Saturday, June 8, 2013


By Mansor Puteh

They do not care that what they do to the tourists who come to their cities are cheated, as long as they can cheat them and the others again and again, to make a fast rupiah, even if it means that in the long-run, the local tourism industry goes bust.

This is what has happened to the tourism industry in Sumatera, and also some parts of Jawa.

So no wonder there are now not many foreign tourists who would want to travel in these two areas of Indonesia trapsing alone and taking in the local sights.

There are many things to see, especially with its colonial Dutch and also ancient history spanning many centuries and involving many religions before Islam overcame all of them.

However, there are now so few foreign tourists in Sumatera. Those who travel in Jawa are mostly those who are there for other activities and businesses in Jakarta and want to go to Bali and have to pass through Jawa.

But the authorities in Jawa are more present so the travel industry and those in the lower end of it know how to behave, unlike those in Dumai, Pekan Baru and Palembang who do not seem to have such a setup.

Conmen and more conmen, acting alone or in small groups surround unsuspecting tourists or out-of-towners to fleece them of whatever they can.

It mostly comes in the form of the purchase of a ticket for short trips or longer ones.

The transportation system in Sumatera and most parts of Indonesia is so bad that it is primitive; it leads some who are at the lower end of the industry to feel enamored by their new-found power, to threat those who are not familiar with the places they are at.

So in the end, they allow themselves to be cheated, conned and lied, again and again, as the back of tricks the conmen in Indonesia have seems to be bottomless.

I have been to many parts of Jawa, Sumatera and Bali over the years.

But nothing compares to my experience in Dumai, Pekan Baru and Palembang in Sumatera recently.

These are not exactly important or interesting tourist destinations in Indonesia. They are out-of-the-way places. One therefore has to be there for a reason in order to want to be there.

Some only want to pass through these cities to go elsewhere such as to Medan, Banda Aceh or even to Jakarta in Jawa.

I could have flown to Palembang and Jakarta, but I chose to take the ferry from Melaka in Malaysia to go to Dumai.

The trip lasts two and a half hours. The fare is reasonable at RM170, return, with twenty ringgit in port charges.

There is a new port terminal at the Melaka Port. Its location is secluded that it does not allow for hangers on and even petty traders, or even taxis to park there to get passengers.

Melaka is not like Dumai across the Straits of Melaka.

Dumai is something else. The port city is small and it looks like Melaka in the 1960s, with a bit of activity at the port itself and the town is unkempt. But the people there seem to be happy with it.

I have no complaint with Dumai or the people living in this city.

But I have some complaints with the few who flock around the tourists who just landed there after sailing in the ferry.

Why must they want to flock and pester them to take up their offer of a trip to the city or anywhere? Can’t they be left alone to decide whose transport service they want?

I got a man who drove me and two others to the city where I was able to buy tickets to go to Pekan Baru for 90,000 rupiah. The price is too high for the trip which lasts five hours.

The length of time it takes to go to Pekan Baru from Dumai is mostly due to the poor quality road, with some parts which are under repairs. Generally the road is narrow and windy. If it is straight and wide, one can get to Pekan Baru in about one hour, or less.

The petty transport agents who swarm anyone who looks alien at the port will somehow settle with one of them who would take him to the bus depot to buy tickets to go elsewhere, and in my case to Pekan Baru, from where I have to take a connecting bus to Palembang.

It was late at night when I and two others arrived in Pekan Baru. The driver sent us to a bus stop to get the tickets for 250,000 rupiah per person, saying that they were for the super executive bus with only thirty-five passengers.

We were sent to the bus terminal which looks like one which we could find in a small town made of wood, where we had to wait till four a.m. before the bus came. And it is not a super executive but a less glamorous one with a seating capacity of forty-four passengers. And it is not a direct service, but one which stops everywhere dropping and picking passengers.

The trip from Pekan Baru to Palembang took twenty-two hours with many stops, and passengers smoking whenever they like with some even playing music on their cell phones and other devices.

They do not care if their act annoys you; all they care is that they smoke and listen to loud music.

Palembang is another story. And this is where the nightmare for me starts, at the final stop which is just beside a street at two a.m.

I was swarmed by some local petty owners of the ‘ojek’ or small motorcycles who offer to take us to a hotel in the city which is at the most ten kilometers from where we were.

We declined to take the offer to travel on motorcycles and got Hassan who said he could get his brother to come in a Kijang to take us to a hotel in the city. He asked to pay 450,000, saying that the trip is thirty-five kilometers.

I offered to pay him 300,000 rupiah but he asked for fifty thousand rupiah more.

A ramshackle ‘angkut kota’ or van stopped and he asked to enter it. He pretended it to be the Kijang van he had asked his brother to bring. I knew he was cheating me.

I got the ‘angkut kota’ driver to offer me 100,000 rupiah for the three of us to go to a hotel in the city, but Hassan stood in front of the van to stop it from going anywhere.

He then offered 300,000 to take us in a Kijang that someone else had driven over and stopped behind the ‘angkut kota’ van. He pretended that it was his brother driving it. It was not; it was just another driver with his Kijang van.

I then agreed to take the Kijang for 300,000 rupiah. And we started to remove our bags from the ‘angkut kota’ van. However, before we got all the bags, the van moved on taking my own bag along.

I lost the bag. I asked Hassan to ride his motorcycle and chase it. He did but returned some minutes later and said the driver had told him one of the passengers in the van had dropped off taking the bag with him, and there was no way for him to know who it was.

Hassan lied. He did not get the van and spoke with the driver. He returned with another lie and created another one to cover the earlier lies.

I then went with two others in the Kijang to go to a hotel in the city and arrived there not long later, the trip of which was no more than ten kilometers. It was not thirty-five kilometers that I had agreed to pay 300,000 rupiah for.

I got to Hotel Duta Syariah and stayed there a day with the two others.

I lost my bag and was left with the clothes I was wearing on when I first left Melaka on the ferry to go to Dumai a day earlier.

I then decided not to proceed on to Jakarta and booked tickets for the three of us to return to Malaysia the next day.

So on 4 June, we flew to Malaysia with me wearing the same clothes I had worn the last four days.

I felt lighter without my bag, but my heart was heavy.

I lost the bag with my clothes and other personal items comprising of a GPS, cables for my digicam and phones. These are not expensive items that the person who had stolen them could get from.

Chances are he could not sell the GPS as it was code-locked.

There is nothing in the bag that he could use without feeling guilty. He could sell them, but who would want to buy clothes that have been worn again and again?

Hassan said he had worked and lived in Malaysia fourteen years and married a Melayu woman from the country.

Yet, despite having spent so long in Malaysia working where I guessed he had saved a lot to allow him to decide to return to his country, he is now riding ‘ojek’ to earn a living.

How could anyone earn that much riding ‘ojek’ in Palembang? One has to cheat to get by. And cheating is what he had done to get 300,000 rupiah for the ride I took to go to the city and for losing my bag.

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