Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Time for final reflections...

I am signing off.

Many encounters and experiences later my three month travel around the world has come to an end. An old ambition achieved. Yeah, even a dream come true. Not in the least and indeed above all due to the fact that I have signed, sealed and delivered my heart to my... Nomadic partner in crime, Sweet soulmate, Love of my life, Wife.

I feel lucky. I feel free. As much as a nomad exploring all paths groovy can ever be...
I have seen the sunrise and sunset on different ends of the world; the pitch black night lit up by the celestial bodies; the deepest dark blue oceans covered by eternal waves. And time and time again I have seen endless horizons urging a Nomad on.

I have followed the musical trail of Jazz, Blues and Rock and Roll. Beholding holy ground at their birthplaces. I have heard the Native American drums of the First Nations. The beat of the proud Pacific Islanders. The mighty war cries of the Melanesians and Maori.

Everywhere I went I felt at home and most everywhere a nomad blended in. But only at the end of my travels there was somehow a deeper sense of belonging. Several weeks into my Indonesian journey I found myself on a slow boat through the Nusa Tenggara islands where I befriended my Bugis captain.

Being put in a confined space for a certain period of time, in the presence of both Europeans and Indonesians, somehow I got a slight sense of what the historic position of Indo-Europeans as the intermediaries of the East Indies might have felt like. Somehow always establishing your position between these 2 parties and utilising the maximum of your emphatic skills to bridge cultural divides that only you could pinpoint. Sometimes I even had the strange feeling that navigating around all of this might alienate 1 or the other party.

Conversations with my western contemporaries were often more intellectually stimulating and touched upon a vast array of topics. But that my brain, most of the time, processes things from a European perspective was something I already knew about myself. So somehow my talks with the old Bugis captain were more intense and gratifying. Was that because he acknowledged me as a distant relative, a child rooted in the same world he was from and somehow I also belonged with them?

Did he just recognise me for the nassi snatcher I am, that liked and even preferred the same tastes he liked. The sweet kretek cigarettes we shared on the foredeck in the middle of the night or the ‘pisang goreng’ he suddenly made for me one afternoon, even though it was Ramadan. Was it the ‘es kacang’ I enjoyed with the crew, on our last day on the boat in Flores before I disembarked? Did that touch the inner core of my identity as an Indo-European? And does that mean my identity isn’t that nomadic at all?

Did I really relate more to his way of viewing and experiencing the world? Was my sense and sensibility indeed more like his and did I simply feel more at home with him than with my European contemporaries, that (I superfluously add) have always been my main framework for benchmarking? And does that mean I am also, or still, a displaced person after so many generations? More than anything else these last 3 months my encounter with the Bugis captain triggered my feelings of duality.

Signing off...

Jago Nomad
For the time being still a nomad...
Letting the path be my destination

A Nomad Is Free (Mix2) by JAGO

It's the first day of September and 3 months of traveling have come to an end.
For the time being a Nomad is staying put.
Just to put some emotion to melody...Meanwhile check out my L.A., U.S.A. recording: A Nomad Is Free.

New M.Vie mix available on my Myspace page. A Nomad Is Free (Mix2) by jagojago

Warmest regards,


Monday, August 30, 2010

Nomad & the Singapore Eurasian

Today a Nomad visited the Eurasian association in Singapore. Singapore is one of the few countries that acknowledges Eurasians as a distinctive group of the national population. Unlike other countries where the Eurasian is assimilated into broader segments of the population or a country like Indonesia where Eurasians were (r)ejected together with the the full blooded European population during and after the national revolution.
Although just a small percentage of the total population in Singapore their contribution to the country is attentively acknowledged and the Eurasians are part of the 4 official ethnic groups in Singapore. They form the demographic majority of the Christian population and speak English as there first language, although the oldest sub-group of Portuguese Eurasians also speak a creole called 'Papia Kristang'. The Portuguese, as always very protective of their historic heritage, maintain close ties with their descendents in Singapore as can be seen from the ceramic tilework donated by the Portuguese embassy. It is clearly exhibited at the entrance of the community house in Singapore.
The Eurasian community house is located on a square on Ceylon road, right next to the seemingly humble house of the current prime minister of Singapore and across a newly build Christian church. It is well maintained and financially supported by afluent Eurasian sponsors who's (often Portuguese) names are displayed on a plaque at the entrance.
The faces of the people look familiar, they could very well be Indo-European I think. The elderly man at the counter is very friendly and polite. The young guy leasuring and chatting vividly with some friends after a chore is obviously 'brani'. There's a lot of music in the air and many folders in the lobby are about upcoming musical performances. I enjoy my high tea and start to wonder how interesting it would be to perform here.
The community house center clearly evolves around it's restaurant that has Eurasian favorites like 'Pork Smore' and 'Pot Roast Beef' on the menu and is often frequented by non Eurasian patrons. Apparently the core of these Eurasians' identity is also rooted in their tastes and cuisine. A Nomad can identify.
Perhaps what I am seeing here is somewhat like 'what could have been', when the grinding wheels of history had not cut the ties between Indonesia's historic Indo Eurasian population and their beloved land of origin.

