Glenn and Uti

29  Looking back

Jokingly kissing a python Jokingly kissing a python
In a nutshell, I can say that I am enjoying a well-earned retirement and a reasonable pension. Well-earned indeed: I worked for a total of 44 years, the first ten of which were under the most difficult circumstances, because I hardly ever got a day off on Sundays or public holidays due to the nature of the work. Looking back upon everything I’ve done from my early childhood up until now, I have mixed feelings. But, ultimately, I look back with satisfaction. I’ve managed to find a place in my memory for the most harrowing things I experienced during and shortly after the Second World War and fortunately they aren’t giving me any nightmares.

Fight for Independence

In those turbulent days shortly after the war I regularly went home with my Indonesian friends, far into the kampong on Tanah Tinggi. If Dutch people were to go there by themselves, they risked death if they came across murderous groups of freedom fighters. Many times I did so unknowingly, but twice I had the misfortune to be stopped by such a gang and one of them was ready to use his machete to do me in. Both times, unexpectedly, an Indonesian woman came running out of her kampong hut; a woman whom I didn’t know at all but who’d often seen me walking by with my Indonesian friends. She informed the gang leader that I was OK and that I was part of the group of friends from this kampong. Another time I was visiting an Indonesian friend while the area was being combed by murderous gangs, armed with machetes and bamboo runcings, (a bamboo stick with a sharpened point), looking for Dutch people. There was no doubt that they were going to get me, so I decided to play a game of poker! Walking alongside my bike, I went up to them and asked who they were actually looking for. When they suspected me to be Dutch, I yelled out at them, offended and in true Jakartan dialect, how in the world they could think I’d be Dutch and, fortunately, they believed me. Seeing that I was heading to my cousins, who were staying in “De goede herder” in “Mester”, Meester Cornelis, i.e. Jatinegara, I asked whether any of them happened to be going to Jatinegara and indeed one of them was. And so I was very well ‘protected’ on my way there, for one of those men, armed with a bamboo runcing, came along as a passenger on the back of my bike. As I mentioned earlier, I managed to find a place for the memories of these events as well. But I can’t escape thinking from time to time that I must’ve had an angel looking over my shoulder and that I’m actually living on ‘borrowed time’, as I could just as easily have been killed in either one of those three confrontations. Ah well, what's done is done: sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and sometimes life is decided by coincidences that we cannot control.

 Posing with Indonesian friends
Posing with Indonesian friends
I’ve very much kept in touch with Indonesia, and especially with Java, where I lived for such a long time. The first time I ‘returned home again' was after 25 years in Holland and I've been back about 16 or 17 times since, not just visiting my old mates on Java and Bali, but also visiting new friends I’d made and people I’d met in Sumatra and Sulawesi, the former Celebes. I have the great advantage of still being able to speak Indonesian as well as I used to, and I’m even familiar with the regional languages (the Sundanese and Javanese on Java). This often led to more personal conversations, even with people I hadn’t met before.
Terima kasih banyak, Uncle!
"Uncle, terima kasih (thank you) for the present"
On a number of occasions I’ve had in-depth discussions with Indonesian intellectuals whom I hadn’t previously met. Once I had gained their confidence, they would ask me at the end of our conversation: “The fact that you know Indonesia well and that you’re even familiar with the local dialects here on Java, is one thing, but how can it be that talking with you is so ‘cocot’, i.e. how come that it seems so normal, so natural?”To which I would always reply: “When I’m speaking with you, I switch off my Western way of thinking and I switch over to thinking the way the Indonesian people think, which isn’t any better or any worse, it’s just different.”

A huge bunch of rare and thin pink pisang Seribu ( pisang = banana, seribu = thousand)
A huge bunch of rare, thin pink pisang Seribu ( pisang = banana, seribu = thousand)
Speaking about “just different”: by pure coincidence the following incident took a very different turn from what I’d feared. In 1995, after 67 years, I returned to visit the village where I was born in 1926: Singkawang on Borneo (now Kalimantan), where I had lived for less than two years when my parents and I left for Java.

Personally, I didn’t really know anything about the tiny village, and I expected even less that other people actually knew where it was. I travelled from Jakarta to Pontianak, the provincial capital of North Kalimantan, in a Merpati aircraft. There weren’t many passengers on the plane and upon arrival we were met by an extremely stern looking customs officer, who was checking the contents of every individual’s luggage. I was the only one with a Dutch passport and I noticed him startling slightly as he opened it. When I asked him if something was wrong, he asked me in return if I was really born in Singkawang. I confirmed that was indeed the case and the next moment he was telling me that he was also born there. He turned out to be friendly after all: while everyone was patiently queuing up and waiting for their turn to have their luggage checked, we chatted quite amicably for a while and, as you can imagine, my luggage never got checked…


My Dear Friend Captain Pranowo

Mijn goede vriend Captain Pranowo
My Dear Friend Captain Pranowo
As mentioned above, I returned for the first time to Indonesia after 25 years in the Netherlands and after that 16 times more, each time for a period of six consecutive weeks. It was then that I met Captain Pranowo, who was captain of a Boeing 747 with Garuda Indonesia and who flew to Amsterdam on a regular basis. Captain Pranowo has since become a very close friend of mine.
Together with my daughter-in-law Utiek at the grave of her father
Together with my daughter-in-law Utiek at the grave of her father
Whenever I was in Jakarta, I would stay at his home and we made many journeys across Java and Bali together. On many occasions I flew with him when I went on holidays to Indonesia, which led to unique situations which other people wouldn’t normally get to experience.

Once for instance, late at night, a stewardess invited me into the cockpit where I spent hours with him; I even sat at the control lever as a fake captain for a moment while he took a photo of me or filmed me on video.


Once even we were going to land in Bangkok in the middle of the night, in clear weather conditions. Upon his announcement that I should experience the landing from within the cockpit, I wanted to return to my seat, saying that I really couldn't do that, stay in the cockpit. To which he replied: “Why not? I’m the captain, aren’t I?!” Then I faced the problem of having to restrict my excess luggage when I went home again. But this was solved unexpectedly, as two of his son-in-laws, who were also working for Garuda, easily got my suitcase on board which was jam-packed. And if, by any chance, I would fly back to Amsterdam with my friend Pranowo as the captain, I had nothing to worry about and could indulge myself and buy just about anything in Indonesia. Enough to fill a second suitcase. That suitcase would be checked in as his luggage and upon arrival at Schiphol (Amsterdam Airport) it would roll onto the baggage carousel as my suitcase. We had more fun experiences, for instance when we visited places with his younger brother, who wielded a great deal of influence. All “no entry” signs on the doors of the presidential palace and the orchid gardens were completely ignored! In the presidential palace in Bogor – former Buitenzorg – I have sat for instance, beaming, at former president Soekarno’s writing desk, while a member of the staff followed and took photos of me on my camera. For many years I had taken photos of the palace, alongside other visitors, from within the Bogor Botanical Gardens opposite it during my long holidays. Especially when someone of importance was standing on those stairs. One day I was standing on those same palace stairs, on the red carpet even, and I had to laugh at myself when I saw people frantically taking pictures of me from within the Botanical Gardens, thinking I must be someone important. I did feel embarrassed however when I was in the Taman Mini Indonesia at the orchid gardens and, in a proper sterile outfit, in the laboratory where orchids are being cross-fertilised to breed new types of orchids. That it was I, who only has an interest for pretty flowers in general, while perhaps some real orchid lover, for whom it would have made their day if they could have watched the cross-fertilising project, was standing at the gates.

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