Friday, September 28, 2012

The Big Family

I am told that we are going to a bar called Chinook, on Jalan Riau (aka Jalan Laksamana Laut RE Martadinata) in the North Eastern part of town, not far from one of the main areas of boutique factory outlets and the tourist snack shacks that service them.  We pass the semi-circular park, the Taman Premuka on our left, then the adjacent two storey colonial building of the current British Institute where some late classes have just broken up.  We are going to watch a friend’s band play.  I have met Akang, the guitarist, only once about a month ago.  He had been wearing a black jacket sporting a large white BBC logo with the words BBC PHANTOMS 4 EVER, his piercings and tattoos, his short hair spiked at the front and the confident, decisive way in which he manoeuvred himself reminding me of my original presumption that BBC was some kind of gang.  He had rushed to join us at the Dago hospital after an incident in which Luki had been head-butted completely out of the blue at a party by a guy, consumed by his own domestic problems and looking to vent his anger on some easy target, someone half his size who wouldn’t fight back.  Whilst Luki had taken control of the situation, bleeding profusely from the top of his eyebrow, and bundling himself and some friends off to the hospital in typical, unalarmed, fashion (“It’s nevermind.  I must feel and enjoy the pain because it will be gone soon”), phone calls were being made all across Bandung by senior members of the BBC, specifically Akang’s mother, to find out where this guy was, who he was and whether he was a BBC member.  Not long afterwards, Luki received an apology from his aggressor and everyone went on with life, knowing that nothing of the kind would happen again between the two men.  About 10 days later, when we bumped into him and a mutual friend in the passageway of Luki’s workplace (the guy works occasionally as security there),  Luki reached out to touch his shoulder lightly in greeting as he passed by.    When I asked why he did that, his reply was  “I am clear in my mind. I don’t want to friendly with that guy.  But I want make everyone comfortable.”
My presumptions about the BBC are again challenged when I realise that this is a reggae gig.  I am confused by the amount of ink and metal swaying rhythmically alongside clumps of dreadlocks bobbing up and down to the famous lyrics “I wanna love ya...and treat you right....everyday and every night“.   The music itself could only be described as a “little bit good”.  Still, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves.
We are joined by Anya, Jeff  and Patrick, the latter a ”Belanda Indo” with traces of English and Spanish blood added to the mix - a self proclaimed “gado-gado” (referring to the local dish comprising a variety of boiled vegetables served with a peanut sauce dressing).  He speaks very fluent English and despite also being a little bit Dutch but not a lot, his modest Dutch vocabulary of random words picked up from cousins in Holland and a Dutch grandmother puts mine to shame.  He tells me that he lives in the Cihapit area (formerly Tjihapit), which is apparently just nearby.  I recognise the name as being one of the two women and children’s internment camps in Bandung during the Japanese occupation – it hadn’t occurred to me that Tjihapit would resume its status as a residential area after the camp liberation in 1945.  I wonder if indeed it is the same place.   “Cihapit?”   I ask again. 
“Yes, Cihapit”  he replies. 
“Patrick is the King of Cihapit” Luki interjects.  
 “I think my family might have lived there during the war” I probe.  Patrick seems to understand my non-question:
“My Grandfather was in the Indonesian military, he was a freedom fighter after the Japanese occupation, and he told me stories about Tjihapit during and after the war, things that many people here don’t know about”.   I am interested to press for more information but too many Gin and Tonics and the apparently slow and painful 2nd death of Bob Marley is rendering serious conversation too difficult to keep up. 
Somebody asks me across the table “How long have you been here?”.
