The view out of my office window

The view out of my office window. There was a small kampung
or shanty village down near a stream next to the office which
had chickens and turkeys.

My arrival

On 7th September 1977 I took the train to London from Bristol with several suitcases. My brother met me and I had lunch with him and a few of his work colleagues at the York and Albany in Camden Town. I rang the airport to find out if there were any delays because there was an air traffic controllers dispute at the time, but was told all was OK.

At Heathrow airport I had to pay 95.85 for excess baggage. A friend Don H had paid 72 to go to Oman shortly before, so I knew there would be a charge but it was higher than I expected. I got on the jumbo not having been told of any delays, but we just sat there for two hours. It was too late to get out and phone Jakarta that I would miss my connection in Singapore. Anyway it was night time in Jakarta. We stopped briefly at Frankfurt then got out at dawn in Bahrain, but I didn't consider phoning from there.

We landed at Bangkok but didn't get off, then eventually got to Singapore at 9 pm local time, too late to phone the Jakarta office that I had missed the last Jakarta flight at 8 pm. As I sorted out what was to be done with me a rat scuttled across the highly polished floor. I was taken to a hotel overnight. I remember the sweet smell of sewage near the docks in the warm, muggy, dark, night during the taxi journey.

The Apollo hotel was very efficient, I had three morning calls, one to wake me, one to tell me about the bus at 7 am and another wake up call when the girl remembered she had just phoned me.

At Jakarta I didn't know anything about letters on message boards or at information desks so it was lucky that a driver from the office had been sent back on the assumption I would be on the first flight, and he had been given a description of me. He told me that there was a letter at the information desk and he had another in his pocket so I collected them. The note said the driver spoke little English but he would take me either to the office or to a hotel. I chose the hotel (the Kemang Hotel) as I was hot and needed a shower. I phoned the office and Bob N and Ian R joined me for lunch, then I went to the office.

The first weeks

On Sunday 11th September I was taken out to Bob and Ros N's house in a fenced estate with a gatekeeper. It had a communal swimming pool and tennis court, with views of rice fields beyond. We then went out to the International Sports Club where they fixed me up some games of squash and I played badminton with Bob. I had a long swim too and signed membership application forms.

The view from my office roof

The view from my office roof

I moved into the flat above the office in Jalan Kapten Tendean on Monday 12th September where Ian R lived. The flat was quite large but a bit bland with its bare plastered walls and terrazzo floors. There were one or two small lizards on the walls. The windows all had permanent mosquito screens as did the kitchen door. The servants nearly always left this door open which let in the mosquitos and Ian often told them to keep it shut. The windows had bamboo slatted screens draped over the outside which kept the rooms permanently dark.

Although Jalan Kapten Tendean was a busy road, the general area of Kebayoran Baru was essentially residential. Like most of Jakarta it was generally two storey buildings with red tiled roofs surrounded by trees. Jakarta was called the world's biggest village.

I visited the Mandarin Hotel site and project office on Tuesday. The building had a large part of the reinforced concrete structure erected, all covered in bamboo scaffolding. They had found that the piles were under-strength as the pile holes had been left open so that liquid mud had fallen in and the concrete poured on top. They all had to be drilled down, the mud pumped out for 600 mm and concrete pumped in. A costly job at the contractor's expense.

Breakfast was always mixed fruit, jackfruit, mangoes, papaya with Kelloggs corn flakes and orange juice (no milk as it goes off quickly and was an expensive item, usually only for pregnant women. International hotels had milk imported in tiny cartons). I had lunch in the flat with Bob and Ian. It was usually vegetable soup with bits of chicken or meat, a main course of meat, chicken or fish, usually curried, and fruit afterwards. Dinner was the same. After Bob left to work in Hong Kong Ian and I gave up the soup course as we were getting fat.

