Country Bumpkins

20  G. Kolff & Co

Do I believe in coincidence?

Selling cheap Molek tobacco
Selling cheap Molek tobacco
I suddenly realised that the head office of the Royal Book and Offset Printer G. Kolff & Co was located in Amsterdam. After having made a haphazard phone call, I was actually received with open arms. It was quite a special phone call actually: when I asked to speak to the director, whom I didn’t know, his secretary tried to direct me to the human resources department, thinking it was about a job interview. The director, who happened to be listening in on the conversation and mustn’t have had anything else to do at that moment, asked his secretary to put the call through to this phone. Once I introduced myself, it became silent on the other end of the line, until he suddenly exclaimed: "Blimey, Abels of Kolff – Jakarta?” Turned out that he’d actually heard of me! Things moved quickly from there and I could start employment immediately. It was a breath of fresh air to be working again with several former colleagues in other departments, who had worked at the Jakarta office for six years just like me.

However, I did run into trouble with the rigid Dutch business accountant here, as he didn’t appreciate me having a bit of a chat with my colleagues, who were all Dutch, in the boss’s time. One day a man, whom they had hardly knew or had never seen around in the office, walked in, put his hand up to me as a way of greeting and then – much to the surprise of my Dutch colleagues - plonked himself down on my desk and stayed there chatting with me for more than an hour. Everyone was surprised that the strict accountant seemed quite okay with it all so during the lunch break they asked me who "this bloke" was. Their eyes went wide when I explained to them that ‘this bloke’ was the owner, from father to son, of the printer’s they were working for. He had also been living in Jakarta all those years, working at the Jakarta office, and given the fact that we’d been playing in the soccer team of Kolff Printer’s together, we were on much friendlier terms than people were used to here. In the office we’d call him Sir, but on the soccer field we used to call him by his first name. Not only had we been playing soccer together, we also held regular bridge competitions against other companies in the Hotel of the Netherlands, which was situated not far from Kolff Printer’s office in Jakarta.

Moving to Amsterdam

Electricity sign
You can still find these signs scattered around in Indonesia.
Shortly after starting my employment there, I could let my family and mother come over to Amsterdam and we were accommodated in a pleasant boarding house in the Emmastraat. Last but not least, a year later I was transferred to the Technical Preparation Department. Although my manager there was 100% Dutch, he had hung out with us East Indian people ever since his early childhood in what was at the time called Batavia and he considered himself fully East Indian in his ways of thinking and doing. In Jakarta he later became manager of the Banderole Department at Kolff Printer’s and I had quite a lot to do with him already in those days. Now I became his assistant in Amsterdam as technical planner for all printing work. I really enjoyed working here and this was definitely because of the fact that my Dutch boss and I knew the ins and outs of each other’s mentality from growing up together in the Indies, so to say. For instance, we often had a lot of fun during lunch breaks, such as when the two of us were eating our cheese and jam sandwiches in the canteen, which would provoke disgusted looks and comments from the Dutch staff. The Dutch had never even considered putting cheese and jam together on the one sandwich.

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