Dear son,

meet the grandfather you never met

The grandfather you never met

Sometime in the future, you will wonder why you are here, and where did you came from. So today I want to write for you the story of my dad.

His ID card states that he was born on 1948, but actually he was older than that. Our nation was still struggling for independence (1945 was our declaration of Independence), and there was a war going on, and your great grandfather can’t register his birth date yet.

“there is so much in this country worth fighting for, even for foreigners”

He went to school at Soetomo in Medan, the ace of his class, and a son of a wealthy merchant in town and he was remembered as a handsome young man, eager to win, eager to lead. He could play this song with a piano (only one song), and he admired Mr. Soekarno very much, and spoke the way Mr. Soekarno did.

“VIVERI PERI COLOSO — The year of living dangerously”

In 1965, there was a failed coup by the Indonesian Communists party, supported by Mao’s PRC, they sent a team of soldiers to abduct the army’s generals. The Army retaliated and a purge followed, communists, and those with suspected ties with Communist China were “permanently exiled”.

Your great grandfather

At the time, he was 19–20, still in his first year studying to become a lawyer. A business partner stole all your Great Grandfather’s money and leave him with piling debt. Your great grandfather couldn’t cope with the betrayal and shame of debt, and died heartbroken, leaving his family to pay for his debts. Selling all their fortunes and spending every penny they had to pay their father’s debt, and commit to pay the rest. They tried everything, once the children of a wealthy merchant, selling clothes in a popular shop in the middle of the town, but then, they sold durians on the street.

This shop is in Medan, I took this picture in 2016, This is the shop that they sold to pay for their debts
“We sniffed durians, trying to act professional, sometimes they buy it, sometimes they don’t”

He had a girlfriend then, they exchanged rings before, and when this happened, he went to her home, as calmly as he can; explained the financial situation of his family, and returned the ring to her.

He had many friends, but few were there to help him. He tried to ask for a job from their parents, but most avoided him. It was then that he knew his true friends were.

“The rich ate with his many friends, while the poor was shunned and ate his meal in silence.”

There was nothing left for him in Medan, so when one his friends offer him a job in Jakarta, he took it, and send the money back to Medan for his family and to support his younger brother’s college tuition.

“Hunger is a powerful motivation”
The lover

It was there that he met your grandmother, she was still young, working in a tailor, sewing clothes day and night, but fate met them together, and they fell in love. A boy from Medan, and a girl from Pontianak, shared the same tribulation, they were far from home, and they loved each other. So they chose to get married.

“In retrospect, love tend to make you blind. But marriage is a great eye opener.”

They rented and live in a 12 square meters house (room). Your uncle was born, and your grandma’s milk can’t flow, so he need money to buy formula milk. At that time, they were broke, he can’t even buy his own cigarette, and once he picked cigarette butts to smoke.

Him with uncle Himawan
Your grandfather, your uncle Himawan, and your grandmother

Feeling down, he went to Ancol beach, and cried alone. He confessed to me that, although he didn’t believe in God (yet), he prayed,

“God, have mercy on me, just one shot, so I can gain a foothold under your heavens.”

And something caught his attention, a ship was pouring sand and clay into the beach (Ancol was being reclaimed that year). So he taught, they must of need bamboos for their soil compaction. So the next day, he rode his motorcycle to Ancol, and park a kilometer before, and walked to the construction office (so nobody would know, he rode a motorbike there). After he got there, he went to the toilet, comb his hair, wash his face, and wore his best shirt, his ties, and got out, pretending like he came there riding a car, ask for an appointment for their boss, and pretending like he owned a huge bamboo trading company.

“First impression matters, it’s what people remember”

SO he got an appointment, straight to their boss, a Japanese man. That day, he brought a carefully printed “company profile”, and met that man. They have a wonderful conversation, the Japanese man trusted your grandfather, and agreed for my father to arrange a meeting with “his friend Bang Ali” the governor of Jakarta with him.

“The governor thought, I must be a really good friend of the Japanese, and must of have good connections, so he agreed for the meeting. While the Japanese thought that I must of been a really powerful Indonesian, to have a friend like the Governor of Jakarta”
In front of “his” truck

And that’s how he owned his first “company”. The first payment he got, he spend it to buy dozens and dozens of formula milk.

“I thought, even if they knew I lied, at least my son had his milk”

At first, he supplied bamboos, then soil, sands, and other materials. He acquired from their business with the Japanese, his capital.

“At that moment, I stored my wealth in gold bars”

But then reclamation project was over, and your grandfather, made his trading company into a construction company. He built small houses and sold them. After the company got running, he invited his older brother to come to Jakarta, and handed him the company. But somehow, after a series of unsuccessful startups, he lost all of his capital except for the one house he built, and lived in.

“I was young and reckless, I tried to gain fast money, thinking that I was too smart, and the market must of follow my speculation. “

It was a tough time for him, so your great aunt’s husband help him, and invite him to join in the greeting card business. He found that there was almost no risk in that business. So he started a printing company in his house, with a small machine he invented, and operate it by himself. This time he took less risks, asked lots of advice, and learn from fellow experienced printers.

“I didn’t sleep, I work day and night, operating it, your mother can’t sleep too, because the machine was in our bedroom”
A machine like this one

Later, he would buy an offset Machine, and they started PT. Subahtera Semesta Graphika in 1983.

“We didn’t have the good machine, our operators are not the best yet; but we keep their trust. Lot’s of printers says “Trust is the most important asset”, but let me ask you a question; when there is a problem, a mistake, rejects, what do you keep? the customer’s trust? or their money?”

Me and your grandfather

I was born in 1981 (I was the fourth of his children), I remember our home in Pluit Raya, there were always relatives who lives with us, no matter how hard we struggled. Because your grandfather thought that, even though he was not the eldest, everyone counts on him. He tried to help any relatives who need a place to stay, get them on their feet, and support them.

“Brothers and sisters are inseparable, I know you all well, cooperate, you can’t do anything alone, only your siblings can be absolutely trusted. I know, because I raised you all.”

We rarely see him, he was busy with his work, devoting himself to ensure the survival of his company. It was on Sundays that he would take us together to movies. Oh how he loved movies, and then took us to dinner. Then go shopping, most of the time just to buy groceries, but we would make sure it include lots of snacks.

“I want our time to be special, I was seldom home”

Sometimes he would go home angry, most of the time it would mean a not paying customer. Your grandmother would have to face him while we all hide, pretending we were sleeping. His anger was explosive but short, he never use his hand while angry, because he knew his temper. Anger was his coping mechanism, his outlet of stress.

“Out there I work like a slave, people would be very mean and lie all the time; it’s just how we survive. Homo homini lupus. They just want their family fed. That’s why God gave you brain, use it.”

Usually he worked until late night, and when he went home sometimes he would bring some char kwetiau, then me, your uncles, your aunt, we would all jump from bed, run to open the door and share his meal. He ate only a half portion, and the other half would be mixed with rice, and poured some soy sauce on it, just so the 5 of us could all have a taste. That’s why all your uncle and aunt love char kwetiau, it reminds us of paternal love.

“Childre-en, kwetiau! open the door ple-ease…”
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