|Back to Chapter Thirteen - Murray River Houseboats||
1999 was a very good year. We attended Kristian’s wedding in a traditional ceremony in the middle of Java, we chartered a bareboat and sailed through the Greek Islands, I flew with friends in a light plane from Brisbane to Torres Strait, and I had a big step up in intensity of racing sailing.
Kristian and Iin must have really loved each other when they got married. More than seven years later they still do, but on their wedding day in central Java, Kristian allowed himself to wear a traditional sarong, no shirt, heavy makeup, and a headdress that reminded me of the rock band Devo from the 1970s. Iin would have been thinking that sometime soon she would be leaving home to live in Australia. There was a possibility that she may never see her mother and father, her two sisters, and her many uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends again.
When Kristian finished high school he trained to be a rigger/scaffolder. He learnt how to build telecommunications towers and guyed masts. The tops of these were usually hundreds of feet above the top of the highest hill or mountain they were built on. After working on top of Mount Wellington in Tasmania he went overseas to work in South East Asia. He was sent to Kediri to build a tower on Mt Besuki. He flew from Brisbane to Denpasar, Bali, then on to Surabaya, Java. When he arrived at Surabaya, a workmate whom he did not know, was to meet him, but he was not to be found. Kristian was 20 years of age, and white, in a city of some 10 million dark skinned people, few of whom spoke English, and most were followers of the Islamic religion.
Indonesia has one of the highest populations of Muslims on earth. But this was before September 11, and either of the two Bali bombings. To most Australians back then the Middle Eastern countries and Indonesia were hardly discussed or even thought of other than to be considered interesting and exotic places to visit, no different to any other exciting foreign lands. It is only since then that there have been any emotional feelings about these places or their peoples.
His workmate and he eventually found each other, and they drove the 100 kilometres to Kediri in about three hours. This may sound slow but if you ever get to travel that road you will understand why. Some of the overtaking manoeuvres seen on that normally heavily congested, single lane highway, are terrifying. So were the occupational health and safety regulations while working on the tower. There were none! Kristian was with a New Zealander and another Aussie, and many local labourers. The locals wore no helmets or shoes, and climbed with a piece of rope around their waists. The three supervisors wore standard rigging harnesses, helmets, and boots whenever they went up.
Life in Kediri was interesting too. This is a heavily populated part of Java, but there are no international tourists. Kristian thought it was great. “There is no western bull*^#! here,” he said. There were no western people either. His Kiwi workmate was part Maori, the other Aussie was darker than him, and Kristian has all the skin tonings of his Irish, English, Scottish, and Danish ancestry. The locals would follow him around because he is so big and so white. They would rub his arms to see if he were real or a ghost, which they believe in.
After Java, Kristian was sent to other places including Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. On several of his telephone calls home to us, he kept saying that he couldn’t get out of his head this girl he had met in Kediri. Eileen and I thought this was just puppy love for him. Then he arranged visits to see her again. Finally he told us that he was going to marry her. This is where we came in. Eileen and I had to meet the parents.
Kristian was back in Australia at this point, and Eileen and I were to accompany him to Kediri. Things did not get off to a very good start. I was not allowed to fly. My passport was due to expire two days short of the required six months buffer between returning home and expiration. Kristian and Eileen flew out. I returned home to wait for Monday to get another passport. This actually happened in one day. I then caught the first available flight to Denpasar. Then I had to get a flight to Surabaya. Garuda Airlines was my carrier of choice, but their next flight was late in the day. Merpati was earlier with two flights, but for no apparent reason, despite both flights being almost fully booked, they cancelled one. Bourak Airlines had seats available on a flight, and it was leaving in only a few hours. Then I noticed that no locals were in the queue for tickets, only tourists. On making some discrete enquiries I was led to believe that Bourak did not have a very good safety record. I bought a ticket on the late Garuda flight, and called the Merdeka (means freedom) Hotel in Kediri to tell Kristian and Eileen my flight time.
While waiting for the flight I was able to have a conversation with some Indonesian college students who would be on the same plane. An interesting comment made by one was that Indonesian people are very polite. They are brought up to not say or do anything to express displeasure to another person. Any true feelings are kept inside. Therefore if the pressure becomes too much they vent their frustrations and anger in violent ways. I wonder what psychologists would make of that in the light of present day international issues. My personal feelings are that all people should try to understand each other’s situations, be respectful at all times, and helpful when obvious or when asked. I add ‘when asked’ because in many cases assistance through ignorance can be detrimental and/or insulting. I strongly object to unwanted interference, and the stupid idea that a war against terror will succeed.
