Ethnic Reconnection -Chapter 1

Chance meeting in Jakarta

Bert Baas sat at the Jakarta airport studying a booklet he’d purchased before leaving the UK. He’d purchased this out of curiosity to see if he could recall any of the Indonesian language, he’d heard frequently used in his grandfather’s home for this book was an English to Bahasa Indonesia dictionary. Grandfather had lived in Surabaya East Java in Indonesia during the Dutch rule over the islands where he worked as a Dutch political administrator. As a second generation living in Indonesia grandfather had married into one of the rich upper class Indonesian families. It had been with great difficulty he’d been able to convince the family to consider him as a worthy husband as there was an uneasy relationship between the races with the occupied tolerating Dutch rule but not wanting to corrupt their bloodline with Europeans who they knew would eventually be forced to leave. They bided their time waiting for a strong leader to lead them out of this occupation.

But in a series of clever plots grandfather had made sufficient overtures to bring this rich family economic benefits and positions for family members that put them into a very favorable vantage point when liberation should occur in future years and the anak laki-laki or as Dutch would understand this term daughter in Suharto family hierarchy agreed to support her father’s request to marry the European. She was not averse to that as she’d watched this man pull out all stops to gain her interest and shower gifts on her family. This was for the family; love would come later hopefully. But she was overwhelmed after a traditional marriage ceremony grandfather showered gifts and affection honoring the tradition of entrusting money to the wife and a responsible position in administration of the territory under his control.

But when liberation did come, Grandfather Tobias Baas had seen the writing on the wall for Dutch administrators and his Indonesian in-laws advised him to leave and go back to his country. The fact he had no knowledge of his original homeland and was more in attune with Indonesian culture made no difference. The in laws didn’t want to see he and their daughter humiliated or to have their own now established political roots compromised by association. They sent him off with a small fortune to see Tobias and their daughter were established as import and export merchants serving the Indonesia Europe market in the Netherlands. Grandfather had gravitated back to the ancestral city of Amsterdam and soon established successful trade connections and his Indonesian in-laws prospered in the trade along with him.

Bert’s father Aleid and his other siblings torn from Indonesian culture found it hard for some time to fit into European culture so clung to the family import and export business making it possible for frequent trips to Indonesia and encouraged their own children to follow the family business as a career. But some did not find that business challenging and moved on with separate careers. One was a doctor in Hamburg Germany, another moved to Los Angeles to learn the movie trade and Bert moved to London to study international development. He wanted to travel the world and on graduation sought employment with development agencies where he worked his way up through to administration after slaving at village development projects in third world countries for several years. He had a good track record in administration now.

With his childhood roots in Amsterdam in a Eurasian family with Indonesian connections it was interesting to him when a project request from Irian Jaya came to his desk. He was doing more administration than field work now but as part of his heritage was from Indonesia, he had a sudden interest in looking into this project so he could drink in some of his heritage culture firsthand. He’d heard grandparents and his father’s siblings talk animatedly about their business trips to Indonesia, but the country was their reality not his as he’d never visited. He was due vacation so would care for the project appraisal in Irian Jaya himself and present it to the foundation board on his return after three weeks if he deemed the project appropriate.

So here he was in Jakarta listening to a language delivered faster than his mind was able to interpret though he had remembered some expressions from visits to his grandparents where Bahasa Indonesia was used in the home and Dutch, or English used in trade. So, he laboriously flicked through the dictionary trying to make sense of what was being said in conversations around him or announcements over the PA system. He became aware that he was being observed and glanced to the left and right to identify the source of scrutiny his sixth sense alerted him to. Then looked directly ahead to see two smiling faces watching him. He smiled back. And a well-dressed man with the beginning of grey hair addressed him in English introducing himself.

I am Abyasa Chaniago and this is my daughter Murni. Welcome to our country. I see you are having some difficulty with our language so if we can be of assistance to you, we are happy to do so. Where are you heading to sir?”

“Manokwari in the province of Irian Jaya, our development foundation has been requested to do a series of village projects inland from there in connection with water management. I’m in administration but have handled village projects in my first years working with development agencies. But as my grandfather was born in Indonesia and the language continued to be spoken in his home there in Amsterdam, I decided to make my first trip here and see my family roots as I worked. My grandmother was Indonesian from the Suharto family. I’m sorry I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Bert Baas”.

Abyasa and his daughter looked at each other in surprise.

“You have good connections to Indonesia then friend. Have you visited with the Suharto’s yet.”

“No this is my first trip, and my generation has had no connections with my grandmother’s family as we are scattered around the world now and have lost touch with even our own immediate families to a certain extent.”

“And where are you headed Mr. Chaniago?”

