Bandung to Bali XiX – Bowie and the Pirates – 19 May 1973

I wake between smooth cool sheets under satiny, cream bedcovers to the sound of ‘bing … ping … whooosh …. bumpff.’

A few minutes pass with only the gentle whistle of Johnny sleeping in the next bed. I doze off again happily.

‘Bing … ping … whoosh … bumpff.’

I look about for the source of the irritating noise. The other boys’ beds are empty, the sheets heaped in untidy piles.

The room’s low, dark furniture is home to quiet pear shaped lamps with coffee linen shades. Deep blue ceramic vases contain an effusion of nodding, but silent, orchids.

The door flies open and Matt’s head shoots around the door.

‘You awake Chas?’

Dad comes up abruptly behind Matt from the room next door. “Where’re you off to mate?”

“Just going down the lift Dad”

“No just wait here ..”

‘Bing … ping … whoosh … bumpff’ and Matt is gone.

“And where’s Tony?” Dad sees the empty beds.

A shrug is all I can manage.

‘Bing … ping …whoosh … bumpf.’ Tony appears as the doors slide back in the other lift.

“Get these kids under control,” Mum laughs, “and watch Bart, I am having a shower!”

Yesterday seems a long time ago as we all relax into the arms of eastern civilisation,

Dad lies little Bart out on a fresh blanket to change him. He wriggles and squeaks, delighted to be naked and cool.

Johnny is out of bed and stands agog with his round moon face shining in the glow of the little fridge.

“Dad, Dad?” he insists,” can I have Coca Cola Dad?”

“No, Johnny, put that back.”

“Mini-bar,” remarks Tony as he throws on a T-shirt and squeezes past Dad and out the door.

“Where are you off to?” Dad tries to bring him back.

“…Matt,” is all we hear as the lift pings open and whooses closed.

“God it’s like the Marx Brothers,” Dad resigns himself to mayhem.


At some point the Marx brothers come to order. Clothes found, shoes on, hair tidy. I roll up yesterday’s suffocating dress with the woollen tights and shove them back into the suitcase with delight.

The beautiful smiling man arrives to invite us for breakfast. He takes Bart happily from Dad and touches the baby’s glow-in-the-dark skin and soft gingery head.

“Yang putih” he christens Bart in wonder.  From this point forward the baby is a tiny demi-God and we follow as the deity is held aloft into the lift and down to the breakfast room.

Dad emerges downstairs soon after and looks even more startlingly lanky and pale against our Indonesian hosts with his washed face, combed down red-haired, shorts and long-socks under sandalled feet.

He is reverentially spoken to as “Pak”; in part for his ability to speak Indonesian, but mostly out of awe for his extraordinary appearance.

Mum’s arrival is in complete contrast. Her petite frame is impeccably dressed in a Jackie Onassis style sleeveless shift dress setting off smooth olive skinned arms and a neat coiffe of short dark hair.

Breakfast is a completely surprising mix of rice and noodles with omelettes to order. Quick to finish, Matt starts to embark on another tack of discovery in the direction of the swinging kitchen doors.

“I’ll take these kids for a walk – go and look about for some shops” Dad suggests, “We might get some milk if we can.”

Mum concurs and takes a reluctant Johnny for a bath and a content Bart for a morning sleep.

Outside at last in fresh cotton clothes we learn to breathe in the air slowly and enjoy being wrapped in warmth after the cool of the hotel.

“Matt – come back a bit,” Dad calls to Matt as he races ahead – he plans to be the first to the shop.

We find one not far away.

The tiny space bursts with an extraordinary display of every good imaginable, packed high on narrow shelves. There are familiar tins and packets of biscuits but many other things I’ve never seen.

Stacks of bright yellow dried noodles teeter against hanging strips of dried vegetables. Baskets of bright seeds sit beside deep bins with muted shades of rice. The shop has a wonderful smell.

A tiny lady, so small I think she is a child, comes out from behind the counter and smiles and bows gently toward us.

Dad and Tony look through the music cassettes in a turning rack on the counter.

“Pirated” says Tony.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“They’re just copies – that’s why they’re so cheap,”  Dad explains

I think about this, “But aren’t all tapes copies?”

“Yes, but these aren’t proper  – they’re not the real thing.” Tony’s understanding of the workings of the universe continues to astound me.

I imagine pirates with great galleons full of cassettes sailing from America to Indonesia just to fill up this little shop.

“Look this is a good one – and this” says Dad.

He picks out Carly Simon, “Night Owl” and Simon and Garfunkle, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

“Led Zeppelin?” Tony asks with an earnest plea showing a cassette with naked children crawling up rocks.


“David Bowie?” wide eyed Matt picks out a tape with the man who looks a bit like a lady with spiky hair and eyeshadow.

“Definitely not.” Dad is emphatic. “Put that back.”

He sorts through the soft rupiahs and holds up the cassettes, “Berapa harganya?”

“Sembilan ratus, pak”

“Terima kasih ‘bu” Dad replies.

