The city of Bandung is high in the hills and has the kind of climate to which rich people like to retire. It is a university town, a centre of learning; our driver shows us where Sukarno studied engineering. Mile after mile of squat, Dutch houses and there were more Mercedes Benz on the streets than I have ever seen before.
Our guest house was divided into first and second class. Goodness knows what the first class bedrooms were like; but we did know that first class guests were always served first in the dining room. A fat rat died in our cistern.
Bandung spreads across a valley. Just out of the city is a spectacular volcano; in the centre of town is Jalan Braga, a street of antique shops; in the suburbs is Mr. Udjo. Travellers might forget the rest, but they always have a word for Mr. Udjo, maker of fine angklungs.
The angklung is a traditional Sundanese instrument. It is made of bamboo and when shaken in the hand, gives out a single sustained note. They are pitched differently to form a scale. Mr. Udjo has made many of them. Many small Udjos too, there are ten. `And I am the only father”, Mr. Udjo boasted while his pretty wife smiled shyly.
He was a quick, clever man. `I am a man split in half’, he said, and he split himself neatly with a hand from skull to sternum. `There is the artist and there is the businessman. There is the traditional Sundanese music which I love … and there is western music, diatonic,’ he said with a small bow towards Betty, ‘which pleases the tourists. Ah, if you are artists, you will hate me.’
We did not hate Mr. Udjo. We liked him and we promised to be back in the afternoon for the performance that Mr Udjo gave for tourists. But we hadn’t banked on traffic.
It was a Saturday; Monday would be the Moslem feast of Lebaran, which marked the end of Ramadan, the fasting era and it was a time when people went home to their villages. We were driven in the jeep of a man from the Department of Culture. It was a very slow trip. The man from the Department of Culture would be leaving that afternoon for his home village, and he too was impatient.
We lunched in Jalan Braga. I had frogs’ legs and Betty had shuddering sensations. After lunch, we strolled to the place where taxis wait for customers. We had been told quite sternly, never to pay more than seven hundred and fifty rupiahs per hour. When we mentioned this price to the drivers crowded round us, they laughed derisively. `How much then’, we asked. `One thousand five hundred.’ Now it was our turn to be derisive.
Gradually, the prices came together at round about a thousand rupiah. A thin driver with a black, Moslem cap, a respectable moustache and a kind expression ushered us to his large, black car.
When we were under way, I said brightly: `The traffic should be better now’. It was ten times worse. We would not have thought it possible. Our car came to a complete halt and stayed that way for twenty minutes. What a relief when we moved; but we stopped again within thirty yards.
It was raining and it was hot. With the window closed, we stifled; when I opened it, it fell in a couple of jerking movements, rain poured in and I had trouble closing the window again.
All around were public transport vehicles, small and large trucks full of people and becaks with drivers hooded in plastic sheets. Faces around were impassive. A little boy peered between the legs of men standing tightly packed on the back of a lorry. Our driver massaged his temples.
All engines were switched off and everything was quiet until, once in a while, some driver sounded his horn and others took it up and the sound rose in a loud wailing lament and died again of futility.
I drew, Betty wrote notes. Really, what we wanted most was to go to a lavatory, but that seemed out of the question; all doors along the street were closed tightly. Better not to think about it. We were uneasy. We were not used to crowds like this and it was frightening. This was the most densely populated part of the world. We could imagine we were fleeing from some disaster in the city.
Suddenly, we remembered the rate of hire. Hell. We moved twenty yards and stopped for twenty minutes. It was just over two kilometres from the town to Mr. Udjo’s house; but we did not know that. We took more than two hours.
We arrived when the show was almost over. Elderly tourists from a bus were enthusiastically applauding a choir of children. Angklungs were passed around and we played an old favourite under Mr. Udjo’s strict direction. Little brown girls came to hold our pale hands and sing a farewell song. Physical contact added the last grain of happiness.
Mr. Udjo knows how to put on a show.
When we made the long journey back, it was a little better going. The outbound traffic was still one solid mass. In the bemo ahead of us, a pony lay on the floor amongst the feet of the passengers. He lifted his head and we knew he was alive. His tail hung over the bemo’s end.
When the taxi had left us at the guest house, I found I had lost my best drawing pen.
Next day the town was quiet. We decided to hire a taxi again to take us around the city. Amongst the crowd of drivers, we haggled again. We were led to a cab. It was not until we were seated in our places behind the driver that I recognised the back of his head. As I leaned forward to tap his shoulder, he turned round, beaming. He was holding up my beloved pen.
I worry about the becak drivers. You see them straining to push uphill perhaps with two passengers and merchandise as well. The passengers look so unconcerned and pleased with themselves, I tend to blame them. Yet I suppose the becak drivers want all the passengers they can find. But they last only about five years in the job; then are broken down becak boys, possibly suffering tuberculosis. It is so sad. Once there was a move to do away with the becak, but this move was not popular with drivers. Someday it is hoped the becaks will all be motorised.
They add colour to the streets and they are obviously proud and beautifully muscled. We saw two becak boys riding their becaks in the courtyard of a building. They were having time off; but spending it doing circles and figures of eight on two of the three wheels and enjoying themselves greatly.
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