“Same Garuda flight as you. We have business interests all over Indonesia as we are into manufacturing. I’m the eldest of the extended family so have the overall managing administration position with other family members in various departments of our business. I suppose you in the west would call me the president and chief executive officer. My daughter is financial vice president and handles all investments and due diligence when acquiring new companies so she travels with me. She was educated in the US and holds a PhD in economics. She also works on Indonesian government panels as an advisor.”

Bert turned to study Murni nodding in admiration at her scholarship and position.

“I’m very humbled to meet you Ms. Murni.”

Murni laughed and responded in an American accent the product of her years studying in America.

“Thank you, Bert, there’s no need to be so formal as I’ve been thoroughly internationalized. However, as you seem to be a foreigner who wouldn’t be insulted at a caution how you could be misunderstood here and not even be aware of it unless someone pointed it out, I’m going to take a chance on you not being hurt. When you cross your legs sitting opposite an Indonesian with your foot pointing at them it would be considered insulting. In Jakarta that’s not much of an issue as people here know foreigners are not acquainted with our culture. But when you travel in more conservative regions it could impact on you wanting to get your message across.”

Bert stammered and quickly uncrossed his legs blushing with eyes averted.

“I’m sorry. I have so much to learn here.”

Both felt uneasy at Bert’s embarrassment. Abyasa turned and whispered to his daughter who nodded in response. Then he turned back to Bert.

“You are very respectful as a foreigner and don’t come across as feeling superior to us. Probably your Indonesian Grandmother’s influence there. We’d like to help you in your trip here as I see you are struggling to refresh your language heritage. I’m ashamed to say some requests for foreign government aid are not genuine so when we arrive, I’d like to check the bona fides of those requesting help so your money can be directed where it is really needed around the world if you are agreeable. I’ll need to go ahead with business we are directly interested in there so Murni will join you as you meet with these people who are requesting your services and money. We are interested in putting you in touch with the Suharto’s who are associated in some of our ventures. They’d welcome you making time to see them while you are in Indonesia.”

Bert was taken back in surprise.

“I couldn’t put you to that trouble when you have business to attend to yourself sir!”

The man waved his protests aside.

“We Indonesians help each other, and you are at least part Indonesian through your Suharto connection.

Murni joined in support of her father.

“I’ll be happy to help you make a successful assessment of these project requests Mr. Baas.”

“Please call me Bert”.

At Manokwari airport Bert looked for the person assigned to meet him at the airport and saw a sign being held high above the heads of those meeting the flight. It said Bit Bas and he smiled at the new name assigned to him. Several rushed forward to meet his newfound friends the Chaniago’s grabbing at their hand carry and other luggage and Abyasa shouted over crowd noise for his daughter to investigate Bert’s greeters so she shouted at one of her own greeters and ordered him to take Bert’s luggage too. Then she followed him to the man with the sign Bit Bas and engaged him in the local language. She then turned to Bert.

“I told him to cancel the hotel booking he made for you as it doesn’t have the best of reputation. I’m surprised they’d book you there but have a bit of an idea why and it’s better I don’t share that with you. Father said you will be our guest and know you will find that much more comfortable and safer. The ones who have been in contact with your agency looking for funds are being instructed to come to our office building later after you’ve freshened up and you can meet them there to map out a plan for the time you’ll be here looking into their proposals. I’ll do a background check on these people and make sure they’re working through the local government then accompany you to the projects. In this climate you’d be foolish to think of wearing business attire so hope you bought casual clothes and if not, we can see you get that here without being ripped off as they say in the west. In that you’ve done village development in third world countries I’m sure you are realistic about travel in the next few days in Irian Jaya.”

As Bert had fully intended doing a tour around Indonesia on his holiday after appraising project requests, he felt he’d have suitable clothing for the tropics. He needed to buy a hat that was all.

To be continued.

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© Copyright 2023 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved

11 thoughts on “Ethnic Reconnection -Chapter 1

  1. My sweet friend you are so blessed with talent to write all the interesting stories that you write. You don’t often write about places I have been or know much about, but in this one you mentioned one where I have been to Hamburg Germany. 🙂 Another interesting story Ian, looking forward to reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indonesia is one of those places I’ve sent a lot of time visiting for business and holiday purposes so I know a little of the cultural history and the internet is a good place to fill in the knowledge gaps 🙂 Glad you are enjoying this story as I enjoyed writing it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you are enjoying the commencement of this story Pooja. Indonesia is a beautiful place. My favorite places in my travels there would be Bali which retains some of the Hindu culture and up in the mountains of Bandung where I did some university lectures occasionally.

      Liked by 1 person

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