Bandung: "Franked in Bandung"


West Java

May 16, 2005


All Aboard!

Just like my boyhood subway rides, ever emerging from the 149th Street tunnel to the elevated IRT tracks of the Woodlawn Jerome line over River Avenue, at the 161st Station astride Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, the train ride from Jakarta to Bandung was also exciting.

(Riding the New York Central Railroad along the eastern bank of the Hudson River, the towering Palisades looming just across the water in Jersey, that was also good.)

And now, three hours through a series of cultivated green mountains. From mountain to mountain, the rail-bed lies high, high atop steel trestles built up from deep, deep gorges of stream and stone.

Exciting. And yes, railroad buffs, even a little scary.

No guard rails. No walls. No side girders. No nothing. Rails atop trestles. That's it.

From my window seat on the right side of the carriage, I gaze down through several hundred meters of unobstructed air to the rocky, watery basins far, far below.

(The Trans-Canada trip through The Rocky Mountains has always been on my To Do List. Maybe when I retire from all of this.)

But for now, Bandung. The capital city of Java.

First, an architectural tour.

"Gedung Sate." An important looking capital building fronted by a large grassy area. The cheerful security guard was happy to give me a tour around, and then up to the tower.

Built in 1917, the design combines Oriental, Egyptian and Moorish motifs with a Javanese tiered roof.

Why? my architect friends, is this serious, stately, colorful, modern, artful structure called "Gedung Sate?" Simple. The tall, thin, steel spire looks like a stick...of chicken sate!

Yes, Indonesian sense of humor and architecture aplenty here.

"Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB)."

"Built in the beginning of the 20th Century, the university has large grounds and gardens and the main campus complex is notable for its 'Indo-European' architecture, featuring Minangkabau-style roofs atop colonial-style buildings."

Sukarno studied here (1920-1925). He "published" here. And so began the independence movement against Dutch rule.

The university maintains its reputation for outspokenness and political activism.

ITB is the foremost scientific university with a top fine arts department. The Indonesian equivalent of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge and the Art Students League of New York.

After chatting with a group of students, and making a fool of myself as I display my utter lack of scientific/mathematical information, I escaped to the "Museum Geologi" with fine volcano exhibits, an array of fossils and large dinosaurs, and a model skull of who else but Java Man!

Finally, the "Museum Prangko" (Stamp Museum).

Basically an unremarkable exhibit in the basement of an ordinary government building. Old post boxes, pushcarts and a full scale diorama of a postman delivering mail and packages to a group of villagers. On display, thousands of stamps from around the world.

I was moved.

So moved, in fact, I spent several cheerful minutes with the postal workers as they patiently showed me all the recent issues. I bought a sheet of multi-colored stamps depicting Indonesian folk tales and added them to my photo album.

How do I explain my powerful, personal, emotional reaction to an exhibit that most visitors would find just modestly interesting?

This museum took me back, way back in time to my young father and my boyhood days of philately.

Like many German children and men of his generation, my father, Otto Polatschek, now in his 90th year, was a serious stamp collector. He was a true philatelist.

Over the years, Otto had more than 100,000 different stamps in 25 stamp albums. He specialized in European stamps only, and stopped accepting stamps issued after 1965.

Otto meticulously hinged and centered each stamp in its allotted space; a micrometer could not detect any deviations from the vertical and horizontal lines of the small rectangular spot in the album.

Perhaps this explains my own compulsion with my photo albums.

My father encouraged me. After all, what better way ,to learn some geography and history.

I recall the details of many USA issues: Columbus, National Parks, Famous Americans, Flags of Overrun Nations, The Pony Express, Statehoods. And Casey Jones.

When I was ten years old and listening to a favorite RADIO program one Saturday morning, I responded to an ad offering the new Casey Jones commemorative along with hundreds of free stamps and dozens of stamps "On Approval."

Can you imagine? Years ago, trusting stamp dealers would send out stamps for approval to their honest customers. You chose only the stamps you needed, enclosed a payment, and returned the rest.

And so with that one Casey Jones transaction, we were deluged with stamps for years. And I learned a lot.

I learned that Suomi is what the Finns call Finland and Helvetia is what the Swiss call Switzerland and Sverge is what the Swedes call Sweden.

You think a stamp is red? Think again. I could tell you then, that stamps are cardinal or crimson or carmine or lake or maroon or mauve or salmon or scarlet or vermilion.

Centennial. Sesquicentennial. Bi-centennial.

As a young boy I learned the difference between a Post Card and a Postal Card. Also: Postage Due. Watermark. Booklet Pane. Coil. Perforation. Cancellation. Mint. Plate Block. Sheet. First Day Cover. Regular Issue. Commemorative. Gum. Gum. Gum!

How do you get a canceled stamp off the envelope? (Pre-self-adhesive days.) How do you get hundreds of used stamps off hundreds of scraps of paper? (Think bath towels.)

What is the proper procedure for hinging a stamp and placing it in an album? (Think tongs.)

And although my USA collection was colorful and educational, my father's stamps transported a young boy, as they continue to transport me, to distant places.

My father had an interesting set of stamps issued by 19th Century Bosnia-Herzegovina. I remember them clearly and I am planning to visit that sorrowful place.

And then, for a second time, here in Bandung, a building transported me back to my Teenage years. The "Gedung Merdek" or Freedom Building. I am still reacting to my reactions. More later.

For now, it's time for some fun at the North Sea Bar, or maybe the Amsterdam Cafe. And then, a day inside a volcano. Really!

"Bandung Station. All change!"

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