Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Epilogue):

The view of Surabaya Juanda airport apron on 9th December 1997, upon arriving back from Perth, Australia, via Denpasar, Bali. In the foreground is Garuda Indonesia’s brand new Airbus A330-300 PK-GPE, and next to it is the old Airbus A300B4-FFCC PK-GAD. One unidentified Sempati Air’s Fokker 100 is visible in the background.  

Despite of my firm plan to continue study in Australia, things turned out to work against my favor.

The economic crisis that forced the premature end of Thai students in St. Mark’s apparently also affecting me, in a very big way. By the end of 1997, the Asian Economic crisis had deeply affecting my country. It didn’t just crippling the economy. It also triggered severe political crisis in the following year that led to major riots, terrorist attacks, civil unrests, and even toppling of our president!

The scene of Soeharto’s resignation in 1998. BJ Habibie (right) eventually sworn in as his successor.

This was a stark contrast on the first 2/3 of 1997 where everything looked great, the economy was strong, and Indonesia was a country with pride. By 1998, Indonesia was a pariah state in the region. As a result, people from around the world perceived Indonesia as the country riddled with social unrests, and debilitating economic crisis. This also made applying for visa to Australia becomes increasingly complicated task, when compared to early 1997.

Under such circumstances, it was virtually impossible for me to return back and resume my study in Australia. Even traveling to the countryside was a horrifying experience as riots, killings, and lynching was common in 1998.

In the end, I had no choice but to study in Indonesia. And it was quite a culture shock too. Because after experiencing study in first world country, with top quality environment, I had to be contend with adjusting with the backward environment. It was a gut wrenching moment for me.

The economic and social unrest problems were eventually resolved. And Indonesia becomes a stable and peaceful country again, albeit now a democratic one. But this happens long after I graduate from my college study in Indonesia, in mid 2000s. By this time, any hope of taking undergraduate study in Australia has been vaporized.

And I never get any chance to study Multimedia at all, as the course were not available “in top universities in Indonesia”, much to my chagrin. I initially took course in one top private university in Surabaya, but in IT. Although related to computer, I was totally disappointed by the lack of joy on doing that. I eventually abandoned the study, and took another study in Bandung in early 2000s. This time it is Hotelier. The reason why I took such dramatic turn was to look for the easiest study, with big working opportunity. Although I graduated the latter, it is far cry from Multimedia study that I was dreaming of.

Me during my college graduation in Bandung, with my girlfriend. She has almost similar appearance to Denise, ranging from her eyes, cheek, and even her fair skin!


St. Mark’s International College

I’ve never seen the college since I left Australia. In early 2000s, one of my friends did also attend the same college. But he said that things have changed back then. The football pitch and tennis court have been demolished, and in its place a condominium complex. Majority of the lecturers, who taught me, and also many staffs, have also left the college by the time my friend came.

The college itself soldiered on for several years before abruptly closed on 29th January 2010, owing to the financial difficulty of its parent company: GEOS, forcing them to close down all of their Australian business premises. Months later, in April 2010, the company itself went bankrupt. These sending its students in limbo, although I later heard that they were eventually accommodated in other colleges.

The news about the abrupt end of St. Mark’s International College in 2010. A few months later, its parent company GEOS also went bankrupt.

The campus was quickly abandoned, and later demolished in late 2011. Not all buildings were demolished. The classic building (which was used for computer classes and administration office) that is facing Stirling Street is retained, due to its heritage listed status. It is now used by another college named “Kingston International College”.

The old St. Mark’s administration building is now used by Kingston International College, while the remainder of the campus were demolished in 2011 to make way for new apartment complex.

But my classroom building, the courtyard with the fountain where I would mingle with friends like Heinz or Sung Ho, the canteen where I would chat with Keiko after class hours, the library where I would browse internet for hours and where Denise “kissed” me, the sport hall, and the swimming pool where I watched Denise doing “striptease”, are all now sadly gone. In its place now a new apartment complex has been built. Aptly named: St. Mark’s Apartments!

Just for added note: the neighboring Pacific Motel has also been demolished and replaced with apartment complex. It closed down a few years before St. Mark’s do so, and sat derelict and abandoned for some years before being demolished a year after St. Mark’s campus.

Sung Ho-Park

For a few years after I last saw him in Australia, I still maintained contact with him. We frequently corresponding each other through mails. We often exchange letters, and telling each other’s story and tale. Of all friends from my time in Australia he was the most enthusiastic to get in touch with. From what I read from his letter, he seemed to be really happy to hear news from me.

A letter from Sung Ho Park.   

If that’s not enough, one day he sent me a box of ginseng tea! Ginseng is a highly popular herbal ingredient from Korea, so it’s not surprising that the Koreans are really proud of it. The story was, one day I receive a letter from post office, which asked me to pick an item from South Korea. At first, I was curious. Normally he would reply my letter with another letter, but this time is different. I went to the designated post office to pick up the item. And the postal worker gave me a small box. Upon opening the box, I found out that its content were a box of ginseng tea, plus reply letter from Sung Ho. That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever received from Sung Ho. Thank you for that!

With the advent of e-mail, we began to switch to this brand new piece of technology, and also saving us from spending money for letter, stamp, and postal delivery cost. It was really practical.

Unfortunately, when I moved to Bandung in early 2000s, I began to struggle to find way to communicate with him. Internet accessibility was difficult at that time. And thanks to my hectic schedule, the gap between logging in to my e-mail can last more than a month. This was the time when smartphone and WiFi was yet to be invented.

Once I didn’t log in to my e-mail account for more than a month. This lapse made the provider automatically deleting my account, and effectively cutting off my communication with Sung Ho Park.

These days, I occasionally browse social media or Google, and trying to find out where he is. Unfortunately, it yields no result. There are many Koreans whose are named “Sung Ho Park”, including some prominent figures too, but none resemble my former classmate.


Heinz Gubler

Just like Sung Ho, I also keep communicating with Heinz through letter and later e-mail. Being the first European close friend that I have, his letter was definitely special.

Me and Heinz Gubler, posing at the fountain in St. Mark’s courtyard. I thought the aviator sunglass was cool, but in retrospect it looks ridiculous.

Contrary to Sung Ho, Heinz stories were more colorful.

The first page of Heinz letter which mentioning about his return for another trip in Australia with his girlfriend.

The second page also explain his Australian adventure, but also his joblessness, and his amazement in befriending Asians for the first time.

The third page is his criticism of isolationist attitude of Swiss Germans, and also his suggestion to have another larger trip (which never materialize).

He kept himself busy getting involved in one adventure to another, plus his engineering works. He traveled to exotic places, either in other part of Australia or even the world. He sometime explains his stories about traveling to Africa, America, climbing some mountains in Europe, or work visits to North America and Japan.

Heinz Gubler during a trip to San Fransisco, United States, in 2005.

Unlike Sung Ho, the time it takes to reply my letters were much longer. The reason was because he would only reply my letter upon returning back to his house in Switzerland. That makes sense as I would normally send his letter to his Swiss address, therefore he would only manage to write reply letter when he was at home.

And just like Sung Ho, unfortunately our communication was severed when I moved to Bandung and frequently went offline. My effort to find him through internet social media often failed. I found some Swiss people with similar name as his, but none resemble him.

But my attempt to find him latter on through Google was fruitful! Upon looking at the images of person named “Heinz Gubler” in Google in 2013, I stumbled across his photos, taken in 2007. He barely changes after a decade since the last time I saw him. Although his nationality is listed as “Switzerland”, I had a feeling at one point he spends more time in America than in his home country.

I made some attempt to contact him, initially through his employer, but later through one community group. The leader of the group knows him, and do helped me to find him out, despite the fact that he haven’t contacted him since 2014. And the effort proved fruitful as I finally able to reconnect with Heinz, after almost 2 decades of absence.

We gleefully still corresponding each other through e-mail. Normally he would reply my e-mails once every week. I also learn that he also still correspond with Milo, our former teacher in St. Mark’s. Although he doesn’t openly say this, he has also moved out from his old house in Winznau since his split with his fiancée.


Alvin Adhitya

Alvin was my closest Indonesian friend when I was in St. Mark’s. And naturally I would still retain contact with him beyond my study in Australia. Unlike me, he fared better as he was able to resume his study in Australia despite of the economic crisis back home. Alvin eventually took Marketing study in Murdoch University.

A letter from Alvin. If I’m not mistaken this was written at the end of his study. 

Although he was able to study in Australia, the effect of Asian economic crisis was palpable to him. He mentioned in his letters that the number of Asian students, especially from the countries that were hardest hit by Asian economic crisis like Thailand or Indonesia, dwindled as his study progressed. He even moved from affluent neighborhood to a shared flat in lower middle class neighborhood in Perth metropolitan area to save money.

Despite of financial adversities faced by students from Indonesia due to Asian economic crisis, Alvin also witnessed deplorable and absurd sight where small number of Indonesian students flaunted their wealth (like riding expensive cars on regular basis or showing off their expensive accessories). These Indonesian students even frequently skipped class and often not passing semesters. These spoiled students definitely wasted their parent’s money. We were wondering whether if they came from a very rich family with strong connection with Soeharto regime who could afford to avoid the effect of the economic crisis?

The riots and fall of Soeharto was also covered in a very different way from Indonesian media, who up to Soeharto’s fall was tightly controlled. Alvin frequently sent me newspaper clippings from Australian newspaper that covering the event and it was presented in much more vulgar manner than what you find in Indonesian newspapers.

A Sunday Times caricature in 1998 that praising Frank Sinatra and mocking Soeharto. Frank Sinatra dies at around the same time as Soeharto’s fall from power.

Just like Sung Ho and Heinz, I lost contact with Alvin when I moved out from Surabaya in early 2000s. We never made any effort to correspondent through e-mail, so I lost contact with him. I assume that he might graduate from his study in Murdoch University sometime in 2004 or 2005, and probably took a job in Indonesia.

I tried to search for him through internet, either through social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc; or Google search. But it didn’t yield any result. Just like Sung Ho, all of the people named “Alvin Adhitya” on the internet don’t resemble him.

I do find one person named “Alvin Aditya” in Facebook who studied in Murdoch University. But he is way younger than my former classmate, and graduated recently (in 2018). Obviously this person is not him.


Shiraj Family

I never made any contact with them since my return from Australia. For years, I never caught up with them. But sometime in early 2000s, during a holiday in Bali, I stumbled across them when the whole family (including Shah Jehan) was vacationing there. Both Suhail and Shimla have grown up, and Feroza gave birth to the couple’s third child. Shah Jehan has graduated from Edith Cowan University, and about to move to Australia east coast for work. But I didn’t ask whether if Siraj have found better job.

That was the last time I saw them. I haven’t stay in touch with them since.


