Monday, 19 October 2009

The Great Indonesian Novel - 4

Continuing the ongoing series with This Earth of Badly-Raised Twilight - Chapter 4 - June 1914

Ho Li Kow stroked the head of his beloved elder son, William of Orange Polder Windmill Rotterdam Pancake Li, and fed the boy a piece of Dutch chocolate. William loved being in his father's study, with its array of Dutch books and gramophone records. Here he could bask in the glories of the European culture that his father loved - reading the novels of Shakespeare and the poems of Jane Austen; and listening raptly to Wagner symphonies and Bach operas. Today he would be going off to the Dutch school to start learning Dutch. If only, he thought, his mother had not been a benighted native, he could really go somewhere. Holland, preferably.

As if on cue, his beautiful but cruelly mistreated and ignored native mother Raden Roro Royabot and irritating younger brother Hayamwuruk Gamelan Komodo-Dragon Hopeless-Dream-of-Independence Batik Li entered, soiling the Dutch carpet with their ugly, brown native feet. Royabot placed a small stone in the leather strap decorated with a Merlion and a picture of Sir Stamford Raffles, swung it round a couple of times and propelled the stone into her husband's forehead with a satisfying smack.


Royabot looked at the floor in dismay and confusion.

"I am sorry lord. I did not know the difference, lord. And in any case, that gag doesn't work in Javanese. Or even in English, unless the readers know at least a smattering of Singaporean history."

Ho Li Kow rubbed his sore head. "What do you want, anyway?"

Royabot overcame her nervousness and looked him straight in the eye.

"Do you remember how, in Chapter 2, you promised that after I had borne you two sons, I would be free to leave?"
"Nothing would make me happier."
"Then I ask you to free me."
"OK, bye then."

She hesitated, prepared as she had been for A Scene. She thought of shedding tears copiously, like chunks of freshly sliced lontong onto a banana leaf, to be covered with the satay of humilition and drenched in the peanut sauce of continuing poverty, but quite frankly she couldn't be arsed. She straightened up and walked out, taking Hayamwuruk Gamelan Komodo-Dragon Hopeless-Dream-of-Independence Batik Li with her.

"Wait a moment" her husband called after her. "Where will you go? What will you do?"

She turned back and looked at him. "I will go to the market and sell batik like a native woman. Which I am, of course, as you never let me forget. Not that I want to in the first place."

She paused.

"Where was I? Oh yes - batik in the market. And if that doesn't raise enough cash, I can offer sexual favours to visiting Filipino sailors. After marriage to you, nothing else can ever humiliate me more."

She walked proudly out, wishing inside that she had married Min, the simple village goat-carrier, and been poor but happy.


Far away in the village, Min - the simple village goat-carrier-turned-dokar-driver-turned-satay-seller who nursed within him a hopeless passion for Royabot - had finished serving satay for the night and was counting his takings. The business was doing well. Suddenly he heard a sharp sigh from his one remaining customer, sitting alone over his satay at a low table. Min walked over to him and asked, sympathetically "What's the matter sir?"

"It's hard to explain - you see, I am the vice-president of Goodyear Tyres (Southeast Asia) division and my marketing strategy is in a total mess. I would far prefer to be in a small business selling something simple like goat satay."

"Pak" said Min soothingly, "I am but a poor village goat-carrier-turned-dokar-driver-turned-satay-seller and know nothing about these things, but it strikes me that the main barrier to tire sales at this point is the non-viability of motor vehicles owing to poor infrastructure. If you could lobby the colonial government for a coordinated road-building programme, and go into some kind of loose associative partnership with the oil companies and vehicle importers to push for greater and more effective use of road transport using the internal combustion engine, the market would expand greatly and an existing network of franchisees fitting your firm's tires would be well-placed to take advantage."

"Wah, Min - you are so clever. We should swap places - you can be vice-president of Goodyear Tyres (Southeast Asia) division with responsibility for marketing and I will be the satay seller. For your cleverness, you deserve this."

1 comment:

Gadjo Dilo said...

Beautiful, it was like I was there, even though I have no understanding of Singaporean history or the gag potential of Javanese. Tell us, when Min has become a transportation mogul and plans to knock down his old village to build a jungle by-pass does he remember his old friend Pak?