Nomad in Arab street

Walking through the hot Singapore night, a Nomad suddenly hears the call of the Mosque. Around me I hear Arab and Malay conversation. I find myself in the Arab street neighbourhood.

Arab street and surroundings were part of the overall city plan made by Raffles who wanted a synoptic town by concentrating each ethnic group in particular areas. The Arab traders however arrived in Singapore long before the arrival of Raffles. Often they had ventured via India and Indonesia, namely Palembang. These men settled and created small Arab communities by intermarrying with Malay women. They adopted the Malay language and some customs, while in turn these pious tradesmen spread the word of Mohamed. Up to this day Malay muslims are fascinated with these men from the holy land.

The forefathers of the Singapore Arabs descend from the poor area of Hadhramaut in Yemen and had usually lived in Indonesia before as well. Arab street, together with Haji lane and Sutltan street also became known as 'Kampong Jawa', when Javanese muslims started trading here and use it as a gateway for the Haji pilgrimage. Today this neighbourhood has become an interesting mix of Arab shops and trendy eateries and Shisha houses. Especially the young and hip Malay crowd loves to go there after (or without) visiting the Mosque. It is also popular with backpackers and fellow nomads from around the world.

These Arab nomads however have never broken ties with their homeland in Yemen one tells me. As Hadhramaut is still a fledgling area in Yemen over the many generations they have always send money back home and stayed in touch with their Yemen families. Nomads that fade out borders without burning bridges.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Nomad in Singapore

A Nomad has arrived in Singapura, City of the Lion. Singapore the front runner of the famed Asian Tigers has made enormous economic progress and is the richest country in South East Asia. Although 5 million strong Singapore is the second most densely populated country in the world (after Monaco), it is also the most globalised country in Asia. It does not bow to any modern western nation, and having the highest standard of living in the whole of Asia, it is in many ways is an example society for it's neighbours. Of course it has not always been like that and since its' independence in 1965 the people of Singapore have worked hard for their remarkable achievements, trying not to fall in the same traps and pitfalls their big neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia got stuck in. In fact Singapore initially joined the Malaysian Federation, until ideological and economical differences in a storm of racial tensions broke the relationship. There must have been fear for discrimination of their Chinese population when they founded the independent Republic of Singapore.

Now Singapore has a Chinese majority of over 70%. But boasts a fully democratic system that garantuees equal rights for their Malay Muslim, Indian Hindu and even Eurasian Christian minorities. Much like Indonesia it strived for unity in their multi cultural country, however never by marginalising their minority cultures. This year the country celebrated 45 years of independence.

The Republic of Indonesia declared independence 20 years earlier and Singapore was able to learn from the struggles of their big next door neighbour, that put 'colonial' European languages low on the educational curricula. Singapore's official languages are Malay and English, together with Chinese and Indian. However most Singaporeans I spoke with are extremely proud to speak their creole language called Singlish, that mixes English with Malay, and Chinese and Indian words. Although the Singapore government is pushing for correct use of the English language, it's fascinating to hear a child say: "Nanti, I do it mum." " Dulu we walk walk see see, lah?"

Within their own communities people will speak their first language amongst each other. Be it a Chinese language, Indian language or Malay. Together they will speak either Singlish and only in semi-official settings, with expats or visitors or unclear situations they speak official English. In the neighbourhood I stayed (Tiong Bahru, an old nestling ground for succesful Chinese entrepeneurs) and Chinatown you will hear Chinese languages, in Little India Indian or Tamil languages and in a Malay neighbourhood like Geylang you will hear mostly Malay.

All in all Singapore is a captivating place where you can simply take the smooth subway system to different Asian villages within the big city. Although the city is pre-dominantly Chinese, in a Hong Kong sort of way, you will find a specific Chinatown, but also places like Arab street, Little India which on a sunday, day off, reminded me of Mumbai. And of course the Malay area of Geylang, which had a huge post Ramadan pasar malam on its busy streets, where street hawkers were selling sate kambing and pisang goreng, very much reminiscent of Indonesia.

