On the back of my Opa’s (Grandfather’s) portrait, sketched in a POW camp in Singapore in 1942, is written my Oma’s name and two addresses in Bandung. Having not been able to track down the current owners of 123 Nylandweg (now Jalan Cipaganti) and having no way to decipher the other address, I had all but given up on finding out something about the houses in which Hans (my Opa) thought his wife and daughters may have been staying during the beginning of the war.
So it was a huge surprise when Mum called me on Skype to tell me that she had worked out what the faded first address was. She was sitting in front of the computer, sketch in one hand and magnifying glass in the other, looking at the four words, written in a familiar hand. “It’s just ridiculous that I can’t make out what it says! It’s my father’s writing!” she had said in a previous Skype call. She had spent hours inputting variations into Google Search and finally solved the conundrum. Thank God for all those years of Countdown. And in exactly the same way it always happened when Carol Vordeman placed the big blue and white letters in the right order, it all seems so obvious now:
Pahud de Mortagnes Laan 12 ?
(It turns out that this is the name of a famous Dutch General who lived in Bandung)
I am astounded, yet pleased, at the idea of my Mum wandering around, unrestricted and unsupervised, on the World Wide Web. I heard no complaints about “bloody screens” “going” or “buttons” “disappearing”. I heard no “I’m no good at this” or “Ach! Hopeless, this internet!”
I wonder, with only a small amount of trepidation, what this could lead to, what doors she might start to open now, around which she would stick her head and say, in an expectant and cheery voice, announcing her arrival: “hiya!”.
Or maybe little more will come of it - after all, it’s obvious that I inherited my own allergic reaction to technology from her. I know that she has made this sizeable leap only because it was much smaller than her will to help me.
I immediately opened up the file I had downloaded from the internet of old vs new road names and there it was under M:
Mortagneslaan, Pahud de
Jl. Raden Patah
Jl Raden Patah is a little further away than Nylandweg (Jl Cipaganti), on the way to the Dago hills where I often go, and where I went just last weekend to seek out the Dago waterfall I had read about in the old guidebook i had found. As soon as I get the chance, I will have a look, see what kind of house it is now. Will it be old, renovated, new? Of course, I am hoping that it will be an old house, the same house that would have stood there in 1942.
Again, the questions run through my mind: Who might they have stayed with there? Who owned or rented that house? Was it Moesje? Was it Hedy? Was it someone else? These are things that will be lost to history, but I’m hoping all the same that if I were to see this place, I would be able to imagine them there. This location may have been one of the last places of familiarity and relative safety for them, as each move took them further away from the city centre, further away from any link with a husband and father, and further away from the kind of world, full of stability, joy and precious innocence, which every child has the right to inhabit; A world which every child has a subconscious determination and instinctive ability to hold onto for dear life, and which nobody has the right to try to prize away.