Op de Brommer - On the Moped
Regarding Modes of Transportation in the Fifties
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My Dad was around 12 when he first learned to drive his father's old Ford in the yard of his parental residence in Bandoeng, Java. I don't remember whether it was a Model A or a Model T, but whatever it was, the model did not have a rear drive, something that is hard to believe nowadays, but that's what my Dad told me. Why would he lie?
I don't necessarily believe all his stories, but the least I can do is pass them on to posterity, should their be any--with a caveat concerning their complete veracity and exactitude.
The point is not the rear drive, or its absence, but the story itself. What I am trying to tell you is that my Dad learned to drive at a very young age, in a place and time very different from our current circumstances, and in vehicles which required a great deal more manoeuvering skill than is required of us today--and we are just a few years away from the fully automatic car in which we can all sit and relax, perhaps even have a drink or two while doing some procreative or non-procreative recreational excercises, while robots do the driving for us. DARPA is getting closer every year. See: DARPA Grand Challenge - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The thought boggles the mind doesn't it? The world was so different in the days my Dad (or even I myself) was twelve or thirteen years old. In fact I saw a couple of interesting movies on Cable yesterday, American Heart (1992) and King of the Hill , both of which I would highly recommend, but it was King of the Hill that was set in the early thirties in the American Mid West where the hero of the story, the King of the Hill, was in fact a very courageous 14 year old who managed to deal with loneliness and discrimination during the depression--but let me copy something from a film review here:
"King of the Hill" was Steven Soderbergh's third film, following "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" and the inscrutable "Kafka." Compared to these films, "King of the Hill" is a small and straight-forward tale of the Depression. Jesse Bradford ("Swimfan") stars as Aaron Kurlander, a bright youngster in 1933 St. Louis. His family is impoverished, although his salesman father (Jeroen Krabbe) manages (barely) to keep them fed and housed. However, when the family's fortunes take a down-turn, they decide to send Aaron's younger brother to live with relatives. Then Aaron's mother has a relapse of TB and goes to a sanitarium. Finally, his father gets a traveling salesman job and leaves. So, Aaron finds himself alone in their apartment trying to fend for himself.
Based on a memoir by A. E. Hotchner, "King of the Hill" is a cruel film. Anyone who has ever been mistreated as a youth is likely to wince at scenes depicting Aaron's hurt at being left behind or his painful attempts to cover up his poverty from his wealthy classmates. The film is outstanding at every level - directing, acting, cinematography. Jesse Bradford has gone on to a career as a bit of a vapid teen idol, but his performance here is as wise and deep as any I've seen from a child. Adrien Brody also has one of his earliest roles as Aaron's older "mentor." Finally, watch for Lauryn Hill as the gum-popping elevator operator.
As of this writing, "King of the Hill" has not been released on DVD. That such a terrific film has been so overlooked is nothing short of criminal. It's obviously a small film, but by focusing on one boy, "King of the Hill" is able to portray the horrors and desperation of the Depression far more vividly than many "bigger" dramas, such as "Ironweed." Most highly recommended.
I can only echo those sentiments. In fact it was the second time I saw both American Heart and King of the Hill. Both are worth while watching many times, as far as I am concenrned. Oh what the heck, to be complete, let me also add something from a review on American Heart--about a kid whose father is an exconvict and career thief who tries to straighten out his life--and the background story of how the father turned out that way.
This is a dramatic, narrative film by Martin Bell, the director of the excellent documentary "Streetwise". And while it is obvious Bell was a little uncomfortable with the narrative format, it is one of the few independent films of the 1990's that doesn't suffer from the Quentin Tarantino syndrome--i.e. it is not just a pastiche of other movies the director has seen. It's clear Bell based a lot of this movie on real life. In fact, many of the characters here were obviously based on real people in "Streetwise"--the kid and his ex-con father, the tomboy lesbian, the 14-year-old amateur hooker. The movies suffers a little in comparison to early Gus Van Sant films ("Mala Noche","Drugstore Cowboy", "My Own Private Idaho")which had similar down-and-out characters and were also set in the American Northwest. But many will find this film refreshingly honest and less pretentious, at least, than some of Van Sant's films.
