Jakarta

The Darvell was a Dutch cargo ship that had seen better days. But it offered us, first year students at the University of Malaya in Singapore, the best option for our trip to Jakarta, Indonesia. It would take us days to make the crossing the but the fare was cheap and affordable.

It certainly was rough going. The food left a lot to be desired. I shared a hard bunk bed with Zabidah. The following day Asiah took a bath and let out a loud scream. Someone was outside looking in. The bathroom had lots of holes for peeping toms. The boys in our group fared better. No complaints.

The sea was rough and poor Yun was sick during the whole trip. But we made it safely to Jakarta and were met by our hosts, students of the University of Indonesia, who travelled with us up and down the island of Java for a month. Java is the world’s most populous island. I had never seen so many people on the streets, buses and trains. They were everywhere.

The girls, Tuti and Sikki who accompanied us, were demure and delightful. But the others were a most vibrant lot making us Malaysians seem even more laid back than we were. Jimar, always the first on the bus, talked nineteen to the dozen. He was irrepressible. Unsung Basuki was gentler but no less animated. Hassan Rey, who was a good 20 years older than us, was a life-long student. He was clearly brilliant and whenever he spoke, we hung onto his every word. One time I caught him squatting and watching several little children at play. Look at them, he said, they are so happy, no worries, no cares. Perhaps he is a troubled man, I thought then.

The Indonesians loved to “pidato” or make speeches. Everywhere we stopped someone would promptly stand up and give a pidato, not quite in the same vein as Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg pidato perhaps but always stirring and passionate.

The dances reflecting Indonesia’s diverse history and culture were what captivated me most. The graceful folk dances, some boisterous and playful, the wayang kulit or shadow play in which the shadows of the characters, finely carved puppets, were cast on the screen, dance-dramas based on the Ramayana or Mahabharata Hindu epics with their intricate hand and head gestures, and the court dances of the Keratons or royal houses where the movements of the dancers were slow and graceful. The Tari Kecak or Ramayana monkey dance, where the men, clothed only from their waist down, waved their hands and chanted “chak”, “chak” as if in a trance, was mesmerizing.

When we returned to Jakarta, someone had made it known that it was my 21st birthday so I was given a surprise party. There was a lot of fun, laughter and good food but no “pidato”. Among the many lovely gifts I received was a beautiful earthenware vase which I’ve kept to this day.

Soon it was time to say goodbye to our friends. We then discovered to our horror that the Darvell had abandoned us and we had to fly back to Singapore. It was expensive but Yun, in particular, was immensely relieved not to have to weather the rough seas again.

Several years later it was with deep sadness that we heard that our dear friend Hassan Rey had passed on.

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