The Mandarin Hotel on 10th December 1978

The Mandarin Hotel on 10th December 1978

12th January 1978 - Topping out ceremony for the Mandarin Hotel

Mas Agung (one of the shareholders) picked a propitious day - exactly two years after the laying of the foundation stone. Indonesians are quite superstitious and make use of astrology and predictions much more than we do in the western world.

Photos were taken on level 29 - the roof - of important people laying concrete with gold-sprayed trowels. Mr Trevor Bedford of Hong Kong Land and Mr Ciputra were there. It was such a clear day we could see the mountains in Sumatra and also near Bogor. Possibly Krakatau too although I wasn't sure if the mountain I could see was actually it. Mount Merapi in central Java had been erupting during the previous week and the red glow could be seen at night.

Mandarin Hotel photos

In the evening there was a party at the Hilton Hotel, really extravagant in the Golden Ballroom. Four foot high ice sculptures and margarine carvings surrounded by food. There were oysters, smoked salmon, bread of various sorts including black bread, cheese, etc. and a sea food table with exotic sauces.

At a function like this in Hong Kong all the men would have been in suits, but in Indonesia informal dress for men usually meant a colourful batik shirt. The resulting colour in the room was amazing. Women wore more mono-coloured long dresses and were completely out-shone by the men.

13th January 1978 - Office outing to Ancol Dreamland

Ancol is a reclaimed swamp near the coast to the north of Jakarta comprising tourist shops, a zoo, aquarium, drive-in cinema, large hotel (The Horizon), fun fair, golf course, swimming pool and beach. The aquarium was the best I have seen anywhere with beautiful corals, lots of colour. We watched the sea lion flipper show.

Wives and children were with us and Bob's little boy Jamie was definitely the worst behaved, shouting frequently.

Bob N's leaving parties

14th January 1978 at Bob's house at Rempoa. Just a typical stand-up and talk party but with excellent curries from the Omar Khayam.

17th January 1978 at Gordon B's house at Bintaro Permai, a gated estate like Bob's but a bit older.

18th January 1978 at Jeremy Pidgeon's house at Jalan Banka IV which was within walking distance of my flat. His living room had a large square are in the middle with rocks and plants and the ceiling above was missing so that rain could pour in. The hole was covered with a security grille. It could only be done in a country with an even, hot temperature, but of course it would wreck airconditioning. His house, being older, had ceiling fans.

The smell of sewage and rotting vegetable matter was more intense at night as I walked back in the dark. Local people are always out and about all night and I got lots of greetings "Selamat Malam" or "Tuan, Tuan" as they tried to sell me food from their small carts.

19th January 1978 - St Andrew's Society AGM

Afterwards we went to John Dodds' house for dancing and drinks. He was the society's treasurer.

20th January 1978 - Bob N's farewell party at The Thistle

A good evening in a pub/disco atmosphere. The lovely Mai L came in and I said hello to her. Andrew S admired her lovely bare brown back and soft skin. He asked if she was the Indian girl I had met at Christmas - I wish she had been!

21st January 1978 - tennis with Andrew and Ian. Real luxury to have three ballboys who we paid 150 rp (20p) each. They also swept the court grit and re-marked the lines between each set. 22/01/78 - squash with Andrew. 27/01/78 - out with Andrew to the Hot Men bar. Since I arrived in September I was out nearly every night, quite a change from my life in England.

24th February 1978 - The Galaxy nightclub

Ian, Andrew and I decided to go to an Indonesian nightclub as opposed to a bar. The Galaxy was very large, almost dark and obviously filthy although we couldn't see the dirt. It had a live band, but they were playing abysmal jazz virtually blind. There were wires draped along the ceiling to tatty fluorescent tubes that weren't on. We seemed to be the only customers and after we had got our drinks the hostesses arrived and started talking to us. The one who spoke most English talked to Ian who was the only one of us who spoke any Indonesian, so that was illogical. Andrew's girl spoke a little English but mine spoke none at all.

Later they brought on a floor show which went as far as Indonesian law allowed, I suspect. A go-go dance ended with them without bras, or at least they had bras which just supported the underside of their breasts. At one point a drunk made a grab for Andrew's girl as she went to the toilet. She swung her fist at him and cut his lip. Suddenly lots of waiters and bouncers appeared out of the darkness and swooped on him. There seemed to be more waiters, waitresses, bouncers and girls than customers who only numbered about ten.

All in all we had six large bottles of beer plus drinks for the girls, but when the bill came it was massive. We scutinised it by torchlight, then by matchlight as the torch stopped working. It was 37,500 rps, about 50. The "starlet" charge was 2000 rps per hour or 8000 rps each for four hours ie about 10 each (of which the girls got a third). So the girls cost us 24,000 rps out of a total of 37,500 rps and I had hardly talked to mine. We rumaged around in our pockets and just managed to get enough to pay the bill and left at 2 am feeling well and truly ripped off.

11th March 1978 - Troops block Gatot Subroto and Sudirman

Troops checked cars everywhere. Some members of our office did not come to work, some were three hours late. Trouble was rumoured for 11th March and troops walked about Blok M with 4 foot long bamboo staves. The previous week was supposed to be a "quiet" week, ie no demonstrations or rallies. Students had been locked up in their universities, but some had been killed. It had been election time I think.