What really makes this film is the acting. It marked Jeff Bridges return to independent film (five or six years before "The Big Lebowski"), and his performance here makes one forgive him for the Hollywood crap he made in the 80's like "Against All Odds". Edward Furlong is also very good. I remember reading some alarmist claptrap about him in Premiere magazine around the time of this movie, about how he was dating a 30-year-old woman (oh, the horror! the horror!) and about to become another young Hollywood casualty. Well, starting with this film he ended up carving a nice little niche for himself in independent film (i.e. "Pecker", "Animal Factory"). Turns out that just because you're not starring in "Terminator 3" it doesn't necessarily mean you're sharing needles in a crack house with guys named Corey and girls named Shannen. And as a little icing on the cake this movie has a great Tom Waits theme song which you can't find any of his albums. Definitely a recommended movie.
Now back to my topic: courageous 14 year old boys growing up in the depression or in otherwise difficult circumstances. My Dad was born on November 2, 1916 and thus was still 12 but about to turn 13, when stockbrokers started to jump out of sky scraper windows: he must have been horrified on hearing the news on his primitive short wave radio, assuming he already had one, or reading about it in the Javabode (Java Post) or the Nieuwsgier, formerly the Tanah Abang Bode, (Tanah Abang Post) or whatever newspapers were then current on Java. On second thought, I take it that the Niewsgier was founded well after 1929--in 1945, to be exact, since Tanah Abang was the name of one of the Japanese internment camps for Europeans enemy civilians--so my Dad could not have read about jumping stockbrokers in that newspaper. But to me as a kid, the Niewsgier was it.
The name Nieuwsgier of course can be broken down in the Nieuws, which means News (duh!) and gier, which has to do with the verb begeren, to covet. A lammergier is the Dutch word for a bird that likes (begeert) to feast on lambs (lammeren), which is also used in English (though often pronounced Lammergeyer): How the Lammergier attacks lambs and other animals The Dutch word gierig means stingy. The plural lammeren may seem odd, but it is similar to kind/kinderen, which means child/children: lam/lammeren. Kind and kindred are also related words.
In any event, the Nieuwsgier would thus translate to the News Chaser, or News Seeker. It was the paper I learned to read with, especially its cartoons ofOlle Kapoen (Phiny Dick)- and Tom Poes--shown herunder:
What I didn't know at the time was that Phiny Dick (creator of Olle Kapoen) was married to Martin Toonder (creator of Tom Poes and Heer Bommel--or that Tom Poes had a girlfriend called Muizelientje--which I would render as 'Mousalina'--Cf: View as HTML
To give you some more couleur locale, here is a link on a 1929 article in the Javabode:
and another one in the Nieuwsgier from 1949, when I was a kid, showing a picture of Hare Majesteit Koningin Wilhelmina--whose birthday (Koniginnnedag, Queens Day) on August 31 was always was one of the great annual events of my younger years--akin to an American July the Fourth celebration, or the French Quatorze Juillet:
Since I mentioned national holidays, I also ought to say something about July 21st, the national holiday of Belgium: Nationale Feestdag België 1 --I watched these festivities on the French language Comcast cable channel.
The King of the Belgians, Koning Albert, le roi Albert has advocated fresh attempts to keep Belgium together as a counntry--an uphill fight: Belgium's deep linguistic divide overshadows political dialogue ... from which I quote:
Once again Belgium's King Albert II issued a televised plea for unity on the eve of the national day telling the six million Flemish speakers in Flanders and the four and a half million French speakers in Wallonia that they must "invent new ways to live together".
My recommendation would be that the country make everyone learn to be fluent in both Dutch and French--something that would work in Flanders most likely, but which is unlikely to happen in Francophone Wallonia--which is the precise reason the Flemish are sick of Belgium and want out--and who can blame them. I would recommend the same thing for America eventually--let's all become fluent in English and Spanish, just as the Canadians emulate to be fluent in both French and English. Usually it is the language minority that would be glad to adopt such a broadminded policy--howver, in Belgium it is the minority 'Francophones' who object to it most vociferously. In France they even outlawed their own Founder King Clovis' own Frankish language in Frans Vlaanderen--till the EU put a stop to that kind of language discrimination.