Other Indonesian Friends

I generally never made any contact with my Indonesian friends other than Alvin, beyond the conclusion of my study in St. Mark’s. But my friend who came to study in St. Mark’s in early 2000s said that he did catch up with Hudi. He said that Hudi still lives in Perth, with a Japanese girl who was said to be my former classmate.  What did he do back then was never mentioned.

Decades later in Facebook, I found out the news about my former college mates from Indonesia. It’s truly surprising to see them growing up. I could identify some of them, while others I forgot. But I do notice one profile with undercover name that I assume to be Hudi, as he seems to try to be the popular guy in the forum (like what he always did when he was still in the St. Mark’s college). The profile name is “Hoodie Hoodie”. The fact that he uses fake name do raised question whether if he lives in Australia illegally (maybe to avoid law enforcement to catch up with him) or probably involved in the city’s underworld criminal gangs….


Other Asian Friends

Just like most friends from my St. Mark’s day in Perth, West Australia, I do not make any effort to remain in contact with them. I mostly lost contact with many of them.

But one exception was Reiko Matsui. For some period after I return back to Indonesia, we often exchange letters and postcards. She often tell her stories and very much respective towards me. Unfortunately, just like many of my friends from this period, we lost contact when I moved out to Bandung in early 2000s.

A postcard from Reiko Matsui. You can partly see her face on the sticker on lower left of the postcard. She is the girl on the left in that small picture.

With the advent of internet social media in late 2000s, I tried to regain contact with them, although it is mostly futile. But once I came across Ake’s profile in Facebook. I tried to add him, but he seems to have rejected my request. Possibly because he forgot who I am, considering how long we haven’t talked to each other.


Other European Friends

Although I frequently mingled with Swiss students during break, I never made any attempt to remain in contact with many of them. And although I did keep the contact address of the Swiss French, I never made any effort to correspondent with them after I return back home. Considering of the more hospitable attitude of the Swiss French, I believe I would have been much closer with them than their German counterparts.

I was wondering, had smartphone and internet social media were already popular back then, I would still remain in contact with them. Alas back then the only way to communicate reliably was through snail mail. Conventional international phone call is prohibitively expensive. And the usage of e-mail was quite unfamiliar back then.

Perhaps the only person in this category that I made contact beyond my study in Australia was Maria Lüchinger. Maria is close friend of Denise. Whenever I chatted with Denise or Heinz, Maria would join our conversation along.  Although her English was quite poor, and she was hesitant to interact with foreigners, it didn’t prevent us from exchanging mails after we left Australia.

For 2-3 years we exchange letters. My letters to her were normally delivered at the same time as Denise. But Maria replies were often quicker to arrive, and have longer content than Denise. That is despite of her poor English.

Upon reading her letter, I was quite surprised by the amount of traveling she had done in a year. She mentioned her story of traveling to Uluru in Central Australia, or somewhere in Mediterranean. She didn’t always travel with Denise, as she would sometime do solo traveling. The Swiss must have been very rich! She is around the same age as me, and despite the fact that she worked in blue collar workforce, she could afford to travel around the world during her summer holidays.

Just like all friends from St. Mark’s, I lost contact with her when I change college in early 2000s. For long period, I lost contact with her. But I briefly caught the glimpse of her on Facebook in 2013. Her face remains unchanged, although now she is sporting short hair. She has since married and has children. My attempt to reconnect with her, by trying to add her in Facebook, proved futile as she didn’t respond my friendship request.


Denise Loher

Denise is the one of the main reason why I fondly remember the year 1997. It can be said that she is the first girl that I get deeply infatuated with. I was madly in love with her. All despite the fact that she was already in relationship with someone back home in Switzerland, and admittedly she sometime perceived my infatuation to her as occasional annoyance.

Her presence truly gave a very beautiful color to my life in Australia. Thanks to her, I can overcome my shyness when dealing with Europeans. And it turn, I become attracted to European ladies! Even considering marrying white girl so I can have Eurasian offspring!

Just like other friends from St. Mark’s I do maintain contact with her for several years in late 1990s. I frequently send her letters. Indeed the first letter that I send to her was when I was still in Australia (although I asked her to send the reply letter to my Indonesian address). I initially thought she would probably ignore my letter, as I notice that in latter months she got bored with me.

Postcards from Denise Loher. The one in the above is the very first postcard that I received from her, while the one on the bottom was probably the last. She did send several, but only these two that I have right now.  

But to my surprise, she did reply my letter! Not just once, but whenever I send her letter she would always sending back her reply. Although it came in a form of postcard (quite a stingy reply for my lengthy letter) but whenever I receive her reply postcard, it felt like heaven. It always felt like seeing her coming back. And holding the postcard with her handwriting felt like holding her hand. It was beyond words, as I find it quite difficult to describe how happy I was. These feelings stemmed to the fact that I was addicted and obsessed with her. The fact that she was the first person that I was deeply infatuated with made her like an addictive drug for me, a very powerful one.

Although she left the college earlier than I did, it took me long to get over her. In fact for several years I was still obsessed with her. She always appeared on my mind, making other girls unattractive to me. I did my best to get her away my mind by trying to make myself getting obsessed with “impossible girls” (like some famous actress or musicians). My object of infatuation (in order to get away from Denise’s charm) was the actress Jennifer Love Hewitt.

At one point I nearly caught up with her again, when I visited Switzerland in early 1999. Prior to my arrival, I did actually informing her about my upcoming visit. And we promised to catch up once I arrive in Switzerland, with the help of my sister who lived in Switzerland. But alas, since I traveled with my overbearing parents, they forbade me from seeing Denise. They probably did not approve my relationship to her either. My failure to visit Denise’s hometown probably upsetting her, and it was well reflected in one of her postcard that I received upon returning back home, as she expressed her disappointment over my failure to visit her place.

With the growing awareness of technology, we began to switch our communication method from conventional snail mail, to modern e-mail. It is much faster and also way cheaper. In fact it allowed us to express ourselves in a new and high-tech way, like sending animated greeting cards using Blue Mountain website. I always feel overjoyed when I receive her animated greeting cards.

However, all came to an end when I moved to other city from Surabaya in early 2000s. And as a result of long lapse from getting online, my e-mail account accidentally got deleted and I lost contact with Denise. As a result, I wasn’t able to communicate with her for long period, too long actually. Not for months, or a few years. Indeed I ended up not communicating with Denise for more than a decade!

In process, I eventually able to get over her, not obsessed with her anymore and finally able to get normal life again (although at the time when I write this, I still remain single). At some point in Bandung, I am able to build relationship with some girls (although I have since split with them).  Surprisingly, many of them have similar physical trait to Denise: all have bright skin, partial Germanic appearance (owing to strong presence of Eurasian in Bandung), and also baby face look. This left me wondering whether if I was actually able to get over Denise.

In early 2010s, my interest on Denise began to resurface. With the help of internet social media like Facebook (or its predecessor like Friendster), I began to type Denise full name: “Denise Loher”. In return, I found several profiles named “Denise Loher”. Majority is Swiss, but there are some Americans, Australians, Brazilians, or British of Swiss German ancestry.  However, all have similarity that none resemble Denise at all!

I began to wonder whether if Denise were still around? Have she passed away, perhaps became victim of some accidents or incidents in the past? Or maybe she lives under different name nowadays? (After some browsing in Google, I found out that the latter is what is actually happening).

Despite of this adversity, I kept searching in Google for a person named “Denise Loher” who lives in Montlingen, Switzerland. Just like previous effort, it initially yields no positive result. I either find girls that are too young for her, or simply look different.

But one day in 2013, I browse for some images at Google. I curiously looked at some pictures. One of the women in the photos looks suspiciously familiar. I see a photo of a group of women from one school in Montlingen. They’re probably teachers and managers of the school. Although the image of the persons looks small, I can clearly see that in the middle is one lady in her late 30s with very familiar facial feature. Although she looks quite old, her face have Germanic baby face look that I used to be familiar with. That’s Denise!

Elderly Denise (middle) during an award ceremony in Switzerland, sometime in late 2000s.

I quickly opened the website, and found out that Denise is now working in that school. I presume she is the manager of that school, as I have sketchy knowledge of German language. And now I realize that her name is now Denise Hutter! I searched for “Denise Hutter” from Montlingen on Google and, voila! There she is! I found many of Denise’s recent photos in it.

Denise (second from left) posing with her working mates. She already gained weight, and looks completely different than 1997.

Denise is now much older. She has also gained weight, and her face is partly wrinkled as she has aged. Not as smooth like what I used to see. She has also dyed her hair dark (she used to have dirty blonde hair when I last saw her in 1997), and sporting longer hair. But despite of those changes, her face is generally still the same.

Close up photo of Denise while carrying her son, sometime in 2011 or 2012.

Then I searched on Facebook for the profile, and surprise! She’s there! I promptly added her, hoping that she would respond positively. A few days later, I receive notification that she accepted my friend request.

Despite of this positive progress, I initially hesitant to message or even commenting on her photos, thinking that she may have forgotten me, or just doesn’t want to be disturbed.

However things change when one day she made the first move by messaged me through the FB private message feature (PM). She asked my name and also if I used to attend the college in Perth, West Australia, back in 1997 in which I said yes. She is overjoyed and really happy that she finally able to catch up with me again. I was quite surprised by such response, considering that when we last met she seem to get bored with me. She is asking about me, where I live now, what I do, and etc. We also discussing about our former college, and also the fact that it has been closed down and demolished.

Now for the moment of truth: Denise revealed that she is now married to her former boyfriend. He is the same guy that made me curious, and broke my heart upon knowing that Denise already in relationship, back in 1997. They married in 2000. And Denise said she did returning back again to Australia for honeymoon, although this time she went to Sydney for caravan trip.

Under legal rules in Europe, once a woman is married she will replace her own family name with the one from her husband. And since her husband’s family name is “Hutter”, her legal name is now “Denise Hutter-Loher” or simply “Denise Hutter”. In addition, she has given birth to two little babies whom are now grown up already. Her children are even older than my nephew.

I think it was quite a blessing that we lost contact on that period. Had I know back then that she marries; I would have been overwhelmed with sadness and would probably go insane too! Now it is confirmed that my hope to have our relationship to be more than just a friend, is now gone. The door has been closed!

But now I sincerely accept the situation. From the start, it was actually impossible to marry her. Not because of her nationality or different cultural background; but due to her age, changing behavior and the fact that she is still in relationship. Not to mention that my overbearing parents would disapprove it, adding too much weight to an already arduous effort. So I decided to relent and let her go.

Still, my feelings towards her don’t prevent me from getting too emotional with her and acting foolish. One day I shared all of her past photos that I took with my camera to her. The problem was, instead of sending them discreetly, I delivered them through the FB Timeline or tagging her face. This caused some furors and embarrassment on her. Apparently she doesn’t want her husband and children know about her past relationship with me or Heinz. She asked me not to do that, and wants me to stay away from her private life. I apologized and decided to take out whatever material that was deemed offensive to her.

