Herly Setiawan, 2012. 'Mengacalah' - Self-reflection

Herly Setiawan, 2012. ‘Mengacalah’ – Self-reflection

Dear All,

I’m in Yogyakarta for a week and Doni is here too, he left his little shop in Bandung under the care of a friend.  Beautiful times, sun every day. A lot of swimming in a gigantic swimming-pool that belongs to the hotel, inspect the furniture I ordered, bumping into disappointments, grumble loud enough to make clear it’s serious but not so loud that relationships suffer. Maybe, one day, I’ll master the balancing it requires. In the meantime just being happy, ah well, there’s always something, under every sun there are shadows; usually trifles, now and then something more serious. Rahmat, the becak driver of whom I’ve told you before, did send text messages during the last few weeks, asking when I would come to Yogya again. Now I’m here it becomes clear why; his father died and he wants to talk. We have a long conversation about life and its limitation, about God whom he calls Allah, about where his father is now… We don’t understand most of it but on one thing we agree – he is in Rahmats heart. At least. That won’t go away and that suffices. Before Rahmat goes on his way to find new clients we drink a coffee to that, because a good glass is something we don’t do here.

In a restaurant sits a Dutch couple, an unhappy couple. Another sunny day in Yogyakarta but, indeed, her main-course comes when his’ is not ready yet. The waiter can smile and say sorry as much as he likes; this disaster cannot be described in words. Their day, or even worse maybe, is ruined. The rest of the time they pass with eating with distaste – too spicy Indonesian, why do they do that? – and muttering about the lousy service and the total lack of understanding of western norms. ‘We are guests here, aren’t we?’ Thank you deteriorated, only a harsh sound from deep in their throat is left, vacation choked with discontent. Guests…

A while ago I wrote about Muji, the engineer. He changed his plans so that, during the time I’m in Yogya, he will be home in Kebumen for a few days. A place about 60 kilometer from Yogya.  Early morning, six o’clock, he sends a text that he’s on his way to pick me up. I rented a car at 10 and Muji is exactly on time. A two hours drive to the family home, Muji is silent but smiles all the way. When we arrive the whole family is waiting, dressed up, the little girls – one and four years old – with a jilbab. I’m glad when a bit later the jilbabs are gone again an the girls become naughty little girls again. There is coffee with snacks, there is an extensive meal and Muji runs back and forth and keeps on bringing in more food. When we’re totally stuffed dessert comes in the form of more than eight sorts of fruit. Eat Mister, eat! It takes long before we get to a real conversation and when it comes it doesn’t make me real happy. His work in Bandung, about 500 kilometer away, is with a printer where he has to make lay-outs. Seven days per week, from 8 in the morning till 9 in the evening with 1 hour break, for a salary of 900.000 rupiah per month (about 90 US$). When he is sick of takes a day off; dipotong (deducted). No, also in Indonesia $ 90.—a month is far from enough. And Muji wants to get married. He’s looking for another job but that’s not so easy.

‘And why did you have to come to Kebumen, the meeting with your parents in law is later, isn’t it?’ I ask. Surprised he looks at me. ‘To see Mister of course, it’s more than five years ago already since we last met’. The phrase ‘stupid question’ is on his face, to put in words he’s way too polite and friendly. Half a month’ salary for a short meeting, what remains is 50% of a shitty little bit. ‘Good I’m an engineer now’, says Muji. ‘Otherwise you only get 600.000.’ He smiles when he says it. After a few hours we leave again and Muji thanks extensively for ‘everything’. I, the real recipient, am ashamed a bit.

With Herly Setiawan it goes well. Five years ago he made a portrait of Emmanuel with which I’m still very happy. Then a very talented young man on the academy in Yogyakarta, now a married man with daughter. His exams passed, cum laude and four honours, work that impresses and a philosophy in life that makes one spontaneously believe in the future. Paintings a Javanese orientated images language – often about the struggle between good and evil – intuitively accessible. Beautiful work, if you want to see more, go to my facebook page. .

We took a long evening for it; looking at his works and pleasantly chatting about what was beautiful and what even more so, Herly, intense and full of emotion, explaining. ‘In fact’, says Doni, ‘each painting makes you focus on life itself.’ And that’s how I see it too. It’s worthwhile to talk about that for hours.

Back in Bali it seems that the rainy season has started for real. Showers that make you think it’ll never be okay again, the Balinese variety of ‘the dark days before Xmas’. An hour or so later the small streams all over the island are close to overflowing and the sun shines again. Light won’t leave us, never.

Warm regards



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