But now back to some far more somber events that happened when my Dad was a just 13 year old kid: the Wall Street Crash of 1929 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Three phrases—Black Thursday, Black Monday, and Black Tuesday—are used to describe this collapse of stock values. All three are appropriate, for the crash was not a one-day affair. The initial crash occurred on Black Thursday (October 24, 1929), but it was the catastrophic downturn of Black Monday and Tuesday (October 28 and October 29, 1929) that precipitated widespread panic and the onset of unprecedented and long-lasting consequences for the United States.
Even then we were living in an incipient global economy and the consequences were dire for many places outside the US as well--even in the far reaches of the world, like the far east of nowhere Dutch East Indies.
I hope I have the chronology right, but around that time my Opa, O.B.J. van Voorthuijsen, had gone to the Netherlands with his family to study law at Leiden University. Also Cf: Leiden University - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
My Opa, 'OBJ' (for Otto Bruno Joan) had been a government servant for some time and studied law locally in the Dutch East Indies, but when the government gave him a chance to complete his studies in Leiden during a sabbatical, he was glad to take the opportunity. Thus my Dad moved to the mother country for a few years as a teenager and went to the HBS in The Hague.
HBS is not generally thought of as a mode of transportation, but let me assert here that in a way it was--for it transported a young student from elementary school (lagere school) towards higher education (hoger onderwijs).
When I use the term modes of transportation therefore, you have to understand that term in its many diverse meanings and contexts: the physical or gross material, the mental or intellectual, as well as the spiritual or subtle.
HBS did not mean Harvard Business School in those days--it meant Hogere Burgerschool, Higher Burger School and in spite of its name it was not itself a form of higher education, but was similar to Gymnasium in that it prepared you for higher education, i.e for the university--but without the classics (Latin and Greek) which were a staple at Gymnasium. In fact the name Higher Burger School probably was meant literally--i.e. as a school for the higher bourgeoisie--hogere burgerij or haute bourgeoisie. Today, the HBS has been phased out and replaced by other forms of education, athenaeum and havo--which have also largely (but not completely) replaced gymnasium. Sob.
See: Hogere burgerschool - Wikipedia-from which I will quote an excerpt:
De hogere burgerschool (afgekort hbs) was een Nederlandse onderwijsvorm De hbs werd ingevoerd bij de Wet op het middelbaar onderwijs uit 1863 van Johan Rudolf Thorbecke. Er bestonden twee soorten, namelijk de driejarige en de vijfjarige hbs. Bij beide lag de nadruk op het onderwijs in wiskunde, exacte vakken en moderne talen.
Translation: The Higher Burger School (HBS for short) was a Dutch form of education, The HBS was introduced by the Act on Intermediate [High School level] Education of 1863 by Johan Rudolf van Thorbecke. There were two kinds, namely the three and the five year HBS. Both emphasized education in mathematics, exact sciences and modern languages [French, German and English were required]
A note on the name of The Hague: it stands for Den Haag, which is a colloquial form of 's Gravenhage, the official name of the Residence of the Monarch, the States General [Parliament] and the National Government. It is not the capital of the country, which is constitutionally, grondwettelijk, "de stad Amstterdam" the City of Amsterdam. There is constitutionally no other Stad, City in the Netherlands--all other places are termed gemeente, municipality.
's Gravenhage is so confusing a name to spell and capitalize that most people just call the place Den Haag, that is: The Hague - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, La Haye, La Haya, or whatever their national inclination dictates--just as we call 's Hertogenbosch (called Bois le Duc in both French and English) Den Bosch.
Den Bosch or 's-Hertogenbosch - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia is the capital of de Provincie Noord Brabant by the way--and sitting in a region traditionally called de Meijerij van Den Bosch--the Mayory of Den Bosch. A meijer, meyer or mayor was a manager or adminsitrator in the middle ages--and the story is that we used to be landmeijers, land adminstrators for the Elten Institute for some time. Hence the name Meyer van Voorthuijsen used by my children (who added their mother's maiden name) appears to some have interesting historical resonance.
This is even reflected in our family motto: Decus Maiporum Vindicat Virtus --which I would render as: the honor of our ancestors calls for courage--in which the word maiores could mean either ancestors or meyers (administrators as in city mayors, or managers as in mayor domo, house manager). I still remember those 'house managers' in Bill Clinton's impeachement proceedings....And of course there where those Carolingian Maiores Domo as well, who eventuallly usurped the Merovingian throne after killing the last of the Merovingians, de laatste der Merovingers, Koning Dagobert. Sob, sob. But back to DMVV (not the Department of Motor Vehicles Victorious)
I am still not entirely sure about the correct translation of the motto, by the way. In a letter a year ago I showed:
The Latin family motto means something like:
For my translation of maiores I am on firmer footing - Cf: THE CERTAMEN QUESTIONS DATABASE http://www.geocities.com/bwduncan ...