Then her Facebook profile seems to go silent. My messages often went unanswered. Her last reply said that she is busy and struggled to find time to use internet. She also admitted that she is not really familiar with Facebook, so she asked me to understand about that. I acknowledge and decided to stay away briefly from her. That seem to be my final conversation with her as by following year she have unfriended my Facebook profile, and her profile also haven’t been updated since 2014.

I don’t know whether if it was really the end of my relationship with her, or perhaps I must lay my wish to see her again to rest. But I’m very happy to have known her, and very grateful that she made my coming of age era a very beautiful one.


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Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 30):

My last day in Australia, finally came. After months of fun times in Perth, it’s finally time for me to bid farewell to all of these beautiful things. I woke up in the morning, on 9th December 1997, with a rather heavy feeling. I feel like I don’t want to part ways and wished if I could stay longer. But then again, those who made my days very colorful in Australia have already gone. So it was inevitable that I have to go home. Besides that, my student visa will also expire at the end of the year.

I woke up and then having breakfast before taking shower. While preparing, I caught up with Feroza. She has recovered, but her facial expression looks feeble. I asked her about how condition and also has he feel better now. Normally she would reply in long and cheerful manner, but this time she only faintly replying “Yes”. Her walking also looks rather wobbly. Surprisingly, Shiraj have also return back home and act as if nothing unusual ever happened last night. Due to the sensitive nature of last night’s incident, I decided not to discuss anything about it with him.

Once I dressed up, my parents coming over to pick me up. They were greeted by Shiraj and also the kids. Wahyu and Shah Jehan also greet them, while Feroza looks unusually reserved. My parents, upon seeing rather tattered condition asked if she is alright. Feroza replied that she was just unwell. Still, my parents were not convinced as her appearance contrasting to her previous appearance when she met my parents.

After loading my entire luggage to the taxi (well almost, as I later learned that I forgot to load minor items), I shook hand with everyone. Shiraj and Shah Jehan hug me and saying that they will miss me. Shiraj also said that I’ve been the nicest kid that ever took tenancy in his house. Feroza, still reeling from last night drama, looked on with empty gaze. Had she was in good health, she would surely bid me farewell with much warmer manner. Wahyu also bid me farewell. “Well, I will be Shiraj’s only adult son now!” he smirks.

I boarded the taxi with a rather heavy feeling. Now I’m leaving the city that I once considered as “home away from home”. Perth has been a very peaceful yet exciting place to be. I’ve had the happiest moment in my life yet in here, and I feel like I don’t want to part way with it. I’ve meet the loveliest people, experiencing finest moment in my life, and learning new things in fun and exciting way in Perth. It’s just so difficult for me emotionally to leave these all behind.

Perth city as seen in 1997. 

We drove along rather quiet streets of Perth in the morning. Although it was a working day, busy commuter traffic didn’t exist, or not that I remember. Probably because we traveled through the areas that doesn’t have many schools, that I didn’t see many traffic.

Once our taxi entered Horrie Miller Drive, I began to feel nervous yet also excited.

Horrie Miller Drive was the main access road to Perth International Airport.

We’re getting near to Perth airport, and obviously my time in Perth, and Australia, is numbered. As soon as we arrive at the airport terminal, my father paid the taxi bill and we disembark from the taxi as well as offloading our luggage. I grab one of the trolleys and place all of our belongings there. We then proceed to the check in counter.

Row of luggage trolleys at Perth International Airport. I can’t recall if it was free or already paid in 1997.

We checked in our luggage and selected our seats. As soon as we got our boarding passes, we went straight into the boarding lounge. Perth airport was a rather small airport with very little to offer, so it was plausible that we went straight to the boarding lounge. The passport checking went without any hitch, and before long we already sat in the waiting lounge.

The boarding lounge of Perth International airport as seen in 1998, before major renovation in mid 2000s. It was like this in 1997.

This was the first time that I visited the airport in broad daylight. On previous occasions (during my arrival, and also when I picked up my parents), it was all in the dark. So for the first time, I can get clear view on how does the airport looks like.

In the apron, there were several airplanes parked. Most are Qantas  and Ansett planes. There was one Garuda airplane, which is Boeing 747-200.

Garuda Indonesia Boeing 747-200 at Zurich airport.

Had I choose to fly with Garuda, I would have flown with that airplane. But since I was keen to experience Australian airline, I didn’t mind about that. In fact back then, I looked down at the Garuda plane because it looks so old, rusty, and a bit decrepit. Indeed, since Garuda’s flight schedule was only a few minutes apart from Qantas, I learned that the flight was dodged by delays. I could also see the facial expression of Garuda’s passengers whose were visibly disappointed.

Although admittedly, these days I regretted that decision as that would have been my one and only flight with Garuda’s Boeing 747-200. It was something that I had dreamed since my childhood days, but never materialize at all!

For the first time, I can see the view of airport’s apron and runway in broad daylight. And now I get clear answer for my amazement when I first landed in Perth a few months ago. Back then, I was perplexed when I spotted some trees in the middle of airport’s airside (right between the runway and taxiway). Apparently there are a lot of tall vegetation (bushes and trees) on the airside. This gives unique experience for the first time visitors on the airport. I’ve never seen similar thing in Indonesia, as the vegetation on the airside never gets taller than half meter.

The view of Perth airport airside, with Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-200ER in foreground. The tall bushes can be seen in the background, while the domestic terminal can be seen in far background on the left.

Just across the runway, apparently there is another airport terminal. Its apron is dominated by airplanes from Qantas and Ansett. The terminal is the original airport terminal of Perth airport. Back in the old days, all flights (including international) arrive and depart on that part of the airport. But since the opening of the new terminal, it is relegated for domestic flights only. The most amazing part about it (and also Perth airport in general) is the fact that it is located across the runway. This was the first time that I see airport terminals separated by runway! Transfer between terminals would have been tedious, considering the distance between both terminals and rarity of inter-terminal bus service at that time.

But the most amazing view of all has to be the sight of Perth skyscrapers that is not just clearly visible, but also feel as if they’re nearby, despite the fact that there is a considerable distance between the city center and the airport. It’s probably because of the visual effect that made the city center looks as if it’s next to the airport. The sight gave some urban look in the area around the airport that is largely rural.

Perth city skyscrapers can be clearly seen from the airport, including from the boarding lounge.

And finally, about my flight, the plane that will take me back to Indonesia is ready at the gate. It was a Qantas’s Boeing 767-300. The plane is painted in predominantly white color, with red tail, and large “QANTAS” lettering above its front fuselage.

The Qantas Boeing 767-300 that will take me back to Indonesia.

Compared to Garuda’s Boeing 747 that I saw earlier, this plane looked much cleaner, fresher, and also gleaming in morning lights.

I’ve seen Qantas planes when they visit major airports in Indonesia, like in Jakarta or Bali. When I saw them, I always imagining myself on how would it feel like to fly onboard one of them. Today, my dream will come true.

After several minutes of waiting, our boarding call is finally announced. Passengers lining up at the gate and ready to get onboard the plane. I was so excited about it! Once our boarding passes are checked we walked down the jetway to enter our airplane.  I can feel adrenaline and the sense of excitement rushing on my body. I was really happy.

As soon as we entered the plane, passengers were greeted by stewardess dressed in smart business attire. They wore dark blue jacket and skirt, with maroon tie. This was the first time I get onboard a plane where its cabin crews are Caucasians. And contrary to the cabin crew of Indonesian airlines, they are more expressive and talk in louder tone. It’s not that they’re rude, but it is because the ways they talk are louder than Indonesians.

An example of Qantas cabin crew uniform in 1997.

I also notice one unusual feature about the airplane. Although the plane is about the same size as Airbus A300, it doesn’t have middle row entrance door. Some airlines actually feature 3 rows of entrance door for their Boeing 767-300, but Qantas opted for just 2 rows. That means that all passengers embarked (and disembark) through the front door. I’m not sure the reason behind this, but this made passenger movements a bit tedious. I sat on the right side window, overlooking the rear part of the wing. I sat next to my mother. Since Boeing 767 economic class seats are configured in 2-3-2 arrangement, my father sat in the middle group of seat rows.

During the boarding process, I notice one elderly Australian man who can speak fluent Indonesian. Apparently he marries to an Indonesian woman. His wife accompanies him on this trip. Throughout my stay in Australia, I never came across any Australians who can speak my native language. So seeing an Australian able to speak Indonesian language fluently is quite an interesting sight.

While waiting for the plane to depart, I watched the activities on the outside, where ground crew working to load passenger’s belonging. Just next to airplane is Garuda’s Boeing 747. From my seat, I can see some mechanics trying to fix the airplane so it can fly back to Indonesia. Had the plane departed on time, it would have gone by now. But as I wait for my plane to depart, it seemed to be nowhere near ready to fly.

As soon as all passengers seated, and luggage are completely loaded, our plane is ready to depart. The pilot announcing to the cabin crew to closed the doors, and now our plane is being pushed back to taxiway. Once the clearance was given, my airplane slowly taxying into the runway. While taxying, the cabin crew demonstrate safety instruction to passengers. I didn’t bother to look at it, as I was busy watching the scenery outside and counting my last minutes or even seconds in Australia.

Our plane slowly taxying into the runway and it goes to holding position to the north of the airport. Once the clearance was given, the pilot hit the maximum throttle, and our plane rolled at high speed down the runway. And a few seconds later, our airplane is safely airborne, and we’re off the ground! Goodbye Australia! See you again in the future! Hopefully I can return back again to resume my study as I planned.

(Note: the video below is not mine, as it is used for illustration only. The details also differ completely from my flight. But I used it as the plane and airport involved are similar to mine).

The land below gradually goes further down, as our airplane gaining altitude. From the window, I can see that despite of rural setting of the airport area, the place is actually surrounded by industrial area and busy railway yards. And from the air, I can confirm that the city center is indeed very far from the airport. It’s just amazing on how close does it looks like, if seen from the airport terminal.

Once the plane goes higher, it soon made right turn into the northerly direction. From the window, I can see the Perth metropolitan area as a whole. I can see the cities that had become my home for the past 5 months from the air, and now I catch its final glimpse as my airplane traveling further north. Once the Perth city disappears, the scenery below is replaced by the sight of giant arid land, with predominantly red colored soil.

Flying in broad daylight can give you the actual view of how does real Australia made off. Although the scenery in Perth or areas to the south looks green and pleasant, on the northern part of the continent, the scenery consists of arid land with very little visible vegetation. And as far as I can see, the sky is clear and cloudless! No wonder the summer temperature in Australia is scorching hot.

The view from my window. You can see how arid Australia’s northwest region is.

