Indonesian Memoir: Monkeys, Bali, and the Cold War

Balinese teak carving c. 1960’s

“…During that trip to Borobudur, we were driving along a forest road again in central Java, and began seeing monkeys swinging in the trees on both sides of the car. We stopped and put bananas on the roof of the car, and rolled up the windows. Soon the monkeys were swarming the car, eating the bananas, with mom admonishing us kids NOT to roll down any windows. Each member of the troop was gray with a white underside, and about the size of a house cat. After the bananas were gone, so were the monkeys.

We would also visit Bali every year or so. This was before any tourist trade had developed, though there were a few cottages by the beach to stay in. At night on the sand, under a string of light-bulbs, we used to watch scenes from the Ramayana performed in a large circular ring, while we sat on the periphery. There was a Gamelan orchestra for accompaniment.

The monkey god Hanuman really sticks out in my memory, with a fantastically carved and painted wooden mask, and large furry costume, with two performers inside, the second one as the monkey god’s rear legs and torso. It was entertaining, though the various gods and demons were also a little intimidating to me as a young child, coming up close, jumping about in the shadowy light, accompanied by the loud brassy, percussive sound of the Gamelan. Very dramatic.

We didn’t hear much about the outside world in Indonesia, though I do remember mom crying over the Kennedy assassination, which at nine, I just knew was “bad”. We also had John Glenn’s Mercury Seven capsule come through town, exhibited in downtown Djakarta, near the US Embassy.

During the Cold War of the 1950’s and 60’s, Indonesia was caught in the political struggle between Communist China and the Soviet Union, and the US. This is the period depicted by the film, The Year of Living Dangerously. I recall our family driving by the British Embassy after it had been burned.

At that time we had several soldiers from the Indonesian Army stationed in our yard, sand bags, and a machine gun. Having taken Bahasa (“Indonesian”) during all my years in school there, I was fluent then and used to talk with the soldiers, and play basketball with them. A couple of times we were sent home from school early, and when mom asked why, we would calmly reply, “They needed the playground for tank training”.

Things continued to get tense in Indonesia, and one early morning in late 1964, we were evacuated. We were driven to the airport, checked in, and walked across the tarmac to the quiet roaring of an immense aluminum jet, a Pan Am (Pan American Airlines) Boeing 707.

As usual for a flight, my brothers and I each wore shorts, a polo shirt, and blazer, with my parents dressed formally. We ascended the air-stairs, the sun not quite up, and entered the well-lit cylinder, the airplane interior, with all sky blue seats, the white globe logo on the headrests, and air conditioning immediately dispelling the humidity from outside.

We were able to travel first class back then, and it was very comfortable. There was a small first class lounge in front of the passenger seats, with an L-shaped seating area, and an oval table on which to put drinks, or play cards. These flights always left in the very early morning to maximize lift before the heat of the day.

From Indonesia we flew to Singapore, then Tokyo, and on to Hawaii, always a special stopover. I recall a hotel in Tokyo where I saw television for the first time. I was ten. It was a Japanese show that I could not understand, but I was transfixed by it. The scene was simply a woman in traditional dress, outside, with snow falling. Even so many years afterwards the experience stands out…”

Published by Jim Flanegin

it shows up in the pictures...I am a US citizen (born in California), though spent my childhood through high school living primarily in SE Asia, giving me a deep view of both East and West. I began TM at 21 and the TM-Sidhis at 26. I was visited by Guru Dev at 39. The rest is history. :-)

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