On my arrival at Surabaya Airport, I asked the young student where the best exit was to find a taxi to take me to Kediri. As I was about to turn through the doorway I heard and saw Kristian and Eileen calling to me. They were with several Indonesian people who turned out to be Iin and her immediate family. They had come by private car to collect me. Whheww. My Indonesian language skills were as usual, only phrasebook. I had gotten by so far with them, and the fact that many of the Balinese people speak excellent English to converse with the tourist trade. Here on Java I did not expect that luxury.
|Eileen feeding goldfish at the hotel|
It was Wednesday before I got to meet more of the family at a semi-formal lunch at the home of Iin’s paternal grandfather. He was a retired Colonel in the Javanese army, and obviously the patriarch of the family. As we met both Iin’s parent’s families, it was also obvious that these were well educated and successful people. They were also all very nice.
There was not much to discuss really. I had thought that Eileen and I were there as a part of their custom to ask permission for our son to marry their daughter. Not so. Iin’s maternal grandfather had already consulted his calendar that was hundreds of years old. From Kristian and Iin’s birthdates, he had determined that they were a perfect match. If they had not been, Iin would have been banished to another part of Indonesia to stay with family until Kristian had disappeared from the scene. Eileen and I were only there to see if we thought Iin was a suitable wife for our son, and to see if we were happy with the wedding arrangements.
Iin’s given names are Ekowati, which means first, and Indah, which means beautiful, and Iin is short for Indah. She is the first born of three siblings, and she is beautiful. Her grandfather had once again consulted his calendar, and the date was set for Wednesday the 10th of February 1999. A ‘sweet’ day. A Wednesday was also very convenient for normal Saturday flights out from and back to Australia.
Thursday and Friday were spent meeting more family and exploring Kediri. We went to the very impressive tomb of former President Sukarno, a much revered Indonesian leader. I was extremely humbled later when Iin’s father presented me with what could only be described as a rare, precious, and beautiful book of photographs. The hard cover was embossed with the title “Paintings and Statues from the collection of President Sukarno”. Apparently the gift of this item to me was a surprise to the family. Back in Australia I built a timber box for a frame to hang on the wall of my office. I stained the timber and fitted a glass front. The book fits open in the framing. In 2006 Iin’s mother and father and youngest sister came to visit in Australia. Gigi was very happy to see the respect with which I had treated his gift.
As a gift to Gigi’s family I bought them a refrigerator. These people owned their home, had servants to help cook and clean, but had no fridge. They didn’t really need one. All the perishable produce they needed was bought daily from the corner markets. It was when they served us bottles of red Fanta soft drink at room temperature (about 35 degrees Celsius) that I thought this would be a suitable gift. Even then it stayed at Kristian’s rented house nearby until they finally were able to arrange Iin’s visa, and came to Australia.
We also went to a temple which had been partially destroyed hundreds of years ago by Kublai Khan on one of his social visits. A feature of this temple is a pool of blessed water where by washing your face you will remain young and beautiful looking forever. Looking in the mirror now, I think it worked.
For the final night of our brief stay we went to the best restaurant in town. There was plenty of food and it was all delicious. The bill for all food and drink for eight people was less than $Au40. I paid!
We travelled back to Surabaya to catch our return flight. Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta. It is known as the most dangerous city in the world for pedestrians to cross the road. Cars, trucks, buses, and several mopeds will travel side by side on the main roads through the city, usually one more vehicle than lanes. The white lines mean nothing. The frequent use of the vehicle horn is mandatory, but it is used only to politely inform others of your presence, and/or the fact that you are merging. It all happens with very little distress. The same driving habits and use of the horn in Australia would be accompanied by an extended middle finger and profanities. Pedestrians even at crossings are ignored unless they are brave enough to just step out and wave down the approaching traffic. The mopeds simply go around.
We went to visit Tunjungan Plaza. This huge multi-story shopping centre is magnificent. I was fascinated by the shop which sold the most elaborately carved wooden sailing ships of all sizes, including some inside light bulbs. The ground floor of this complex incorporates an ice-skating rink.