“Eleven months” I reply.
“And how long will you stay?” 
“I don’t know.” 
I explain the fact that the powers that be (my Company’s bosses) have indicated that I may be posted to HK but nothing is certain as yet.  HK, a goal for which I had been pushing, thinking that it would finally put me on the map to pursue a “normal” life course, is now starting to lose some of its urgency.   I realise that I am quite content here on the whole, and that, should I not have the threat of becoming what in China is referred to unfavourably as a SHENGNU (literally a “leftover woman”, usually in her 30s), should I not already have thoughts of being single, childless and on the wrong side of 35 hovering over me like a dark shadow, maybe it would not be so easy to leave.    It seems my relationship with time as catalyst for an uncertain future, not so long ago an obsessive and fearful one, has improved somewhat.  Not so long ago, I was in perpetual panic, discontent with the directions in which both my professional and my personal life were headed.  It was as if time had gotten hold of me and was punishing me for having put off growing up and taking responsibility, for pursuing an “interesting” life, for far too long.  I felt every day as if time were running away from me and It was ripping my heart out as it ran.   
The question of HK itself isn’t the ultimate deal breaker for us two.   A combination between brief fling, shotgun wedding, and a surprisingly short pregnancy means that Luki is doing what he had thought was the “right thing” but is no longer so sure as the little boy grows bigger and he finds it more and more difficult to be close to him.  In any case, he too has an uncertain future with regards to where he will be in the coming months.   He is a bar manager, currently looking for an opportunity as well to lead a more “normal life”, to work days, to build something for his future.   Through friends, opportunities have come and gone, the most recent of which is looking promising – a 2nd interview for a job as a personal trainer.  Nevermind the fact that he hasn’t been to the gym on a regular basis for years, this is Indonesia:   anyone can try something new and no one would “blame you” if your skills are only a little bit ok. Besides, his friend will ensure that he gets the best training.   I choose not to tell him the disaster scenarios that are going through my mind as I consider what it would mean if this were the UK with its blame and compensation culture.  Instead we tease him about his lack of 6 pack and he retorts, effecting a kind of swaying dance with hunched shoulders, swinging arms and accompanying pout which may or may not be intended to mimic the incredible hulk,  that when he comes back from training in Jakarta, he will look like a rugby player!    
I stand at the back of the room, looking on at a motley collection of friends:  A Eurasian catholic wearing a sleeveless Motorhead t-shirt and with distinctively paler skin than his Sundanese companions; a reggae-playing, tattoo-toting muslim “gangster”; a lesbian Chinese Christian who has recently converted from Islam; a tea-total ex addict;  a strong, fiercely independent young bar manageress; and a 25 year old, happy-go-lucky father of two, who most definitely will be relegated to sleeping on the sofa again tonight.   A big, bizarre, yet perfectly functional, family. Plus a couple of bule (foreigners), thrown in for good measure.  
At around 2.30am, the bar starts to emtpy out and we emerge from the large smoky hall into the relative cool mountain air.  A small group of us are saying our goodbyes.  The parking attendant helps manoeuvre the motorbike out from behind a row of other bikes and as he is slipped a 2000 rupiah note, I mention the fact that the previous week I almost had my bag stolen whilst we were riding the motorbike back home late at night.  Before I know it, it has been decided that we will be escorted home by Ariel, a big smiling bear of a guy wearing a black jacket with a large white BBC logo in the centre.  Patrick calls out “Le, put your bag on your lap” to which Luki adds “don’t worry, no one can touch you because they can see it is BBC”.  

