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Open Features: Indonesian Adventures - Chapter Four

Adrian Martin, who worked at the university in Ujung Pandang, discovered that his home phone number in the city had once been that of a Doctor Bling. Rather than confuse everyone by explaining that the doctor had moved, he adopted the practive of answering the phone with something like "Wirth's Circus - Duty Clown speaking.'' The local expats knew immediately who they were speaking to, and Indonesians certainly knew they were not speaking to the doctor.

We instigated a program of asking staff to advise us of repairs needed, and we could come and check it out and if necessary, take it back for a detailed check-out. There seemed to be considerable reluctance to do this, and it took us some time to find out that our Indonesian counterpart had told departments that repairs would be charged for, as would bench time if they came to the workshop. He had opened a bank account for these ‘extra’ funds, and also, the precision tools we’d purchased out of our petty cash allowance were often very dirty and damaged on Monday mornings. We then discovered that the head of our section had started a small sideline on the weekends, and was running a bit of a garage. A large padlock soon slowed this down.

Meantime, the kids had been getting on with their schoolwork, all done in the large air conditioned family room/girls’ bedroom. Some of the spouses of other expats on contract often had degrees or better in a range of subjects, and they were happy to come over for an hour or two and be tutors.

The text books, supplies, slides and so on all came up regularly by post, but there was often a problem when it came to collecting them. The Post Office staff obviously thought that we expats were a lot better off than they were, so they never hesitated in asking for cash or cigarettes before handing these over. If funds were running low, then we didn’t get the parcels.

On one occasion, I had paid the necessary ‘encouragement’ and I was invited out the back to go through about four large lockers full of parcels, catalogues, newspapers and gifts from overseas. Some had been there for some considerable time, and many of the names were familiar, being families of expats at present in Ujung Pandang, and also many of those who had moved on.

Once I had collected my parcels, I drove back to where I knew the ladies had gathered, playing a little bit of Mah Jong, and announced that almost everyone there had parcels at the Post office. Well, there was a rush for the door, and the house was soon empty, and the Post Office no doubt about to be invaded.

In those days, there was no internet, faxes were just becoming available, and so contact with families was intermittent, and staff of the PO acted as self-appointed censors if they saw anything of a dubious nature.

One example of ‘dubious’ was when my wife went to visit the local library. This was not the most utilised building in the town, as many of the books and magazines were from the Dutch foundation which had supplied most of the funds for the library building. However, the Dutch ladies amongst the expats found this quite convenient, and my wife went off to borrow some of the latest Dutch women’s weekly magazines.

The old librarian, who had poor vision and hearing, took her to one side, and told her in a loud whisper, that he kept these locked up in a special box, as he didn’t want the boys seeing the saucy pictures, with advertisements of ladies’ underwear. He never could work out why my wife kept going to the library so often, but the problem was that he couldn’t distinguish between the three tall blonde ladies who each came in once a week.

I mentioned at the start of this tale that the school supplies all came from South Australia, and they had external Aussie students all around SE Asia. Our landlord left us with a phone when he moved out, but the telephone services left a lot to be desired. Taking a phone number a few streets away was obviously not practical, so we were left with a doctor’s phone number. The phone would ring at all hours, asking “Ada Doctor Bing?” (Is Doctor Bing in?)

So, rather than confuse everyone with explaining that he’d moved, I adopted the practice of answering the phone with something like “Wirth’s Circus - Duty Clown speaking”. The local expats knew immediately who they’d got, the Indonesians certainly knew they hadn’t got the doctor, and we had few problems after a week or two, and no more 4am calls.

One morning, I was nearest to the phone when it rang, and I gave my usual greeting. There was silence at the other end, and a rather Aussie voice asked ‘Who exactly is that?’ I told them, and then they explained that it was the kids’ school supervisor, phoning from South Australia to check on them.


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