The noise in the evening of cicadas and frogs was very noticeable and pleasant for a newcomer to the Far East like me. During the day masses of swallows or house martins swooped around making shrill noises. Thousands of dragon flies flitted about. At about 4 am I would wake up to hear the call from the mosque and my servants getting up to pray. Later on when I had been out at a bar I knew if I was really late back if I returned as my servants were getting up.

Wednesday 14th September was the eve of the Lebaran two days national holiday, ie the end of the fasting and preparations for feasting, firecrackers going off all the time and drums beating. There was a lot of activity along the mud track which was a short cut from the club to Bob's house after playing badminton. Lots of hurricane lamps and candles twinkling in the small wooden houses all along the road. Goats were tethered everywhere, even on the verges in middle class areas, awaiting slaughter.

Thursday was the first day of Lebaran so there were no servants, they were on holiday until Saturday, so we ate out mostly and got our own breakfasts.

Sri, the young wash woman Ian had at the time, returned from holiday on 17th September and said she was getting married so Ian would have to find another person. She had plasters on both big toes, another victim of Lebaran shoe syndrome. Lots of Indonesians only wore flip-flops except at times of celebration when they wore tight shoes which hurt them.

At first I think there were 700 rupiahs to the pound sterling, although it devalued in 1978 to about 1000. Some examples of food costs were:- Satay at a satay house: 2; a beer at the George and Dragon: 50p; when servants bought food to cook for us chicken cost 1400 rp for 1.4 kilos (two meals); rice: 130 rp/kilo; bananas: 300 rp for eight; fish and meat: 1200 rp/kilo.

On 16th September Ros drove the old office Fiat out to the Sports Club to meet Bob, Ian and me. I was to take it over as my office car and use it in the evenings and weekends. Ian's VW didn't start due to the wet so I had my first taste of driving with him as a passenger. It was rainy and dark, the car had bald tyres and the seat was wet as Ros had left the window open. The headlamps were so weak I drove on full beam until we reached a better lit area.

Typical Kebayoran Baru in December 1977

Typical Kebayoran Baru in December 1977


I went to my first party on 30th September as Ian had been invited and I went along too. It was held by a young Architect called Doug C. For someone straight out of dull England it was magic. A warm evening, everyone out of doors around a pool, a small leafy garden all around a typical suburban house, mainly single storey with a red-tiled roof. It was rented from Pertamina, the state oil company for a paltry $750 per month. No doubt this was to change as Pertamina went spectacularly bankrupt about this time.

We played darts for a while until someone decided he couldn't stay out of the pool any longer so he jumped in with his trousers on. A girl then stripped off her dress and jumped in. Other men who were wearing boxer shorts took their trousers off and jumped in too. Mai, Geoff L's wife, who had been very vivacious earlier was suddenly very subdued as she was wearing a bra-less dress and probably didn't want to strip off and join in the fun as races started in the pool. She really was stunningly pretty, probably part chinese and part indian, possibly part malaysian too. Lovely smokey skin, long dark eyelashes and slim.

Ron S, who worked for our rival firm, was fairly drunk. He stripped off to his underpants, jumped in and started disrupting the races by swimming across the pool. It wasn't long before his pants were pulled down. The underwater lights were on. Doug's wife Ann made the mistake of standing too near the pool edge when talking to someone who got hold of her ankles and pulled very slowly until she lost her balance and fell in with her clothes on.

Bob N held a party on Ist October, a slightly older set of people and a bit more formal although many who were at Doug's party were there also. Mai was there and when someone asked why she had not been swimming yesterday, she replied with a wide smile that she had had tooth-ache! She was a most attractive girl dressed in a very loose set of orange and brown batik pantaloons. I was beginning to realise that asian girls could be a lot prettier than english girls and had better dress sense. The men generally wore sober trousers with bright batik shirts.

