Tuesday, 25 January 2022


Chloe Ayling's kidnapper has sentence reduced by nearly 11 years on appeal

Side effects cost govt 1 billion - The Bangkok Post

Almost one billion baht in compensation has been paid out to Thais who suffered adverse side effects.

Former Zimbabwe cricket captain Brendan Taylor reveals blackmail plot after Indian businessmen filmed him taking cocaine to make him fix cricket matches





I received two young gap-year students from England. Paul and his girlfriend Helen had been exploring Sumatra and were about to make a trip to Bali. Paul was one of my former pupils from my days in London; I remembered him as a thirteen-year-old schoolboy: handsome and intelligent but also modest and polite. I remembered that he had sometimes worn a rather serious facial expression, perhaps the result of a troubled early childhood. Paul did not seem to have changed except in height. After his year of travel, he was planning to study politics and economics. Helen’s accent and grooming suggested that she was from a respectable upper-middle-class family; she had the quiet good manners of someone who had been to one of the better private schools. I was delighted to be able to take two such charming people on a tour of my city, a city of skyscrapers, shoeshine boys, canals and kampungs.

After breakfast we drove down to the heart of Old Jakarta to see the Stadhuis, the former City Hall built in 1710, a building as Dutch as a Vermeer painting. I explained to my guests that this place had once housed a famous prisoner, the Javanese Prince Diponegoro. Back in 1830, the prince had become a national hero after leading a war, on horseback, against the Dutch.

Having left the Stadhuis we took photos of an old Dutch drawbridge, a fish market and the Bugis sailing ships. Helen, who was going to be studying Geography at university, had done her homework; she was able to tell us that the Bugis, who come from Sulawesi, hand-build these wooden ships and use them to transport much of the cargo that travels from island to island within the Indonesian archipelago.

After lunch we took a look at the big concrete and marble Istiqlal Mosque, constructed in the 1960’s, and designed by a Christian architect. The vast rectangular prayer hall is covered by a central dome, forty five metres in diameter, supported by twelve round columns. Although it is a 1960’s concrete construction, the interior of the mosque has an atmosphere that is both classical and sublime. Paul and Helen were impressed.

Leaving the mosque we crossed the road to inspect the twin-spired Catholic Cathedral, built in 1901. To me it is like a Legoland copy of a European cathedral, being small and soulless, but Paul and Helen had no criticisms of it. After taking in Cikini Market , Merdeka Park and a few more monuments such as the little white-painted State Palace, we ended up having tea at the Grand Hyatt hotel.

"I hope you didn’t find my house too noisy last night," I said, as we munched the Grand Hyatt’s chocolate pastries and looked out over Jakarta through enormous glass windows.

"It was no problem," said Helen politely.

"There was just a little noise," said Paul, "but it wasn’t a problem."

"You heard the dogs?" I asked.

"There were some mad dogs barking," said Helen.

"And a very loud clunk," said Paul. "Someone banging a metal street pole with something hard."

"And a cockerel or two," said Helen.

"And the cry from the loudspeaker at the mosque," said Paul.

"There were some fire crackers," said Helen, who was finding it difficult to suppress a chuckle.

"Then a hollow tap-tap sound from someone selling food," said Paul, a grin beginning to appear on his face.

"We’re used to the noise," said Paul, who must have observed my worried look. "But the metal clunk was a puzzle."

"That was the night-time security patrol," I explained, noting with relief, that both Paul and Helen were now smiling broadly. "They’re letting you know they’re doing their rounds. How did you sleep?"

"The usual way, with my eyes closed, and my fingers in my ears," said Paul, eyes twinkling.

"I slept very well," said Helen.

"Me too," said Paul, "except when I was looking out the window wondering which of your books I could throw at the dogs."

"Was Sumatra quiet?" I asked.

"A little quieter," said Paul. "Incredibly friendly people. We got invited into houses and mosques."

"The secret is to dress appropriately," said Helen. "No bare legs or arms unless you want malaria and dengue fever, not to mention Japanese encephalitis."

"No hassles?" I asked.

"The bus drivers all seemed to be drunk or on drugs," said Paul, his worried expression returning to his face.

"Did you go to Aceh, the bit of Sumatra that wants independence?"

"We kept well away," said Helen. "The army seems to be very active there. We were mainly around Lake Toba."

"People kept on asking us what we thought of the army," said Paul.

"We were careful not to comment," said Helen.

"We asked them what they thought," said Paul. "Some of them hinted that they were scared of the army. One student said that the army used to be popular, but not any longer."

"What turned people against the military?" I asked.

"The soldiers have a reputation for raping and torturing people in Aceh," said Helen, putting down her dainty teacup. "The army turned the people against Jakarta."

"Don’t speak too loudly," I cautioned. "This hotel is owned by Indonesia’s most important person. Now, tell me, what did you think of Lake Toba?"