“I am more worried about the fact that you have been drinking” I point out as I put on my helmet, one which I purchased at a roadside shack for 50,000 rupiah (5.50 USD).   There weren’t any more expensive ones on offer and I have to admit that the only sturdier looking one was in the “wrong colour”. 
“It’s ok, Ariel will make sure we are ok.  Anyway, I have something in my wallet.  It’s a blessing from the Koran that my mum give to me.   She go to a Dukun because yaaa she always worry about me on my motor cycle at night and sometimes a little drunk after my work.” 
Oh dear god. 
“What is a Dukun?”  I ask, putting aside other, more pertinent, questions, as the motorbike starts and we set off, Ariel hanging back a little distance behind and to the right of us. 
The answer is half lost in the wind: “.....white Dukun..... keep dukun.... magic......make you scary...”. We cross the flyover where, in the daytime, you can look down on the sprawling ghetto of concrete houses and shacks which crowd the banks of the murky Cikapundung river as it snakes through the city:   Later, after arriving home, I push for more details. 
“Yaaaa the white is the good Dukun.  The black Dukun, people can go to the black Dukun if they want to make someone bad.  Like Chris, her parents, somebody want make them bad and go to the black Dukun.  The father Chris he get sick, nobody knows why but his stomach have problem.  After he die, the same thing happen to the mother Chris.” 
He goes on to explain that there are different kinds of Dukun and the reasons for going to them are as varied as the methods that they employ to grant those requests .   A Dukun is able to enhance a woman’s appearance (a practice called SUSUK) by embedding small needles or tiny particles of gold, without causing any wound, under the surface of the skin.
 “But it is a problem when she get old and want to die because she must find the same Dukun to take it out again.  If not do like this, it very difficult to die.”
 A black Dukun can be sought to perform a kind of curse, like the one that is believed to have been made on Chris’ family.  It is said that when another Dukun is called upon to help a victim of a Busung curse, as this form of black magic is known, to try to exorcise them, they will find all sorts of items, metallic objects, broken glass, (“even small frying pans or animals” according to some reports !!), buried in the person’s stomach.  According to these reports, “Busung victims rarely escape death”.   I am told that Chris, a Christian of Chinese descent, also carries a similar piece of paper in her wallet, on which is written some lines from the Koran, to keep her safe.  
Dukuns can also apparently help people who want to improve their ability to sell or do business.  If your eyes are open, I am told that it is possible to see many animals sitting on the edges of certain market stalls, beside the apples and the carrots.  They allow the stall owner to exude the requisite charm and confidence to lure customers. I decide immediately that this could be the answer for my own professional predicament.  I wonder whether these little animals can also sell ice to the Eskimos. 
“So if I go to a Dukun, I can ask for anything I want?“ 
“Yes, I guess so” 
“I could ask for better success in my job, more sales and easier customers?” 
“Yes, you can try”.  I think about what animal I would have.  Maybe a magpie, they are resourceful and persistent and as animal totem are said to be helpful in many of the aspects that would appeal to me at this time.   Or maybe a tikus, a mouse.  That would be appropriate.......
“Don’t thinking so much” I hear from across the room, a reply to my inner thoughts, delivered with a chuckle.   When the opportunity for superstitious wish-making arises, like when an eyelash falls on my cheek, I usually make a different wish altogether.  As I blow it off my finger, that wish is always a little bit vague, reflecting my uncertainty of how it could possibly come about.    My Doctor once said to me “Don’t worry, somehow there will be a baby”.  I am surprised, yet somehow heartened, by today’s apparent switch of focus, however temporary.
“Someone misses you” an Indonesian would say as the eyelash is picked off and blown into the air.  It’s funny how each culture has superstitions and traditions that are similar in origin yet have a different significance.  This year, according to the Chinese zodiac, is the year of the Dragon – my 4th Dragon year.  My ayi (helper) in Shanghai who was born just 2 months before me told me on one of my return visits at the beginning of the year that I must buy some red underwear, for luck in “our” year.  
“In the village, it is always the mother that should buy the red underwear.  But because your mother is not here, it’s also ok if you buy it yourself”.   Never one to shun an opportunity to gain some luck, I went out and bought a matching set of red underwear (red is a lucky colour in China, in stark contrast to how it is perceived in the west).  With only one pair of lucky red underpants, I decided to augment my chances by wearing red toenails as well and have done so for most of this year so far. 
I return my thoughts to the Dukun.  “What would I ask for?”  I wonder aloud.   
“Susuk!  You should go to Dukun for susuk!” comes a teasing reply. 
I joke  ”But then you would never be able to let me go.  And, Mr, you have baggage and responsibilities whilst I am free as a bird”.  Our unspoken understanding, through circumstances which afford no other consideration,   that there are no expectations and only the certainty of moving on, contributes to our very easy, yet respectful relationship.
As we approach my apartment, Ariel slopes off to make his long way home, in the outskirts of the city, holding up one arm to signal his goodbye.  I think about this strange group, this club.  Like some kind of neighbourhood watch in leathers.   The difference between LMS (white logo) and ORMAS (yellow logo) has been explained to me, but I am only able to partially grasp the significance.  Established in 1956 as a small Body Building Club (Buah Batu Barbell Club) in the district of Buah Batu, over the train tracks in the south eastern part of the city, it gained popularity and expanded to incorporate non fitness members as well as members from the wider Bandung area, whilst maintaining its roots in Buah Batu.  Suffix names, representing the small groups that emerged, were added, such as AGOTAX, BANILS,  BARROLS,  DANGER, , GAMES,  KUTUB, LEXS,  MACHO, MEGAS,  MOYANK, OYSTER, PHANTOM and  SKILLS.  In 1966, the name was further changed to Buah Batu Corps reflecting its expansion geographically and in purpose.    Neither “branch” could be described as being a gang in the traditional sense of the word, although Ormas (and the small groups that align themselves under it) is certainly much more business and power oriented than LMS which focuses on environmental and community concerns and activities.  Both are committed to making Bandung “grow up” and both count many prominent figures as well as regular Bandung citizens and youths amongst their members.  Now that my eyes are open, I see the logo on the back windows of smart black cars and jeeps as well as ordinary vehicles and motorbikes.   The essence of the power of the BBC is in its sense of, and commitment to, inner strength, independence and respect, particularly for one’s seniors.   I possibly will never understand the intricacies or real significance of this group, but what I do understand is that, in Indonesia, where belonging to a group or “communitas” is an important part of everyday life,   it is possible to bring together various independent groups, falling within two branches with quite different outlooks, under the umbrella of a wider organisation called simply, and rather innocently, ”Keluarga Besar”,  “The Big Family”. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Shades of grey