Once the seatbelt sign is off, the stewardess went around handing peanut snacks to passengers. Contrary to my mother’s tale about comical attitude of cabin crew on her previous flight, this time they look more serious and straightforward in doing their job. I didn’t see anything special about their activities.

Throughout the flight, they played Mel Gibson’s “Conspiracy Theory” movie on the screen in front of the cabin.

Each passenger had been provided with the earphone at the seat pocket in front of them, so we watched to the movie while enjoying the film. I actually didn’t like the movie as I’m not big fans of the genre. All I remember about the movie is the very loud sound effect and surprises that sometime made me almost jumped out of my seat! But I think it was better than having no entertainment at all, as I have placed my Walkman into checked luggage.

The meal was served midway through the flight, while passengers enjoying the movie. There were two menus offered. One is Asian, while other is western. I choose western menu of lasagna. It was actually a nice meal to accompany watching the movie and scenery. Although when the movie goes tense, I almost choked on the food. Once the meal finished, the cabin crew collected all of the trays and we folded back the table.

I sit back and relax. Sometime I would take off the earphone and just sitting there and enjoying the scenery on the outside. The scenery outside is still dominated by the view of arid Australian continent, with its distinct dark red color. Throughout the flight, I didn’t see any clouds. Not a single patch of it to be seen as far as eyes can see. So the combination of red land and blue sky truly gave spectacular view. It was just pity that I didn’t take any single photo of it.

After hours of seeing the Australian continent, our plane finally left Australian airspace. I gradually see the northern coast of Australia gradually disappear into the distance. That’s it! That was my very last glimpse of Australia. Now this is really goodbye, as I no longer in Australia at all. Our plane flew further north and heading to tropical place of Indonesian archipelago.

The movie eventually ended, and coincidentally, our plane is also nearing the end of its journey. A few minutes after the main movie ended, the cabin crew played the movie about Indonesia which was produced by a production house in Australia. Although at brief glance, it looks like any documentary that is produced in Indonesia; its Australian touch is palpable.

The documentary features many famous tourist attractions in Indonesia, although mostly in Bali (quite obvious for 2 reasons: because we’re heading there and the place is the number 1 tourist destination in the country). But what sets it apart from Indonesian made documentary is the choice of background music (which combines traditional Indonesian instrument and western techno/dance music) and all of the Indonesian people that they feature spoke fluent English in perfect English accent!

(The video below is an example of onboard video that is played onboard Bali-bound Qantas flight in recent years).

Throughout my stay in Australia, all of the Indonesians that I knew, whenever they spoke in English they will always speak in distinct accent that sets them apart from native English speaker. No matter how sophisticated their English language knowledge was. So when I see the video that showing local Indonesians can spoke clear and fluent English, it was just surprising!

Our plane is now descending and ready to land. The fasten seat belt and no smoking warning lights are illuminated. All passengers and cabin crew must be seated. As soon as we approached Indonesia, the weather outside changes into different kind of climate. While in Australia the sky was clear and spotless, in Indonesia, the sky is cloudy with patches of thunderstorms. Indeed I almost couldn’t see the islands!

As the plane’s altitude became lower, we entered thick cloud which causes the flight to go bumpy. It’s a bit scary thing to see. But not long, we descended below the cloud, and the greed islands of Indonesia are now finally visible. Selamat Datang! Apparently our plane is approaching the airport from the easterly direction, and will land facing west.

The plane is turning left, and I can also hear the landing gear and flaps deployed. As we approached the airport, the lush greeneries below grew close. Had it not cloudy, I could have seen mount Agung clearly from my seat. The plane flying low over water above Benoa harbor and then I can see Ngurah Rai bypass road clearly and seconds later our plane finally touched down at Bali airport, and I return back to Indonesia!

(Note: although the flight in that video is not Qantas, and has different departure point, but it follow exactly the same landing pattern as my flight. Even the weather is similar!)

I suddenly feel the rush of excitement. Not because we are going to vacation, because soon I will catch up with my friends, family, and cousins again. Yes, it will be real fun to be able to meet my family again after months being away in overseas country. And I will also bring them not just memento, but also interesting stories too.

As soon as the plane slows down, the pilot directed the plane to leave the runway and goes into the taxiway. If I recall, back then passengers stood up and start picking up their belongings from overhead bin, while the plane was still taxiing (these days, it is strictly forbidden and passengers must remain seated until the plane came to a full stop in parking bay).

Once our plane arrives at its parking bay, the cabin crew began to open the door to allow passengers to disembark from the plane. Since we weren’t in hurry, we waited until the crowd dissipates and then we walked out from the plane. The stewardess, who waited near the door greeted us and wished us pleasant days in Bali.

Upon exiting the plane, I was instantly greeted by the hot and humid tropical climate. Being in the subtropical climate for long, made my body “forget” how it feels to be in the tropic. So I was instantly sweated, and I sweated profusely too. That is despite the fact that we left the airplane through jetway, and I didn’t wear my jacket.

Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport was still in the old 1960s terminal, which was expanded significantly in 1980s and 1990s (but still inadequate and far cry from the current airport terminal). Compared to Perth airport’s terminal, it was rather inferior in term of comfort and even capacity. The queue for passport checking was quite long as the number of the desks couldn’t keep up with the demand. As soon as our passports checked, we head to the baggage carrousel to collect luggage. Custom checking went without any hitch. Back then, it wasn’t very strict. As long as you didn’t carry illicit drugs, or excessive amount of tobaccos or liquors, they wouldn’t stop you. These days, the custom officers would try to cash in from any souvenirs that you bring back from overseas.

The baggage collection area of old international terminal at Denpasar airport.

Once we exiting the airport terminal building, we were greeted by a flock of taxi drivers who offered their service. They’re truly annoying as they often shouting in your face and sometime would keep chasing you even if you refuse. But thankfully today my father’s friend (whom we have met before during our layover on the way to Australia last August) was there to pick us up and taking us. This time he came with his wife and also a driver. They will take as around the Bali in the comfort of their air-conditioned van.

We spend our layover time traveling around Kuta and Jimbaran. I can’t recall what places we visited. The only thing I remember was having lunch at the beach in Jimbaran. I remember we enjoyed the grilled fish of our choice, while watching the beautiful sea view, and airplanes landing and taking off in the distance.

Jimbaran beach is well known for its grilled seafood menu.

While having lunch, my father’s friend asking me how was my study in Australia. I said it was wonderful and I truly enjoying it. He also asked where I would go after this, which I replied that I will continue college. He joked “well after long stay in Australia your English must be really good! You’re an Australian now!”

After lunch, we head to his house where we had some shower, as our Surabaya bound flight departed in the late afternoon. We also spend some time in his house by chatting and also relaxing. The humid climate, although uncomfortable for those who never been to the tropics, actually quite pleasant for having nap. I did take a brief nap. The tropical climate truly makes my sleep very pleasant!

At around 5pm, we return back to the airport. This time they drove us to the domestic terminal. Its entrance is located right next to the international arrival. After bidding farewell to my father’s friend and his entourage, we entered the airport for check in. This time we will fly on Merpati Nusantara Airlines from Denpasar to Surabaya.

Back then Merpati was a subsidiary of Garuda. It was used to act as a feeder for Garuda, especially on the routes that had too little passengers to be served by Garuda’s big airplanes, or where the airport is too small for Garuda’s plane to land and take off. The airline had on-and-off relationship with Garuda. It was originally a completely independent airline, but in 1990s it was attached into Garuda. But in its last years of operation, it again became an independent airline until its demise in 2014.

The domestic terminal at Denpasar airport was crowded. Back then the terminal building was very old and outdated. It was small and rudimentary, and still had the design of 1960s or 1970s. It even received less upgrades than what its international terminal had. It also looked less colorful than the international terminal. And the passengers were dominated by Indonesian passengers, with small number of elderly foreigners. No beautiful looking European girls to be seen. Welcome back to the bland world of my hometown!

Dull looking old domestic departure area at Denpasar airport.

After checking in our luggage, we head up into the boarding lounge where we waited for our flight. Unlike the previous flight, this time I feel less excitement. I know that, although I will catch up with my family and friends, I will also return back to the world that is less colorful and lacking with variety than what I had in Perth.

A rather basic and spartan boarding lounge at the old Denpasar airport domestic terminal.

I spend my waiting time by standing by the window, looking at the apron and the runway. The waiting lounge is quite packed with passengers who waited for their flight. The Qantas Boeing 767 that took me earlier today has gone. The apron is not very packed, with several small planes like Boeing 737 or Fokker 28 parked on the apron. One of the Fokker 28 will take me back to Surabaya. And this flight turned out to be my very last flight with Fokker 28, the plane that I had frequently traveled with during my childhood.

Just like on my departure in August, on my flight to return back to Surabaya from Bali, I also flown with Merpati’s Fokker 28.

While waiting for our flight, I notice that my father is chatting seriously with a white man. I’m curious and walk closer to find out. Upon seeing me, my father introduced to that man. He is a professor from Edith Cowan University who travel with his wife and his grown up children to see his friend in Malang, and also attending a wedding ceremony there. That means they will also be on the same flight as us to Surabaya. We had quite a long chat while we waited for our flight to commence.

Not long after that, our departure calling is announced and passengers began to flock to get into the plane. Since our plane did not use jetway, passengers must go into the apron and walk the airplane. Some ground crew helped to direct the passengers to get into their airplane.

Our plane is already waiting in the apron. It is a Merpati’s Fokker-28. The plane has white fuselage with fin colored in aqua blue color with gold stripes. Since the plane only have one entrance door, passengers had to queue on the outside as the first coming passengers are loading their luggage on overhead rack and being seated.

As we are waiting our turn to enter the airplane, I suddenly hear the loud roar of arriving airplane on the runway. Apparently it is the Garuda’s Boeing 747 that I saw in Perth! The plane finally made it to Bali, after more than 4 hours of delay! I can only imagine how disgruntled the passengers would be. And for those who transferred to other flights (including the one that I’m boarding now), it must have been a real nightmare!

In the next a few minutes the congestion eased and we finally able to enter the airplane. Once onboard, we are greeted by stewardess who checked our ticket and directed us to our seat. Many passengers have been seated, while smaller number is still searching for their seat. Our seat is located in the front part of the airplane. As soon as we put our luggage on the overhead bin, we took our seat.

But as I sit on my seat, I realize how small the space is. I feel like the back of my seat is too low, therefore exposing my head and making reclining quite impossible. If that’s not enough, the leg space felt too narrow. Very uncomfortable! When I flew from Surabaya to Bali earlier this year, with the same type of airplane, the seating felt more comfortable than this. I wonder if the airline put more seats on the airplane. Of maybe because I had gaining too much weight when I was in Australia?

