Tuesday, 21 July 2009

20 August 1942

Out yesterday only one hour, 3 to 4 pm.  One ball game for veterans over 45.  New Officer.  Light dim all last night. No alarm.


Talking with my neighbour No.315 Mr Mingail, about the Port Said nuisance, he told me an amusing story of the experience of a friend of his in that sink of iniquity.  One form of nuisance which I have omitted to mention is to be found in the conjurors and sleight of hand merchants who seem to be the first on board when a ship docks.  This specialty seems to be the producing and causing to vanish of day old chicks but the programme is varied by sleight of hand with coins etc.  On this occasion the conjuror had as usual succeeded in collection a small crowd of passengers around him by various feats of his art when he suddenly said, ‘Will one gentleman give me a £1?’  A spectator handed over a £1 note (the sap) and the conjuror then said to him, ‘Now, gentleman, must say what I say – quick!’  After repeating ‘Go'!’, ‘Come back’, etc while the £1 note, in the hands of the conjuror disappeared and reappeared accordingly, the rascal said, ‘Now gentleman say quick, ‘Run like the devil.’  The gentleman did and the conjuror did, to the great amusement of the other spectators and to the great discomfort of the gentleman concerned, leaving him a poorer, sadder and, let us hope, a wiser man.

I made the acquaintance of some nice people on board, particularly a Mr & Mrs Templeton and a Miss Lund.  The Templetons were a Scotch couple.  Templeton himself being a mining engineer employed at the mines in Ipoh, FMS (Federated Malay States), returning to duty after furlough.  Miss Lund was a middle aged little woman who was going to an estate in Java as governess to the manager’s little daughter.  Mrs Templeton undertook to assist me with Malay and, thanks to her helpful hints, when I arrived in Singapore I was fairly capable of making my wants known in that language.  Unfortunately, however, these studies did not help me, when I reached Java, where Malay differs greatly from that spoken in the British settlements.  The Malay language of Java and other parts of the Dutch East Indies is very much influenced by Dutch and even remnants of Portuguese.  I refer, of course, to the colloquial form.  Books and newspapers are printed in pure Malay and can be read anywhere by those who understand the pure tongue.  Miss Lund, who had held a position in Java before and although she could not speak Dutch, was able to help me considerably with that language by her knowledge of it otherwise.  It is quite common to find British people, but especially the English, in Java, who understand Dutch but who do not speak it, either because they dare not, or, as I personally am inclined to believe, because they will not on lamentable conservative principle.  We arrived eventually at Colombo where (all I can recall on that occasion) a party of us visited Mount Lavinia Hotel, picturesquely situated on the sea shore.  I can also remember how interested I was in the carved, so called ebony, elephants which were being offered for sale along the approach to the hotel.  The next port of call was Penang where my friends the Templetons disembarked.  They spent the day in Penang, however, and we had a pleasant lunch together in one of the hotels there where I was introduced to the repast known as ‘rice table’, or rijst tafel is it is called in the Indies, where, I understand, it originated. No guide book of the Dutch East Indies or book of memoirs describing a visit to these delectable isles, would be complete without a chapter devoted to the description and the delights of rijstaffel.  Although these rambling jottings are neither the one nor the other I shall, however, endeavour to describe rijstaffel procedure.  The dish varies greatly in scope and variety but to give an idea of rijstaffel in its most comprehensive and expansive state I cannot do better than take as an example the serving of it as extended at a first class hotel in Java, imagesuch as, for instance, Hotel des Indes in Batavia.image 




Imagine yourself sitting in the large dining room there, preferably under one of the many ceiling fans and that you have decided to indulge in rijstaffel.  Having given your order to the ‘boy’ who waits on your table, the decks, so to speak, are first of all cleared for action by the removal of such appurtenance before you as pertain to the eating of European food and the setting before you of a deep soup plate (in some hotels almost twice normal size) a smaller flat plate on the left, and a knife, fork and spoon.  The fork and spoon are the actual weapons with which the dish is attacked, the knife only being brought into action occasionally in cutting a piece of meat etc.  In due course, a ‘boy’ appears at your elbow offering white boiled rice in a large bowl.  Turning to help yourself to rice you will notice a second ‘boy’ behind the first, a third behind the second and so on apparently ad infinitum.  If this is your first experience of rijstaffel you may be pardoned if your first inclination is to bolt from the literal chain of events which your simple order has put into operation.  From your table, winding like a snake among the other tables in the dining room, right to the entrance to the kitchen, in a procession of dusky, white clad waiters, each bearing a dish in each hand.  And as each submits his particular offering and moves on, it seems that another adds himself to the chain emerging from the kitchen until you feel that you are doomed for the rest of your life to being served only and that the time will never come when you will be allowed to start eating.  The second ‘boy’ presents a greenish liquid which is a sort of soup of green vegetables and which serves more or less to dampen the rice already heaped on your plate.  Thereafter in succession you are offered a truly bewildering variety of dishes representing fish, meat, poultry, vegetables etc in a myriad disguises, practically all flavoured and spices with strange and assorted sauces.  Meat appears, in addition to plain sliced roast, shredded and fried mixed with grated coconut for mixture, chicken livers and kidneys diced floating in a brown sauce, fish friend or salted, eggs smothered in curry sauce or other condiment, cucumber garnished with Spanish pepper, chicken roast or curried, oysters and shrimps boiled or fried with various sauces and a countless assortment of concoctions in which fried bananas, tomatoes, peanuts, grated coconut are mixed, each having its distinctive flavour depending on the mixture and spices and sauces employed.  Without foreknowledge or more or less expert advice in choosing these dishes, you will probably feel that the top of your head has blown off as the result of your having unwittingly put into your mouth a spoonful of skillfully camouflaged chili peppers.  For real, rip snorting dynamite, I commend you to the chili peppers (tjabe) of Java.  You are, of course, perfectly free in your choice and selection of the dishes offered you but there is a real art in knowing what to accept or refuse and also how much, or rather how little, of each dish.  if you are tempted to take large portions from, say, the offerings of the first 10 boys you will be sorely put to it to find room on your plate and side plate for the very appetising looking dishes which ‘boy’ number 26 or 27 presents to you.  Generally speaking, the side plate is used for pieces of meat, game, fish etc, the cutting up of which would be impracticable on the deep plate which is heaped with rice and the other 57 varieties.  In the actual eating of rijstaffel you may mix the whole up together, thus combining all taste and flavours, or you may flit from meat to fish, fish to chicken etc achieving a different effect on the palate which each accompanying spoonful of rice.  By the time you are finished eating, you will feel that you will not require another bite of food for another week at least and your immediate desire will be to retire to your bedchamber and to spend the next 3 hours in profound meditation.


Out from 3 to 4.15 pm.  One ball game.  A chap named McLaren in the East Wing got a nasty smack on the nose playing ball last week and was afraid it might be broken.  He went on sick report and the doc without even examining or feeling his nose prescribed him some aspirin powders.  My neighbour, Mingail, who has a sprained ankle goes to the doctor tomorrow and we are expecting that the treatment in his case will be a dose of castor oil

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