This week, as the Tangkerban Perahu volcano stirs, towards whose lower slopes Bandung rises, dormant tensions across the archipelago bubble at the surface.

 “A police officer scuffles with Muslim men during a protest against American-made film Innocence of Muslims that ridicules Islam and depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman, outside the US Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Monday. Indonesians angered over an anti-Islam film clashed with police outside the embassy, hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails and burning tires outside the mission. (AP/Tatan Syuflana) Jakarta Police arrested four members of the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI) for possession of a variety of weapons they brought to an anti-Islam movie demonstration on Monday”. The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Jakarta | Mon, September 17 2012, 8:32 PM                

When I first see this article, it shatters my naïve perceptions about a progressive and tolerant Indonesia. I have been looking on at the events in Egypt and Libya and other parts of the Muslim world, as being far from the reality in this laid back archipelago.   The first I hear of it is when my American customers, urged by their Government to stay away, cancel their trip to the factory for fear of anti-US aggression.  Thus, my already challenging job, trying to develop new business for an expensive supplier in one of the most competitive of global industries, suffers another setback.    Further discussions with local friends have revealed that the non-governmental group described in the above article represents a minority that wields the kind of policing power and influence that another, more well-known, organisation with a similar acronym might aspire to. Tough penalties are often arbitrarily metered out to those that don’t comply with their own religious laws.   Just as in China, where we are currently seeing anti-Japanese demonstrations and emotionally charged outrage on the streets following renewed Japanese claims over a small uninhabited island’s sovereignty ,  under the surface of this society a dormant beast awaits, which could, at any moment, manifest its fury in an eruption of seismic proportions when sensitivities are triggered.  In China’s case, at the level of the common man, it is not about access to resources or historical ownership, but a burning nationalism suddenly fuelled by a reminder of historical wrongdoings and imperial atrocities.  A smooth surface can mask convincingly many underlying tensions, until they spring up suddenly from a soil made fertile by insult, injustice, fear, opportunity or oppression, perceived or otherwise.
It was in this way that the Japanese policies of segregation and internment along racial grounds provoked tensions between groups of people who once coexisted, in the main, relatively peacefully on Java. The Japanese, eager to wipe out a European presence throughout Asia, naturally considered the Dutch to be their biggest threat in the Indies.  Their targets were initially limited to those who fell into the category of  “Totok Belanda” civilians (pure Dutch, as opposed to Belanda Indo, those of mixed Indonesian and Dutch blood), primary targets amongst them being those who held prominent positions or had links to the Dutch military.  Through a mixture of fear, anti-Dutch propaganda and incentive, the Japanese succeeded in awakening a buried nationalist aspiration, turning a portion of the local population against their previous Masters.  Most Dutch civilians, some of whom had been born in the Indies and had never lived in Holland, were eventually interned.  The women and children were sent to Karees or Tjihapit, the residential areas initially allocated for “voluntary internment”, ostensibly for the “safety” of these civilians in an increasingly hostile environment. Anyone who lived in those areas who was not of pure Dutch blood, was forced to move out.  Those totok Belandas who were unlucky enough to find themselves already within the boundaries of the large, designated camp areas, and those who were the first to be interned, initially were afforded some freedom of movement.  However, the need to control a growing number of internees led to the construction of gedek walls (made of plaited bamboo strips and topped with barbed wire) surrounding the entire camp areas, thus demanding an end to any illusions that they were to be anything other than civilian prison camps.

Gedek wall with watchtower, behind the wall the rooves of the houses can be seen (drawing by Oliemans-Statius Muller J
At this time, Marianne Van Bael, (my Oma), born in Gross Hollandstein in Austria to Austrian parents, hoped to rely on her own ancestry to keep herself and her bi-lingual children safe.  And so Marianne Van Bael-Knoll, like so many others, set about distancing herself from her adopted Dutch nationality, destroying any documents that, during a house search, might betray her as a Dutch military wife, and severing, at least on the surface, a link with a Dutch POW husband who was now interned in Singapore’s notorious Changi prison. 
As time went on, the question over the loyalties of those of mixed blood, a section of the population that was large in size and extremely complicated to define, became an increasingly pressing issue for the occupying Japanese.  Many within this group were well educated, holding prestigious administrative jobs and could speak Dutch.  Others however were poorer and aside from perhaps a European name or distinctive European appearance, were indistinguishable from their pure Indonesian compatriots from the point of view of culture, way of life, living standards and views about their identity.  The Japanese in Bandung realised that incarceration of the whole of this section of society would have been impossible and so a complicated system of classification was eventually devised and everyone was required to register for a Pendafteran or ID card that reflected the Group to which they belonged.  The list of groups describes in simplistic terms the various degrees of “Dutchness” represented by this section of society, prompting those who fell into some of the more ambiguous categories to do whatever they could to distance themselves as much as possible from their Dutch roots, just as Tikus (Marianne) had done.  Some did this by searching for and submitting documentation as proof of ancestry whilst others resorted to the use of false identity cards.  A racial divide was created, particularly between those who were keen to pronounce that they were of pure Indonesian blood and those of that large section of the population who fell within one of the following categories:
Group 1:  Totok father and Eurasian mother
Group 2:  Totok mother and Eurasian father
Group 3:  Eurasian mother and Eurasian father
Group 4:  Totok father and Indonesian mother
(Group 5:  Totok father and totok mother)
Group 6:   Indonesian mother and totok father
Group 7:   Indonesian father and Eurasian mother
Group 8:  Indonesian father and a non-Indonesian, but Asian mother
List from  “Tjideng Reunion” by Boudewyn Van Oort (originally from Bouwer, Het vermoorde land)
 The threat of betrayal of those Belanda Indos that went into hiding by a minority of Indonesians who sided with the Japanese, encouraged by concessions regarding future governance and other incentives, shadowed them wherever they went.  Some of these betrayals were also inspired by the opportunity to redress or even reverse a previously accepted hierarchy, originally conceived along racial and educational lines.
It was during this time that Braga Weg (Jalan Braga) commenced its gradual, downward spiral from symbol of Paris van Java to seedy strip and run down inner city district, echoing the gradual process of removal of European faces from the streets of Bandung.