Minutes later, the airplane’s door is closed, and the plane pushed backward into the taxiway. While the plane is taxiing into the runway, the stewardess is making safety instruction demonstration. As the plane is taxiing into the runway, I feel like the plane’s interior seem to be rudimentary and outdated when compared to Qantas’s Boeing 767 that I flew with earlier today. No entertainment system like video screen or music. And the interior design looked quite old.

Our plane eventually arrives at the edge of the runway. All cabin crew are seated, and fasten seat belt sign is illuminated. Once the takeoff clearance was given, the pilot opened maximum throttle, and our airplane is roaring down the runway until it took off. I’m looking nervously at the scenery on the outside. Sitting in such undersized space does make this flight feel more like roller coaster ride instead of comfortable airplane trip for me.

(Note: the video above is just for illustration on how does the scenery on westbound take off from Denpasar airport looks like. Although the airplane and airline different, the scenery is largely identical).

As soon as our airplane clearing the ground, we can see the scenery on the outside. Our plane is now above the water high above Indian Ocean. Since I was seated on the left, I couldn’t see the Bali Island. But as compensation, I can clearly see the sun about to set in the distance. It’s such a spectacular sight to see. And as our airplane is heading west, the sunset is actually “delayed” as our plane is trying to catching up with the sun.

While watching the sunset, I began to reminisce how beautiful and exciting my days in Perth have been. It started with anxious moment for me. But as I began to adjust living and studying there, it became fun. And things gradually become exciting when I got my first European friends, from Switzerland. And then it was peaked with my relationship with Denise, which I consider as the most emotional and infatuating moment in my life. Indeed as I flown back to Surabaya, the images of Denise was still hovering over my head. I wish if I could bring her along to Surabaya. As she disappeared physically from my life, and my study gets more serious, the emotional moment began to winding down, culminating with the end of my study and my return to Surabaya.

As the sun set, I’m grateful that this year has been a very exciting one, and hoping that the future will be equally and more exciting. And now it’s time for me to conclude my story and I hope you like what I have wrote.

Goodbye 1997! You’ve been the most wonderful year ever in my life.


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Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 29):

Eventually, my study at St. Mark’s and in Australia has come to an end. It has been a very colorful and emotional period for me. What was initially thought to be a strenuous and dull studying program, turned out to be a largely fun, and even emotional experience. Before I depart to Australia, I thought I was going to meet and dealt with strict and demanding teachers like what I had in my English language program in Surabaya. But instead, I met a group of pleasant and hospitable teachers who didn’t just help me to learn English like local Australians, but also helped me to adjust the Australian or Western standard while avoiding culture shock. All was done in fun manner. The study itself was honestly easy, indeed too easy to be true. So much that non-studying and playing activities truly dominated my time in Australia. I had become rather complacent and lazy by the end of my study.

And the only form of culture shock that I endured during my study in Australia wasn’t adjusting with the Australians culture and discipline. But instead, what I claimed as “culture shock” (I was just a young teenager who haven’t learn much about the tough world) at that time was my futile effort to win love from Denise. I was so intoxicated in love, really madly and deeply obsessed with Denise at that time. Her changing attitudes, one time she was attentive but at the other time she ignored me, truly hurt me. My heart was like a ship in rough seas back then. Had my study program was a serious one, it would have resulted in my failure. But thankfully, the study program was really forgiving and laidback.

On Monday, I returned back to the college, this time with my parents. I went to collect my certificate, as well as bade farewell to some staffs that I know. My father also catches up with the head of the college, whom he personally knows. I also managed to catch up with my friends to say goodbye. I met Alvin, Hudi, and also some Swiss like Anouchka and Pierre to say goodbye. It has been wonderful time that I was able to meet with them.

Apparently, the sendoff didn’t go without incident. I met Anouchka on the library entrance, after I bid farewell to the library staffs. I shook hand with her, and wished her good luck with her study. She also congratulates me and also wishing me good luck for the future. But as I walked down the stair, I suddenly slipped and almost fell. But fortunately, I was able to hold on the railings and able to save myself from falling flat into the floor. Anouchka giggled upon seeing this carnage. That was my last day in St. Mark’s International College.

The view of quiet St. Mark’s campus. 

On our last day in Perth, Siraj invited us for farewell dinner. That would be really lovely. So in the evening, we dressed up for the occasion and have ourselves ready for the special occasion. My parents were also excited to meet Shuhai and Shimla again.

After waiting for some time in the hotel’s lobby, Siraj eventually arrived and picked us up. My father was puzzled on why he came alone. Siraj replied that his family was busy accompanying visiting distant relatives who made impromptu visit. Well, of course as a result we got ample of space inside the car for us.

Siraj took us to a Sizzler restaurant at Dianella, which is located several kilometers to the north of our hotel. This was my second visit to this restaurant, as Shiraj had invited me to this restaurant before, along with Shah Jehan, Feroza, Danny*, Erick*, and of course the little kids. While for my parents this was their first and only visit to the restaurant. We truly enjoyed the meal served in here. I ordered seafood platter, while my parents ordered steak.

Enjoying dinner at Sizzler restaurant in Dianella with my landlord, Siraj Haniffa.

While we were having dinner, my parents and Siraj also having some light conversation. Siraj mention several things that I’ve never heard before. Apparently he first came to Australia as a student. He initially came to pursue Postgraduate study. In order to support himself, he also did part time job. Along the way, he also tries his luck applying for Australian permanent residency.

Since the immigration law in 1990s wasn’t as strict as in the years after “Boat People Crisis” in 2000, he could obtain his permanent residency without too much troubles and able to get same rights and benefits of Australian citizen. He later decided to marry Feroza (I didn’t know if he choose to marry Feroza on his own freewill, or was it arranged marriage), bringing her to here and raising family in Australia. As a result, he abandoned his study and decided to work full time as taxi driver since then, to support his young family.

Once we finished the dinner, we paid the bill. Although Shiraj initially wants to pay our entire bill, my father intervened and eventually does the paying for all of us. We head back to the hotel for rest and relax.

Well, actually that night I won’t stay with my parents as I had to stay for one more night in Shiraj’s house to pack my bags and belongings. After dropping my parents at Pacific motel, Shiraj took me to the house. While driving along, I notice something unusual. As we get closer to our neighborhood, Shiraj became increasingly nervous. His driving style was quite aggressive. At that time, I didn’t have any unusual feelings over that because once in a while he would drove like that. As soon as he dropped me in front of the house, he bid farewell because he is “late for working shift”, and quickly zipped his car away. Oh well, he probably was scared if he would face penalty for being late.

I walked into the house and using the key to open the front door. Upon entering the house, I was shocked by what I see. The telephone lay on the floor with its handset cable broke off. The cabinet where the phone is normally placed on its top fell off. I saw some wet slimy patches on the floor. The dining chairs fell off, some pillows and papers scattered on the floor. I was wondering, what have happened?

When I went into the kitchen, the scene was even more shocking. Some plates and cups seem to have been thrown around, and their shard scattered around the floor. I saw some shrimps, vegetables, spices, knifes, and cutting board filled the sink.

I assume, Feroza was probably wanted to invite for a dinner at home, and even prepared the meal. But Shiraj had other idea (which eventually materialized). A heated argument probably erupted, which led to this chaotic scene. It was totally nightmare to see how messy the house was.

I couldn’t found Wahyu* or Shah Jehan. They were out somewhere. I tried to find the kids, and eventually find Suhail* walking around in the backyard, while Shimla sat on the couch. Although the kids looked shaken, I’m glad that they were unharmed and unscathed. I was thinking, they shouldn’t be out in the backyard at around this time. I asked Suhail about what has happened. He was too shaken to describe. Poor little boy shouldn’t have witnessed such domestic violence.

Feroza is nowhere to be seen. I wonder where she is. I looked around the house, searching in the bathroom, then Erick’s former room, and couldn’t find her. Then I bravely entered their messy bedroom, and there I found Feroza lying unconscious in the alleyway inside. She looked injured. Her hand looks bloody, and there were some small cuts on her cheek. Her face looks puffy and tearful. I was scared. Is she okay? If something goes horribly wrong with her, I would surely be tangled in legal troubles and my return journey would be delayed.

I tried to wake her up. At first I whisper at her and no response. Then I poked her shoulder, and suddenly she woke up and went into rage! She goes berserk, and went around the house, shouting incoherently. She occasionally vomited on the floor. And all while her children looked on in frightened mood. I tried to calm her, but she scolded me instead.

In the middle of this chaos, suddenly Shah Jehan and Wahyu* return back home and come to the rescue. I asked them where they have been. Both answered that they were out in the city. Actually they departed separately, on different purposes, but since they caught up in the city they decided to head back home together in Shah Jehan’s car.

Shah Jehan was stunned by what he saw, and quickly tended his bloody and distraught sister, and also calming down the kids and taking them to the bed. He then kneels next to Feroza and had some long conversation with her.

While Shah Jehan calmed Feroza down, I asked Wahyu if he had seen the incident from the beginning. Wahyu replied that he did actually saw the beginning of what would eventually develop into this incident. It was around afternoon when he saw Feroza returning from supermarket, and bringing home some fancy ingredients. Upon seeing that, Shiraj suddenly said something that angered Feroza. Then both began to start argument. At first, Wahyu didn’t think much because both are sometime went into fierce argument at the other occassions, but most of the time ended peacefully. So he didn’t get any suspicious about that. He later left to the city, without having any hint that the debate would end up like this.

After a while, Shah Jehan managed to fully calm down Feroza and tending her wound. He returning back to us and telling us the story. He said that Feroza need a rest as her body is in tatter. I asked him does Feroza had ever made similar outburst in the past, Shah Jehan replied that once in a while she did. He admits that he sometime couldn’t handle Feroza’s temperament. It’s just the fact that he is her brother that she never unleashes her fury to him. But most of the time, it is Shiraj or sometime the kids who would take the brunt. Foreign students who stay at Shiraj’s house never saw her tantrum because she would vent it whenever no students were around, and had to restrain when they were at home. The reason behind this is to prevent bad image that it would create. Fortunately, despite of her short temper, things would cool down afterwards and everything would be back to normal.

We started to clean up the house and clearing all the debris and mess. Shah Jehan put some used newspapers on the spot where Feroza vomited to remove the slime. Wahyu also helped me to put all of the furniture back to its place.

What a way to spend the last night in Australia!

After we complete cleaning up the house, we returned back to our room for rest. For me it was time to pack up all of my belongings. Fortunately, since I didn’t carry a lot of gifts (all have been carried by my parents) it was a quick process to do. Upon completely packing all of my belongings, I change my clothes to pajama and went to sleep.