"It’s big," said Paul. "One hundred kilometres long. It was made by a volcano erupting masses of material from underneath itself. Then collapsing, leaving a big hole. That was 75,000 years ago."

"It must have been an unusually big volcano," I commented.

"It was a supervolcano," said Helen. "Some scientists think it wiped out masses of plants and animals throughout the world. They say that only a few thousand humans can have survived."

"It may have triggered the last Ice Age," explained Paul.

"Talking of Ice Ages," said Helen, "The air-conditioning in these hotels is quite fierce. Glad I brought a sweater."

Did you enjoy today’s walkabout in Old Batavia?" I queried.

"It was good," said Helen. "On the plane, I was reading about Jakarta’s Chinese population. It seems that in the eighteenth century about a third of the Jakartans were Chinese and often very rich from banking and business. The Dutch decided to push the Chinese out. There was big trouble and in one incident the Dutch killed about ten thousand Chinese. The Dutch Governor General ended up in jail."

"The Chinese are still not too popular," I commented.

"I don’t suppose the Dutch were too popular," said Paul. "The Dutch East India Company was often brutal and corrupt."

"And sometimes bankrupt," added Helen.

"Things have never been too well managed," I said, thinking of my local supermarket and bank.

"I was interested in seeing the little white Presidential Palace," said Paul. "I was trying to imagine great hordes of people shouting ‘Merdeka’ , freedom, back in 1945 or ’49 or whenever."

"1945 was when the Japanese were defeated," I said, pleased I could remember a date. "Sukarno declared independence, the British arrived and the Dutch tried to get their colony back. I remember reading about some senior British officer who got hacked to death by the locals in East Java. The British were blamed for letting the Dutch come back. The Dutch didn’t give up until 1949, when Sukarno became President."

"It seems Sukarno was popular," said Paul.

"His family’s still popular among the masses," I said.

"But in 1949 he had enormous problems," said Helen. "The fighting had left the economy in a mess."

"Then there were all the different factions, just like now," I said.

"Communists and Moslems," said Paul.

"Traditional Moslems, orthodox Moslems, extremist Moslems, secular Moslems, Chinese Christians, indigenous Christians, communists, socialists, capitalists, fascists, people in parts of Sumatra, Sulawesi and New Guinea who wanted to break away from Indonesia, and then the army with all its different factions." I had probably left out some vital groups.

"Didn’t Sukarno abolish political parties?" said Paul. "And eventually put some of the politicians in jail; not very democratic."

"He tried to be all things to all people but was eventually accused of being too friendly with the communists. Not a good idea in a Moslem nation believing in God."

"The Americans and British are supposed to have sent help to the rebels in Sumatra and Sulawesi," said Helen, impressing me again with her knowledge. "They were trying to undermine the Indonesian economy and topple Sukarno. Not very democratic trying to topple an elected leader by supporting terrorists and causing starvation."

"Sukarno had upset many people in the West," I said. "He grabbed the western part of Papua New Guinea from the Dutch. And he wanted to grab Sabah and Sarawak from Britain."

"Where are Sabah and Sarawak?" asked Helen.

"Same island as Borneo," I said, pleased I knew something Helen did not. "He wanted to stop the future Malaysia getting Sabah and Sarawak. So he attacked the British, unsuccessfully. He’d left the UN and become close friends with China by this time. People were starving."

"Hence the coup of 1965," said Paul, "and the takeover by Suharto. Was it a communist coup that failed, or a coup by part of the army and the CIA that succeeded, or both?"

"Don’t forget MI6," I whispered, aware that the waitress was listening.

"Up to a million people rounded up and murdered," said Paul, as he jabbed his fork into a piece of cake. "The army’s supposed to have been given a hit list by the Americans and the murders were well organised."

"Others disagree," I said, for the benefit of the waitress.

"It’s like the 1991 shootings in Dili," said Helen. "The army says it was not planned in advance. That they hadn’t dug trenches ready for the all the bodies about to be killed."

"So after 1965," I said, getting off the subject of East Timor, "Indonesia’s economy began to recover and it joined the UN."

"The army pulled all the strings," said Paul. "And American and British companies moved in to get the oil and the cheap labour."

"The army’s helped build a lot of infrastructure," I said. "And it’s helped keep the peace in most of Indonesia."

"Time for more sightseeing?" asked Helen, when the last crumbs had been scraped from our plates. "Someone recommended Sarinah Department Store."

We drove to Blok M, and while Paul and I strolled through the markets, Helen did some serious shopping on her own. We ended our pleasant day with some beers and satay in a little restaurant in the backpacker area of Jalan Jaksa. Next morning, before heading for the airport, Paul and Helen thoughtfully presented generous gifts to me, my maid and my driver.

Irfan, my young house guard, was sitting in the garden having a smoke.