Photo courtesy of Trompenmuseum

Bragaweg’s boutiques, dressmakers and coffee shops were near abandoned.  It became risky to be out and about on the streets of Bandung where at any time one could be stopped by a passing Japanese soldier and questioned or even beaten.  Life had changed.   Today, Bragaweg receives visits from tourists and photographers searching for something that is no longer there, its precarious façade unable to hide the fact that its identity has crumbled away long ago.

Paintings along the wall of an alley leading off Jalan Braga (Bragaweg) to an inner city kampung, recall Bragaweg’s golden era, to the memory of which the current Bragaweg is trying to aspire
The government has recognised the need for, and value of, preserving this part of Bandung’s history, yet progress on any repair or maintenance work is slow to non-existent.  A couple of modern structures have sprung up on one end of the street, and one or two of the old buildings, the ones that have fared better over time, have been repainted and touched up.  But the majority are in a state of disrepair whether they are at the end of the street that houses bars frequented by prostitutes and Western tourists or at the end where, in complete contrast, bars, karaoke and other examples of an indulgent lifestyle are strictly forbidden.   This is prime real estate, but those in control, holding the strings, whoever they are, don’t seem to be in any hurry to concede ground. This street seems to be in limbo, unsure as to what it could be or indeed what it is trying to be.

At one end of the street, newly painted, this building seems little changed from how it was in the 1930s and 40s (1st  photo courtesy of Trompenmuseum)

At the other end, graffiti decorates the walls of this building visible in the above photo from the Tempoe Doloe at the far end of the street, its inhabitants now are the birds that fly in and out of its open windows (1st photo courtesy of Trompenmuseum)
This week I received an email from my boss asking me to look into the possibility of my applying for automatic residency in HK on the grounds of being born there and my family’s 24 year history in the country.    It seems my prompting and pushing soon after arriving in “Bloody Bandung” has gained some ground, albeit after almost one year.  It seems a long time ago since I thought about relocating again.  After some research, I find that there is an equally complicated set of requirements and limitations attached to attaining a resident ID card in this former Colony.  My situation doesn’t fall into any of the necessary categories:
  • A person of Chinese nationality born outside Hong Kong a parent who, at the time of birth of that person, was a Chinese citizen
  • A Chinese citizen who has ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years
  • A person not of Chinese nationality who .......  has ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years.... The continuous period of seven years ..... must be immediately before the date when the person applies to the Director of Immigration for the status of a permanent resident
  • A person under 21 years of age born in Hong Kong to a parent who is a permanent resident of the HKSAR
  • A person other than those in categories [above] who, before the establishment of the HKSAR, had the right of abode in Hong Kong only
Having no English blood and having lived out of the UK for a decade already, I would not have the right to apply at this time for an English passport.  I hold a Dutch passport but cannot speak Dutch. Precisely because I have that Dutch passport, I have no more right of abode in HK, my place of birth, than any other European, allowed only to stay for 3 months at a time.   I get an unsettling feeling, yet it goes only part way to affording me an understanding of how it might have been for those who were forced to try to assign themselves one identity whilst denying another, striving for an absolute that bears little resemblance to how they might have identified themselves as individuals.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Diary of a POW

A very wise friend of mine once told me that you need to “send out ships” in order to get back treasure.  One of my ships, my lines of enquiry, came back with my Opa’s (Grandfather’s) POW registration card:
Unit:   Air and Coastal Artillery,  Cilacap (Tjilatjap)
Place of capture:    Cibatu (Tjibatoe), Java
Date of capture:   8th march, Year 17 (17th year of the Emperor) = 8th march 1942
Camp Transfer :   to No.1 Branch POW camp, Java 15th august, Year 17  =  15th aug 1942.  POW#15740 (Located Bandung)
Camp Transfer:    to Malay Main Camp  = Changi, Singapore POW# 18986
The back of the card indicates that this 2nd transfer occurred on 29th October 1942, possibly via Thailand :  
This is the second of two registration cards written in the same hand and with the original data copied almost identically.  Whilst the earlier card is missing the second camp location and number, strangely it has an additional address.  Nylandweg 123 is crossed out and replaced with Pahud de Montagne weg 12 (slightly different from the Pahud de Mortagnes Laan on the back of my Grandfather’s portrait), only for this second address to be dropped again for the later version.

