Bandung to Bali XXviii – Braga Permai and the Americans – 31 May 1973

Dad decides we will travel into Bandung by bemo, which will be less fuss than haggling with the bejak drivers.

Once Bart is fed and quiet we leave the leafy calm of Jalan Benawang to meet the frenetic Jalan Jendral Ahmad Yani* in the peak of mid-morning traffic.

A mass of beaten, discoloured vehicles  whine and sputter in all directions like a chorus of untuned lawn mowers. The drivers criss-cross between holes and ruts sending hot dust and a spew of brown exhaust into the steam laden air.

‘If we cross back over we could at least wave down an empty bemo,’ Dad rethinks his plan after we all manage to cross to the side of traffic churning toward Bandung.

‘We’ll get one in a minute,’ Mum sounds bright, but quietly says, ‘Still lucky to be alive at least.’

She squints into the flow of pressing trucks, mopeds, bikes, motorbikes – each one full with an excess of people, poultry and produce – and wonders whether she would have been more sensible to stay home.

An enterprising bemo driver spins back through the impenetrable mesh of vehicles, lurches toward us, turns at the last minute and slows down just long enough to let us clamber on at the back.  Getting onto a bemo is like getting onto a moving trailer after picking hay bales off a paddock – you just have to run alongside then jump.

We squeeze in under the barrel hooded tray and sit, three a side, on thin timber benches braced to the tin floor behind the driver’s tiny smoke filled cabin.

The driver steers, smokes and negotiates the fare over his shoulder with no apparent break in speed.  We cling to the rough seats, lurch and laugh in a gasp of fair ground hysteria, all the way to Bandung.

The bemo drops us near enough to the recognisable corner of Jalan Asia Afrika and Jalan Braga and we waddle off in the direction of the post office like half tossed tops.

‘Well that was fun!’ Dad declares.

‘Can we get a bemo on the way back Dad?’ Matt asks.

‘No Matt – we’ll get bejaks and go home the long way.’ Mum says with some feeling.

After an interminable time in the post office buying stamps and aerogrammes we take Mum to lunch at Braga Permai.

**

Dad and the young waiter meet like old friends. Mum raises a knowing eyebrow seeing that the rest of us have all been here before – on one of our earlier wanderings from the hotel – with promises of cold drinks and peanuts to ‘get us out of your hair,’ Dad tells her.

To our ears the waiter speaks a clean TV American (from his time at University he says) and Dad returns in his best Australian Bahasa.

‘Pak Power, such a pleasure to see you and to welcome your wife as well,’ Ari recalls our names and greets Mum with great kindness and arranges us on low chairs at the front of the café.

‘Of course you cannot bring a baby out in this heat. How did you come into Bandung today? By bemo?! Oh but Pak! The bemos are all crazy.’

Ari offers out menus but emphasises the cosmopolitan skills behind the kitchen doors, ‘Of course, if you want something which is not on the menu, please just ask.’

The menu is almost the same size as Johnny and about six pages thick.

‘Dad will choose,’ Mum says, ‘Otherwise we’ll be here all day.’

A young waitress in a tight sarong brings bottles of sticky cold drinks, straws and frosty cold glasses.

‘Terimah kasi’ we chime. Matt sticks a straw straight in the bottle and Mum doesn’t even mind.

Now this is what I imagine ‘being sophisticated’ must be like – sitting on low chairs in a cool cafe, sipping cool drinks and feeling grown up.

The quiet of the dark haven is broken with the arrival of a trio of customers.

‘Mr Turner, Mrs Turner’ Ari greets the tall thickset man and his fair fine boned wife.

‘Hiya Ari,’ the man calls and smiles broadly,  ‘We’ll get a couple of beers?’

Mrs Turner nods in agreement.

‘And the young Master?’ Ari says in a slightly high voice, ‘Ah I see Master Richie is being Superman today.’

‘Cola?’

Pak Turner rattles off a standard order and entreats young Master Richard, ‘Richie, Richie’ he persists to get his son’s attention,’ Richie what do you want to eat?’

‘Fries,’ Richie demands as he waves his Action Man doll and makes zooming noises through his nose and mouth.

‘Fries thanks Ari,’ Pak Turner repeats.

They move to the back of the café as seems to be their routine.

Mrs Turner sits forward, ready to speak to her son, but Ari places a glass in front of her and she sinks back gratefully into the leather chair while the beer is poured.

Richie bounces and twists around to kneel up on his chair. It is too much for him to stay still – he darts back in our direction and stands to examine us with a silent open gaze.

Young Master Richard is a white minnow with an oblong face topped with his mother’s sandy red hair and fine features. We stare back.