"Have you paid the school for last month’s tuition?" I inquired.

"Not yet." He was looking down at the grass.

"Are you still going to school?" I said, trying to sound sympathetic.

"I haven’t been recently. I’ve had a cold."

Ah well, I suppose it must be difficult for a teenager to sit in a class alongside little children. Irfan did not return to school.

It was September 1993. Another new academic year had arrived and I was thinking how good it was to be in Indonesia, with its sunshine and smiling faces. And what of all the waifs and strays? Min was in good health and I continued to see him regularly; Bangbang, the boy who liked to poke people in the stomach, was at home with his family, except on those occasions when he ran away; sad-faced Agosto in Bogor was as thin as ever; Iwan was in the leprosy hospital; John was probably not too well. It was ages since I had seen John, the less than good-looking, very mentally backward boy who had been losing weight last time I had seen him.

I made an evening visit to the mental hospital at Babakan in Bogor and found John curled up on a bed like a dying animal, naked, almost fleshless, eyes strangely milky.

"Is John getting medicine?" I asked the young male nurse, who had been watching a music programme on the TV in the office next the dormitory.

"Yes," he said smiling in an amiable way.

"May I have a look at the medicine?"

"I think maybe it’s finished," he said, looking vaguely in the direction of an empty shelf.

"Do John’s parents know he’s like this?"

"He’s got a widowed mother. A Christian. I don’t know when she was last here."

"Would you like some cigarettes?" I said, trying to apply some charm. "I’ll get some from the shop."

"Thank you, mister."

"Can you get me the address of John’s family? The office couldn’t give it to me last time."

"I’ll write it down for you," said the nurse, grinning.

Next day, my driver found John’s mother. She was occupying a room in a relatively large wooden house owned by her brother. This house was in a poor part of Teluk Gong, surprisingly near to Min’s old home. My driver explained to John’s mum that John was seriously ill and that I was prepared to pay for his treatment at a decent hospital in Jakarta.

On the Saturday morning, John’s mother, sister and an uncle met me at the main office of Bogor’s Babakan mental hospital. The uncle was a stern-faced captain in the army and the owner of an enormous Toyota. John’s sister was an attractive teenager wearing cord jeans. John’s mother was a relaxed-looking women wearing shoes, rather than sandals, and a cheap white dress.

"We’ve done all we can," said the full-faced doctor, "but the patient has not responded to the treatment."

"I can see that," I said. I wanted to ask the doctor how many times he had visited John and what treatment had been given, but then I thought that this was not the time to be getting people upset.

"We need a document signed if he’s to be transferred to another hospital," said the impassive doctor. "When he leaves here he ceases to be our responsibility. If anything happens to him, it becomes your responsibility."

John’s mother signed. I insisted that John be transported in the Uncle’s vehicle, as I was scared the boy might die and I didn’t want that happening in my Mitsubishi. John’s fragile body, with its bones sticking out, was eased into the back of the Toyota, which was then driven at speed all the way to the Teluk Gong Hospital in North Jakarta.

It occurred to me that the hospital might refuse to take John if they discovered he was mentally backward. But John was too weak to give any indications of his mental ability, and no-one was going to make an issue of it.

John was admitted to a gloomy third class ward, where a tough looking, female nurse tried unsuccessfully to fit a drip to John’s arm. John wailed, the nurse became cross, and the sharp looking attachment repeatedly failed to get lodged in the right place. I became concerned at the nurse’s roughness and apparent lack of skill.

We moved John to a brighter, cleaner, first class ward and the drip was successfully attached.

"During the car journey," said John’s mum, who had seated herself on a chair next to John’s bed, "we thought John was going to die. At one point he had one of his epileptic fits."

"Where’s John going to stay when he gets better?" I asked, determined to think about the future rather than the depressing past. "I don’t think he should go back to the mental hospital. He’s not dangerous is he?"

"Not dangerous. No," said mum.

"Just backward," I said.

"The problem is he can’t stay at my brother’s house," said mum. "They don’t want him there. That’s where I’ve been staying with my daughter."

"Could you rent a small house?" I asked.

"Yes, but I make very little money."

"What would the rent be?"

"Fifteen thousand a week," she said, smiling and blushing. "That’s about seven dollars."

"Well I’ll help with the rent," I said, "if you find somewhere suitable."


One Saturday morning in September I made a journey to the countryside around Ciomas, not so very far from Bogor. This was Java at its best.

The morning sky was deepest blue and all the poppy-coloured roofs and all the flame-green paddies seemed to sing and dance with light. I passed a leafy playground where, accompanied by jolly dangdut music, dusky cherubs in white school uniforms were performing sensuous aerobics. I headed along tree-flanked tracks, past diminutive shacks and mosques, and up through airless woodland until I reached a river in a deep-bottomed gorge. There was a musky aroma of warm and fleshy jungle and I could hear splashes and shouts. Young Tarzans, in their birthday suits, were swinging from dangly vines and leaping from enormous heights into deep, earth-brown water. I continued up steep tree-covered slopes until suddenly I sighted the volcano, Mount Salak, and beneath it a lovely lake.

