It never became the same ever again, even after the war was over. My parents, me, and half a million of my people left the country of our birth and traveled from continent to continent.
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Lost and Found Worlds
The Memories and Experiences of a Dutch-Indonesian Immigrant
By Amy Van Lawickâ?"Rozenberg
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Amy Rozenberg
All rights reserved.
I was six years old and sitting on the front steps of my grandparents' hotel. I was rather small for my age, with big hazel eyes, which sometimes turn greenish. I wore my short dark-brown wavy hair loosely cut. Sometimes a big bow was placed on top of my head, as was fashionable for little girls of my age in those days. If my mother had her way, she'd have me wear one every day.
I was dressed in my school uniform, a white short-sleeved blouse, knee-length dark blue skirt, white socks, and flat black shoes. With my skirt neatly pulled over my knees, I waited for Sudiman, the chauffeur, to bring my grandfather's new black Ford around to take me to the Catholic elementary school at the Groote Post Weg or Big Postal Highway. The school was called Het Kleine Klooster in Dutch, meaning The Little Cloister, of the Ursuline nuns. The school had an excellent reputation. My mother attended the school, as did my aunts, my mother's four sisters.
I had just spent a few days with my grandparents, Alfred and Tina Rozen, at their hotel in town. I did this quite often. I loved being with them, and the hotel and its special atmosphere had always charmed me greatly. Also, being an only child could get lonely at times, and somewhat dull, when I was at home with just my parents and the servants. My parents and I lived three houses down the street from the hotel, in a house also owned by my grandparents. At the hotel, there were continuous comings and goings of people, and often there were children I was quick to play with. There were also many interesting things to look at.
Looking over the hotel's vast grounds, I took in the beauty of it all. Right in front of the hotel was a grassy round with, in the very center firmly cemented into the ground, a flagpole with the red, white, and blue flag of the Netherlands fluttering in the soft breeze. It was close to seven in the morning and an absolutely glorious tropical day. It had rained the night before, and droplets on all the leaves of the shrubs and trees glittered like diamonds in the bright sunlight. The sky was a cloudless, brilliant blue.
Suddenly filled with youthful energy, I ran down the steps across the grassy round, all the way to the entrance by the street. I sat down on one of the two low, outward-curving, whitewashed walls that framed the short bridge built over a deep, neatly cemented ditch, used as drainage for the heavy monsoon rains when they arrived.
After a while, I stood up and began to walk slowly back to the hotel's front steps. As I approached the building, I noticed how especially beautiful it looked that morning. It stood gleaming white in the bright sunlight, set against a backdrop of mixed green foliage. It looked so clean and stately, with its two massive white columns on the top of the wide front steps and its orange-red roof tiles.
From the street entrance where I had just been, the graveled driveway separated and wound around the grassy lawn, to meet in front of the hotel's steps. A wide border of bright orange-red zinnias encircled the grassy area, while left and right of it were the lovely flower gardens. I could see the gardeners at work under the all-seeing eyes of Dharmo, the head gardener. A low three-foot-high wall ran along three sides of the huge front yard, coming together at the entrance. The walls were covered here and there with bougainvillea climbers in all sorts of colors. A profusion of flowers in purples, pinks, and reds had been trained over some areas of the low white walls and continued to climb up one corner of the hotel's outer wall.
Here and there, in clumps of three, big hibiscus shrubs were planted, chosen especially for their large, showy flowers and long blooming periods. They washed the garden with flaming color all through the year, a riotous mingling of hues. Blood reds would fade into blush and then into a paler dusty pink, all planted together. There were also the beautiful arbors full of climbing stephanotis, adding their small white flowers and their wonderful fragrance to the perfect arrangement of the whole.
The birds of paradise, orange and yellow bird-like flowers, were everywhere, and royal palm trees, stateliest of all palms, lined the circular driveway. There was a flame tree on the left, which gave wonderful shade to the clusters of impatience, planted underneath as color spots in all kinds of hues.
The grounds blazed with glorious color. I drank in the wonder of it all, on this splendid day. A day I would always remember. An impression I would keep throughout my life.
I came out of my reverie when the car I was waiting for stopped in front of where I sat. The chauffeur got out and held open the door for me to step in.
Seeing that her granddaughter was about to leave, my grandmother-all the grandchildren called her Oma, which means Grammy—hurried from a corner of the vast, open veranda where she and my grandfather were sitting with their manager, Johan Baumer. Johan had worked for the Rozens for many years. The three of them had been in deep conversation about the details of the upcoming day, as their habit had always been at this time of the morning.
My grandmother walked toward me with a smile. She reached down to adjust my clothes, which were in disarray from all that running, and smoothed down my hair. She hugged me and said softly, "Be a good girl, Nora, and pay attention to what the teacher is telling you, would you, sweetheart?" she asked. I nodded and hugged her in return. With her arm around my shoulders, we both went down the steps to where Sudiman and the car were waiting.