Was this a change of mind that made them write out the entire card all over again?   Again, it seems that Hans (Johannes) did not know for sure the address where Marianne Van Bael-Knoll (Tikus) was staying by that time.
In the archives I found also the registration card for A.J.W. Scheffer, the “radiotelegrafist” – turned- artist that drew my Opa’s portrait.   

“As Prisoner”  by  “A.J.W.Scheffer   6th August 1942”
For the most part, his card mirrors that of my Opa, up until sometime after  their 1st transfer, on 15th august 1942 (Year 17), to the large No.1 Branch camp (Bandung). POW#15723.        

The transfer took place just 9 days after the sketch was drawn and 5 months after they were both captured.   Only 16 POWs separated the two men at that camp, two men who were born just months apart at the turn of the 20th century.
I have found online exerpts from the diary of one Gerrit Jan Van Dam, also of the Air and Coastal Artillery who was stationed in Cilacap, the place to which my Opa was sent suddenly from Billiton at the outset of the war.    He, just like Hans, was captured in Cibatu (Tjibatoe) just one day after Hans, according to his diary, which indicates that they were fighting and moving in the same Company.   Most POW cards show a generic 8th march 1942 as being the date of capture whilst in reality there must have been small variations on those dates.   Therefore, whilst Hans left no records for us to follow his movements,  Gerrit’s diary would be a reliable reference for understanding what happened to Hans, at least for the first months, up until the 1st transfer:
March 7th 1942, and our entire Company was instructed to prepare for retreat to Bandung as the Japanese army was closing in rapidly on Cilacap. That evening we destroyed all weapons we could not bring with us and blew up our ammunition depots. The latter were filled with tracers and once they were well and truly ablaze it provided us with a very pretty but dangerous firework display......
After everything was destroyed we crossed over to the convict island of Kembangan Musa. We had to walk across it from the southern tip to the northern tip. It was already starting to get dark, and although at the beginning of the journey everything went quite smoothly and we had a decent path to follow, later on we had to go along slippery paths and steep cliffs, so we had to keep a close eye on the person in front of us to be able to continue. After this nocturnal trek we arrived at the northern most point of the island at the break of dawn, and boats were commandeered to cross back over to Java. There, we had a little break before we moved on, and after a journey of about two hours we arrived in a village that had a train station. After much opposition from the Javanese station master, our Commander was able to charter a train engine with engineer, and some carriages, so we could continue on our way to Bandung. We did not manage to get as far as that; the engine ran out of coal, and we were stranded in Cibatu. We set up camp in a school, where we could all finally get some sleep......
That morning of March 9th 1942, after a good night's rest, the future seemed a little bit brighter, but not for long. During roll call our Commander told us that the Dutch East-Indies had surrendered unconditionally and that we now held the status of prisoners of war.....
Many of us were angry and wanted to continue to fight, others were relieved and happy that they no longer needed to…………………
Our Javanese soldiers were very disappointed, and it took some days before we could convince them that they had better put on a sarong and make off to take to their various villages. Eventually they were persuaded and, after a sad farewell, they departed........
The first week we noticed nothing of a Japanese occupation and were still able to come and go as we pleased. Eventually, our commander received an order by telephone for our entire company to put themselves behind barbed wire at the market square. Once we were behind the barbed wire, there was nothing for us to do anymore, and soon boredom set in; you could tell by the little squabbles that arose among the men. At last, Japanese guards came, and that was the end of that little bit of freedom we had still had......

The guards became increasingly strict and the Japanese soldiers got even tougher with their abuse. We received orders to pack our bags, preparing for depart elsewhere. Carrying our belongings on our backs, we marched to the station where we were pushed into railroad cars and moved out west. Later that afternoon, we arrived at Garut, a town at the foot of mount Papandajan, where we were billeted in former police barracks....
This is where I think they went their separate ways for the transfer to the large camps.  I have found in the archives the POW card of one  Gerrit Van Dam, born 28th feb 1914.   IF indeed this is the same Gerrit Jan Van Dam, he was transferred to No.3 Branch camp of Java POW camp whilst Hans and August Scheffer were sent to No.1. Branch camp.

Gerrit Van Dam POW# and Camp #

Hans Van Bael POW# and Camp #

After Garut, we went up to Cimahi, a town about 5 miles to the north of Bandung. We were housed in what was known as the “Kale Koppen Kamp”, the camp of bald heads, which consisted of bamboo huts. Many Dutch POW’s were already housed here, and together with our group, it came to about four thousand of us. The camp got its name because the Japanese ordered everyone who was brought in to shave their head. That first day, it was quite a strange sight, to see all these bald heads together, but you quickly get used to it.
The Japanese were a lot stricter here...............
The boredom was perpetual, we basically had nothing to do all day. Some took their little aluminium dinner dishes, and started engraving them;  I must say, there were some true artists among us.

