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.

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