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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

Disparity of Economic Levels

In Jakarta, when you drive to the countryside you like to stop everywhere. One scenery looks better than the other, the people with their colorful clothes, and the little villages with their bamboo houses. One picture looks better than the other and you don't know which one to take. I am just taken by everything I see. Life is very simple here, but there is a very noticeable peacefulness in the air. Little fruit stands are everywhere along the roadsides. Lu Lu was in heaven because she hadn't seen many of those fruits since she left Burma. Whatever you buy around here — nothing has a fixed price, you always bargain. Luckily Ies was doing all the bargaining for us.

At night Bob and Ies took us out for dinner to one of their favorite restaurants. After our dinner they showed us Jakarta by night. I noticed many beautiful hotels around the city. We even drove through a neighborhood which was built by the Dutch. I didn't want to mention it to my Indonesian friends because I didn't know how they felt about the Dutch Government. The houses were built just like in the old times in Holland. There were even small canals all around this neighborhood. There is still a lot of Dutch heritage in Indonesia. Many of their food dishes have Dutch flavors. Even when the Indonesians speak among themselves they still used a lot of Dutch words in their alphabet. After all, 300 years of Dutch rule left behind many bad and good scars to remember. Here I was, chauffeured around in the country I had heard so much about in my younger years.

As Bob and Ies showed us all about Jakarta at night and we moved through this mass of city traffic, another interesting day had passed. Thanks to our air-conditioned apartment we always had a good night's sleep.

As always, you get up in the morning with very hot weather. We went with the chauffeur to a country market early. The floors at the market were very muddy and it was packed with people. It started to rain and it poured buckets of water out of the sky. The roofs of the market were very shabbily built and the water leaked on all the merchandise. Some merchants try to protect their products by using all kinds of buckets for the dripping water from the leaking roof. When the rain stops it's even more messy in the market, but that doesn't stop those people from buying. They are used to the rains during this time of year. Most of the poor people buy at this market as they can't afford to go to one of the fancy supermarkets. Being a tourist, kids and beggars follow you everywhere. It breaks my heart to see some of those kids in the condition they are in. I am not used to this. They always ask for money, so you give and give. For the local people it's nothing new to them, they are used to all of this.

From the market we went to Bob and Ies home which is a little outside of the city. They just had built a new home in the neighborhood of Indah Kebayoranlama. It was a very large bungalow and very modern inside. Bob and Ies had this house built for their own convenience, and it really looked that way inside. I could see the neighborhood they lived in was only for the rich. Bob and Ies showed us all about their home. Their large living room floor was made out of all imported Italian marble. The whole bathroom was made out of the same marble. It was just a beautiful home. Bob and Ies had no children. They must entertain a lot because they had two cooks in the house. Then they had three more servants in the house who did all kinds of work. One man was needed just to open the large iron gate in front of the house whenever family of friends arrived. The iron gate was always locked with a large chain. Inside the premises were two Dobermans running around. Bob told me that he bought those dogs in Holland and brought them back by airplane to Indonesia. They were good dogs, but not too friendly and I was glad that he had them locked up when we were visiting.

With all the comfortable homes the rich people have, there is a certain uncomfortable atmosphere in the neighborhood. Just with the short visit we felt it was so noticeable. With so much poverty around and many people without work you always see many people living on the streets. Every house I saw in this rich neighborhood had a complete high stone wall built around their premises. On top of the stone walls were either sharp spikes or pieces of glass built in. So it was very tough for any intruder to climb over the walls. Seeing all of this it showed that the rich people in Indonesia are never sure of themselves or what those masses of poor people will do to them. All around Bob's neighborhood they were building those fancy bungalows. The labor they use to build those houses must get paid very low. I saw families living in make up shacks around the new homes they were building. I guess those families lived there until the building was finished. In those little shacks they were cooking their food outside and feeding their children. The conditions in which those poor people have to live are unbelievable. When I see things like that, it's not easy for me to comprehend that there has to be such a difference between life styles among human beings.

After spending a little while in their house, Bob and Ies took us for a ride to visit the zoo. Wherever you go in Indonesia there are always masses of people, even in the zoo.

CONTINUED: Wonderful Hospitality
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index