Thanks to Henk Beekhuis for his help in searching and pointing me in the right direction to find the POW registration archives.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Aunty Hendy sends me on a Wild Goose Chase

Photo by Laurence Green

“Where is this Angkot going?” I ask my new friend, Laurence, a photographer I have met whilst wandering around the Gedung Sate area.  As we rush to find our places inside, we decide that it doesn’t really matter - we just need a direction in which to continue wandering.
“Ke mana?” one of the other passengers asks us “where are you going?”
“Tidak tahu” I reply.  I don’t know.  
I ask the driver “Ke mana?”
“Kampung” he replies.
“Oh my God!”  I recollect something that my Aunt told me a few days before.  She said that they had stayed for a short period of time, at some point before their internment, with friends in a beautiful home “near the Kampung”.  I tell Laurence that I have been meaning to try to go there to see what might be left of any old Dutch houses but I didn’t know where it was.
 “That’s amazing…. It must be fate!  Let’s go!” Laurence enthuses, throwing his hands up and clapping once.  He is obviously as much of a believer as I am in the power of connected events and the signs that can guide us towards them, if we choose to follow.  Over the last four or five years I have learned that by recognising and acting at the point where coincidence meets opportunity, no matter what the odds or challenges, doors open up and the experiences that ensue can be life changing.  Four and a half years ago, house-hunting as a favour for a colleague led me to a run-down bedsit in an old 1940s property which had a fantastic and rare 35sqm balcony (larger than the flat itself!) overlooking the quiet streets of Shanghai’s French concession – a prime location.  It came extremely cheap and had great potential, but for two things: I couldn’t imagine anyone other than myself being mad enough to live in what looked, on the face of it, like a complete shithole had no kitchen!  At that time I was trapped in a destructive and co-dependent relationship, having tried various times to leave, only to go careering back each time, like a car crash waiting to happen.    This flat would have been great for me but I was not ready for it at that time.  Four months later, after gaining back a small amount of self respect and control over my life (I thank a new interest in yoga as well as my best friends for that), I returned on the off chance that I might find the flat still available.  It was.  In the meantime, a conservatory-style kitchen extension had been built on one half of the balcony with the added bonus of French doors (no less) leading onto the remainder!   Despite a friend’s warning that the flat was not in a fit state for occupancy, I signed a lease for it immediately.  I knew right away that this place, with a bit of work, would become my sanctuary – I knew that this time I would not go back.  After three abandoned moves, two years of interrupted sleep and one near-breakdown, I was now ready for this home and it was ready and waiting for me (that is after fixing the kitchen roof, stopping rice particles from backing up the kitchen drain into my shower and re-evaluating my stance on the small problem of an elderly neighbour’s public ablutions).  My ex had once said to me “I think it’s raining inside your heart”.  After taking this flat, it may have been raining inside my kitchen, but no longer was it raining inside my heart.   When I finally left the apartment 11 or so months ago, all of my friends were sad to lose what had also become their inner city “oasis”.   
Two years after I had moved in, I received a Chinese New Year bonus at work.  The amount was exactly the same as the fee I was hesitating over for a series of sessions with Beth, a life coach that a friend had recommended to me.   I immediately organised the money transfer, not even thinking about how else I might have used this much-needed cash, thereby opening the door for me to step out from my career and financial rut and walk straight into a new job, one which has led to my being here, sitting in this Angkot, on a not-so-random adventure.   From self-imprisoned wreck to free spirit once again in 4.5 years.
We settle on the bench with our backs to the windows, a line of faces looking directly at us.  Public transport often imposes an uncomfortable forced intimacy amongst strangers.  There is nowhere else to look but directly ahead, or at your feet.  But here I don’t feel uncomfortable. In Asia, paradoxically, I have always felt anonymous despite my conspicuous blonde hair and pale complexion.    Back home I would be shifting in my seat, picking at my nails, looking at the floor, searching for nothing on an iphone.    Instead, a pretty young girl in a soft pink jilbab smiles at me and I look directly into her eyes and smile back. 
One by one, people stop the Angkot and get off, leaving us, the only two remaining passengers, to continue onto Kampung.  The driver strikes up a conversation of sorts.
 “BBC!”  he calls out, looking at us in the rear view mirror
“No.  No, not BBC.  Tour-ist”  I inform him,  as if by saying the word slowly he would understand
“No no.  Not Journalist, TOUR-ist”
“BBC!”  Now he is pointing to himself, to his black T shirt on which is written:  
Independent 4 ever.  Buah Batu Corps.  BBC

