Sunday, August 26, 2012

Paris Van Java in the Tempoe Doloe and Sekarang (Old days and Present)

Tempoe Doeloe (Tempu Dulu) is a term used by Indonesians to remember the period up until WW2 and before the subsequent struggle for independence from the Dutch  (See separate blog entry on Independence day).  Approximating “the olden days” in meaning, it evokes a clear distinction in the mind between “then” and “now” (“tempoe doloe and sekarang”).  In other words, a Colonial versus an independent Indonesia.

Henny learned early on how to be at the centre of the party

Tikus after a swim at the beach (no showers then!)

Having tea outside their last home in Belitung before war broke out in the Dutch East Indies

For children growing up all over the Dutch East Indies in the pre war years, life was one of privilege.  On their doorstep was a vast, natural playground, diverse and full of wonder.  They stepped each day into that world of discovery alongside their gentle “companions”, servants who cared for them as if they were their own.

Suddenly, that playground was to be locked up, too dangerous to explore and for reasons a child would not be able to understand.  The danger however, was felt keenly as paradise dissolved into confusion, uncertainty and fear.  Aunty Hendy (Henny) tells the story of their arrival, late at night, at Bandung train station after the capture and internment of Hans in 1942. Because “manners dictated that you didn’t turn up at someone’s house at that time of night”, they sat all night at the station, waiting for morning before they could finally take a Delman (horse and cart) across town to the home of a friend, possibly Hedy (European) or Moesje (Indonesian).  Tikus praised her little girls for being so grown up, able to sit up all night and be so good.  The ability to remain upright and act with grace, even in the most difficult and uncertain of times, even when running, literally, for their lives, these are things we might associate with the elegance of the Tempoe Doloe. This is a trait that I have noticed amongst the people that I have come across here in Indonesia.  Culture dictates that emotions should not be shown too readily, but I can also recognise that a calm and gentle nature is something that is entrenched deep down in the character of the people as a whole and is supported not only by faith but by large networks of relationships.  I see it with the people around me:    They call each other “brother” or “sister”; When asked for a favour, they will always have someone they can seek for help in granting the request; They form some friendships which are so committed that there is little they would not do for each other; If one of them loses his job, there will be a place to stay, even in a tiny Kost (similar to a bedsit), one more is always welcome;  There is little time they wouldn’t take, and little discomfort they wouldn’t endure. I have often reflected on this and on modern western culture, obsessed by social media which in my mind, through a tendency towards exhibition, has confused and dulled the significance of friendship and love.  Here however, amongst these friends, as I can imagine it was with Moesje, Hedy and Tikus, a support network functions with discretion, without ceremony or expectation, with a calm outward projection to protect those around them as much as themselves, and reflecting a determination, through both action and inaction, that everything will be alright. 
After arriving in Bandung to relative safety in 1942, my family would have found it to look much as it is depicted in old photos hung in cafes and boutiques all over the city today.   The location of Bandung, surrounded by volcanic mountains, gave it a natural protection, conducive as a strategic military base, as well as fertile soil on which plantations (mainly coffee and tea) sprang up as early as the 17th and 18th centuries.  Bandung became a fashionable resort town for wealthy Europeans with luxury hotels, tea rooms, coffee shops and promenades, the most famous of which, Jalan Braga (Braga St), was considered to be one of the most European places in the Indies. Paris Van Java was a moniker coined during Bandung’s “good old days” before traffic jams, apartment blocks, pot-holed pavements and McDonalds.
The original Hotel Preanger


The famous Braga St  Promenade
(Above photos courtesy of Trompenmuseum)

