St. Thomas's Guest House, Singapore 15-2-73
2100 hrs 8-2-72
I think I last wrote from Jogja on 8/2. This was much the most human place in Java: a university town and cultural centre, famous for the production of batik, silverware etc. My Swiss friend and I visited the Sultan's palace (the present Sultan is Economics Minister in Djakarta but visits his wives and 20-30 children from time to time). Muslims are allowed 4 wives, as you probably know.
We took a dokar (horse-drawn carriage affair) for 7 km to Tom's (sic!) Silverware, where we saw silver goods being produced and where I went on a spending "spree". We took a bus to visit Prambanan, a famous and ancient Hindu temple and next day were foolish enough to hire a motor bike, which ran out of petrol before we started, and had a puncture equivalent to a blowout a few km after we started. More expense.
We visited Borobodur (famous and ancient Buddhist temple) and then took ourselves up the local mountain, only to be caught in the monsoon on the top. Riding a motorcycle in a tropical monsoon is less than enjoyable.
No wonder, then, that we booked our places (third class, of course) on the train for 2200 that night. However the train was a few minutes late and pulled out at 0310 the next morning. The time between we spent drinking coffee and sleeping on railway benches with one eye open. Eventually got some fitful hours of sleep on the train, which came into Bandung just before 1300 Sunday. Central Java is extremely lush, like the rest of Indonesia. Bandung is in a mountain area which is quite impressive and is supposed to be cooler than the rest of the island. Semi-active volcanoes are commonplace. In Bandung we went home with an Indonesian Air Force mechanic of Dutch descent whom we met on the train, and enjoyed a cup of cold tea and a cup of hot coffee with his widowed mother. We (a Swiss, a Jap and a dinkum Aussie) found Bandung so hot and uninviting we decided to take a bus out straight away to Djakarta.
That was the worst decision of the trip so far. With upset stomach and stricken with mild dysentery, I sat for 6 hours in a bus without being able to move one inch. Nay, I tell a lie! I'm sure that for most of the time I could move one foot backwards and forwards about two inches. Even third class in a train with all the fowl and stinking produce is infinitely preferable to a lengthy journey in a local Indonesian bus. Take it from one who knows. Some of the locals had to get off the roof, back and sides of the bus while we negotiated less than sturdy bridges.
In Djakarta (about 2300 hours) we took a hair-raising ride in a helicek (motor scooter with cabin on front) without lights through the streets, missing dark objects by inches, to the youth hostel where I took the last bed (in the common room) and slept like a log.
Djakarta, in parts, is quite a modern city, but hot (of course) and dirty. The flash buildings seem like a façade covering indigence. Visited IBM but my contact was out: I was hardly presentable anyway. The Australian embassy had no mail for me (said it can take two weeks) but the week-old newspapers were interesting and the air conditioning delightful.
Dj. is no place to stay, so I flew out with Thai International that night at 1820. I sat between two demented Germans who insisted on filling my bag with cheese, biscuits etc. After being "ripped off" in the Singapore taxi I checked in at the Palace Hotel ($S5/night = less than $A2) where I met a fellow I had previously travelled with in Bali.
By then the currency crisis was obviously coming to a head [US abandoning the gold standard] and nobody wanted to give a decent rate for $US. However I cashed $US100 for $S274 with American Express themselves. I thought I would be defeating the purpose of my travellers cheques if I were to cash any more. If I were a Gnome of Zurich or had any notion of the extent of the impending devaluation, I suppose I could have changed the cheques into $A or something else and not lost as much. Being an Innocent Abroad I did no such thing. Next day the exchange rate was quoted at $S 2.47. My remaining assets (c. $US 750) were suddenly worth 10% less. I won't be eating for the next month or two.
Singapore is more Westernised than I expected: I thought it would be more the way I still imagine Hong Kong to be. The rickshaws have disappeared and the trishaws (bicycles with sidecars) are on the way out. Apparently these things smack of slavery. Had lunch with a couple of Melb Uni students and the rector of their college: interesting discussions on theology! The Chinese food is excellent.
There must be a lot of rich businessmen in Singapore: they have cars like Lamborghinis, Ferraris, innumerable Mercedes etc. I was surprised to find so many Indians and so few Europeans. The amount of shipping in the harbour is enormous. This is the most expensive place I've been in, but it's very easy to stay on. I have moved to a crazy youth hostel to find others going on to Malaya. Most of the Aust uni students will be flying home next week. Singapore is full of them. I expect to push on about next Monday. A fellow I knew from IBM here is out of town till next week.
The Aust High Commission denies knowledge of any mail for me, so you may all be dying of the plague for all I know. I am tempted to buy a lot of cheap clothes here and have them sent to Britain (I could have a suit tailored for c. $S100 = c. $A30) but it seems like too much of a drag.
2330. We have had "fellowship" (i.e. tea and biscuits) on the front lawn: it's a custom here in this house. I hope Gough doesn't run amok and pick one of those ghastly flag suggestions without consulting me; or a new national anthem either.