Something about Richie’s pale light frame makes us all look like plump dairy raised calves.

At Braga Permi

At Braga Permi

‘Look at all the kids Mom,’  Richie calls in a voice tuned to a grating violin pitch which, after an initial intake of breath, releases in a great volley of questions.

‘Whad’re your names? Where’ryu’all from? Whattaya doing in Bandung?

‘Richie!’ his Mum calls and smiles toward us.

‘I’m g’nna go’n’ play with them Mom.’ He runs back and tells his parents.

‘Richie – just come and sit down.’ his father urges and quickly reduces his glass of beer to an empty vessel.

Despite his bear-like appearance Pak Turner shows a passive nature which contrasts with his son’s effusive personality.

‘Come and get your drink Richie,’ his mother sits forward now, ‘Come on – your fries will be here soon. I think they’re cooking them now.’

She counts down silently to the time the food will be put in front of her son as he runs back toward her.

‘It’s Richie Rich’ Tony breathes behind his hand to Matt.

‘That’ll do Tony.’ Dad pulls him up with a stare – although it’s true he does look like a little cartoon book kid with his whip of blond hair and pixie features.

Dad raises his glass of beer in the direction of the Turners.

‘Please come and join us,’ he calls to save them the challenge of keeping Richie tethered to his chair.

Richie’s parents make their introductions – Jane and Richard from Chicago, here at the University, contract work for about a year.  So the adults form a group of four while we kids eat and enjoy the one man entertainment that is Richie.

While we relish fat prawns and the deliciously oily nasi goreng, Richie gulps his cola, picks at an Indonesian version of fried potatoes and darts to and from the dining area. He props at the kitchen threshold to watch the cooks swirl and spin their woks and send up great flashes of flame and runs back again to relate the spectacle to us.

‘Your kids are so good,’ Jane admires.

‘I don’t know about that,’ Dad reassures her, ‘We’ve bribed them to behave today.’

‘Richie’s at a real energetic stage,’ she looks furtively to see where he might be heading to next.

Mum wants to give her some standing advice on sugary drinks and ratty kids but she just smiles.

‘He wears us down – and you’ve got four!’

‘Five,’  Dad adds.

‘Five? Now I’m impressed,’ Richard blows out his cheeks, ‘One’s more than enough for us.’

‘Bart’s at home – this is the first time I’ve been out without him for lunch – he’s only five months.’ Mum explains and looks to Dad, ‘I’ll have to get home to him soon.’

The afternoon closes with an invitation for the Turner family to visit us at home next Thursday night.

Richie whoops with delight and waves Action Man at us as Jane and Rick drag his small frame out of the café.

‘Come on Bryan, we’ll have to get going,’ Mum impresses on him.

Mum gathers discarded clothing and bags, extracts Johnny from the kitchen where he is munching on krupuk and being coddled by the waitresses.

‘Well, that was nice,’ Mum says, ‘Meeting Jane and Richard.’

‘And Rick O’Shea!’ says Dad

‘Bryan!’ Mum laughs.

Matt looks quite stern as we leave. ‘There’re really nice Dad – but geez – that Richie’s a handful.’

‘Yes Matt, you’re right about that.’

******************

Braga Permai remains a fixture in Bandung to this day. Now at the mercy of internet voting and quips by the global tourist – ever quick to judge poor service and bad food – the café is unlikely to retain its former allure as an oasis for the misplaced travelling European. For us kids in 1973 it was an enormous treat to go to a café. We never drank as much soft drink as we did the first few months we lived in Bandung – no doubt we needed the sugar and salt as a kind of electrolyte while we acclimatised to the humidity.

On a slightly more somber tack, *General Ahmad Yani, who now has many a road named after him,  was feted as a hero following his assassination by members of the 30 September Movement in a failed coup in Indonesia a mere 8 years before we arrived. The execution of a group of generals in an effort to install the PKI – the communist party in Indonesia – on 30 September 1965 unleashed a terrible period in Indonesia’s history.

Trained in Texas in the wake of the McCarthy era and strongly anti-communist, Yani sought to undo the rising influence of the KPI (as he had acted to suppress other minority forces in parts of Indonesia). Following the 30 September events, thousands of people, even if suspected of being associated with the communist party, were killed, imprisoned and tortured.

A harrowing recount of this time has been told through an extraordinary film by Joshua Oppenheimer  (2012) and even an introduction to this documentary is probably too hard going for most people (certainly for me). I recall Dad referring to ‘the Generals’, many of whom continued to command great wealth and influence through the 70s in Indonesia, as being a pretty bad lot although he obviously didn’t go into details about why or we possibly wouldn’t have made that much fun taking our first trip in a bemo on that road.

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