I decided that it was picnic time and sat myself down on a tree root of enormous size. It was good to put down my pack and start the laying out of lunch. It was a typical day near the equator, in terms of heat. But I had the shady trees, the flask of Muscadet, the ham and mustard sandwiches, the melting brie, the hot anchovy-stuffed olives and two of the finest almond croissants you can ever imagine.

As I began munching a sandwich I became aware that I had company. A small girl and a small boy had come to stare at me. They looked about eleven years old and had pleasant elfin faces. I decided to offer them one half of an almond croissant each. These offerings were eaten slowly and with relish. Not a single crumb was wasted.

As I polished off the olives and the brie I noticed that four more children had come to have a look.

"I can’t offer you a sandwich," I said to the group. "They’re ham sandwiches."

The children smiled politely. I looked at the yet uneaten almond croissant and decided that I would get considerable pleasure from offering it to the four hungry-looking newcomers, more pleasure than I would get from eating the thing on my own. Picnics are more fun when you have company.

I handed the croissant to the largest boy in the group and he carefully broke it into four small pieces. The result was four happy smiling faces.

When the food was finished, I took a stroll around the lake, followed at a discreet distance by the children. I was thinking to myself that this was better than Bali.

That evening I went shopping at Kem Chicks supermarket, a red-roofed building that looks like a large private house. While walking the aisles, I bumped into Carmen and we decided to have a coffee and a chat in the little upstairs restaurant.

"How was your weekend holiday?" I asked, once we had settled ourselves down at a table.

"In Bali you never need to be short of company," said Carmen, with the sort of loud chuckle that makes heads turn.

"What sort?" I asked, as I began applying my fork to the first of two large almond croissants.

"I remember two teenagers in particular: Andi and Andri: earrings and cool shades and skinny bodies. They were sitting outside an American fast-food restaurant. Andri was sitting on Andi’s lap and the two of them were being quite affectionate to each other. They’re like that in this country. Even the police. Andri and Andi insisted that they should act as my guides in Kuta."

"You couldn’t get rid of them?"

"I told them that I was a local and didn’t need a guide. I asked them if they were Balinese and really knew Bali. They admitted that they were migrants from Java. I asked them if there were any problems between the Balinese and all the Javanese who’ve come into the island. They admitted that there were problems. They said that the immigrants got blamed for spreading AIDS, selling drugs, selling sex and extorting money. I asked them if they were going to try to extract money from me. They gave me friendly smiles and I wandered off unmolested."

"Has Indonesia got much of a problem with AIDS?" I asked.

"An expatriate nurse once told me that in the naughty parts of Surabaya, and other such places, it could be the same high rate as in Bangkok’s Patpong."

"I don’t suppose the Balinese can do much to get rid of the incomers."

"They’ve tried to fight against the drug trade and so on, but the criminal gangs are protected by the security forces."

"The army is important in Bali?"

"In lots of ways. Around 80,000 Balinese were murdered by the army people, back around 1965, when the Americans put Suharto into power. Now a lot of the tourist industry seems to be owned by army generals and the Suharto clan. Also, Bali is the base for the Udayana Army Command."

"Udayana Army Command?"

"These are the army people that control East Timor."

"And did you enjoy Bali?"

"It got me away from all the useless meetings and paperwork at school. Was I happy in Bali? I was happy when I could see the temples, the mountains and the sea. I wasn’t happy with the queues at the airport. I think, to be happy, you have to learn not to cry over spilt coconut milk. When the Garuda flight’s delayed, you just have to adjust. You just have to say to yourself that it’s not the end of the world. In fact the delay can be seen as a bonus, because it teaches you patience."

"And if there are mosquitoes in the sandwiches, it won’t spoil the picnic."

"That’s it," said Carmen. "Live for the moment."

"Are you good at doing that?"

"Not in the slightest. To be happy you have to be able to move on, otherwise you get bored. I’m not always good at moving on."

"Moving on?"

"Forgetting about yesterday’s problems with maids and traffic and moving on to today’s adventure."

"I have problems with maids and traffic and lazy students."

"I thought you were the charitable type." Carmen gave me a look which suggested just a hint of doubt.

"There’s often an opposite side to people," I said.

"Ah! So what’s your opposite side?" Carmen’s eyes had developed a wicked twinkle.

"There is nobody more irritable than me in a queue in a Hero supermarket," I confessed. "And when I don’t get the right change there is no one more quick to take it personally. I’m always complaining to restaurant managers about cold soup and poor service."