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Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 28):

As my return date to Indonesia is getting near, my parents came to pick me up from Australia, and also do me some favor by alleviating luggage weight on our flight back home. I remember it was on Saturday evening, after my IELTS exam, where I and Siraj went to the airport to pick my parents up. Siraj was on off duty, so we went with his personal car. Along the journey Siraj asked “Now you must be really happy that you can see your parents again. You must have missed them.” I hesitantly replied “Yes”. Admittedly, I felt nervous. After almost 6 months of being free of my parent’s control and can led a free life for being adult, I would return back again to become “mommy’s boy”.

We arrive at Perth airport’s international terminal. Although it was already late, and roads were already deserted, the terminal was quite busy. There were many people waiting on the terminal, mostly came to wait for the flights from Bali to arrive. Despite of Bali’s popularity among Australians, majority of flights from Bali arrive at night. Both Garuda and Qantas arrive at night, while other airlines like Ansett, Sempati, or Merpati arrive at different timing (which I forget now).


An evening view of Perth International Airport.  

My parents came from Surabaya, with transit at Bali, to Perth using Qantas flight. The reason why they flew with the airline is because I had chosen to fly with Qantas, instead of Garuda, as I wanted to feel how it does feel like to fly with “white people’s airline”. So we would fly together on their return flight to Bali.

At around 11’o clock, my parent’s flight finally arrive. After additional 30 minutes to clear immigration and custom, as well as collecting the baggage, we finally meet at the arrival hall. My mother was so happy that she can finally meet me after almost 6 months away. They were really surprised how much I have gained weight, and apparently now I’m also sporting beard. They also shook hand with Shiraj and also asking how my life in Australia has been.

We drove from the airport to the Pacific motel where my parents would stay.

My parents stayed at Pacific Motel, which was located just across the road from St. Mark’s International College.

Throughout the journey, my mother told her story about how hilarious Qantas cabin service can be. She told me on how the cabin crew can crack some jokes while serving some passengers, or passing some peanut snack from one crew to another by throwing it like passing ball in rugby match. It was really a stark contrast to Garuda’s dull and conservative service at that time.

That night, my parents would sleep in the hotel while I still stay at Shiraj’s house. They say that they will visit Shiraj’s house to pay visit to his family, and then we would travel around the city. Once they checked in into the hotel, I and Shiraj drove back to his house where we would settle down and go to sleep.

That morning, after breakfast, my parents came and knocked Shiraj’s door and everyone greeted them. They were greeted by everyone, including Suhail and Shimla which delighted my parents. It was the first for my mother to visit Shiraj’s house, while it was the second time for my father. My father is also surprised when Wahyu* greeted him. He asked where Danny* and Erick* are now, and we replied by saying that both have long moved out. My mother is also amused by the fact that Wahyu* came from Surakarta, the same place where my mother’s extended family come from.

Once we settled down, we had a brief conversation in the living room. My father asked Siraj about how I have been throughout the stay in his house.  Siraj said that I have been a well behaved and very polite. He also made joke about my habit of conquering the TV remote or watching matured adult rated show in the TV. My father also made fun about my habit of watching railway tracks whenever we travel to the countryside away from Surabaya (although back then my railfanning hobby was dormant), and also me being a “silent guy”. But then Shah Jehan came to my defense, and said that throughout the stay in here I was quite a talkative person.

After some conversation, Shiraj showed my parents around the house. Well, admittedly, the house looks rather shabby. The messy appearance of the house bothered my mother. So much that my mother thinks, if she could spend longer time in here, she would clean everything up.

Once we finished looking around the house, I and my parents went for tour around the city. After we bid farewell to the Shirajs, we started walking around the city. First we went to my college direction. My mother truly marveled on how ample the number of parks in the city.

Relaxing at Hyde Park. My mother truly marveled how lush the greenery is, despite of its close proximity from city center. An impossible feat in Indonesia at that time.

It was Sunday, on 7th December 1997, and the city was largely quiet.

She said that had the Surabaya city council sees similar thing, they would have quickly sold the land to developers! Back then, Surabaya mayor was a controversial figure who sold many empty lands and parks around the city to be turned into commercial areas, while the sales money mostly went into his personal bank accounts.

We took some photos in front of my campus. It was Sunday, and the place was largely deserted. From there, we went to catch the train to Fremantle. We walked for quite a long distance, under strong sunlight, through the suburb of Mount Lawley. My parents truly marveled on how quiet and nice the neighborhood is, despite of its close proximity to the city center and a major railway station.

After crossing the Lord Street, we entered the vast East Perth terminal complex. The Indian Pacific and Prospector train had departed the station before we came, so we can still see the remains of activities on that day. There were a crowd of railway employees who packing up their working equipment or well-wishers that still stay after the train that was boarded by their loved ones departed. If there is no Indian Pacific train, East Perth terminal would have been completely deserted, save from a few ticketing or cleaning service employees.

We walked into the East Perth suburban train station, on the island platform adjacent to East Perth terminal. I taught my parents on how to use the ticketing machine. My mother truly marveled how the ticket vending machine works. I also said to my father that the ticket issued from the vending machine was also valid for bus trip.

Today we went for a trip to Fremantle, so from East Perth we would sit back and enjoy our train trip all the way to Fremantle. My mother was really impressed on how clean and comfortable the suburban train service in Perth is. Although MRT in Singapore (which we traveled back in 1994 and 1995) was equally clean and tidy, the Transperth suburban train features forward facing seats, which makes the journey much even comfortable.

However, our joyride was somehow cut short earlier than planned. Upon arriving at Perth station, the driver announced through PA speaker than the train service had to be terminated here, due to a reason that I now forgot, and passengers were asked to board replacement bus service provided in front of the station. So we disembark from our train and head to the parking lot in front of the station where our replacement bus is ready. It was an articulated bus. Since the number of passengers were small, due to weekend, one bus is sufficient to accommodate the Fremantle-bound passengers.

Since the bus service is a replacement for train service, it traveled through longer route that are not straightforward, as it has to enter car parks on all railway stations along the Fremantle line. Some stations are located well away from Perth-Fremantle highway, so it would make our journey felt very long. Combined with the scorching hot summer weather, and lack of air conditioning on our bus, it truly made our journey slightly uncomfortable.

When our bus passes next to the Leighton yard, I saw a long hopper train hauled by green colored locomotive which have streamlined nose. Upon looking at the loco, I suddenly remember that it must be the loco that was featured on Indian Pacific brochures. I latter learn that the loco is known as EL-class loco, and these days I happily own its miniature replica painted in Australian National livery.

An EL class loco with its distinctive sloped nose is seen hauling The Ghan express train across Adelaide. Indian Pacific train have similar coaches, albeit without orange stripe.

Our bus finally arrived at Fremantle station, and we start walking into the Market Street direction, and enjoying the scenery of the busy downtown Fremantle. We also visited Fremantle market which was busy with a lot of activities. I remember my parents bought some candies and merchandise to be brought back home. We also saw an art performance in front of the market, which attracted quite a lot of audience.

From the market I invited my parents to see the Fremantle prison. They were initially puzzled on why would I asked them to visit a prison. They had never seen anything like it before. But I told them that this place is quite different and worthy tourist object to visit. After listening to my explanation, they agreed to visit the Fremantle Prison.

Posing in front of Fremantle Prison with my parents.

I don’t think I need to explain the detail of our visit, because I have explained earlier. But the visit to the prison truly opened their eyes on how Australian can organize a tourist attraction professionally. They were truly amazed on how the Australian can turn a high security prison camp into an enjoyable tourist attraction. Indeed they didn’t feel daunted by the visit at all.

At that time, one similar prison in Surabaya, the Kalisosok Prison, was still in operation and wasn’t slated for preservation. Indeed after its closure in 2000, the prison compound is now in derelict condition. In addition, Surabaya city at that time was a dour and not tourist friendly city. Seeing how the Australian can organize historic tourist objects in Perth and Fremantle truly impressed my parents. It was a stark contrast of what we had in Surabaya back then.

While we strolling around the Fremantle prison with our tour groups, I suddenly heard locomotive horn and rumble of passing trains in the distance. That must be the EL-class loco hauling the hoppers. I wish if I wasn’t with my parents, I would have taken its photo. That turned out to be the only occasion where I see the locomotive. I’ve never seen it again since.

Once we completed our tour in Fremantle Prison, we went back to the town to do some additional window shopping before we return back to Perth. We did some brief shopping in the city, where we also visited London Court Arcade with its unique façade that fascinate my mother. We bought some merchandise for our family and relatives back home.

Shopping at London Court.

I also took my parents to King’s Park, where my mother is keen to know how the view of the city looks like does. She truly marveled the experience, and how the city planning is.

Enjoying the view of Perth city from Kings Park.

Upon completion of our shopping activities in the city, we head back to Pacific motel. Tonight, we will stay together in the hotel. I’ve already brought many of my clothing for the occasion and had already informed Shiraj that I will stay with my parents that night.


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Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 27):

Now this is the moment of truth. The D-day of my IELTS exam has finally arrived. The exam took place in Saturday on 6th December 1997. The reason why the exam organizer held the exam on weekend is to make sure that campus activities do not interfere with the exam activities. It also means to allow ample of space for exam venue, which utilized empty classrooms and theaters.

So there it goes. After I finished the breakfast and having shower, I went out in an unusually cold morning to examination venue. The journey from North Perth to Bentley was uneventful. I took the bus from the bust stop at Fitzgerald Street where it took me to Perth station. Once there, I caught the train to Armadale direction. I spend the journey by reading whatever materials that I wrote during the class. Although this thing was actually unnecessary as my teacher remarked that you would be assessed by your skill, not by what you memorize.

Well, perhaps this habit is dating back from my high school days in Indonesia where national education curriculum seem to emphasize students to memorize what was told in the class. Oh well, I probably did that to defuse my nervousness and also reducing sense of guilt of not reading materials that was taught by the lecturer.

As soon as the train arrives at Oats Street station, I disembark and then catching the bus to Curtin university at Bentley. After zigzagging in the suburban streets around the area, my bus finally arrive in the main bus stop on Hayman Road. At that time, it was just a large bay which allowed the bus to turn around and head back to the North, but these days it is a major bus station itself.

Curtin University bus stop at Hayman Road. Back then the shelter roof was much smaller and more basic than this, while the buses were of elderly models.

I walked along the quiet pathway into the campus. It was a cold summer morning, and the campus was peaceful and quiet, punctuated by the noise of bird chirping, water sprinklers, and blowing wind. Aside of small number of joggers and gardeners who went about their business, there were no one else to be seen in the campus area. It wasn’t too difficult to find the examination venue in the campus, as I’ve been to here before when I went to pay the exam fee.

An early morning view of Curtin Bentley campus.    

Upon arriving at the venue, I found that there were actually quite a lot of people who came to undertake the exams. Not all were young students; there were also some elderly people who also undertook the exam. After brief chatting with some people, I learn that the majority took the exam purely to fulfill the requirements to enter universities. Small number of participants took the exam for either work or immigration purpose. But surprisingly, there were also some local Australians who also took the exam. It’s interesting considering that they are actually native English speakers. I asked one of them, and he said that he had to take the exam as he is going to take English language course in order to become English teacher himself.