On 23rd March the troops were very noticeable around the Mandarin Hotel site. The Hotel Indonesia was just across the road where most of the delegates were staying. A petrol bomb with a fuse had been found somewhere. Troops were at 40 yard intervals along the main roads in groups of two or three. An enormous Russian-built six-wheeler was parked next to the British Embassy just the other side of the Mandarin Hotel, complete with enormous winch on the front, presumably to tow away suspicious vehicles.

A few troops were actually on our site, they had come in for a pee. One trooper said good morning to me in surprisingly good English. President Suharto had been re-elected without major parades or disturbances.

21st March 1978 - Mike H's orang utang

I went to a barbecue at Mike H's house. It was actually given by James B-J who had taken over Mike's job and house while he was on leave. Mike had only gone to Puncak the previous week so returned for the party with his wife Irene. They showed us their animals, two goats, some chickens and a young orang utang. We peeped though the door of a cupboard where it was asleep on a rug on a bench like a child. Irene woke it up and it placidly and gently accepted a mug of water and a sweet corn cob. He also had a chimpanzee somewhere.

11/03/78 - Presents from Mrs H

The previous week Mrs H had breezed into the office and came straight to my desk instead of waiting near the secretaries. She said "Hello, John, how are you?" I was a bit surprised at her informality. She was a rather beautiful mature Hong Kong American/Chinese business woman who had got the contract for the hotel interior marble work to public areas, bathrooms, toilets, etc. A valuable contract. She had got the contract without any vetting by us, it was all signed and sealed before we were told.

She said "I've brought you a present" and handed me a packet. I was conscious of all the local staff looking out of the corner of their eyes. I opened it and saw a calculator watch, very new technology then costing about 60 in Hong Kong and not available in Jakarta. I said "No, I really can't accept it" and tried to hand it back. She said "No, It's alright" and pushed it back to me. This seemed to happen more than once before I gave up.

I sent my driver to her hotel with it the next day and told him to get a receipt. I meant him to get a receipt from the hotel reception, but he went up to her room and demanded a receipt from her! She sent a message back saying she was offended as it was meant to be a late Christmas present (in mid March - I hadn't seen her since before Christmas).

I wondered who else was getting gifts. I already knew that Don G had got some furniture from the Indojati joinery firm. A week or so later Don G was sporting an even better new calculator watch. When asked where he got it he said he got it in Hong Kong. In fact he had got two and sent one back to Australia. Suspicious.

A month or so later we were concerned that nothing seemed to be happening with regard to Mrs H's marble contract. She had got a concession to reopen an old quarry somewhere in central Java, but as it hadn't been worked for decades we were worried that she wouldn't get it organised in time.

She would have to get the marble blasted out, process it roughly, transport it by boat to Jakarta, work it into slabs and fix it in the hotel. We had no idea whether she had set up subcontracts or whether she was going to hire labour directly. Don G and Andrew S decided to go and see the quarry. They were put up in a nearby village and walked to the quarry, at one point being carried on shoulders across a river.

It was obvious to them that the quarry had been worked out and there was not enough time available to get everything set up again, with the marble possibly not coming up to standard. Mrs H was confronted with the situation and effectively sacked. She had been paid a large down payment which was never recovered to my knowledge. The Chinese Indonesian firm Citata who were doing the external marble were hurriedly given the work.

16th April 1978 - Sailing with Mike H and Ian R

Mike had a small sailing boat about fifteen feet long and I asked if I could join him and Ian R one weekend. We motored out from the port area in a very light wind and smooth water in the early morning. It took about one and a half hours to reach the island where the race was to start. As we just bobbed around in slightly choppy water waiting for the start I felt seasick and was sick over the side. Mike was upset I think that one of his crew should be sick in front of the other boats. I retreated to the sail locker to lie down as I was giddy and stayed there the whole day, never recovering from giddyness until we motored back into port late in the evening.

I never went out with them again. I found that I could more or less cope with the motions of a large boat or ship, but not the bobbing of a small boat.

19th April 1978 - A python in our fish pond

Our office had a small car park in front and a fish pond near the door, surrounded by creepers on the porch. I was shown a dried python skin that the jagga (guard) had brought in. It was about two inches in diameter. I had noticed that the frogs had disappeared but the larger goldfish were still there. The jagga slept in an open shed just yards from the pond and I passed it every night in the dark returning home late. He had seen the snake although I hadn't noticed it. Some of what I thought were creepers may have been the snake.

27th April 1978 - Cockroaches and spiders

When working late with all the office in darkness except for my corner of the office cockroaches, spiders and mosquitoes came out to hunt. On one occasion I felt something on my thigh and looked down to see a big cockroach which raced down to the floor as soon as I moved my leg.

I killed a cockroach the previous week but the body was still under my desk. I noticed that its body was now in big pieces and strewn around. I had heard crunching sounds. Nearby was a large spider with a body about half an inch across like a gobstopper and black legs about three and a half inches across. I tried to take a photo but it raced away. There were larger spiders in the country areas but that was large for a house spider.

On another occasion I watched hundreds of ants pulling a big piece of cockroach vertically up the column opposite me, with about fifteen or twenty above all linked together and pulling and many more below pushing up. They were having difficulty and moving a bit this way and that but not making much progress.

Lizards chattered on the walls, chasing each other to get the best positions.

29th April 1978 - IPC Thespians "Hotel Paradiso"

I went to see the Thespians show "Hotel Paradiso" with Andrew S which had the Mandarin Hotel's site Architect Richard J playing a supposedly serious Architect in the play about fast-moving extra-marital affairs. He was called in to investigate ghosts and finds his wife there with a neighbour. Very funny.