officers have gut to mug tourists, but most of them will scare off at the notion of any law awareness you may possess. And should the first threat failed to bite, you can still throw out the "let me see your superior" routine, as the last resort. And let us assure you that our high ranking officers don't want their job jeopardized by bad report, especially coming from media or from internet powersource :)

Use it wisely and hope to see you better enjoy Indonesia. I do believe our government were working hard to improve these matters.

And last but not least info: Indonesian folding bike community, are having a bike event JAMSELINAS VI (Jamboree Sepeda Lipat Nasional) at Muntok city, Bangka Island next September. We usually welcome participants from any part of the world :) feel free to join, just reach the committee!