"Slamat pagi Njonja Besar, Slamat pagi Nonnie Ketjil," Sudiman greeted us politely in Indonesian, with a big smile on his face. "Good morning, grand lady, good morning, little miss." The greeting was uttered softly with eyes downcast. "Slamat pagi, Sudiman," we answered in unison. We were both very fond of the chauffeur, especially me. He let me help him keep the car spotlessly clean and sometimes even let me help to wash it.
Sudiman was only fourteen years old when he was hired to help Dharmo, the gardener. Later, when he was old enough to drive, after numerous instructions, he became the family's chauffeur. He lived with his young wife, who was a chambermaid in the hotel, in back of the building where the servants' quarters were, and was now a fine-looking young man of about twenty-six. He was dressed in the traditional white cotton long-sleeved jacket and black pants and on his head a black petji, the traditional headdress for men of the Muslim faith.
I got into the car and Sudiman closed the door, slid behind the steering wheel, and drove off.
COZY BUT ELEGANT
It was not a very big hotel, with some fifty rooms in all. But it was sought out by guests mostly for its coziness, its quiet elegance, and its excellent care. The layout was typical of that time, with the main building in the middle and the guest rooms, each with a little veranda, on either side of it. The veranda was essential for life in the tropics. It was there, where people could relax in their own privacy in the evening hours, with a tall, cool drink and perhaps a book to read, after a long, hot day at work or wherever it was spent.
The main building was huge and airy, with high ceilings for a good air flow and all the walls painted white. The front steps led up to the big, open veranda with a long, white balustrade on the left and right sides. Eighteen-inch tiles in black and white marble throughout the building kept the floors cool and shiny, with one huge room flowing into another. A set of three tall wooden plantation shuttered doors, painted dark green and neatly spaced apart, led to the enclosed inner sitting room. This room was like the veranda, big and deep, with round tables and cushioned easy chairs placed in groups, and many potted plants here and there, mostly small palms typical of the tropics. The veranda was similarly furnished, except that wicker lounges had been added, and huge conch shells in their usual orange and cream colors were placed on the floor in groups of three in the spaces between the green doors. Here also, in intervals along one wall, elephant ear plants hung in bark and moss containers. Frequently used as wall decorations all through the isles, they brought color to the white spaces of wall between the doors.
The inner sitting room, called in Dutch the binnen gallery, was the place where the guests could listen to soft music coming from a radio hidden behind a group of potted ferns. They could read or play a game of chess or checkers.
Opposite the doors, across the room, was another set of doors leading into the open dining room. Here again, one would notice the white-painted balustrades on either side of the big open room. This was the place where the guests would gather three times a day, for breakfast at eight, dinner at two, and supper at eight in the evening. It was a happy place, one of my favorites. On the black and white marble floors, a red runner was laid out. It ran from across the inner sitting room through the middle of the dining room, all the way to the step-down area that led into the open hallways, which eventually led to the great kitchen storage rooms and bathrooms. The kitchen area was across from the other rooms.
In the middle of the dining room, where the runner was, stood a medium-sized brass gong in a black frame. Amin, the head houseboy, would sound the gong to announce the meals and to summon people to the dining room. The room had a cozy and friendly atmosphere to it, yet there was something imposing about it, too. It had a certain elegance. This was perhaps due in part to the many potted plants scattered all over the room. A couple of good paintings and a silk tapestry hung on one of the soaring walls right above the center doorway, echoing the color of the red runner on the floor. Two shiny brass daggers with handles made of ivory were fastened crosswise in the middle of the silken panel.
It was eight o'clock, and breakfast was being served. Amin had sounded the gong, and people started to fill the dining room. There was a relaxed, almost jovial atmosphere, and everyone appeared to be at ease and pleasantly animated without being loud or boisterous. I was aware of pleasant sounds of chatter and soft laughter, and it filled me with a warmth and peacefulness that I shall always remember.
It was a Sunday morning, and my father and mother and I joined my grandparents for breakfast as we so often did, at the family's special table set up in the corner of the dining room, privately, behind a group of potted palms.
The servants (djongoses) went soundlessly to and fro on their bare feet from table to table to serve the guests. Their serving skills and manners were impeccable, always approaching a guest from the left and never reaching across the person they were serving. My grandmother had drilled that into them in her soft-spoken but firm way. They all looked so neat in their spotless white linen long-sleeved jackets, black pants, and black headdresses. With their serviettes neatly draped over one arm, they moved quickly, quietly, and efficiently.