October 1977

Wednesday nights were a badminton nights at the club. Usually about ten people, all expatriates. There were some Indonesian members of the club, but very few, and occasionally one would join us. We had a late meal in the restaurant afterwards. It was open-sided as many public buildings were in such a warm climate and overlooked the lake. Meals were about 3 such as steamed white fish, pepper steaks (a huge amount of pepper), beef stroganof, chicken kiev, kebabs, etc. I gave up badminton after Bob went to Hong Kong as he seemed to be the main organiser of the evening. On reflection, I think I should have continued, or perhaps it all folded, I can't remember.

I played badminton with Bob, Ian, Doug and Ann on 2nd October. She looked lovely with her slim, dark body in a white sports dress. The next evening I went to Tim C's house for a meeting of The Jakarta Players where people were discussing the next show "Alfie". There was a game to give away some tickets. Four male and four female volunteers were blind-folded and asked to guess what it was that was put around their necks and faces (for women) or on their chests under their shirts (men). It was revoltingly slimy, sticky and green so there was much shrieking. Ann C acted up a lot, but got it right as American Slime. She held it to her nose after the blindfold was taken off.

Thursday 6th October. Ian and I went to the Hilton Hotel for a drink. Cool and civilised with hostesses dressed in orange kebayas. I woke up in the night feeling something inside my bed. I moved a bit and felt a sharp jab of pain right at the end of my cock. I leapt out of bed, turned the light on and whipped my pyjama bottoms off all in an instant. I saw a huge cockroach on the bed, which I killed with a sandal. I didn't know at that time whether they stung people or not, so I was sweating buckets. A few days before I had seen a dead cockroach on the floor which I kicked just to make sure it was dead. Hundreds of small ants poured out like a liquid. They had been trying to pull it across the floor.

Friday 7th October. Squash against Don G, an Australian working for the Madarin Hotel's project management team. I won, just. Ian and I had been sorting out staff as he was to move out to a rented house. He was to take Ibu the cook and I was to get a new old woman called Aneka for 18,000 rp/month (25 but only 18 after the rupiah devalued) and Sumarsi a washgirl who was the sister of Bob N's washgirl. Ian was to have a temporary washgirl lent by Ann C.

The next day Ian and I with Sukardi a driver, Ibu and Ian's washgirl went to look at a temporary house he was going to move into until his proposed house became vacant. It hadn't been lived in for a while. As I parked the car in the dark drive we noticed a small snake in the headlights. I had a problem trying to keep the snake in the headlights while it was beaten to death by the jagga that was there, and stop the car from stalling which it had a tendency to do. It was still wriggling as we gathered round, me barefoot in sandals. The jagga said it was a cobra and was dangerous. It had reared up and opened its hood and he said that although it was only a young one it could kill in two hours.

I had bad shits on 9th October and so did Ian. A good start for my new cook. There were two boiled flies in my soup too. She made enough soup during the morning for the evening meal as well, then left it around so that flies and mosquitos got in it. Later we played badminton, but at the meal afterwards I ordered a small omelette as I didn't think I could eat more. In the event I had soup and a large stuffed omelette which I could only toy with. All night I tossed and turned and was eventually sick. I refused breakfast and was giddy at the office so I went to bed.

Two days later I was still suffering with a stomach pain and giddyness. When Bob and Ian heard I had been sick I was sent straight to the doctor. A few days later after he had tested a stool sample he told me I had a bug called Lamblia and he drew a picture which looked like a small fish. He gave me pills to sort it out. It probably wasn't my cook's fault as she spent much of the day boiling water for cooking and there was always a bottle of boiled drinking water in the fridge. I probably caught the bug from the Mandarin Hotel site office tea which almost certainly didn't use boiled water. The tea was served in mugs with a metal lid and seemed to be made with tea bush stalks rather than tea leaves.

Ian and I went to the Borobudur Hotel which had a disco. I got the impression that he picked up air stewardesses there. However, on that night it was really dead and we got ripped off for orange juice (I had been told to keep off beer). The menus said 500 rp for fruit juices buy I got charged 1800 rp (2.60). When we complained the waiter said the menu was wrong, apparently fruit juice at 500 rp meant orange squash. Ian's beer was 950 rp as per menu, cocktails would have been 850 rp. So orange juice was a rip off.