"We shouldn’t take things so seriously?"

"A friend at university once said I shouldn’t look down my nose at people. Then a numerologist warned me against false pride."

"You didn’t hit them?"

"I didn’t believe them, especially about the false pride," I said. "I didn’t believe them until that child called Budi died. Then I thought, well, I should have visited Budi more often. I’ve got nothing to feel proud about."

"I sometimes go from one extreme to the other," admitted Carmen. "One moment I think everything’s going wonderfully and next moment I think I’m a complete failure. We need a balanced position. We’re not as good as we think. But we’re not as bad as we think."

"Do you have a negative side?" I asked.

"I’m bad when it comes to patience. I think all my traveling’s got something to do with impatience. The traveling is an escape."

"An escape from what?"

"An escape from making the necessary adjustments. The Balinese make a big thing about making adjustments and keeping life in balance. When a boy reaches the age of puberty, there’s a ceremony in which he has his upper canine teeth filed down. This is all about him getting rid of his less desirable characteristics, and becoming more balanced in his behaviour."

"Bali is the biggest Hindu place after India."

"Bali’s religion is a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism and animism," said Carmen.

"A balanced approach."

"When you look at the depressed and drunken British and Australian tourists in Bali, you think that the Balinese have a superior way of life. But I’m not sure that the Balinese religion is necessarily perfect. Bali still has a little bit of the caste system. And I’m not sure, if I was Balinese, that I could cope with all these priests and endless rituals. I wouldn’t want to see a cock being killed during a cock fight and then the blood being used in some purifying ceremony. That seems too primitive. On the other hand, I love the beating of the gongs and bits of bamboo when they’re driving out evil spirits. And I like the Balinese idea of communicating with your dead relatives."

"On balance, you’d rather be Balinese than British."

"Oh definitely Balinese," said Carmen.

On the Monday afternoon I made another visit to Jakarta’s Teluk Gong Hospital. John was alive and well and looking positively chubby. His mother, wearing sandals and a simple white dress, was smiling happily.

"He can go home now," said the doctor whose expensive suit suggested high status and middle-aged spread.

"What was wrong with John?" I asked.

"Simply dysentery," said the beaming doctor. "Sometimes it goes undetected because there are no obvious symptoms. We did a series of stool tests. It was easy to clear up. Then we gave John a good diet. His mother must be careful in future with hygiene because John is very retarded and gets his hands dirty."

"He had marks all over his skin," said John’s mother. "I hope it wasn't cigarette burns."

"Well I hope he doesn’t go back to the mental hospital in Babakan," I said. "Have you found a place to stay?"

"Yes, in Teluk Gong. Want to have a look?"

"Yes please."

I accompanied John and his mum to their new home. The furniture had already arrived. The house was like a large garage divided into three rooms, but, with its white painted walls, fridge, TV, beds and settee, it looked bright and homely. I handed over the money for the rent. I had some niggling doubts about whether or not John would survive into a comfortable old age. But for the moment everything seemed fine.

"Where did the furniture come from?" I asked.

"Relations," said mum. She was seated on the settee and a smiling John had his arms around her.

John’s sister arrived, again dressed in cord jeans. She had the pale skin and curvaceous lips that I associated with some Sumatrans.

"Hi. I’m Martha," she said. "Thank you for helping John."

"You’ll have new neighbours now," I said to Martha. "Do you think they’ll be friendly?"

"We’ve got three lots of relations in the neighbourhood," said Martha. "We’re not far from our church and my school."

"Christian school?" I asked.


"Has it got any Moslem students?" I asked.

"Most of them are Moslem," said Martha, suddenly cold-eyed and unsmiling. "The rich Moslems want their children to go to Christian schools."

"Have you got a Moslem boyfriend?"

"I don’t like Indonesian boys," said Martha, making a sour face.

"None of them?"

"None. I’ve got a pen friend." She took a photo from a pocket in her tight blouse and handed it to me.

"Where’s he from?" I said, as I studied the picture of a handsome Semitic-looking youth in his twenties.

"The Middle East. He’s Jewish."

When I visited Min, next afternoon, he was having one of his hyper days. His eyes sparkled, he was grinning from ear to ear, and his body was charged with jerky energy.

"How’s Min?" I asked Wati, who was preparing vegetables on her living-room floor.

"Fine." As she spoke, Min poked little sister Imah in the stomach. Imah looked puzzled.

"Min’s not getting any medicine these days, is he?" I said.

"He’s not, and he can still be naughty," said Wati, looking cross.

"How’s the vegetable stall?"

"Not good. We have to give money to this person and that." Wati avoided looking at me.

"Who gets money?"

"Municipal security officials, and others."

"Is this legal?"

"No. They just want money."

"Is it like that where you used to live, in Teluk Gong?"

"Not the same. In Teluk Gong we have lots of family."