B. Maiores can be an adjective meaning "greater." What does it mean when it
is used as a noun, such as in the idiom, "mos maiores?" ANCESTORS
If it is true that the family used to be landmeyers, land mayors or land administrators for the Elten Institute then this would explain the double entendre in our family motto. Certainly our family coat of arms is very ancient in form, perhaps even more Saxon in color and form than Frankish in fact--but did the motto date from the early middle ages, with its Teutonic looking horny helmet or was it a concoction of our cousin, the 19th century Dutch jurist and parliamentarian Evert du Marchie van Voorthuijsen, who adopted an expanded family name that had the same initials DMVV--as the family motto. If anyone in the family can enlighten me in this regard, I would certainly appreciate it, for it is a mysterium tremendum to me. I promise I won't tell anyone else...
Talking of mysteries, I just solved another mystery without anyone else's help. For a year I have been wondering how we got a 'Main-belt object' (i.e. an asteroid) named after our family??? See: 22907 van Voorthuijsen - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Well, it turns out that this heavenly object was named after my sister in law, Lorrie van Voorthuijsen in Lecanto Florida, who is married to my brother Ted. Wow, not bad Lorrie. You really put us on the heavenly map! See: Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team - 22907 van Voorthuijsen (1999 TL26) is a Main-belt Asteroid discovered on October 3, 1999 by the Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research Team at Socorro. Lorrie van Voorthuijsen mentored a finalist in the 2006 Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge (DCYSC), a middle school science competition. She teaches at the van Voorthuijsen Home School, Lecanto, Florida.
That finalist would be my nephew Trevor, who recently went to Washington DC to receive his award, but I did not know that part of the prize was a heavenly object named after his mother! One again, congratulations Trevor and Lorrie!
Now back to more down to earth grammatical observations--remember I was talking about the confusing names of 's Gravenhage and 's Hertogenbosch? Well, to add ignominy to all this nomenclatural confusion, den used to be the masculine article which has now been officially become gender neutralized into the feminine form de.
Also see: http://forthuyse.googlepages.com/teachersirememberpartthree from which I will quote the following:
In modern Dutch we have two kinds of articles: the neuter (het) and the gender neutral (de). That may seem a fine distinction without a difference, except that we used to have bel et bien a masculine (den) and feminine article (de), but since the final n is rarely pronounced in modern Dutch, the two fell into each others arms and out came a gender neutral baby article, looking just like its mother (de) but often behaving pretty much like Dad (den) when the circumstances call for it. The morale of this sub-plot seems to be that like everything else,except perhaps and deplorably religion (sob, sob, sob), language evolves.
So when do the circumstances call for masculine behavior? Well, here it is: the masculine article formerly known as den still behaves like a masculine article in the masculine second case of des, rather than like the feminine second case of der. Except that even in this restricted expression of the masculine, it seems that we have circumsized the masculine second case form into the abreviated 's. The apostrophe reminds us of what was left out of (de)s. Its foreskinectomized remains so to say. That's what's left of the masculine article in Dutch: an 's, a bare and de-hooded stumped reminscence of what once was--And to to add to the insult, the said ..'s formerly known as des is never capitalized. We don't even get 'S! Evidently that formerly proud male portion just is not considered that important. The Jewish medical lobby seems to have had the same opinion in the United States where physical as opposed lingistic foreskinectomy is de rigueur: Latin lingua means both tongue and language as well as Sanskrit lingam or penis--you can all google or yoni-lingam on this yourself.
Foreskinectomy - definition of Foreskinectomy in the Medical ... from which I quote:
In the United States, circumcision in infant boys is performed for social, medical, or cultural/religious reasons. Once a routine operation urged by pediatricians and obstetricians for newborns in the middle of the twentieth century, circumcision has become an elective option that parents make for their sons on an individual basis.
Families who practice Judaism or Islam may select to have their sons circumcised as a religious practice. Others choose circumcision for medical benefits.