Andrew S the interior designer for the hotel arrived back for a stay of a year or so on 19th October. I met him at the Sports Club. The Sports Club waiting list was quite a long time, but the club could arrange for a leaver's remaining membership period to be bought, and I got the use of one held by The Du Pont Far East Group. Bob N had twisted the arm of the manager Mr Gauda to get my temporary membership by saying that I would carry on the Wednesday badminton organisation after Bob left. I hardly knew enough people at that stage and I felt lumbered. I did play for a few weeks more until Bob left, then I think it just quietly folded.

I went to see the Jakarta Players show "Alfie" on 21st October. The theatre only held about 400 people but had a huge car park and was in the centre of town. I thought how different it was to English city theatres. A few minor cock-ups and the beer in the glasses was so hot it frothed everywhere. A screen at the back fell over at the end exposing those hiding behind it.

A tiny lizard took up residence under the saucer holding the salt cellar on the dining table. It stayed for months, just peeping out until we left and it could get the crumbs. It had hardly rained since my arrival, but the clouds were getting heavier and occasional rain spelt the beginning of the rainy season. Instead of occasional rain, it would often rain heavily for about an hour or two once, twice or even three times a day in the middle of the rainy season.

29th October 1977. I had been given the address of a distant cousin and I finally made contact with Juliette S who I had never met. I think her grandmother and mine were cousins. She was a teacher at the English Language School, about 25 years old, and was sharing a house with John D. I got her to join Ian, me and Andrew a few times to play badminton to satisfy Mr Gauda, but Andrew preferred to play squash.

Early November 1977

I went scottish dancing for the first time in a house quite near the office. Some people were in proper dancing pumps, but others were in shorts and t-shirts or dresses and bare feet. Juliette was there, Ron S, Doug C and a few others I knew. After going for a few weeks I decided it appealed mostly to an older crowd and was a bit too organised for my liking.

Hong Kong Land's bungalow at Puncak on 18th March 1978

Hong Kong Land's bungalow at Puncak on 18th March 1978

On 5th November I had my first trip to the cool hills and tea estates at Puncak with Andrew, Ian, Don G, his wife Forna, his daughter Sandra, Warren W, Joe and Sean at Jaya Mandarin Agung's rented bungalow (the local company building the hotel, a branch of HongKong Land). We took steaks and other food with us for the local caretaker to cook for us or for us to barbecue. At that time the motorway to Bogor and beyond was still under construction, so we went along crowded local roads. Very pretty but slow, especially where a bridge was being rebuilt. We often saw the aftermath of horrific car crashes. Once we saw two crashed buses, one on each side of the road, but leaning against the front of one was a vertical colt van squashed absolutely flat.

We had several walks around rice paddies, along gravel tracks through kampung (village) areas, through tea estates. Lots of smiling children everywhere. The washing areas for the locals were near streams and surrounded with rattan screens. On one occasion when out alone I surprised an old lady who came out naked from the waist up as I walked past. The next day when out with Ian and Andrew we surprised some girls who were also bare-breasted. One girl ran to the track with her hands over her breasts, then stopped and looked at us slightly bewildered. I think the country people had been used to being bare-breasted in times past but were getting slightly embarrassed in front of foreigners.

On Saturday and Sunday we had the inevitable visit by hawkers (tukangs) who just turned up and unloaded their wares on the paving. They sold cloth, antiques, oil lamps, carvings, brass, china, pictures, absolutely anything likely to appeal to tourists. We had at least twenty over the weekend. Don G bought a charcoal drawing of pretty girls with bare breasts and left an order for a much larger one which cost him 100,000 rps (150) even after bargaining.

We barbecued our steaks and had a great time. The steak my cook had bought was fresh and beautifully tender, possibly water buffalo steak whereas Don G had bought imported frozen steak which wasn't nearly so good.