The hotel's breakfast menu included several hot cereals: oatmeal, rice porridge, and a delicious tiny green bean porridge cooked and simmered in water, brown sugar, and coconut milk. It tasted delicious and is of great nutritional value. There was also toast and raisin bread, all kinds of cheeses, crepes filled with jellies, and of course there were eggs cooked in different ways—soft boiled, hard-boiled, fried. And there always was a selection of all sorts of tropical fruits, including mangoes, papayas, rambutan—which was coarse and hairy on the outside and glassy white on the inside—mangistan—pretty, purplish, and big as an apple, with milky white flesh inside—and bananas of all types and sizes. The fruits were peeled and cut into pieces, surrounded by ice to keep them cold.
It was always a treat for my cousins and me to gather in the dining room whatever and whenever the occasion. It was fun just to be there and to observe the guests who came from so many different countries. Many were Dutch, like my grandfather, newly arrived from Holland, but there also were English, French, German, and Hungarian people. There were people from Singapore and Australia and of course several Dutch-Indonesians, who came from other nearby islands and other areas of the country, who were being transferred to other regions or work opportunities.
At the end of the dining room were one or two steps down, which led to a large, tiled area as wide as the dining room but not as deep. Bearing to the left, it eventually went over into an open, long landing with two good-sized storage rooms on the left side called gudangs, and next to them two big laundry rooms where the servants did the ironing and folded clothes on long white tables. Lining the walls were deep white shelves for all the linens and towels the hotel provided for the guests to use.
The ironing in those days was done with irons filled with hot coals, which the maids took from the great kitchen. When passing the laundry rooms, one could hear their soft voices singing or speaking to each other. I loved to be there. There always was a lot of laughter among them.
Next to the laundry rooms were nine or ten bathrooms, all of the same size. I have to elaborate on the style and the use of these baths, which were typical of that age and place, for nowhere to my knowledge in the Western world did this type of bathroom exist.
Each bathroom was about eight feet wide and ten feet deep, and the walls and cistern were entirely tiled. Opposite the door was a tank or cistern, built into the wall and also tiled. The cistern looked like a small swimming pool: it was as long as the bathroom was wide (about eight feet), three and a half feet in high, and four feet wide. At one end, like in our contemporary tubs, was a water faucet to keep it filled at all times. A servant kept a close eye on the matter.
Neatly lined up on the ledge of the pool was a row of water pails, which were filled from the pool. A sign on the bathroom wall reminded guests, especially the children, never to enter the pool. The proper procedure was to stand in front of the pool and use the water pails to soak oneself thoroughly by splashing the water over the body, then to use the soap, and then to rinse, washing the waste water down the drain in the floor. There was also a shower against one wall for people who preferred a quick shower to this way of bathing, which for many was unfamiliar. The bathroom floors were cemented and sealed with a highly glossy substance, and the floors sloped slightly to the center of the bathroom, where the drain was.
The toilets were never in the same room as the baths, but were separate in cubicles built in a long row, next to the last of the bathrooms. They were called water closets, after the English word indicating the water tanks high up over the toilets. We called them W.C. for short.
Directly across from all these facilities, again two steps down from the long landing, was the great kitchen, with its flagstone floor flanked at each end with an opening leading to a walled-in water well, a real necessity for this way of life all those years ago. The walls around the two wells were about six and a half feet high, and the immediate area around the wells had a lot of room to work in. It was common to find eight or ten maids in a circle around the well doing their chores.
The kitchen was a mixture of old and modern conveniences. There was nothing brooding about this kitchen, like so many of the big kitchen of those days in the tropics. Most of them were dark, dusty, smoky, cavernous areas. This one was splendidly light, a cheerful place and as spanking clean as a kitchen could be.
On a long whitewashed wall, all manner of pots and pans and ladles sparkled. There were gas stoves on one side of the kitchen and brick stoves built in against another wall. And at one end, near one of the openings that led to a well, were enormous sinks for all the dirty dishes that needed to be washed after each meal during the day and evening.
Behind it all were the servants' quarters, and they used the well closest to these quarters for bathing and their own laundry. The walls surrounding both wells were grown over with the most colorful bougainvilleas, just to make the somber-looking walls more cheerful to the eye.
Excerpted from Lost and Found Worlds by Amy Van Lawickâ?"Rozenberg. Copyright © 2012 Amy Rozenberg. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
PART 1 PART I MY DUTCH EAST INDIES, 1939-1950,
1 Batavia, 1939, 3,
2 World War II, 56,
3 Postwar Indonesia, 90,
PART 2 PART II THE NETHERLANDS, 1950-1960,
4 The Netherlands, 135,
5 Marriage and Family, 149,
6 Emigration Plans, 179,
PART 3 PART III U.S.A., 1960 TO THE PRESENT,
7 New England, 205,
8 California, 263,