Ouch! Now that is truly ignominious. And the women think they have it bad in Anglophonia. Nah! They can take an example from the Dutch Dolle Minas. See: Women's Lib, Continental Style - TIME from which I quote:
So far, the most spectacular high jinks of Women's Lib have taken place in The Netherlands. The Dutch fighters, many of them chic and in their 20s, call themselves Dolle Minas, or Mad Minas. The name comes from the appellative that was usually applied to Wilhemina ("Mina") Drucker, a Dutch 19th century suffragette. The Dolle Minas have mirth as well as method in their madness. To attract attention, they burned a corset in front of Mina's statue in Amsterdam. Then they marched through the city and defiantly pinned bright pink ribbons across the portals of men's public toilets as a protest against the lack of similar facilities for women.
Now where was I? Oh yes, my Dad's stint at the HBS in The Hague. Let's just go there and keep that knife away from me for I must still brave that Ducati Cucciolo, my Dad's four-tact, Harley Davidson sound-alike brommer, and to do that I will need whatever masculinity I can bolster.
Duff duff duff! Varoom varoom! I must have been crazy to get on that thing with my Dad. But I did! And obviously live to tell the tale.
If you knew how my Dad drives a car, you would not want to risk your life with him on a Ducati Cucciolo bromfiets. No way. He still drives, by the way, bless his reckless soul, at the age of 92, but then in Flordia, that is still a very youthful age. But I would not want to live in the same county with him while he drives. I am safe here in SFCA.
If my Dad ran for president, by the way, he would certainly beat McCaine in terms of experience, for he is a cool two decades more experienced and while he only spent three years in POW camps, his camps made him perform slave labor in the mines and on the ship wharves of Japan itself. I think Hirohito treated him a great deal worse than Ho Chi Minh treated McCain. By those standards, I would consider my Dad more of a war hero than McCain, even though I would not vote for either one of them as president. I am a Democrat after all, and my Dad clearly identifies as a Publican even though he never became a U.S. citizen. And surely there would be something unconstitutional about having a non U.S. citizen still subject to the Dutch Queen (much though I like the House of Orange) as the next President of the United States that even the current Supreme Court could not ignore. But don't tell my Dad for he would get very upset.
We have to jump forward to the fifties now, to a time when my Dad had spent many lessons learning how to drive in the Netherlands--even though he had been driving quite well and wild, kind of, thank you, since the age of twelve or thirteen in the Dutch East Indies, with its own very confusing left hand traffic, made worse by ubiquitous betjaks, delimans, kreteks, and sado's--which must have driven car drivers up the wall, the way bicycles do today in western traffic.
Here is a picture for you of the betjak profusion
and here is a picture of a deliman, akin to a kretek and a sado, they were the horsedrawn cabs of our day
The abbreviation sado in this case has nothing to do with sadomasochism, or the infamous marquis, by the way--it refers to the dos à dos, back to back seating arrangement. And while a Kretek - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia nowadays usually refers to an Indonesian clove cigaret, in my day it also meant a horse drawn cab, similar to the deliman and sado. The exact difference I would not know. Ask my Dad--I'm sure he could tell you.
But back to the Netherlands where my Dad had to get his Dutch driver's license, which was spectacularly difficult and complicated even for him, who had been driving all his life. I think it took dozens of expensive lesson hours but he finally made it. They make you drive through really difficult urban traffic, not on some parking lot or through suburban neighborhoods like they let you in the U.S. When he finally was given his license, he could graduate from the Ducati Cucciolo, which required no license at all, to a DKW motor bike and then to our first car in Holland, a small blue Ford Anglia, quickly succeeded by a larger six cylinder black Opel Kapitän--a wonderful family car.
But for now, lets dwell on that first motor vehicle, the Ducati Cucciolo bicycle. And I mean it was really just an ordinary bicycle, mesdames messieurs--een gewone fiets, dames en heren.
But it was fitted out with a huge four tact engine that went duff duff duff, sort of, like a genuine Harley Davidson.
Here is a picture that doesn't even come close, for it already looks like a regular motorcycle--ours was een fiets!