On Saturday 12th November I had to go to Singapore for three working days to get my work permit. For some immigration reason you have to apply for it outside the country, so it was a regular thing to arrive as a tourist first, then get the permit later. The Orchard Road shopping complexes were an eye-opener. They were incredibly shiny and glitzy, all stainless steel and glass. Even London had nothing to compare, and Jakarta just had grey concrete shopping centres. However, down at the end of the most important roads were smelly slums in shabby "classical/colonial style" rendered buildings with a chinese influence and red tiled roofs and open air soup kitchens.

The girls seemed prettier than Jakarta girls too, slimmer and better dressed. Javanese girls tended to be short and podgy. The next day I arranged to have a shirt made for $19 (4.75) and a pair of trousers for $29 (7.25).

On Monday I called in to the Indonesian Embassy, then to our Singapore office and went out to the Singapore Cricket Club with Malcolm S. We start drinking, then at 1.45 pm he says we should get some sandwiches at 3.30 pm when it has cleared out a bit. At 4 pm Malcolm cancelled a visit to his sister-in-law. After drinking quite a few beers I had refused two drinks, but there was another full one in front of me as well as a large scotch. At 5 pm I was given another whisky. People who we had met at lunchtime were coming back in after an afternoon's work. I finally got something to eat, then made my apologies and left at 5.30 pm. I didn't want to waste my holiday.

On Tuesday I bought a stereo radio/cassette recorder with twin microphones for $305 (75). They were a novelty then. I also bought a Seiko digital alarm watch for $258 (65) which was also new technology. They are less than 10 now. On Wednesday I returned to the Indonesian Embassy to fetch my passport which had a work visa stamped for only six months, but I thought this must be normal and I'd check when back in Jakarta.

I got a taxi to the airport later and noticed a red rag over the meter. I had been warned about this. At the airport he asked for $5 so I said "What? $5?" Is that what the clock says?" He shrugged his shoulders and said it wasn't working. I suggested $3.80 which was what my first trip had cost and he accepted $4.

I didn't have any problem at Jakarta's customs. I had declared the cassette recorder, watch and clothes but the man signed the form immediately. They didn't seem to be interested in business travellers. I heard that rich indonesians were regularly targeted. Some arranged beforehand to be met by a particular customs officer who gave them special clearance, for a previously arranged bribe of course. On the way back to the flat in the dark we passed a body sprawled on the road, but nobody seemed to have stopped and my driver took no notice.

On Thursday 17th November I went off to the immigration office with a Mr Fixit to have my permits checked and my fingerprints taken. There were several forms, some for thumbs only, some for three fingers only, some for complete sets of prints but the thumbs on the wrong side! (ie the left fingers, right thumb, left thumb then right fingers). Each time my fingers were pushed across the paper so the prints were smudged. Richard J, the hotel architect, said this was deliberate. If all prints looked the same, they could pin a crime on anybody!

Mid November 1977

17/11/77: Scottish dancing again. Ann C came wearing what looked like her pyjamas, but tied around the ankles - very attractive. 18/11/77: Andrew and I went round to Ian's house where a dealer had come to sell antique china. Ian bought a plate for 20,000 rp (30). Over the next year I bought about fifteen pieces, probably at expatriate prices. Twenty five years later I didn't get my money back when I sold them. 19/11/77: Andrew and I went to a padang restaurant after playing squash. Padang food is Sumatran, little dishes each with something different like heart, brains, liver, kidneys, most in very hot curried sauces. (Javanese food tended to have milder curry or coconut flavouring). The iced tea seemed to be flavoured with vanilla. Later we went on to the George and Dragon and the Jaya Pub where the petite, french-looking, sexy singer was there as usual. Slightly like Eatha Kitt.

On Sunday 20th November I went down to Pasar Ikan, the fishing port. In another part of the port I looked at the attractive sailing ships loading timber. Small men carried heavy loads on their heads barefoot up narrow planks from the dockside. On the far side of the dock I saw people squatting at the dock edge and realised that they were shitting over the edge.Youths dived into the filthy sewage-ridden water nearby for pleasure!