The diminutive Chinese shop keeper presses lollies into each of our hands and smiles a wide toothless smile.

“Terima kasih bunya!” says Matt.

The lollies compensate Matt and Tony for the loss of their selection of music.

I breathe in the warm, sticky air more easily on the way back and start to feel taller and lighter. I swish my pony tail over my back as I walk and find I cannot stop a bursting feeling that pushes out into a smile that I cannot stop smiling.


My Dad loved the pictures which of course were the highlight of life when he grew up through the war and post-war period – adventures or musicals, but comedies were (and still are) a favourite. So the Marx Brothers were deeply revered and he introduced us to all their films. We also enjoyed matching the boys up to the brothers. Matt of course was Harpo, while Tony was the more serious Zeppo.

But when we bought the cassettes in Jakarta, we had arrived at a distinct separation in musical style. While Dad won the battle to emphatically select our playlist for the whole time we were in Indonesia, he did not win the war.

We didn’t go out and buy any more cassettes despite their tiny cost (about 90cents) – we just had those two. And Mum wouldn’t let us listen to the second side of the Carly Simon tape because it was ‘too adult’. (‘You’re So Vain’ was considered as border-line appropriate to play to children.)

I adored Simon and Garfunkel and I can still listen to and enjoy their Greatest Hits Album enormously – I never tired of hearing these songs. My love continued and the first album I ever bought was Garfunkel’s Watermark. The live rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water in Central Park 81 is still epic to me – such is my generation.

As for the other tapes the boys aspired to buy, these would not be allowed anywhere near the house. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust was simply terrifying to anyone born in the pre-war thirties who had become grown-ups by the sixties.

Led Zeppelin was definitely never going to be considered. My brothers, of course, went on to be great devotees of these musicians and, as time has proven, even my parents would reluctantly admit to their genius.


If you plan to visit Indonesia it is important to be able to shop, and to enjoy shopping you have to at least know how to count and bargain a little.

And to have a few other words to hand.

To start to count you could read

A few phrases for starting off:

Berapa harganya?  How much is that/this?

Terimah kasih bunyah  Thank you very much/ alot

Pak  Sir  – a term of respect for men

Ibu – ‘bu – a term of respect for women

Yang putih – white one

Our stay in Jakarta was transient at best, but if you would like an insight to Jakarta today a new found friend -(twin in fact as we spookily share the same birthday and other weird similarities) is Lottie Nevin – who expounds on all manner of interesting aspects of life in the Capital and beyond

10 thoughts on “Bandung to Bali XiX – Bowie and the Pirates – 19 May 1973

  1. Thanks for hooking up to my blogsite – I’m really enjoying exploring yours. Your Jakarta story connects with me for two reasons: (a) I lived there for four years in the 90s and (b) your experience back then reminds me – in part – of my first landing in Bali in the 70s. You inspire me to start writing similar reminiscences for my son.


    • Thanks so much for dropping in – I think it’s a good idea to write up any memory you might have of the 70s – I was a bit worried it was all going to become a bit of a blur! The link at the top of the message doesn’t seem to take me back to your site unfortunately – perhaps you can send me the link?


      • Hi Chas. I don’t know why the system takes people to my first, and defunct, effort at a blogsite instead of the current one. Anyhow, hope the right link connects this time; here’s my blog address in case it doesn’t:


    • That’s really lovely of you – thank you, I’m so glad you’re enjoying it. I am finding it a bit hard to keep up the posts at the moment but there’s more to come!


  2. Hello Twin! I’ve been greedily lapping up every single word of these stories/reminiscences of yours about Jakarta. You write so well, and it’s a pleasure reading about your adventures. I love all the tiny domestic details. All those little things that you remember as well as the bigger picture.

    Being a mother of 5, I often wonder what memories my children have of family holidays, events and various adventures that we had when they were growing up.
    It’s clear from the way that you write that this was an extraordinarily happy time in your life and that you took it all in your stride (with a little help from pig of course). Delightful, I can’t wait for the next instalment. Lottie xx

    p.s today I am starting a series of posts with photographs of Jakarta that I’ve taken on the streets and around where I live. It’s a challenge that I’ve given myself. An experiment of sorts! I’ve not taken my camera out before (previously all my photos taken on the hoof so to speak have been with my iphone) and my aim is to take pictures of ‘real jakarta’ as opposed to the high-end shopping malls and grand business areas. Not sure how it’s going to turn out as it’s a work in progress but I hope that I can capture something of the essence of Jakarta that I know and love.


    • Hi L – thanks mate – glad you’re liking it. I wrote a lot down about 10 years ago when I had fancy ideas of writing ‘a book.’ So I have a bit of stuff to draw on. What’s nice now – doing it in the blog – is I am happy to act as the meanest editor and take everything right back to the bare minimum which is really good.
      Glad you’re going out on the street – it will be great to see some of the little slices of life past the startling high rises. I’m looking forward to seeing what you find.. but just take care out there – don’t fall down a hole for the sake of a great pic ;>M


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