Several of Kristian’s mates, Ryan and Vickie, Eileen’s parents, and my cousin Sean, and Kay, were our contribution to the guest list. I bought everyone’s tickets together through our regular travel agent with my Diners Card for the frequent flyer points. Pity Ansett went bust before we got to use them. There is an email link to Gomersalls Travel on the Link Page. We have used Ross ever since our previous travel agent was belligerent about a $50 error he made. That $50 has cost him thousands over the years.
We all flew to Bali on the same Saturday flight. Eileen and I, Eileen’s parents, Ryan and Vickie, Sean, Kay, and Joe flew on a connecting flight to Surabaya on the Sunday while Kristian’s mates stayed on Bali until Tuesday. We figured they would enjoy that more than waiting around Kediri until the Wednesday wedding. Sunday morning proved interesting. Before our flight on Sunday afternoon we all met up in the foyer, which happened to be near the main swimming pool of the hotel. Ryan and Joe were having an early morning swim. At the pool bar in the pool, two other Aussies were into a drinking session. One of them bought Ryan and Joe a drink. Several others of our group went for a swim and this chap started buying everyone drinks. We thought he was crazy. His companion said that he was the owner of a successful hotel back in Oz, and every year he came here for a holiday and did this.
|The best little noodle shop in the world|
The advance party arrived in Kediri and found out what the itinerary of proceedings was to be. On Monday we went for a drive up into the mountains to see the tower that Kristian built. It is one of several on top of Gunung Besuki, but at 90 metres, it is the tallest. Depending on our relevant levels of energy we could climb the ladder as far as we wished. We then had lunch at the best little noodle shop in the world. This is where Kristian and his work mates used to go for lunch. The ‘café’ is three adjoining huts each set back a little from each other, with doorways between each.There was a common dirt floor. The first hut was the café, the second was the residence, and the third was the goat shed. After placing our orders in the café, mainly Nasi Goreng, and red Fanta soft drink at room temperature again, we adjourned outside to the dining table. This was a huge cable drum that Kristian and his mates had placed there on its side, with a thatched umbrella. Surrounding the table were round timber stumps half buried in the ground for chairs. The food was delicious. Kristian said that the owner probably shut shop after we left and took a week off.
The wedding was like most in that there was an official ceremony, and then a reception. The official ceremony was in the morning. We Aussies, including Kristian, walked in our formal suits and dresses from Kristian’s house to Iin’s parent’s house where the Muslim ceremony was to be held. Yes we have Kristian the Muslim. Although he said he would probably not be very good at it. He likes a bourbon.
Forty or so people crowded into the 6 metre x 3 metre living area of the house at room temperature, about 35 degrees Celsius plus body heat. The official party knelt around a low table and the ceremony proceeded. Vows were made, documents were signed and witnessed, photographs were taken, the bride was kissed, the groom was kissed, and parents were blessed and kissed. We have a video of it all in Indonesian. Kristian and Iin only live five minutes away from us now. We should get Iin to translate it.
We then had lunch under a marquee in the front yard. I would have said on the lawn, only there was no lawn. No one has lawn, even with the rainfall and lush vegetation, but great pride is taken in having well raked dirt.
Now was the time for getting prepared for the evening reception. This meant being measured for elaborate costumes and applying make-up. The biggest problem for the preparers was that compared to them we were all so big. Finally we were all ready. The reception was originally planned for the street. To ensure that there was no interference by rain they called for a medicine man to pray. Then two men rode around the block on a moped, with one holding a long length of green bamboo. But to be really sure, they booked a hall.
Because of tradition, Eileen and I were not permitted to enter at first. My research for the early part of the reception was done by watching the video shots that Sean took. All of our entourage and some of the local guests were allowed in early. The master of ceremonies announced each part of the proceedings, in Indonesian. The only part we understood was when every now and then he would utter the word “Brinkley”. At least we must have been at the right place. Iin, her parents, and some of the official party were led very very slowly into the hall by attendants. Kristian was then led into the hall equally as slowly by more of the official party and his mates and attendants. Iin was then led back down the carpet to meet Kristian in the centre of the room. Their right hands were joined in a brief blessing. Iin then knelt and bowed to Kristian with her hands together. Kristian bowed down to Iin. His foot then crushed some eggs in a plate on the floor. Iin ladled water onto his foot and washed it. Kristian then helped Iin to rise. They both stood side by side with a coloured cloth around their shoulders. The front corners of the cloth were held by Iin’s father’s hands over his shoulders. He then led them to the stage at the front of the hall where they were seated in the place of honour.
