This afternoon, my daughter found an old notebook with a journal I wrote when we re-visited Pulau Bangka in 2015 for a wedding. For me, the descriptions are quite evocative and I want to share them. I can’t tell what it will mean to anybody else but… there’s only one way to find out. Here are some excerpts.
Cengkareng Airport is really nice! The gates are in big pavilions which you access through glassed-in walkways. And between the pavilions and the central body are beautiful tropical gardens. It’s very impressive! Even the pavilion ceilings are quite ornately Indonesian in flavour.
The hotel shuttle bus failed to turn up so we caught a cab. Although our hotel was only about 4 kilometres from the airport, a divided road meant the taxi had to take a huge detour through narrow streets, filled with warungs and monstered by huge trucks who didn’t really stick to their side of the road. Chooks, stray cats, the smell of cooking, smoke, rubbish and hot tar and the gently thick, humid air brought Indonesia in through the taxi’s windows.
As soon as we piled into the car in Pangkal Pinang, the excitement began. Small things: a man riding a motorbike with a huge wicker pannier of whole coconuts on the back; Y staring at me in the car and saying “Wah! Tinggi!” (She was commenting on my height. I was ten last time we saw each other); forests of rubber trees, blossoming frangipanis, a whole family on one motor scooter; and stunning glimpses of the grey-green sea with wooden fishing boats in blues, whites and reds tossing and swaying.
The house where we are staying is in a little complex – I suppose – not unlike an Australian estate in that the architecture and the block sizes are all similar. The sandy yard areas vary from pretty bare with chickens scratching around, to beautifully kept with tropical plants (mostly potted). Ours is one of the prettier ones. The front is announced with a row of 4 lanky potted bougainvilleas, staked and blossoming brightly. The house belongs to Y’s father (Pak A) and I think the garden is tended by her brother.
As we ate lunch, I could look along the table and see Y framed by a small glassless window, a cat on the sill peering over her shoulder (and who she would tickle with a finger occasionally) and behind them both, a pawpaw ripening on a tree.
After lunch we walked down behind the house, down a bank, across a narrow dirt road, over a handsome footbridge (crossing a currently dry waterway) to Y’s warung on the beach. The warung was busy with people – people transforming it into a wedding venue. Women were shredding coconut, pressing the milk out of it and then using the milk to make rendang (properly pedas!). Other women were wrapping sticky rice (filled with some kind of meat) in banana leaves. Men were erecting a pavilion for the bride and groom. A great string of basket-like plates arrived, clustered and curled like a dragon’s tail. Chairs, a bandstand… it all just happened around us without apparent stress or anxiety.
(NB: The photo at the top of the blog is the view from the Warung)
THE WEDDING DAY
Z called us to breakfast out on the front porch at 6:30am. Such service! There was tea and nasi goreng bordered by fresh tomato and cucumber. The nasi goreng had prawns in it so the cats of the house sat and watched us eat. While we ate, Z took potted trees (1.5-2 metres tall) away one by one on the step-through motor scooter to decorate the wedding venue.
When we arrived at the wedding venue (after a deliciously cold mandi), the warung was already crowded. The ceremony was pretty much totally beyond me but there were definitely peaks and plateaus – times when all the photographers would leap to their feet and times when somebody was talking (mostly in Indonesian, sometimes in Arabic) and people didn’t seem to be paying a great deal of attention.
The bride and groom wore crimson outfits trimmed with lots of gold and big cumbersome head pieces. They looked like royalty but, in the heat, I can’t fathom how they stayed so composed and fresh looking. After the ceremony, the bride disappeared for quite a while and came out in a totally different outfit slightly resembling a medieval princess. I had expected the kain and kebaya so I was surprised by these outfits.
There was food on offer all day, served at tables on the beach-side of the hired pavillion area. II learned that all the people serving were family. The food was all cooked on site, the band were friends and Dad even recognised the Imam from the wedding of the bride’s older sister. There are definitely benefits to living in such a tight-knit community. Watching the kids being passed from Mum to aunt to uncle to grandpa to Dad to neighbour, etc, I realised that there was much to be envied. Support was everywhere, even if there weren’t hundreds of toys, prams, mod cons etc.
The bride and groom (and their parents) spent the entire day on the platform in their designated pavillion. People would file past and offer congratulations and discreet envelopes of money. Mum spent much of the day trying to smuggle food and drink up to the endlessly smiling and bowing wedding party.
THE TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE
Today we walked along the beach from Y’s place: past the diesel tanks for the generator which used to power the expatriate complex in days of old; past fishermen bringing in arcs of netting partly filled with rubbish and with a few small fish; past small collections of fishing boats anchored close to shore, and eventually past the burnt down offices where Dad used to work. We learned that it had only burned down a few months prior and, although the fire service was quick to arrive, the building we saw was in complete ruins – a mess of tumbled concrete, jagged reinforcing, broken glass and burnt roofing tiles. Dad pointed out where is office use to be – on the ground floor facing the sea.
We passed what used to be the house of the General Manager – I remember playing with his daughter. I remember their garden as being lushly green and protected by some kind of hedge or wall of trees. And you can still see how that might have been but everything is now both overgrown and sad looking because of the long dry spell. And the house sits amongst the rabble, dirty and hunched.
I should explain that for ten years, the local mining operations were under the care of a Malaysian company. But two years ago, the Indonesian government refused to extend the contract and the whole thing closed down, pretty much overnight. In the whole expatriate complex, there are only two or three houses still occupied. Hence all the decay and neglect.
When we reached the end of the complex, Dad found a pathway in towards the first home I remember. It was guarded by an abandoned kamar perjagaan. We approached from the beach side of the house, where I remember there being a paw paw tree topped by a Golden Circle margarine tin. The house had clearly been ransacked and was sad-looking but was otherwise almost exactly as I remember it. There were still children’s artworks and decorations on the walls. It was so strange.
Out the front of the neighbour’s house was a big mango tree with lots of fruit ripening. Three Indonesians on a motor bike arrived and scaled the tree, picking the fruit. It seemed to me this was about the happiest result to come out of the abandonment and neglect. At least the locals could benefit from whatever the expanding jungle might produce.