However, the atmosphere at that time was already becoming very different. Aunty Hendy (Henny), the elder of the two sisters, remembers lying, frightened, under the windowsill of a house in Bandung, listening to a terrifyingly loud rumbling sound. It turned out to be the sound of “thousands of Japanese troops” as they marched into the city.  Their lives were becoming increasingly restricted, for how long no one knew.  Everyone went about their daily lives “living in staccato” as she describes it, stopped and started by air raid sirens and frightening encounters with these “japs”.  Sometimes it was not possible to get to a shelter in time.  The girls recall the siren going off whilst they were at the Pasar (market) and having to take shelter under the stalls, in the gutters and amongst the filth and stench of discarded meat and vegetables rotting in the sun.   Soon, Tikus and her friends were to hear rumours that some of the Japanese officers had started to eye up the more attractive European women.  Not wanting to become “comfort women”, a series of moves from one house to another ensued. Passing between the houses of friends, always further away from the city centre, made that staccato life all the more unsettling.  They lived in hope also that this way the Japanese would not have the opportunity to “encourage” them to move to the European-built residential complexes in the North Eastern and South Eastern parts of the city that the Japanese had assigned for the “voluntary”  internment and “protection” of Europeans at that time.  No one was to know yet exactly what those areas were to become shortly afterwards, but gut instinct determined that they tried to avoid finding out, at all costs.
In parallel to the Tempo Doloe before the war, to this day, Bandung (and its environs) remains a popular weekend destination, particularly for Jakartans who are keen to trade the oppressive heat of the capital city for the relative cool of the mountains….en masse. They shop till they drop in the many factory outlet stores that are dotted in and around the city, considered to be where fashion trends emerge (some of which are housed in old colonial buildings) giving cause for the city to maintain its nickname Paris Van Java. Hot spring spa resorts are nestled amongst the cool hills surrounding Bandung.   Many of the larger houses in the city are owned by wealthy Jakartans, just like the owners of No. 123 Nylandweg (Jl Cipaganti) who, unfortunately for me and my search for a location to picture my family in this city, chose not to come to Bandung for the Lebaran (Idul Fitri) holiday this year.

A sign outside the large mall, named Paris Van Java

Despite urban migration and rapid development, much has been preserved of the old architecture (although some would argue not enough), the history of which is well documented by the Indonesian online community.

The Bank Mandiri building now and during the Tempoe Doloe – the mosque in front of it now replaced with a larger modern structure (latter photo courtesy of Trompenmuseum)

The former de Vries Supermarket (now a bank) and in the late 1930s (the latter courtesy of Trompenmuseum):

Tempoe Doloe seems to be, for many young people an important facet of their city’s identity, just as Independence is the point from which they take many of their references today: 
“These are times when we are growing and changing much, much quicker than we can perhaps adapt to without being rootless and rather lost. Finding and appreciating values handed down from times past might actually make us step slower, more carefully, with more appreciation and consideration to things around us……….. traditional constructions represent cultural values handed down………….. and the generation linkages that go through it.  It’s inside these things that we might take root while still facing the current world( From deviantart blog -
But there are three years in between these two “eras”, years which I am convinced influenced many of the values and life lessons that have been handed down to me.  A period that is not documented by photos, about which little seems to be said.  When discussing the war, it is invariably the war of independence that is referenced, not the Japanese occupation, although locals, when asked directly, are always quick to mention that the Japanese were much more brutal in their treatment and that they worked only to “bring Indonesia down” whilst the Dutch helped to “bring Indonesia up”.   It is as if 1942 to 1945 were simply a few short years, a forgotten reality, swallowed up by a long colonial past and a promising future of freedom. 
Today, it is just that promising future, the city as bustling economic hub and centre of education, that draws students and immigrants from across the archipelago to Bandung, and it is the Tempoe Doloe and modern evocations of a Paris van Java lifestyle that attract tourists and weekenders here.  Delmans and Becats take children around the quieter, tree lined streets of the North Eastern part of the city, behind the Gedung Sate building.  “Ini Belanda!“ “This is Holland!” my taxi driver (on the left in the photo below) points out enthusiastically as he performs an emergency stop and ushers me out of the car towards the collection of horses and carts, brightly adorned in a manner in which I am sure in no way reflects the old days but which is appealing to the children who smile and wave excitedly…………………
………………………Does it really seem that long ago?
Paris Van Java as weekend destination today:
Dutch lamp hides behind factory outlet discount sign
                Boutique factory outlets in Colonial Buildings              

Hot spring / Spa

In a more appropriate full length swimsuit - we live and learn!

Tourists and Children look back at a Colonial Past - kids love the colourful tack and horses' manes!       


1 comment:

  1. Thank you. That was very moving. My mother was born and raised in Bandung.

    Her parents took her and her five siblings to Europe just before the Japanese arrived.

    Later, we lived all over Europe and America but she could never recreate the elegance and manners and culture of old Bandung, the languid luxury - she had a rich father and they had many servants, her mother a classical pianist - and was never really happy again, lost in the misty memories of old Bandung and the luxurious ocean liner and train travels they made in the 1930's.

    She had five children and we were raised never to complain or raise our voice or out-clever others.

    A different age, a gilded age, we have lost much in the hustle and bustle and noise and culture of complaint.

    God bless!