Monday, April 20, 2009


At last we found Jalan Asia Africa and the handsome hotel. The Savoy Homann hotel dates back to 1880, the year that the Jakarta to Bandung railway line was completed. The railway encouraged the building in Bandung of more villas and hotels; it brought to Bandung, for the purpose of recreation, the Dutch planters who grew coffee, tea and quinine in the surrounding highlands; and at weekends it brought Jakartans, escaping from the heat of the capital. In 1938 the architect A. F. Aabers rebuilt the Savoy Homann in an elegant Art Deco style which made it one of Bandung’s most famous landmarks. The hotel has had many famous guests, including India’s Nehru, China’s Chou En Lai, Egypt’s Nasser and Charlie Chaplin. It was my kind of place and it was not expensive. Having booked in to a room furnished in a 1930s style, I set off excitedly to explore the local streets in search of some supper.

The area around the central square reminded me more of the impoverished Belleville district of Paris rather than Paris’s posh Chaillot quarter. On one side of the square I began to cross over a busy main road by way of what looked like a deserted metal pedestrian bridge. Half way across I came upon a small body curled up and half asleep. This eight year old boy was not blessed with great good looks, and judging by the smell, he was as unwashed as any tramp on the London underground. His begrimed shirt was too big, his stomach and face were slightly swollen, one ear was cut and oozing, and he had no shoes.

"What’s your name?" I asked, as I knelt down beside him.

"Abdul," he said in a tiny voice.

"You should see a doctor," I said. "Do you want me to take you?"

"Yes," he whispered.

So, with the sky turned funereal, and the monsoon rain cascading down, we stood on the main road trying to hail a taxi.

"How much to the hospital?" I asked the first driver to come along.

"Ten thousand rupiahs."

This was about four times the normal fare. I had half-opened the taxi door but now I slammed it shut as my way of showing my rejection of his offer. Had he no sympathy for a sick child?

When the next taxi appeared, two expensively dressed women, loaded with jewellery, pushed in ahead of us.

Eventually, with the help of a third taxi, we reached the hospital, an institution managed by Christians. Dripping with rain, we entered the classy reception area. Some of the wealthy visitors stared in surprise at the ragged Moslem urchin with the stick out ears and the rather unhappy little mouth.

Minor scrapes on the road to Bandung
His father's taken up with another woman
The Savoy
Where can the child stay?

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