Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Border cities are always fascinating. They’re buffering zones, both inhibiting and absorbing civilisation of bordering countries. It’s an assimilation of both countries, most of the time creating their own culture. In the case of Badau, it’s surely a mix of everything and even a little too much of a hot mess, to be honest.
When visiting the Betung Kerihun National Park, the officers insisted we visit the border. We falsely thought we were to pass the treacherous forest of Borneo to get to the border. You see, on a map, the Betung Kerihun National Park borders directly to Sawarak of Malaysia. Hence, it’s currently proposed as a part of the ‘trans-border rainforest heritage of Borneo’, meaning it’s one of the three jungles that form one intact forest, shared between two countries; or something like that. Unlike our assumptions, we drove to Badau, the closest bordering city. Naturally as Indohoy, we oblige any trip that involves driving to walking a treacherous forest. Thus, we spent half a day to Badau as a friendly complimentary trip from the Betung Kerihun National Park, but of course, the opinions here are our own.
The asphalt to Badau is patchy; some parts are smooth as baby’s bottom, some are still dirt roads. Rumor has it that the relatively new patches are due to rebellious native aspirations wanting independence. The government was, allegedly, panicked and needed to do something to suppress these aspirations. Roads usually kept people happy. The deep black asphalt on different parts of the road shows how things are moving forward quite simultaneously amongst areas. Now, the roads are easing up transportation to and from the border, making me a patchy-happy gal behind the wheel.
The roads to Badau aren’t ideally vegetated living up to Borneo’s reputation of being the lungs of the world. Many parts of the roadsides are barren or have just undergone deforestation; a sight also found on other parts of Borneo. Many of these cleared lands are replaced with rice paddies. It’s no surprise, considering people need to eat and require land to plant their crop. It’s an ironic view to see rice paddies planted amongst huge tree stumps. It made me wonder, would we rather eat or breathe?
Badau is arid and dusty. Coming into noon, the sun was piercing hot. It hurt just to stand in the sun. Without my shades, I had to constantly squint my eyes hard to see. Being on the equator and so close to the sun has its disadvantages.
The main road divides the town like any other small city. Business flourish along the main road, and by business I mean garage-like spaces that are mostly attached to living quarters. From a glimpse, there were three interesting things that are the life source of this city.
– Foreign power
I’ve been told that the Malaysian government powers the city with stable electricity. Many have confirmed this, even the people that work in government. How exactly, I’m not sure. It’s disturbing enough just to hear this and I’m sure some Indonesians would lash out and consider that Malaysians are trying to expand their territory. But to be fair, seems like Indonesia is, yet again, not doing much to maintain its bordering towns.
Similar to the case of Sipadan, Indonesians were furious knowing the island was granted to Malaysia. But honestly, could we really have done a better job at maintaining it as a dive destination to be as worldly renown as it is today? I don’t think so. It’s been 69 years after the independence and Badau is accepting electricity from the neighboring country.
– Rural masses
The city also lives off their rural population; many of them are workers of palm oil plantations. Although not visible, these plantations are around. The workers don’t necessarily live in town but they come in to buy supplies for their daily lives. So the town might look simple, but it could be supplying a whole lot more people than it seems. Upon my brief visit, there was a truck filled with people that were loading people with their imported supplies. I’m sure it’s one of many.
– Imported goods
Then, there were the Malaysian products. On the racks of stores, imported goods are aligned with our own. Most of these products are wrapped goods, but I happen to spot a trey of imported shallots in the corner. So, fresh produce is going around too. These products can reach Matasso, about 2 hour drive from the border.
‘You should buy the Malaysian Milo. It’s really good’, people repeatedly told me. And so I did.
Somehow, it felt like traveling to a foreign country, seeing new products, reading their labels carefully (and giggling), and then spotting the price stickers showing a different currency. Ringgit is acceptable. Both Malay and local Hakka dialect added the ambiance as if I was abroad. I was kept grounded upon payment, paying in rupiahs and receiving light ‘Oh’ respond when I told the storekeeper that we were from Jakarta. No surprise there.
On the streets, half of the cars swirling around aren’t from a familiar brand. These cars are cheap Malaysian cars that can reach as low as IDR 2,000,000 (for a simple small and older type vehicle), which is a super bargain. However, they can’t pass a certain distance from Badau due to regulations. They say these cars are scrap cars from Malaysia, thus sold cheap in Indonesia. It’s usually the case for bordering cities such as Batam and some cities in Sumatra with their Singaporean cars.
Encouragement to use rupiah.
Fair to say, Malaysia has supported much of the lives in Badau. I’m partially thankful that they are, ‘cause at least somebody is looking after the people there, and for a delicious rich tasting Milo that’s different to the ones in Indonesia. The other part of me is sad for obvious reasons.
We easily managed to pass the abandoned-like-yet-is-under-construction Indonesian immigration office. We just drove through and reached Malaysian immigration office, without any checks. Ill informed, we didn’t have our passport with us. Thus, being good citizens not trying to get in trouble, we just hung around the Malaysian border because we could. It was such a time travel between immigration offices. It was like we jumped 40 years ahead in development. The Malaysian office was clean, organized and surrounded with palm oil plantation. Yep, seems like 40 years a head of Indonesia, just to be nice.
Visa on Arrival, Please!
On another note, the Betung Kerihun National Park (BKNP) had their fair share of complaining about the immigration system, hoping we bring the note across. The immigration office at Badau can’t serve Indonesian Visa on Arrivals (VoA) at the border. This is a huge loss for the national park, considering a lot of tourists, especially foreign visitors, could come in from Malaysia through Kuching. Instead, they have to travel to Jakarta or Bali first, before flying back again to Borneo, exactly to Pontianak or Putussibau as the nearest town with an airport. The BKNP believes this is a huge loss as it cuts off potential visitors.
A related issue is that this VoA is hoped to increase the visitors of BKNP. The national park fares are increased in hopes that the parks can provide more income to central government. It’s politics I’ll spare you from. Point is the increase has become a burden to everyone, not only to the visitors, and the VoA would do wonders.
The main issue is that there aren’t enough infrastructures for immigration to put the system up and online to central government. How is this even possible with electricity still supported by Malaysia? Thus, this cry for help hopefully reaching the right authorities at the central government. We’re just the messengers.
Barefoot policy in the supermarket.
There’s so much going on at the border, so much to see. Again, bordering areas are fascinating! I had mixed feelings whether I wanted more time to explore or I just had enough for the time being. It was a lot to take in at a mere 2-hour visit and it was scorching hot, draining energy to a level that I believed there were Dementors around. Till next time then, I suppose.
I wonder which border we’ll visit next?