"How many?"

"Lots. Uncles, nephews, cousins, grandparents."

"So people won’t take money off you."

"Some of the people around here are bad."

"How do you mean?"

"Some of them drink too much. Some of them don’t like Min."

I was beginning to get the message, and it was confirming some of the thoughts that had been floating around in my mind for some time. Wati and family wanted to return to North Jakarta.

"Do you want to go back to Teluk Gong?" I asked.

She didn’t want to offend me by replying in the affirmative. She simply carried on putting vegetables into little plastic bags.

"It’s difficult to get work here," said Gani, from the kitchen.

"If you go back to Teluk Gong," I said, "you’d need to find a house that’s better than your old one on stilts. You want a place with a proper toilet and kitchen. Are there houses like that in Teluk Gong?"

"Yes, Mr Kent," said Wati, suddenly looking happier. "Lots."

"Do you want to start looking for a house in Teluk Gong?" I asked.

"It’s up to you, Mr Kent," said Wati. I interpreted this as a ‘yes.’

"Would you sell this house here in Cipete, to get the money to buy one in Teluk Gong?" I asked.

"It’s up to you, Mr Kent," said Wati. I interpreted this as a ‘no.’

"If you didn’t sell this house, what would you do with it? Rent it out?"

"I don’t know," said Wati. It occurred to me that she had a big family and she’d be reluctant to see a house being sold.

"OK," I said. "You find a house in Teluk Gong and I’ll come and have a look at it."


One grey Friday afternoon in mid October, Min’s family invited me to the new house they had found for themselves in Teluk Gong in North Jakarta. It was not as primitive as their original Teluk Gong house, the one built on stilts, but it was in the same slum area which was largely devoid of trees and flowers. The front door looked onto a narrow, potholed, flooded street, along which travelled everything from diesel spewing trucks to trash consuming goats. To the right of the house was a yard storing battered oil drums. Across the street was a shack outside which bits of cars were being hammered and banged by mechanics.

I was greeted by Min and family at their front door.

"Nice, isn’t it?" said Wardi, as he showed me into the low-ceilinged front room, which was lit by one dim light bulb and one small window. The house was built of brick, had a toilet and a well, and upstairs there was a bedroom area.

"Yes," I said, thinking that these things are relative. I had visited the house previously but now it was looking more lived-in, as the family’s furniture had arrived. "Can you drink the water?" I asked.

"It’s too salty," said Min’s big brother, as we briefly inspected the windowless kitchen area. "We’re near the sea. But we can use the well water for washing."

"For drinking, you buy water and boil it?" I asked.

"That’s right. And we’re near our relations." Wardi was referring to the family members who still lived in the houses on stilts near the bottom end of the street.

"Min’s dad has got a job as a coolie," said a relaxed looked Wati, as we returned to the front room, "and Wardi can work with the fishing boats."

"Sounds ideal," I said. The house was as good as could be got for the price I had been prepared to pay. Wati had earlier insisted on looking at a brand new house on a nearby middle class estate but I had had to tell her that, at over ten thousand pounds sterling, it was much too expensive.

"The former owners of this place have given us the documents," said Wardi. "The house is in Min’s father’s name."

"Same as before," I said. "You’re a three house family. The house on stilts, the one in Cipete and now this one."

"Yes," said Wardi, who was looking at the concrete floor.

"Are you going to rent out the house in Cipete?" I asked, "or can Iwan, the leper kid, move in, when he comes out of hospital?"

"It’s up to you Mr Kent."

"It’s not my house. You decide," I said.

"Iwan can live there, if Mr Kent wants that," said Wati.

"OK," I said. "Iwan can move in. Min must be missing Iwan. He’s his only friend." I was always worried at Min’s lack of friends. Who but a leper child would want to befriend a mentally backward boy?

"Min’s got lots of relations here," said Wati.

I supposed he had, but would any of them take him for a walk through the kampung? I had noticed that it was mostly Gani, Min’s brother-in-law, who was delegated to come with me on walks with Min. "Shall we take Min for a walk now?" I asked.

I was pleased that on this occasion it was older brother Wardi who came with us on our saunter down the street to the area where wooden shacks and toxic mud predominated. Min, who was in a sober mood, took Wardi’s hand. We took a side lane and eventually reached the wooden home of the little twins with TB, Sani and Indra. They were still match stick children but their mum was able to show us a half empty plastic medicine container, to prove they were receiving their pills.

We continued our travels along wooden gangways and bumped into the little boy called Joko, the one with the wrinkled skin who lived with his mother in what looked like a flooded dog kennel. Joko looked worn out, like a decrepit old soldier.

"Joko’s mother died," whispered Wardi. "He’s staying with friends."

My stomach tightened. "Hello," I said to the little soul.
"Hello," he whispered.

"Where are you living?"