27th November 1977. I went to Sarinahs store which can best be described as Jakarta's John Lewis. Everything for the middle class or rich person's home. Lovely batiks and leather goods which I bought on several occasions for presents to take to Australia or England. It had a car park - most big buildings and offices had their own car park which made Jakarta a lot easier to use than London. I noticed that Van Heusan shirts were 25 whereas shirts could be made in Singapore for 5.

On the way home I stopped behind a bus at traffic lights when it inexplicably started reversing fast towards me. The conductor leant out of the door waving furiously. Luckily I wasn't too close. I was in neutral and took my foot off the brake as he hit me hard. The driver must have been slightly in front of the lights which he couldn't see. He got out, saw there was no apparent damage, then drove off. The bonnet wouldn't open properly afterwards.

December 1977

On 1st December 1977 Bob took me to Erna's wedding reception. She was one of our secretaries. It was held at the DKI headquarters, equivalent to a Town Hall, which was hired out for functions. the bridal group were dressed in matching Javanese gold and brown kimonos and sat in large chairs with a decorative screen behind them. Erna had her hair all flattened back compared with her normal fringe and there were gold baubles on wobbly metal spikes stuck in it.

There was a speech by a professional speechmaker extolling the virtues of the bride, then speeches by relatives. We then filed past, bowing. Bowing is normal in Java, like Japan, but more emphasised on this occasion. There was a large table with curried food and soups. Coke , Fanta, orange, etc. to drink as this was officially a muslim society, although alcohol was commonly drunk at other times.

Bob had got some tickets for an international badminton match on 3rd December 1977. We went to a large russian-built sports hall and were shown seats near the front three rows behind where the players and their relatives and coaches were sitting. I wondered if we had been put there because we were white or looked important. We were close to the court, but the view would have been better further back. The most important view of the net was almost always obscured by heads in front. The umpire's knees and table also hampered my view. I could see the players hit a shuttle, but not where it went.

However, I wondered whether Bob had come to see the badminton or Lene Koppen. She was gorgeous, a small girl with tight shorts and lovely brown thighs, a rounded bum and short hair with a fringe. Her opponent Verawaty was a large tall girl who overpowered Lene and won 2-1. After some boys events we watched Liem Swie King against Sven Pri. Liem Swie was no. 2 in Indonesia to Hartono. Sven was like Nastase in tennis, fooling around to excite the crowd, pulling a bottle of gin out of his towel, hiding it under the table, etc. to much laughter. Liem kept his cool and kept ahead most of the time, but took his time to finish the match off.

The main event was Rudy Hartono's return to international competition against Fleming Delfs, probably the world no. 1 while Hartono was not competing. Fleming seemed to be off-form with many errors. Hartono was steady, consistent and unflambuoyant, winning 15-2, 15-5.

I went to the Petroleum Club on 4th December to see a play called the Curious Savage put on by the Thespians. Bob and Ros had asked me to join them with friends there beforehand for dinner.

There was very heavy rain on 8th December. Floods two foot deep made life difficult for motorcycles and bikes. Motorcyclists went around with bare feet and legs, some covering their whole body and bike with plastic sheeting, others had passengers carrying open umbrellas, others just got soaked.

On 9th December we found out that Ian's house had been burgled just after he had left for leave in England. His radio had gone. We all suspected the jagga. They are often bribed to let someone in.

Bob and Ros's house was used for the St Patrick's hoolie on 10th December. 14/12/77: A slide show at Alastair L's house. He seemed to be the unofficial photographer for various social events. Paul G showed slides of wonderful butterflies and steam railway engines still used in many places. 17/12/77: The Hash House Harriers Xmas Thrash. I went, even though I hadn't been out running with the Hash at that time.


I've written about the first few months in some detail to give my general impressions of the way life was in Jakarta, but from now on I've continued with only isolated incidents.

Jakarta views 1
Jakarta views 2