I must admit coming from the rougher street scenes of urban Indonesia, arriving in effective and efficient Singapore was somewhat of a culture shock. I admired the cleanliness of the city compared to the terrible waste disposal habits in Indonesia, but also missed the liberating sense of freedom of seemingly unorganised Indonesia. The first days I kept looking for the city's underbelly and felt happy to finally find the Malay mean streets where I could enjoy my 'es teler' and smell the street hawkers 'goreng' and grill. Somehow it was only then that a Nomad could really feel at home.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Nomad & the Raja

Om Pieter is 71 now and lives a modest and serene life on the outskirts of Jakarta. He has shaped his future exactly according to his aspirations. Happily surrounded by his family, his children and grandchildren. Om tends his garden daily and prides himself in maintaining the most beautiful garden in the dessa. His daughter Ida has her fathers' green thumbs and learned his tricks to grow even the most obscure plants. "You just have to talk to the flowers." he says, "They sense it". "Sometimes the villagers wonder if Ida is all right when she tends the garden and whispers sweet nothings to the flowers", he continues with a smile.

But sometimes the villagers also come to his garden, just to ask if they can sit in it for a while. Even his garden has become a haven it appears. A safe haven from much of the madness that Jakarta is facing nowadays. "Much can be criticized about Suharto's 'Orde Baru', but there was no crime, drug addiction and violence. Not like now at least. Poor people are becoming poorer and poverty is a dangerous infliction." He tells me of home made poor people drugs concocted from cheap chemicals and anti-mosquito repellent and of increased child abuse and human trafficking paradoxically coinciding with increased religious fanaticism.

"Sometimes I wonder if the people are ready for the increasing liberties they are getting." I try to reflect from a broader global perspective and say that the process of democratisation is inevitably the only way for a nation to rise above it all. But realise that doesn't mitigate the hardship of the moment. Om doesn't simply look at the politicians to enable change. He feels change starts from within and with yourself. So when he sees anything he finds intolerable he feels perfectly at home enough to challenge his neighbours.

One such thing is parents balancing babies and little children on their motorcycles and scooters. Just in the street in front of his house there have already been many fatal and near fatal accidents. Also pedestrians are often lucky to cross the street unharmed as cars might stop, but scooters and motors usually do not. Fiercely critical of these unsafe traffic practices he tells his neighbours off and doesn't accept "Insha Allah" as an answer. Sometimes Ida tells him to be careful, as in any case he is still the only Christian in the village.

I reply by saying that I believe that these things are not really a case of religion. But more a case of culture and mentality. I think that how ever much Om Pieter has emerged himself in Indonesian life he still is and always will be an Indo-European and he will always have a mind endowed with western styled critical thinking. In a moment of reflection Om Pieter looks into the distance and seems to agree. He says: "I have always tried to teach my children to practice critical thinking." "Sometimes you must accept what can not be changed. But you have to learn which is which."

With that said he starts sharing anecdotes of discussions with his children's and grand children's teachers who's only argument was: "Ada besluit dari kantor." Amused he adds: "...and yes 'besluit' (pronounced besloo-eat) is still an official Indonesian word." ('Besluit' is the Dutch word for decision.)


So there I am in a late Jakarta sub-urb evening with too many questions and too little time. For hours Om Pieter and I sit on the porch and chat the night away, undistracted by the occasional mosquito attack. Around midnight Ida bids us goodnight and goes to bed. "Selemat tidur." A young and older Nomad continue their animated and contemplative conversations until the night slips into the early morning.

"Why did you ever decide to go back to Indonesia?", was one of my first questions. "Why?" he says and his eyes betray the obvious simplicity of the answer to my question. "I never wanted to leave." "I cried for weeks when my father decided to leave Indonesia." "I was a young child then and I had experienced a freedom here that I never again felt in the Netherlands. I knew every backstreet, every street corner's nook and cranny of our home town of Semarang."

"One day I just had enough", he says firmly."Living in an apartment complex, but not knowing anyone. Standing in elevators either at home or in the office and no one exchanging a word. I tried. I tried to connect, tried to talk to people, but to no avail. One day I just could not take it anymore and I just started to take the stairs. My work as an illustrator also started to reflect my frustration." For Om it all became crystal clear. "I thought deeply what I wanted from my life and if I wanted to end up an old man alone in a retiree home still surrounded by strangers. No! It was time to go."