An illustration on how students gather and relax at Bentley campus. In the background is Architecture and Planning faculty building.

While waiting for the exam to begin, I socialized with some people. I met with one student named Takeshi* from Japan. His English is quite good actually, perhaps the best among the Japanese that I had met. He said that he took the exam because he wanted to pursue study in Australian university. Although he took the English language class in Perth, he planned to go to university in Sydney.

I also met one Somalian student name Ahmad*. He was in his late 20s or early 30s. His English was partly broken, but very much understandable. I can’t recall what his reason to take the exam was, but considering that Somalia was a war torn country at that time, I have a feeling that he just want to find way to settle in Australia. Although he had a cheerful and gregarious outlook, I had a feeling that he might also be moody and temperamental too.

As the clock ticking at 9am, the teachers who oversee the exam asked the participants to enter the designated classrooms to begin the exam. If I’m not mistaken, the venue was located in Curtin University’s English program classes. While some students were also directed to undertook their exam in one theater nearby.

I was chatting with Takeshi while queuing, when suddenly a beautiful girl in front of us turned back and asked about which classroom we go to. She was a beautiful looking Australian girl around same age as me. She had dark hair, bright skin, green eyes, quite a well build body, and Latino look. She wore aqua blue tank top with black jeans. She introduces herself as Paola Celeste (or Paola Celesti, I can’t clearly recall the correct pronunciation of her name). She is an Australian of mix Italian and English descent who lives in northern suburb of Perth. If I’m not mistaken, she bore partial resemblance to Italian actress Alessandra Mastronardi, with a bit of English traits. Umm, wow, greeted by an attractive looking lady was quite a spiritual boost in the morning.

Paola Celesti used to look a bit like actress Alessandra Mastronardi, unless she was a bit chubbier.

We were directed to variety of classes. I went to the same class as Takeshi, while Paola and Ahmed went into another.

Now the testing begins. The first part is “Listening”, where we listen to the conversation played on the audio player and then filled the blank spot in our exam paper with the information provided in the audio recording. Well, this is a piece of cake as it is way easier when compared to Milo’s listening exam, back in St. Mark’s class. Even when they play the most difficult part, where the conversations are done in quick pace, it was still easy to clearly understand what was spoken.

The latter parts were not so easy, and indeed got more difficult as it progresses. The “Reading” section is rather complex and tricky at its best. The answer is not like what it seems. Often the correct answer is not what is written in the text, but rather another word to describe it. And the “Writing” section is definitely the most difficult of all. You have to make short article to describe what are depicted in the charts. Out of desperation, I just was winging it. I hoped that the result would not be so bad, as the result would have vital consequence to my future.

After those parts ended, it is time for lunch break. I can’t recall what I ate back then as all of the eateries in Bentley campus were closed due to weekend holiday.  We were given one hour break before we would do the “Speaking” exam. Some students spend time by chatting with their others. Some spoke with students from other countries, while some only converse with their countrymen.  There were students who just sit alone.

An illustration of how break time used to look like in one corner of Bentley campus. I recall the place around the exam theater were planted with pine trees, although the sofas didn’t exist.

Then I suddenly saw Paola sat alone next to a table in one corner of the room. She sat there alone, looking at the thin air and daydreaming, she did’t seem to be bothered by whatever happens around her. So, I bravely approached (well it wasn’t the first time we met anyway). I said hi to her. I thought she was going to ignore me or received me in apathetic manner. But I turned out she warmly replied back and smiled at me. I was quite surprised that I was well received! I was really excited! She welcomed for a conversation.

Chatting with Paola should be a good way to prepare for “Speaking” exam, as she is a native English speaker. At least it helped me to build some confidence, while on the other hand she would help me to speak like locals. Besides that, I don’t get chance to socialize with attractive looking lady often. I asked her why she took the exam, considering that native English speakers are not mandated to undertake such exam to enter local universities. She said that she do the exam out of her curiosity. While our conversation progressed, I suddenly felt smitten with her.

She asked me about where I’m from. I replied that I come from Indonesia and came to here to study English to prepare for university. She is interested with that and asked how I feel about studying in here. I said it’s great and it has been really an eye opening experience and largely fun. Then she asked me where I will go to study after this, and I said that I will go to university in Australia to continue my study. She is wowed by my story.

Then Paola also added that before the exam, she had also undertaken TEE exam in order to graduate from high school and eligible to enter higher education. She added that it was really a difficult exam to do. I asked her what TEE is, and she says that it is a final exam in high school. It is normally given when the study finished. And the result will be assessed by the universities to determine whether if the students qualified to enter. That is truly contrasting to what Indonesian high school students had where they had to take 3 exams: final exam from high school (the National Exam and local school exam), and national university entrance exam. Paola was truly surprised upon learning how much hardship the Indonesian students must undertook in order to go to university, when compared to the Aussies.

While we were conversing, I notice that the “Speaking” exam has begun. The assessors called the participants one by one. And eventually it was my turn to go. I bid farewell to Paola and promised would meet again after the exam finished, and head to one classroom where I would be tested. I felt nervous, almost as if I’m going to undertake inoculation. I entered the room, where the assessor sat next to a table placed in front of the class. I sit just across this small table in front of her.

The assessor was a middle aged woman in her 50s, with curly blond hair and wearing glasses. She was probably one of the lecturers in the English language program in Curtin or in anywhere else in Perth. She politely asked me to sit down and introduce her identity. Before the test began, she gave some instruction about parts of the exam that I had to do (or speak of) and when we’re ready she also began to record our conversation.

So the “Speaking” test begin with first part where I must introduce myself and explain anything about myself and also some interesting stories regarding of my life that worthy to be discussed. Then we proceed to the next part where assessor raises an issue and I must present my perspective and idea regarding of the issue. Of course, the way I present it was the one that will determine the result of the exam. And generally, regardless the level of my English speaking ability at that time, I wasn’t burdened doing this part of the IELTS exam. Well, apparently my conversation with Paola did boost my spirit and helped me to gain some confidence to do this exam as I didn’t feel very nervous.

An illustration of how IELTS Speaking exam looks like. It was really a tense moment for both the participant and assessor, as they both had to do their duties right.

At the end of this exam, the assessor congratulates me upon completing the exam and wished me luck. She also explained that the result will be announced about a month after the exam. Since I would be in Surabaya by that time, I gave my postal address in Surabaya so they will deliver the result home.

Once I left the room, I found out that there were very little students to be seen. I did catch up with Takeshi* briefly and asked how the exam was. He said that it was okay, although he felt rather nervous. He was in a hurry, so he bid farewell and he went home. I did catch up with Ahmed*. His facial expression looked rather stern than when I first met him this morning. And surprisingly, he was also less hospitable too. I didn’t know what his problem was, but he disappeared soon.

But the biggest disappointment has to be that Paola was nowhere to be seen. I waited for some time, hoping that she might turn up from one of the classes. But after waiting for almost one hour, she was still nowhere to be seen. The campus grew quieter as most students have left. So I decided to leave with a bit of broken hearted feelings. Had smartphone have already existed back then, we would have surely exchanged phone number and/or e-mail address, and would have maintained our relationship longer. This would have been great to alleviate my addiction to Denise. But back then, I didn’t even have e-mail, and social media was unheard of. So I eventually went back home empty handed.

I walked back to the bus stop. The place was quite busy as there are plenty of students (mostly Japanese or Koreans) who want to catch the bus back to the city. None of them looked familiar to me. They definitely came from other colleges. I sit down in the bus and enjoying the ride and the suburban sceneries, while daydreaming about Paola. Had I was able to maintain contact with her beyond this; I would have probably able to get over Denise quickly.

As soon as the bus arrived at Oats street station, I disembark and caught the train back to Perth where upon returning back in the city, I decided to walk around and enjoying the city to refresh myself. The city was busy with people going around and enjoying the scenery. Since it was the end of the exam, I decided to give myself some treat by eating the kebab in the food court nearby. When the shops closed in the evening, I head back to Shiraj’s home to rest.


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Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 26):

It can be said that the last few weeks of my study in Australia felt darker and dull than during the early and middle months. I no longer felt cheerful and excited like what I used to have during the first 2/3 duration of my study. Going to the college felt rather bland and uninteresting, worsened by the fact that the weather was already hot. Although the environment in the campus was just similar like what it used to be, there are several things that bothered me by then.

Midway through my study, I heard news about the “Asian Economic Crisis” which severely affecting the economy of many Asian countries. It was initially started in South Korea, but later spread to South East Asia. Thailand was the one that was first hit by the economic crisis. So much that many Thai students decided to cancel their study prematurely. Ake, my Thai friend whom I met during orientation and briefly close to me during the first days in St. Mark’s, decided to cut short his study and head back home in October.

Map of countries affected by 1997-1998 Asian Economic crisis. It can be said that Indonesia was the worst hit by the crisis.

At first, the effect of the crisis hadn’t sink in on me. I was still full of excitement; especially since I was madly in love with Denise back then. But the effect of the crisis gradually hit me. I remember at that time I was thinking about heading to Europe at the conclusion of my study. At first my father agreed, but later he suggesting otherwise upon knowing that Indonesian currency suffered severe devaluation. Indeed some of my Indonesian mates decided to cancel their plan to study in Australia returning back to Indonesia instead.

During that period, we also began to hear ugly news from our country. Severe smoke haze caused by illegal land clearing was said to engulf most of Indonesia (the fact that proved to be untrue upon news testimony from my high school friends). And then we heard news about airplane crash near the city of Medan, which is said to be the worst aviation disaster ever in Indonesia. And Australian media were all too happy to make dramatization about these events.  So much that Alvin commented “Our country seem to descend into the mess while we’re out having fun in Australia!”

The wreckage of Garuda Indonesia Airbus A300 on flight 152, which crashed in North Sumatera. The accident is still ranked as the worst air accident in Indonesia.

Other thing that made me anxious during the last few weeks of my study was English language exam. In order to enter university in Australia, an overseas student (from non-English speaking countries) must undertake English language exam to prove that they have sufficient language capability to study in Australian university.

Although back in Indonesia, the most popular English language exam was the American TOEFL, in Australia there is another exam which is said to be more comprehensive (in other words: more difficult). It is called IELTS. This exam is originating from Britain, and pretty much rivaling the TOEFL. Compared to TOEFL, IELTS is more complex: it involves several sections that test our ability to write, solve problem, listening, and even speaking. While on the other, TOEFL only involved multiple selections and listening. Although TOEFL is accepted on Australian universities, IELTS is more preferable. So, I decided to take this one instead of TOEFL.