He pointed across the black waters of the canal to where some scavengers had built their wood and cardboard shelters.

"The authorities want to knock these shelters down," said Wardi.

"Why?" I asked.

"Maybe to widen the canal. You know they’re planning to build thousands of luxury houses around here. They might knock down our old house. The one on stilts."

It occurred to me that almost everywhere you looked in the world there was a feudal society, with the corrupt elite backed by military might; and the military might was usually backed by the Americans and the British.

As I handed Joko a small sum of money, he gave me an almost tearful smile.

I made a Saturday morning visit to the mental hospital at Babakan in Bogor. It had been praying on my conscience that, while dealing with John’s problems, I had been neglecting Daud and the other children still in the hospital. Last time I had been to Babakan, John’s friend Daud had been looking poorly. I wondered if Daud had the same diarrhoea infection that John had had.

"How’s Daud?" I asked Diana, the nurse on duty in the office within the children’s ward. She was the one who had told me she was a regular church attender.

"He’s OK. How’s John?" she said, with a look that puzzled me. Was it sympathy or sourness?

"John is cured, has put on weight, and is safely at home," I announced, triumphantly. "Can I see Daud?"

"He’s round the back," she said. She was watching TV and apparently trusted me to explore the place on my own.

In the back yard I found Daud was tied to a metal bed and he had lost a lot of weight. His eyes looked misty. His naked body was lying in a pool of diarrhoea.

"What do Daud’s parents do?" I asked Diana when I returned to the office. I had decided to avoid conflict, and be practical.

"Mother’s a nurse at the children’s clinic at the Laja Hospital," said Diana. "Father works for the government."

I wondered how a nurse could let her son get into the state that Daud was in and decided to take a trip to Bogor’s Laja Hospital to find out.

The Laja Hospital was an old government hospital, a smaller version of Jakarta’s Dipo. After making a few enquiries, I found Daud’s mother in a grubby room where she was sorting out patients’ files, prior to ending her shift. She was small, had greying hair and had the sort of serious, caring face you would expect of a good nurse. I introduced myself and explained why I was there.

"I haven’t seen Daud for some time," she admitted. "I’m grateful you’ve come."

"Has he always been backward?" I asked.

"He was normal until the age of nine. A good student at school. Then he got a fever and his brain got damaged. Meningitis. We had to put him in the Babakan Hospital because both my husband and I go out to work."

"How much do you get paid at the Laja Hospital?" I asked.

"About eighty thousand rupiahs a month. That’s about forty US dollars a month. My husband doesn’t get much more."

"If I paid you that amount, would you look after Daud at home?" I asked.

"Perhaps I could find a relative to look after him while I’m at work. We’ve been thinking about bringing him home some day. My husband’s building a room upstairs where Daud could live. Do you want to see it?"

Daud’s mum and I motored to the nearby government housing estate where Daud’s family lived. It was a place of pleasant villas, large and small, with gardens of bougainvillea and hibiscus. The largest houses were luxurious six bedroom affairs occupied by people like judges. Daud’s home was of a more modest three bedrooms. I noted it had a large TV, a music centre, two posh bicycles, a smart settee, photos of a girl still at school and a boy at university, and a big framed photo of the cute little eight-year-old schoolboy who was now in the mental hospital. Upstairs there was indeed a sunny room that had been prepared for Daud. Daud’s mum and dad were evidently doing quite well in their government jobs. I assumed there were all sorts of perks and that that was why mum did not want to give up her work as a nurse.

"I think you should take him out of the Babakan Hospital as soon as possible," I said. "When can you see him?"

"My husband will take me there this evening."

"What does your husband do for a living?"

"He works in the prison service," she said.

One November evening, I was invited by a teaching colleague called Ian to a night club in East Jakarta. Ian's thinning hair, pale face and tired-looking eyes suggested that either he was very conscientious about lesson preparation or that he spent many hours chatting to people in all-night bars. Or possibly both. Ian and I were accompanied by Ian’s silver-haired, straight backed friend called Richard. The latter, who had a touch of Bogart about him, was a former North-of-England police officer who was helping to train Jakarta’s police. I wondered if it was possible that he was working for the British secret service. Ian was single; Richard was married.

The night club was a long dark room with a small wooden stage at one end. On this stage, six shapely girls in skimpy black skirts and tight white T-shirts were dancing to Sundanese music. Brown was the colour of the walls, the soft furnishings and the paintwork around the neon-lit bar. The main clientele at that hour of the evening seemed to be small, middle-aged, male Indonesians, with enough money to buy decent shoes and suits. These gentlemen might well have been civil servants. The air carried an aroma of clove cigarette smoke and damp cellars.

"How did you find this place, Richard?" Ian asked, after we had found a table and ordered big wet Bintang beers. Ian’s lack of a smile suggested that he might have been happier in a more elegant bar at a four star hotel.