Here is another very extensive website on bromfietsen( vroombikes) or brommers (vroomers)
From Holland, the most popular ‘bromfiets’ was the Berini. .... Unusually, the solitary Ducati Cucciolo was registered directly to the user
OK, even in those days Holland was a small, flat and crowded country (but it certainly was not yet as hot as it will be once the climate warms up, Mr. Tom Friedman) nor as fast as it is even today. Still, there already was a wonderful railway system, the Nederlandse Spoorwegen - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and a few good highways, called Rijkswegen, 'Realmways'. See Rijksweg - Wikipedia- for a map of the current highway net--and for and English language link you can go to: Image:Rijkswegen.svg - Wikimedia Commons
But to visit family Dutch people could use the fiets, the brommer, a motor bike, scooter or a car--in ascending order of affluence as the fifties progressed and we left the devastation of the Second World War behind us.
On my own, I would of course use the fiets, the bicycle--often making trips of 50 to a 100 miles back and forth from Vlaardingen to Delft, The Hague, Leidsendam, Leiden, Noordwijk, Haarlem and Amsterdam--or in the other direction, Eindhoven--a huge distance for a kid on a bike, but there was nobody closer in the southerly direction as far as our more immediate family was concerned.
When my Dad got his Ducati Cucciolo, life got easier for me. Well, let me explain that. It certainly was easier than using your own power--but in Holland when you are on a bicycle, you have to use the bicycle paths, fietspaden, which are pretty much everywhere, right between the main road deck and the pedestrian sidewalks. They are about 4 or 5 feet wide and many of them have two way stretches, especially along the highways. Since our Harley Davidson like Ducati Cucciolo was legally still a fiets we had to use the fietspaden. That could be a real problem.
I remember going along these narrow and often crowded, two-way bicycle paths on the passenger seat of my Dad's brommer, going a good 70 km (50 miles) an hour, encountering bicycle traffic going the other way, frequently at an equally fast clip. No one wore a helmet or any other kind of protection. That traditional family value had not yet been invented. It was pretty frightening.
Once, going to the beach in Hook of Holland - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia suddently there was this curb Dad had not seen or counted on. It was not a shallow or sloping curb either, perhaps half a foot high, and we went over it like a road rocket at 50 miles an hour, or like a space rocket hitting a main belt object at a kazillion miles an hour. Like we were astronauts, ruimtevaarders without a space helmet. It's a miracle we survived. I must say, Dad salvaged the situation pretty well. But I was petrified for the rest of the ride. And Dad? I don't think it really phased him. Anway we did make it home and they say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Dad made me a lot stronger that day. That he did indeed.
I was glad when he finally was able to switch to the DKW bike and then to the Ford Anglia as time went on. Still, I have to admit I always enjoyed those thrill rides, as scary as they were. With the car, the whole family would come along and things were never quite as adventurous anymore. We would go to Staelduinen national park, the Reeuwijkse Plassen or visit family in the various towns I already mentioned--but mostly those in Den Haag, where we had a number of aunts and uncles or Eindhoven, where two of our uncles worked for Philips, plus our grandmother, Oma Dora, who lived with Oom Henk and Tante Minnie and their brood of a maybe a dozen kids.
But now I need to backtrack a bit to the thirties. I found a way to specify the dates a bit more by checking on a fellow student of my Opa OBJ at Leiden University. His name was Sutan Sjahrir and he was a friend of Opa who had made a special arrangement with him to get back to the Indies. The government allowed my Opa to bring along one servant on the way back to the Indies for which they would pay the fare. So Sjahrir agreed to become the official baby sitter for my uncle Theo on that trip home. A few decades later, Sjahrir became something a lot more important: the first Prime Minister of Indonesia under President Soekarno. Hereunder is a link to Sjahrir from which we can establish the dates of my Dad's approximate stay in Holland: 1929 - 1931. That means Dad was 12 or 13 when he went to Holland and 16 or 17 when he came back to Java--at an economically very difficult time.
Sjahrir was born in 1909 in Padang Panjang, West Sumatra; his father was an advisor to the Sultan of Deli. He studied in Medan and Bandung, and then moved to Leiden, The Netherlands to study law around 1929. In Holland he gained an appreciation for socialist principles, and was a part of several labor unions as he worked to support himself. He was briefly the secretary of the Indonesian Association (Perhimpunan Indonesia), and organization of Indonesian students in the Netherlands.