Finally Eileen and I were allowed to enter. Iin’s parents seated us on the left of the bride and groom. Her parents then sat on the other side of them. Kristian and Iin then prostrated themselves at her parent’s feet and then our feet, blessing us, before returning to the centre of the stage where photos were taken with different members of the official party. At this point all six hundred guests filed on stage to shake hands with the bride and groom and the parents, before moving to the tables where the prepared food was waiting. After many more photos we taken it was time for the cutting of the cake. The cake was a magnificent sculpture of a castle which, when sitting on the table, towered two and a half metres in the air. The cutting was accompanied by one of the few things we understood, an instrumental version of Ave Maria. The bridal waltz was performed to a sung version, in English.
|The boys from Oz|
Thursday was spent relaxing before the road trip back to Surabaya and the flight to Denpasar. Back on Bali, Eileen’s parents, Sean and Kay, and Eileen and I were going to spend another week relaxing, sightseeing, and shopping. Hmmm….. I don’t think all three are possible. Everyone else was flying home to Oz, except Kristian and Iin who were still in Kediri. It would be about nine months of going to the embassy in Jakarta and dealing with the Indonesian Consulate in Australia before Iin’s visa would come through.
We hired Norman the bemo driver for our day trips. We went to jewellery stores and furniture shops and auto parts shops. Sean wanted some unusual mag wheels and some furniture. I think by the time it landed in Australia it wasn’t such a bargain. Many Balinese carry their savings in gold jewellery. They will start to build a house with their savings. When it runs out they work for another six months, save their wages, and build some more. In the meantime they live with family. We saw the rice farm terraces on the way to the volcano of Gunung Batur. We also watched in amazement at a construction site where more than twenty men were pouring a concrete roof. Half of them would pass a bucket of concrete from the electric mixer, man to man, up bamboo ladders, to the roof. The concrete was then poured and spread and the bucket slid down a rope to the ground. They did have several buckets. The volcano was steaming again when we got there, just like in 1993.
|A construction site|
Back in Denpasar we watched moped racing. These were not your average mopeds, they were heavily modified, very quick, and the riders were very good. This is a very competitive sport in this part of the world. At Uluwatu we didn’t even consider surfing this time, but the views are excellent and the monkeys at the temple are fascinating like monkeys everywhere. There are nearly as many as at Monkey Forest where we also spent some time. I lost the black cloth strap for my sunglasses when one monkey stole it, just leaving the glasses. The black strap looks just like the piece on a bunch of bananas.
This holiday was the first on which we flew Business Class. Eileen’s parents were elderly, Sean and Kay were large, and so we decided to accompany them in the better seats. It definitely helped for the flight home. On the way to a holiday, the excitement masks the discomfort of cattle class. On the way home, Business Class masks the sadness of ending. Kristian and Iin now live near us in Brisbane. They have brought into the world two beautiful children with lovely Indonesian features and complexions. Seth was born in 2002, and Mariana in 2004. Iin has been home to see her family several times, and her parents and youngest sister have been here. What a wonderful cultural exchange. I think Iin’s parents have been dipping into the pool at the temple again. They didn’t look to have aged a bit.
|Me kissing a Garuda|
My most endearing memories of this trip were of the wonderful people we met, Iin’s family and friends, and the locals we met at the family home, at the wedding reception, in their shops, and on the street. They were just folks; enjoying and getting on with life. They accepted us, and treated us with friendliness and kindness, and I hope we left a similar impression with them. I wish all the political and religious leaders of the world would put their egos away and behave the same. I never have and still do not have a problem with the Islamic religion. My own personal slant on religion is that I prefer to believe in a creation by a supreme being than in evolution, from a spiritual and scientific perspective. And despite the fact that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, I find it interesting that statistics show that when surveys are done, the people in societies where a high proportion of people claim to have ‘no religion’ have the happiest, healthiest, most prosperous, and least violent societies. It’s amazing how peaceful people can be when they having nothing to fight about, or no ambitious leaders to motivate and/or pay them.
|Back to Chapter Thirteen - Murray River Houseboats|