"An Indonesian police officer brought me here," said Richard. His twinkling eyes gave me the impression that he rather liked this den.

"Must be safe then," I commented. I usually enjoyed new places like this, at least for the first half hour.

"Let’s say," said Richard, "that certain army and police officers protect these clubs, for a fee. The only fighting is when different regiments fall out over territory. There was a fight around here a few months ago."

"I heard the protection doesn’t always work," said Ian, stifling a yawn.

"True," said Richard. "Last year police raided a gambling place down the road. Upstairs from the snooker. They arrested a civilian and a soldier. They found some shabu-shabu and some heroin."

"Shabu-shabu?" I asked.

"Crystal methamphetamine. A drug."

"What happened?" I said.

"The civilian got what I’d call a short sentence," explained Richard, "In court the police only produced a small part of the shabu-shabu. They said the original weighing of the drug had been inaccurate, due to faulty equipment. The soldiers were handed over to the military police but have never been prosecuted, as far as I know."

"Are you helping to improve the police?" I asked Richard.

"The traffic police are becoming more professional all the time," he said, while looking in the direction of the stage.

"I was stopped by a traffic cop last week," said Ian, in a tired voice. "I had to hand over thirty thousand rupiahs. The cop said I hadn’t seen this traffic sign, but nobody could have seen it. The money went straight into his pocket."

"That policeman probably gets paid not much more than five dollars a week," said Richard. "He can’t survive on that. His family would starve without the payoffs."

"One of our neighbours had his house burgled," said Ian. "It turned out that it was soldiers who did the robbery. They caught them but I don’t think they were punished."

"Detectives can make quite a bit of money," explained Richard. "When an arrested criminal is allowed to escape, he pays quite a lot to the detective."

"What I don’t like," said Ian, "is when soldiers are used to turf poor people off their land. Some big guy wants to build luxury houses, so he employs soldiers to demolish shacks and evict the occupants. Some poor family that’s worked hard to send its children to school loses its home."

"It’s rumoured that about half the crime in Jakarta is committed by the armed forces," said Richard, looking very slightly amused.

"Are the Americans still training Indonesian officers?" I asked.

"That stopped, didn’t it, after the massacre in East Timor, 1991?" said Ian.

"Most of the top generals and about half the other officers are American-trained," said Richard.

"But the American Congress banned funds for further training?" said Ian.

"The Pentagon has found ways to get round that," said Richard.

"Is the training improving the army?" I asked, naively.

"Who teaches torture, kidnapping and other dirty tricks to armies all around the world?" said Ian.

"The Yanks," said Richard.

"Not the Americans as such," said Ian, looking deadly serious, "but the fascist element within the Pentagon and CIA. These are the people who trained the Shah of Iran’s secret police and the people who think nothing of killing children and then putting the blame on some group of left-wingers or Moslems."

"It’s called demonisation," said Richard, "Blame everything on the Americans."

"Who should get the blame?" asked Ian. "Don’t the Americans cause most of the problems of the world?"

"There’s a bit of Henry Kissinger in all of us," said Richard. "And I think Mau was responsible for more deaths than most people."

A slim little girl, with a sweet but serious face, suddenly sat herself down at our table.

"Like to dance?" she said to Richard. Was he chosen because of his expensive suit?

"I’m married," said Richard, blushing happily, "but I need some exercise."

He got up, led the girl to a distant corner of the room, and began to dance. His body looked clumsy and convulsive. By comparison, the movements of the girl’s wrists, ankles and neck were refined, delicate and fluid.

"How are things at school?" I asked Ian, who did not seem to want to turn round to look at the dancers.

"Most of the students are wonderful, especially the Asians," said Ian. "But I had two little problems this term. A French student called Michel was behaving less than perfectly. He’s very cute-looking and thinks he can away with anything. I had a word with his mother. It seems that Michel’s dad has got himself an Indonesian girlfriend and he’s been parading her all around town. This may account for Michel’s attention seeking behaviour. The latest development is that Michel has been in hospital in Singapore recovering from meningitis. His mother says he’s better now and he promises to behave. Then there’s Nan and Maryati. They allegedly had a fight in a corridor. I phoned up Maryati’s mother and she explained that both girls are under stress. Nan’s parents, who’re Belgian, are getting divorced. Maryati’s father, who’s Dutch, has got himself an Indonesian boyfriend."

"It sounds like Britain," I commented. "Except that it’s worse in Britain. I got a letter from an old friend who’s a teacher back in England. He writes about how the majority of the children have been through divorce. His school seems to be full of disruptive schoolboys and pregnant schoolgirls."

When Richard returned from the dance floor, the girl joined us briefly at our table.

"This is Melati," said Richard. "Great dancer."

Ian surreptitiously took a card from his pocket and passed it to the girl.