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Java by Bloem: Not an ordinary tourist guide

By: Yvette Benningshof

Dutch writer Marion Bloem. Photo: Ivan Wolffers

Everyone who likes to know more about the real life of Java, and Jakarta in particular, should delve into the latest book of Marion Bloem, famous Dutch writer with Indonesian roots. ‘Java by Bloem’ is a richly illustrated book with beautiful pictures, recipes and chapters from her novels and diaries.

Java by Bloem (written in Dutch) is not an ordinary tourist guide. It’s a personal quest right trough the everlasting cross-town traffic (macet) of Jakarta, along the skyscrapers and nearby slums, to find remarkable family members and to meet people along the way. The book is a sequel of the successful ‘Bali by Bloem’ (2012). The layout is the same: wonderful personal pictures from over de last 30 years, family recipes and take outs of the numerous novels and diaries by Marion Bloem (author, painter, filmmaker) and her husband Ivan Wolffers (doctor, author).

Whereas ‘Bali by Bloem’ is more of an ‘incense-scented’ book about the paradise of Bali, where she has been writing lots of her novels, the content of ‘Java by Bloem’ is far more ‘spicy’. As Java is the political centre of Indonesia, it has a long turbulent history of Dutch colonialism, the fight for independence and finding it’s own way to build up the country. This history has affected Bloem’s family immensely.

From slum to villa

In the late seventies -before the existence of internet mind you- Bloem and her husband together with their 4-year-old son, travelled with only a list of names of family members trough Java. Packed with gifts and money from Javanese family who migrated to Holland after Indonesia’s independence. Bloem: ‘Because of this personal quest we have been at places a normal tourist wouldn’t have gone. In one day we would be visiting an aunt in the slums of Jakarta and a few hours later sit at the edge of a fishpond in the house of a judge.’

The couple has been coming back to Java (and other Indonesian islands) a number of times and they have seen it change tremendously. Despite the corruption, environmental issues and cultural curiosities the love for the country is still strong. They have been making (in secret) political films, but also movies based on novels by Bloem. Wolffers has been working at several healthcare projects focusing on aids prevention.

Ivan Wolffers (left) and Marion Bloem

Streetwise and crispy

All those personal meetings and experiences got them lots of inside information. The book gives valuable cultural info like: what to say when you are asked your religion? (Choose one that is closest to your heart.) And: Indonesians try to avoid conflict or discussion, because they don’t want to make the other feel embarrassed (malu). It gives you a hint of the many layers of which this society is based on.

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