The eagle logo with coat of arms suggests that it is some kind of organisation.  I presume it has something to do with Indonesian Independence.  He points outside, repeats “BBC!” and I see a large poster at the side of the road bearing the same logo.  I also notice as we drive along that some shops have Buah Batu written on the signs, and so we deduce that it must also be the name of the district we are in.
I am desperate for the loo and ask the driver, Pak Asep (Mr Asep), if there is anywhere we can stop.   The next thing I know, we have parked outside what seems to be a Motorcycle gang hangout.  Large, black motorbikes are lined up outside a house- -shop- -shack, the walls of which are covered with black banners bearing the same logo and similar words:
I walk hesitantly into the room where I find five men, all dressed similarly in black, with the same logo either on a t-shirt or on a jacket.   I get an uncomfortable feeling, as if I have walked into the underground Headquarters of a Nationalist organisation.   That is until Mr Asep introduces me to his “friends” and they jump up, shout “halo!”, shake my hand and ask if they can have their photo taken with me, each one wearing a broad smile, in front of the BBC banner.

Mr Asep
Many photographs later, I am able to extricate myself, do what I have come here to do in a little hole in the ground, and follow Mr Asep back to the Angkot to continue on our journey to Kampung.                                            
A local woman of around 30 joins us for a stretch.  She speaks a little English and we ask her about old buildings in the area.   She isn’t able to offer us any insights and so we slip into the usual conversation: “where are you from?”, “where are you going?”, “are you married?”.  “you’re not married?”,  “I’m sorry”,  she says. Before exiting, she gives recommendations to the driver about where it is we might want to be going.   I interject with “We want to go to Kampung!”    “Yes, yes” she says but continues indicating for Mr Asep to go straight on “Terus”.
After 5 more minutes, the Angkot slows.  
“Ini Kampung”  Pak Asep informs us as he stops the vehicle outside a relatively official looking building at a small roundabout.
“Ok great, let’s get out”.  In my happiness and surprise to have found this place, and given that we have pretty much commandeered the Angkot, I don’t feel I can pay him only 4000 Rupiah for the two of us. As I count out note upon note, he kindly stops me, somewhere in between overpayment and insult, by holding up his hand to say “that’s enough”.
We wander along small paths which run perpendicular from the main village road.  On each side are box-houses, some painted in bright colours.   A man is drying what look like patties made of pink rice in the sun. 

Photo by Laurence Green

He cannot tell us about the old buildings and we see no sign of any Dutch influence yet.  We continue down this path for another20 metres where it comes to an abrupt end.  In front, almost all that can be seen are emerald green paddy fields.
Turning back on ourselves, we find another path and come across a courtyard next to a line of one-storey box rooms.  A man in a conical hat and holding a brush made of branches tied together is sweeping leaves away from a large concrete square on which he is drying the rice that has just been harvested.  He welcomes us in and allows us to walk along the side of the square to the end of the property where we find a beautiful view, a lush green garden against a bright blue sky.  I hear a hissing sound and immediately realise what is standing just to the side of us, poised in indecision.  A year living in a village in China, near the Laos border, taught me that geese are not to be messed with – they are vicious, wild and more effective guards than dogs!  Laurence, it seems, does not know this.  He moves closer, positioning his camera like bait.  Both the old man and I start to make noises for him to GET AWAY FROM THE GOOSE!   The goose starts to hiss louder and waddle surprisingly fast in our direction.  I move quickly and continue a fast walk, past the drying rice, straight out of the front gate and back up the road, waving my thanks behind me.    

We stop on the roadside to buy sachets of 3-in-1 coffee for which the shop owner prepares some hot water.  
“So this is kampung,  ini kampung” I ponder out load
“Yes yes.  Ini kampung” 
“Ada rumah Belanda disini?”  “Any dutch house here?”  
He doesn’t appear to understand.
“And there?” (I don’t know how to say “there” so I point and gesture over the rice paddies towards the next settlement with my arm as if throwing something.  “What is over there?”
“No no.  I mean next place.   Ini Bandung” I point behind us.    “Ini Kampung”  I point to my feet.  “Ini what?” I throw my arm again in front of me.  “Over there what name?  Apa nama?”
“But here is Kampung”
“Yes, ini Kampung”
“So over there is what … apa?”
“Oh shit”!  I laugh out loud which interrupts Laurence’s gesticulating as he tries to converse with the shop owner’s little girl.
I have let myself get carried away as usual.   Lofty ideas have masked a realisation that should have come a lot sooner:   My family had stayed in a place further out from the centre, towards the Kampungs (villages), not in the Kampung.  There is no actual place called Kampung. I suddenly can’t imagine a beautiful Colonial style home in this place.   I can now imagine clearly what would have been here in the 1940s:  bamboo houses, a clean river and not much else.
A young guy who has seen that we are struggling with our communication and has stopped his car to help, tells us that there are literally hundreds of kampungs in the vicinity of Bandung.  He looks concerned -maybe it was all that gesticulating.  He says that if we can tell him the name of the one we want to visit, he will gladly take us there!