First, I must also check out the available schedules for the exam. This exam only held on certain dates every month. And there were two different venues: the Bentley campus of Curtin University, and Murdoch University. Since my time in Australia was already limited, I had no choice but to undertake the exam in early December. I also choose Bentley campus as it was more accessible than Murdoch.

Then I also must pay the fee to join the exam. The price was $50 (Australian Dollar). This is quite cheap when compared to the price if I took the exam in Indonesia which is counted in US Dollar! Registering and paying the exam fee also gave me opportunity to find out where Bentley campus is located. From my college, I traveled by bus to Perth station. Upon alighting at Horseshoe Bridge, I went to the platform and board the train on Armadale line. After several minutes of trip, I disembark at Oats Street station, where from there I caught the bus to Bentley campus. The bus traveled through old residential area around this suburb. They were mostly middle class housing area.

Oats Street station, seen in 2005. In 1997, it looked exactly like this. The bus lane and shelters can be seen on the left, behind the fence. The Multirider validation machine is similar to what in 1997.

Upon arriving at the Bentley campus, I was truly marveled by how vast the campus is. Being the main campus of Curtin University, which is the largest in West Australia, it holds virtually every course that the university offers. Indeed the size of the campus is probably similar to a small town. Although located near the city center, it is actually self-sufficient. It has all amenities that needed by students, ranging from class theaters, several libraries, studios, laboratories, lodging, minimarkets, bookstores, café, restaurants, and even its massive football pitch. The only thing that was not available is the entertainment. For that, students must head into the city.

Curtin University Student Guild hall is the centre of student activity in the college.

It took me a while to find the IELTS administration building, but after asking direction for several times, I eventually find it nestled in one corner of this massive campus. Once I paid the exam fee, they gave me receipt as well as clearance card that I must bring when I do the exam.

Curtin University library is one of the landmark in Bentley campus. If I’m not mistaken the IELTS administration place was located nearby.

In order to prepare for the exam, I had to take some additional preparation class. Now for the first time, my study felt really serious. No longer had we dealt with easy and fun subjects like what we would normally found in regular classes. Now the subjects are truly complex and challenging. It emphasized in preparing the students to do the IELTS exam. The study materials were pretty much focused on the exam itself, and it includes examples of past exam materials.

As I have predicted before, I found that learning to do IELTS exam is a steeper learning curve than in the regular classes. Although there are no “failures” (at least for those who undertake the test), there are grades in the result. It ranges from 1.0 for “a person with no knowledge of English language” all the way until 9.0 for “a person with expert knowledge of English language”. I also learn that being native speaker wouldn’t guarantee that the person could get great result, while non-native speaker can possibly achieve top score.

The teaching materials in the class also reveal how complex IELTS exam is. Listening may not be a problem, as I have been trained in Milo’s listening exam which involve real radio news which were spoken at fast pace. I did the exercise test, and found it very easy. But still, I must not be complacent as there are some words whose are pronounced in thick accent. And obviously, no one would help me if I don’t understand what was said in the audio.

Then there is one module called “Reading”. What we do is we read a text, and then filling up the blank spaces in question part. But unlike regular exercise in the class, often we have to make conclusion of what is written in the text before being able to write the answer. Most of the time, the answer is not obviously visible in the text. To add the challenge, we only have limited time to complete this task.

And then there is one section which set IELTS apart from TOEFL: writing. In the test sheet, we would be given data figures in a form of charts (similar to what you see in financial section in newspapers or magazines). From that we must write a short article that describes what is depicted in the charts. How do we describe this determine how good our English language skill is. This is imperative for writing report in the college, although the subjects may vary when we enter the college (depending on what study majoring we will take).

Lastly: the speaking exam. Although it has the shortest duration and actually less challenging technically, but it can also be the most burdensome in psychological aspect. This part doesn’t just test your ability to speak English, but they also mark you based on your confidence in presenting yourself. The assessor also marked our appearance. Dodgy English speaking skill can be helped if we have pleasant and polite outlook. While the score for good speaking ability can be deducted if we act impolite, or we do not tidied up our appearance before coming for exam. Our teacher even says that this is the closest thing that we get to real job interview.

That is how to describe how complex and difficult the IELTS exam is. For a first timer like me, it was a daunting task, which made me really nervous. Careful and intense preparation is necessary to ensure a successful exam. Our teacher assure us that we do not need to feel nervous about the exam, as most of the time the assessors are not ruthless and would also value us based on our effort, in addition to skill itself.

Now, after I read some college guide books and brochures, I found that in order to be eligible to enroll to Multimedia programs (in many top colleges), I must have IELTS exam score around 5.5 until 6.0. It’s all depending on which university is. It means that the higher my score, the more choices that I would get. So in order to prepare for the exam, I would study harder. And from this point, I would spend more time studying instead of watching TV or going around the city.

Amidst the increasingly hectic activities, my parents phoned me. They said that they will come to Perth to see me after the exam. They missed me and really keen to see me. They also wanted to stay in Pacific motel, which is familiar to my father. In addition, they will also help me checking out from Shiraj’s house and helping offset the luggage limit when traveling back to Indonesia.  Oh well, that would be great help I think.


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Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 25):

In early November, a group of new students began to arrive in our college. They’re mostly Europeans and apparently they’re also Swiss, although there were some Japanese too. But unlike the previous batch of Swiss students, they’re French Swiss. This is the first time I get to know the French Swiss. At a brief glance, they looked slightly different to the Germans. Their appearance has slight Latino appearance, typical of French people.

Some of the French Swiss also joined my class. The first one is Anouchka (I can’t recall her full name). She was a blonde haired and freckled Swiss girl in her mid or late 20s from Geneva. Her profession is quite unusual for a landlocked country like Switzerland: a diving instructor! She had worked in that profession for around 4 years, aside of working as swimming instructor. Her boyfriend also studied in the college, although in another class. The other one is Pierre*. He was a handsome looking guy in his early 20s, from Lausanne. Back home in Switzerland, he worked as a shopkeeper in one sport shop in the town. He is like your typical French gentleman like what you see in romantic French movie. Indeed he was later grown close and intimate with Keiko* (the Japanese canteen employee that I normally mingled with in after class hours).

Another European student that I got close to was Anna*. She was an elderly Austrian woman who attends the class to fill her summer holiday, and also improve her English. She is modest, yet outgoing person. She is always curious about other culture, and frequently asked me about many things of my culture. When I said that I’m a Muslim, she wondered if I would have two wives in the future, which I replied that it’s impossible as I cannot afford such thing.

Gathering in a cafe after we concluded our tour at Fremantle prison. From left to right: Anna*, me, Anouchka, Ryo*, Linda*, Park*, Nattaporn, and the rest of Japanese students. Name marked with asterisk are fictitious name, as I forgot their real name.  

Other than Europeans, we also receive group of new Japanese students (although not all went into the same class as I do). One that I particularly get along was Ryo*. He was a student with athletic body, who regularly compete in triathlon event (including one in Perth, about a month before he joined the class). His English was not very good, but compared to other Japanese students, he was always keen to interact with people other than Japanese.

But the most significant friend who came at around this time was a fellow Indonesian from Surakarta. His name is Wahyu*. He doesn’t just attend the same college as me, but apparently also lives in the same house too! He occupied the room that was once belonged to Danny. For the first time I finally get housemate that is friendly and able to connect with me. The fact that we share same heritage (my ancestry also came from Surakarta, and I frequently visited the place) made us get along easily. It was truly pleasure to be around with him. We frequently chatted both at home and college and he was truly a great mate. He truly made the atmosphere at home became more friendly. Shiraj sensing that I get along much better with him than Danny or Erick in the past.

Since I moved to higher class, the teacher also changed. I was no longer in Milo’s class, but instead went to another with American teacher. His name is Mike*. He is American from New Jersey who has Ukrainian and Czech ancestry. Contrary to my previous teachers, aside of his American accent, he was very comical and disorganized. He can’t even pronounce my name properly. During class he often made lengthy talk about issues mentioned in the book. He always correlated them with his personal experience, and often added some funny stories with it. But the problem was, he often talked too much that he overshoots the time limit. Often we went into lunch break, or even going home, without the teaching material fully addressed. For advance class students, it was no problem. But for beginners, he could be a really bad influence. Despite of his disorganized attitude, we actually like him.

It can be said that the last few weeks of my study in Perth was a boring moment for me, when compared to when Denise was around. I get along easily with the Swiss French. They are more open and less arrogant when compared to their German compatriots. And they’re willing to mingle with Asians without too much problems. I frequently spend my lunch break with Anouchka and her boyfriend, and also Pierre*. He is a big fan of Nestle chocolate, especially Kit Kat.

When the new Kit Kat chunky bar was launched, he was really keen to get one sample. In addition, in latter weeks I often found Pierre sat together intimately with Keiko. I think this was the first time I see a European student could get intimate relationship with Asian.

And in this month too, I also had my last class excursion. It was a trip to Fremantle Prison (again). It was generally the same kind of trip that I had during my first months in Australia, unless the people are different. Since we visited at warmer weather, we can feel how it like is inside the prison in summer. As you know, the summer weather in Austrlia is generally scorching hot. Yet the prison interior felt reasonably comfortable. It wasn’t too hot, but not as cool as during winter months.

Once the excursion is concluded, I’m getting more serious on the study. I always search in the library, and in the internet about field of studies. Internet search engine was still in its infancy, Yahoo was the most favorite one, followed by AltaVista, while Google didn’t exist back then (indeed paid e-mail account was norm back then).

I looked at the study programs. Aviation is definitely out of question by now. I was also not interested with any engineering or economic courses. Art seem to be awkward. Despite of my dislikes towards engineering study, I still had an interest in computing world. The most popular study was Computer Science which was offered in some universities. What motivated me in computing was because of my interest in gaming. I was really keen to study to create computer games and made living out of it in the future.

Unfortunately, mathematics and physics were not my forte. Indeed when I was in high school, I was in Social Study major instead of Engineering, as I often failed in calculation subjects (except for economic mathematics).  And when I looked at the requirement to enter the Computer Science course, I was daunted by the fact that it requires strong proficiency in mathematics and some physics.

But then I came across one interesting study: Bachelor of Multimedia program. I’m curious what it is. It looks like some kind of computer study, yet it doesn’t require its prospective students to have proficiency in mathematical study. Then I remember that Shah Jehan is studying computer at Edith Cowan University, so he must have some knowledge that might be able to help me.

Edith Cowan University logo as seen in 1997.

One night, I knocked the door of his room to ask some question. He got out of his narrow bedroom, and greeted me. I asked him about what Multimedia study is. He replied by saying that Multimedia study is a study where we use computer to process images and sounds, making animation, and even creating computer game. Wow! That sounds exciting. From that on, I made firm decision that after completing my English language, I would take Bachelor of Multimedia program.

I thanked Shah Jehan, and returning back to my room to sleep.


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