 "Oh... my sisters were so mad at me for leaving", he says with a smile. "You have a great job here in the Netherlands, they told me. But once I finally settled in and they visited me they saw it was all right. Especially Cobi often visited me. I never knew what your Grandpa, my oldest brother thought of it. He was such a quiet and introvert man you see. Much like my sister Loulou, who was also too inapprehensible to me." (The sister married to an Indonesian Ambonese man and the only one of my great grandparents children that had never left Indonesia.) "I think my younger brother was the only one that for a while contemplated following me here."

"The first half year in Indonesia I spent on Ambon the home island of our family. The resident Raja of Passo was a governmental official on Ambon. You know that we descend from the Raja of Passo right? Although I told him I just wanted to explore the roots of my family, he was afraid that I would claim our lands in Passo. He was somewhat of a gambler and had sold off much of our ancestral lands. We believe that he arranged for my extended visa application to expire forcing us to leave Ambon."

"My time on Ambon was beautiful though. Unlike when I came to Jakarta and really had to adjust and climatise, on Ambon I immediately felt at home. I found our families 'Pela' village of 'Batu Merah' and made many friends there. Life was perfect. Just imagine sailing into the ocean to fish and afterwards grill and eat the fish on the beach. Until very recently I even had a house there on 'Pantai Rumah Tiga'. My friends and I built a house of stone and wood on the beach. Sadly it was destroyed during the civil unrest a few years back. The only awkward thing sometimes was the extreme 'hormat' I received for being of Raja descent. " When Om arrived in Jakarta from Ambon due to the expiration of his visa he decided he could not leave Indonesia and simply stayed put in Jakarta. He remembers staying at home the first 3 months just reading newspapers and studying 'Behasa Indonesia', before venturing into down town Jakarta. The Raja now took the simplest of jobs as a street vendor, selling comics. But that first night in Jakarta's urban jungle, squatting in 'jongkok' position, having a meal with the street hawkers and chatting with his fellow street vendors he knew he was home. This was almost 25 years ago.

Om eventually made a living as a painter and illustrator, build a home and surrounded himself with a family that adores him. A few years back his wife passed away. But the loving family he always wanted around him in the winter of his life is right there beside him.

A Nomad cant but admire his exceptional relative.

Nomad in Jakarta

Dadang my Sundanese 'Sopir' drives a mean ride over the new highway connecting Bandung to Jakarta. After just a few hours we are almost there and make pit stop to refuel our car and ourselves. I get 2 'teh botols', bottled sweet jasmine tea and he gets us 'pisang sale', dried banana krupuk, fried and layered with cheese. Reborn we undertake the second leg of the journey.

But the moment we actually arrive in Jakarta the trouble begins. 'Kantor' Jakartans finish working around 16:00 and we get stuck in some seriously tedious traffic. Too many people owning a motorised vehicle and too few roads to accommodate. Sounds like the situation back home. With no means to escape the urban madness we move slower and slower through this skyscrapers' jungle.

Jakarta is Indonesia's capital with a population that by far exceeds the total number of people living in the Netherlands, a country considered overpopulated. It's the country's governmental, financial, judicial, political, academic, media and whatever else you can think of center. Long ago it was established as Batavia, the business and colonial headquarters of both the VOC and Dutch East Indies.
This is the place my 'opa' used to work for both the Dutch home and later foreign office and the birthplace of my father. The place where they embarked the cruise ship Willem Ruys, later known as the Achillo Lauro, to repatriate to the Netherlands in the 50's and begin a new life far away from their land of origin.

Nowadays the city has continued to shoot into superlatives. Not all good, but not all bad either. Om Pieter however later tells me that in the last 10 years even the quietest of outskirts have become overpopulated and the peace and tranquility he enjoyed in his 'dessa' on the borders of Jakarta city have almost disappeared. The metropolis of Jakarta is not necessarily representative for the rest of Indonesia and Jakartans are a different people all together. Although located on the island of Java, they're not Javanese or Sundanese for that matter.
"For better or worse Jakarta is it's own universe", Om Pieter says. It attracts people from all over the archipelago and creates it's own hybrid society. Which has always been the case of course, as there are even 'historic' Jakarta city dwellers known as 'Orang Betawi', named after old Batavia. When this city first developed during the Dutch era it already housed many different peoples and nurtured it's own mix cultures. Another well known group still alive today is the 'Orang Tugu', Portuguese Indo-Eurasians that developed the famed Kroncong music.

Jakarta appears to attract nomads from everywhere. It is in any case the place where Om Pieter ended up making a home for himself and his extended family.