We arrive at Jalan Bengawan Nomor Tujuh and the becak drivers skillfully steer an arc to bring us back up the hill and in line with a wide driveway between two low set, high roofed houses.
Instead of being foreign and exotic, like my dream of a Sumatran village house, this is a simple and familiar bungalow shape, like Nanna and Pop’s place which looks out over the mirror flat water of Corio Bay. Where Nanna’s house has white weatherboards and ironwork set on cream brick pillars this house has solid walls and thick columns of stucco.
Our new home sits quietly back from the street, squat and welcoming with its high pitched gable over a deep porch. The main roof stretches back across the adjoining house and a deep open drain which meets a line of clipped hedging separates the front garden from the road. A simple expanse of tight cut grass, which springs up as your feet press it down, makes a cool entrance to the porch.
(Nanna too can only grow this thick spongy mat of lawn because of the sandy soil, Dad says, and in summer you have to watch for bindii’s which get stuck in your foot like a needle of glass.)
Before Dad can call us back we are up and off. We fan out like the detectives on Divison 4 pursuing a suspect.
Matt and Tony take the back of the house, Johnny and I go straight through the front garden and in through the open front door.
Johnny and I both stop abruptly, almost toe to toe with a man standing still and silent just inside the wide hallway.
“Welcome, welcome,” he chimes in a clear rich voice. The house is cool and cocoons us in its creamy pink walls and rich warm timber. Pretty narrow windows have wide toothed shutters on either side.
Dad is right behind us, with the becak drivers trailing him with luggage held on shoulders and atop their heads.
“Dr Suparto!” Dad wrings the good man’s hand like an old friend, “So you see we are here at last!”
In a different voice the Doctor calls orders to the becak drivers, he directs them to be careful and to place the luggage just so.
“Ah the children,” he returns to us in a gentle lyrical tone, “one, two, ah and the baby, three – this is very good – and all so very handsome.”
He looks from Johnny to Dad, smiling – half wondering how such a thin white red headed man could manage to have such a blue eyed, peach cheeked boy.
The doctor has the confident stature and square fleshy face of a typical middle-aged, self-made man. He greets mum most kindly. She remarks on his English.
“Ah Mrs Power, you have to be fluent you see – I went to study medicine in Britain – (it is so long ago when I studied) – because all the textbooks are in English, or German of course. First I studied in Jakarta, so I have to learn Latin and Dutch as well as Bahasa and Javanese – many of my patients Pak,’ he turns to Dad, ‘Will still only know Javanese.’
After this short dissertation Mum stands quiet, attending to Bart – a little unsure how to address a man with such a superior education and command of language.
“Oh but please, please let us go in,’ – he continues, ‘oh yes, the luggage is all here.” The last bag makes a pyramid stack on the verandah.
The Doctor insists he will pay the becak drivers and relieves Dad of a growing anxiety of having to barter over bundles of rupees with five eager men.
The front door opens from the adjoining house.
“Ah Bu Samita” the Doctor calls to the slim woman who looks over the fence, “Your new neighbours have arrived, come, come and say hello.”
“Selamat pagi Pak,” Ibu Samita calls back and waves as she walks around onto the street and then comes along to meet us on the porch.
Introductions and hand shakes follow.
Like the doctor, Bu Samita shows all the understated signs of wealth. A soft chain of cream pearls lie on her throat, a fine silver watch and a light chain hung with small green stones adorn her wrists. Her hair folds and curls around the nape of her neck. Her simple dress sits exactly on her slender frame.
She admires us, as mum admires her jewellery. “Very beautiful,” both remark and laugh.
“These are from Singapore – jade, very nice I think,” Bu Samita takes Bart naturally and easily from mum and he makes a fist around the pearls and tugs at them gently. “It is wonderful for shopping.”
“Please, come in come in” repeats the Doctor and beckons us to come further inside the house so he can show us through.
At this point Johnny takes off in the line toward the back door and I take chase to try to catch him up.
“Ah – someone has already seen through the house,” the Doctor sees Matt as he flicks his way through the back door and comes into the dark interior at a half-run, “and what do you think young man?”
“Bagus,” Matt remarks with enthusiasm and little introduction, as he passes the Doctor, “Bagus sekali.”
“Dad,” he calls in breathless excitement on his way into a room off the hallway, “There’s a really little swimming pool and a dunny out the back.”
Tony comes in just behind, his cheeks a-flush and eyes wide.
“Ah,” says the Doctor, “So we have number four and number five.” He looks a little less sure about letting out his house now than he did just a few minutes ago.
Rumah kami – Indonesian for ‘our house’.
Division 4 was one of the very groovy police shows filmed around Melbourne in the late 60s and early 70s.
We weren’t really allowed to watch it as it was on quite late and was ‘an adult’ show (as mum would say.)
The Dutch colonial architecture in Indonesia and particularly around Bandung was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright as was much of Australian suburban architecture between the wars. It was a surprise to come to Bandung and to live in a classic ‘California Bungalow’ which is a house so familiar to so many people across the world.
Many of these houses remain in Bandung and some have been turned into Guest Houses, which they are perfectly suited to given their spacious and homey lay out. On a recent trip back my Dad retraced his way to Nomor Tujuh – which also is now a student hostel. It has been slightly remodelled and extended but was as welcoming as ever.
A book on Tropical Modernity describes Wolff Schoemaker as the Frank Lloyd Wright of Indonesia and outlines his work, much of which is still evident in Bandung. Javanese born but Dutch educated, Schoemaker was influenced by the traditional architecture and ancient monuments around him and introduced these into his modernist work, just as Lloyd Wright was also influenced by and re-interpreted Asian architecture. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolff_Schoemaker http://movingcities.org/movingmemos/tropical-modernity-review-oct11/