He returned to Indonesia in 1931 without finishing a law degree. He helped set up the Indonesian National Party (PNI), and became a close associate of future vice president Mohammad Hatta. He was imprisoned by the Dutch for nationalist activities in November 1934, first in Boven Digul, then on Banda, and then in 1941, just before the Indies fell to the Japanese, to Sukabumi. During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia he had little public role, apparently sick with tuberculosis.
He was appointed Prime Minister by President Sukarno in November 1945 and served until June 1947. Sjahrir founded the Indonesian Socialist Party in 1948, which, although small, was very influential in the early post-independence years, because of the expertise and high education levels of its leaders. But the party performed poorly in the 1955 elections and was banned by President Sukarno in 1960. Sjahrir was jailed in the early 1960s, and died in exile in Zürich, Switzerland in 1966.
I note that like my great grandfather, B.O.A.J.Th.J. van Voorthuijsen, Sjahrir was born in Padang, Indonesia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia--perhaps that was another reason for his special ties to my Opa, the son of 'BOA', as I will call his father for short.
Note: It wasn't just last names that people loved to accumulate back in the 19th century--they gave their kids lots of given names as well. Oma Dora was actually born as Theodora Petronella Georgine Francisca Hommes--also quite a mouthful of initials. But generally, my Opa's generation went down to three and by the time of my Dad we had mostly reduced the number of given names to two.
I will report yet another coincidence: in the sixties a tenant of my Dad in Prospect Park, NJ, by the name of Max Richards told us that he and Sjahrir were class mates at the HBS in Medan. It is a small world indeed.
When I learned that detail, in the early sixties, Sjahrir was in prison for the second time, this time not by the Dutch colonial government, but by Soekarno, as you can see from the above excerpt. Then in 1966, I remember reading in the New York Times that he had died in exile in Switzerland, a sick and broken man. It made me feel very sad.
He was married to a Dutch lady and had written a diary which was published under the title JSTOR: Indonesische Overpeinzingen., which means Indonesian Reflections in English. But when I checked on that English title, I got a link with the following very fine photograph of a little village near Bandoeng--which I will reprint here as a tribute to Sjahrir. You will see why if you check the above link and check the review by Amry Vandenbosch: Review: [untitled], by Amry Vandenbosch © 1946 Pacific Affairs, University of British Columbia.
The pen name used by Sjahrir was Shajrazad--a version of the Persian name Scheherezade, the girl famous from the stories of De Duizend en een Nacht, Les mil et une nuit, One Thousand and One Nights - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia--which is more often called Arabian Nights in English:
One Thousand and One Nights (Arabic: كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة - kitāb 'alf layla wa-layla; Persian: هزار و یک شب - Hezār-o yek šab) is a collection of stories collected over many centuries by various authors, translators and scholars in various countries. These collections of tales trace their roots back to ancient Arabia and Yemen, ancient India, ancient Asia Minor, ancient Persia (especially the Sassanid Hazār Afsān Persian: هزار افسان, lit. Thousand Tales), ancient Egypt, ancient Mesopotamian Mythology, ancient Syria, and medieval Arabic folk stories from the Caliphate era. Though the oldest Arabic manuscript dates from the fourteenth century, scholarship generally dates the collection's genesis to somewhere between AD 800–900.
Here is some more personal information: in 1963 I had just graduated from Calvin College and was offered a full scholarship to study International relations at the University of Kentucky in Lexington--under Vandenbosch, Amry (Open Library)--at that time the foremost U.S. scholar on the Dutch East Indies and Indonesia. I reflected on it, and it was a close call, but after many overpeinzingen, I decided to study law instead at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor--I guess because I wanted to follow my grandfather's example. And in a way I did, because we have both had very mixed and colorful careers. Oh well.
I don't know what to report on the difficult times my Dad and his family went through during the depression--I know they were not very pleasant and probably left definite scars on everyone. My Opa lost his job and Oma Dora had to help by setting up a clothing design studio. She got designs straight from Paris which she copied and had put together by a number of seamstresses, eventually developing quite a thriving business. Opa OBJ did get back on his feet as well, but by then the impending conflict of WWII was already casting its shadows over the world. I know Opa OBJ got very involved with a Christian Union movement, but I am not sure about the chronology. He wrote an administrative handbook and became the expert on colonial Dutch regulatory practices. Then the Japanese paid us a visit and the rest is history--we then were, so to say, op the brommer without a helmet.
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