Boarding House

21  Boarding House

In the boarding house on the Emmastraat in Amsterdam we also had a few misunderstandings. Sometimes our deeply rooted habits of the Indies caused our landlady quite a panic. For instance my mother, forgetting that she was now in Holland, had put the trassi (cubes of shrimp paste), which we'd brought along from Indonesia, to dry on the heater. Trassi it gives off a strong, nauseating smell while drying, which made the landlady suspect there was a corpse in the house somewhere. I wasn't any better myself: I was innocently smoking a krètèk cigarette on the staircase, a clove cigarette very common in Indonesia. In this case, the strong smell of burning clove caused the landlady to have a minor panic attack as she worried her guests were burning incense in their rooms. Despite these types of misunderstandings, we were, after Beekbergen and Loenen, actually very well off with our German landlady in the Emmastraat in Amsterdam South.

About Adopted Customs…

One night, my wife and I ran into our Dutch waiter from the "Johan van Oldenbarnevelt" in the street on our walk at the end of the day. As it turned out, he happened to be living nearby and invited us to his home for coffee to meet his wife. Something unexpected happened: when his wife had taken out the biscuit tin from the cupboard and had presented us with a biscuit, she was about to put it away again when he asked her to please leave it open on the table. He explained to her that such was custom in the Indies when we would visit people and that we should be allowed to have as many biscuits as we liked. He then actually continued to also explain to her, that when visiting friends here, one should make a move and leave before dinner time. However, when visiting people in the Indies, it was understood that one would stay for the meal as well. It was obvious that during his travels as a waiter on the boat to Indonesia he’d befriended people from the Indies and had personal experience with this custom in our circles.

... Aid for a Stowaway

The following incident is also quite unique and definitely worth mentioning. One night, someone knocked on the door of our boarding house: out of the blue an old friend had turned up, who’d also lived in one of the rooms in that big mansion in Gunung Sahari in Jakarta. He requested please not to ask any questions and if I could perhaps first quickly pay for the taxi by which he had come. He would explain things later. When he told us his story, it turned out he had managed to illegally board the passenger ship “Johan van Oldenbarnevelt”, helped by a custom officer he knew, when it was moored in the port of Tanjung Priok in Jakarta and about to leave for the Netherlands, full of repatriates. His friend had provided him with a customs uniform and that was how he had managed to get on board as a stowaway without being noticed. Once they got going, his fellow passengers soon realised he was a stowaway and secretly provided him with food, drinks and clothing for the duration of the journey. When they arrived in the port of Amsterdam, he had to get off the ship, unnoticed of course. He swapped his wrist watch for a waiter’s uniform with one of the waiters on board. Dressed as such, he managed to mislead the customs officers and freely passed the gate. He then took a taxi - with not a penny in his pocket – to our boarding house. Although we couldn't offer him a place to stay, he could stay at my younger brother’s, who was with his family staying in a boarding house too, only a couple of blocks away in Amsterdam South.

Loads of heavy, ripe papayas
In the foreground loads of heavy, ripe papayas
Meanwhile, his mother in Jakarta suspected that he might have left for the Netherlands as a stowaway. She had informed both of his sisters, who were living somewhere in South Limburg, who had in turn informed the police. So it didn’t take long before he was caught, was transferred to the police headquarters in the Marnixstraat and locked up in a cell. By sheer coincidence, the police commander who was about to interrogate him turned out to be an ex-colleague and friend of his. They had worked together for a while for the police in Jakarta just after the war. Once he had explained to his ex-colleague that the Dutch embassy in Jakarta had confiscated his Dutch passport, as a result of which he was now essentially stateless and was listed as a “foreign Oriental”, the former colleague offered to help him. While they were waiting for a solution, he was allowed to freely move in and out of his cell as long as he didn't leave the building. He worked in the kitchen at the police station, washing the dishes to pass time. Once they had arranged a place for him to stay, he still had to report to the police at regular intervals. In the end he reobtained a Dutch passport. I don’t know whether or not his two sisters in Limburg, who of course both had Dutch passports, were involved in this as well. All’s well that ends well, and soon he’d also found a new job in the car trade.

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