Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 13)

My activities during free time at home or weekend are also worth telling too.

Living with Shiraj family gives me interesting insight about how Muslim family life looks like in Australia. It also gives me insight about variety of Islamic teaching that I never encounter back home in Indonesia.

For example they were quite strict about what we eat. Although eating chicken or beef is allowed in Islam, they also emphasize the “Halal” certification on meat products. They also said that any beef or chicken, or any restaurants that has no Halal certificate may not be Halal for Muslim consumption after all. Does it mean that the kebab that I ate before was not Halal?

Despite of that, they do not enforce me on praying (shalat) together. They don’t mind if I socialize with western girls, or going to pub (which I rarely did).

They’ve also been helpful for me in finding mosque. Throughout my stay in Perth, I always pray at Perth Mosque, which is located in the suburb of Northbridge. The mosque itself is historic building, which is considered as one of the first mosque to be built in Australia. I always came there for Friday congregation.

Perth Mosque as seen from William street. The small road on the left is Robinson avenue.

The ritual is generally the same like what I had back home, unless that no hand shake after the pray.  Throughout my stay in Australia, the sermon was always done by one person, the Grand Imam of the mosque.

Contrary to the sermons in Indonesian mosque which would normally done in fiery manner, enhanced with the loudspeaker which is set at nearly maximum setting, the sermon in Perth mosque would be done in calm and soft manner. They never set the loudspeaker loudly. And while many imams in Indonesia would discuss complicated topics that sometime laced with bigotry and radicalism during Friday congregation, in here the topic are mostly discussing about basic life value. So at the end of Friday congregation, worshiper would come home in peaceful mind.

And at the end of the congregation, some people would sell Middle Eastern food at cheap price. Sometime I buy and taste them, and they were quite delicious too. One of them was a food that resembles pizza, but served on an Arabic flatbread. I can’t recall its name, but it was truly delicious. I think it was “Sfiha” as it resemble one.

The Shirajs also have two children, their eldest son named Suhail and the young girl named Shimla. Suhail was 3 years old and quite an active boy, while Shimla was only 9 months old when I first came to their house. They were really cute and well behaved. None of them were really trouble makers. Their parents have instilled strict discipline, especially on Shuhai. I often played around with them. Sometime teaching Shimla how to walk, or just walking around the house with Shuhai.

Despite of their pleasant manner, Feroza would frequently deliver corporal punishment to Suhail, for even slight infraction! I honestly feel sorry for what he had to endure. This might amount to domestic violence, but at that time I just didn’t bother much about that.

The three years old Suhail Shiraj (green and blue clothes) playing with his friends in his parent’s bedroom.

Shimla (in black clothes) playing in front yard, accompanied by her friends, during her birthday party in 1997.

Sometime, some of their friends from Sri Lankan Muslim community in Perth would also came to visit the house, either for conversation with Siraj, Feroza, or Shah Jehan, or just having meal. Siraj family is quite sociable and egalitarian, so as long as he knew the person, he would treat them like if they’re family member. I also get to know many of them.

One of the Sri Lankan who frequently come is Kamal*. He was a Sri Lankan in his early 30s, with dark skin, slightly short and skinny stature, thick curly hair, and sharp eyes. He was probably related to Feroza, because I frequently saw them chatting for long whenever he dropped by. He was quite a nice guy, and sometime I would chat with him about current affairs at that time.

Shah Jehan also frequently invited his close friends to home. Those that regularly come were Shan* and Fairuz. I think both of them were Shah Jehan’s former high school mates back in Sri Lanka who also made their way to study and live in Australia. If I’m not mistaken, both studied economy in two different universities. Shan* studied in Curtin University, while Fairuz attending the course in Murdoch.  Compared to Kamal*, both of them are much more casual and very much open. We often traded jokes, and they occasionally teasing me (as a gesture of friendship).

Siraj occasionally held some family function in his house, where he would invite many Sri Lankans to his house, like when Shimla celebrated her birthday. Mostly Muslims, but there were some whose are Christians or Buddhist who also come. It was also a unique way to understand their custom and culture. I notice, during the part all of the males stood up while the females sitting.

Feroza helping Shimla cutting her birthday cake.

Male guests, of Sri Lankan Muslim community in Perth, gather in the alleyway. I noticed that both male and female guests never share the same room.

Feroza also cook some food that I didn’t normally see outside such event, such as fish curry puffs or chocolate cakes.

The living room of Shiraj’s house in 170 Grosvenor road. The kitchen door is on the right, while the alleyway lead to the the bedrooms and the entrance door. Note Feroza carrying Shimla on her lap.

Another angle of the living room. The door on the right is bathroom, while on the left is the toilet. Both rooms are separated. The opened door next to the toilet goes the backyard.

Every night, I would normally spend time by watching TV, and the shows are completely different than what I see in Indonesia at that period and this gave me a new insight of the world. Although it resembles the American TV channels that I saw in cable TV network, there are some obvious differences.

First of all, thanks to the freedom of speech, I occasionally came across some news or documentaries that were specifically critical towards Indonesia. Discussions about Indonesian politics were common. Something that was impossible in Indonesia, without risk of repercussion by the authoritarian Soeharto regime.

Back then, political freedom was generally unheard of in Indonesia. Soeharto was still at the height of his power. He was a feared dictator in Indonesia. But in Australia many people began to question and challenge the relevance of his authoritarian leadership (this trait is dating back from 1976 when 5 of their reporters were killed by Indonesian forces in East Timor, which was known as “Balibo Five Incident”).

Not just politics, I also came see some news that criticize stuffs that would normally made Indonesians proud, such as Garuda airlines, military, or even tourism. Some of the teachers in my college were also critical towards Indonesia. Inspired by this, I also began to open up my mind and questioning any things that often considered as “sacred” by government in Indonesia.

An article on 23rd August 1997 edition of The West Australian newspaper which harshly criticized Garuda Indonesia, Indonesia’s pride national carrier. Back then you would not found such article published in Indonesia, even in the English language press!

Although censorship rating does exist in Australia, they work in completely different way than their Indonesian counterpart. While in Indonesia, publications that contain sex scene or nudity are omitted completely, in Australia you can freely found them, both in TV or in prints. Instead of completely banning them, they put the show latter at night. Or in case of printed materials they put them on upper shelf. It was the first time I read Playboy magazine with its famed nude girls, and also sexual education book which feature naked models in erotic pose.

Oh, once I found a porn magazine left by previous tenant in my bedroom, on the top of my closet. One day I was curious looking around my room, when I suddenly came across this dirty magazine. Compared to Playboy, the contents were much more explicit and even contain scene of sexual intercourse. I can’t recall the name of the magazine. As I wasn’t perverted guy, I honestly didn’t enjoy reading the magazine.

Back to the media, the rating start from G or general audience which means anyone can watch it, then PG or parental guide for shows that need parents role to explain to their children, M for mature audience (normally contain some violence, plenty of swear words, sexual matters, and romance), and lastly MA which stood for Mature Adult. Any movies or TV program that fell in last categories normally contain more extreme content than M-rated, including sex scene, nudity (including exposed genital), or strong violence. Another rating which is normally reserved for porn movies or extreme violence is called R or restricted. The R-rated materials never been broadcasted into TV.

That means as the night progresses, the TV programs often become more “interesting” because I could see anything that I would surely never be able to see on Indonesian TV, such as sexual material. They are not abashed to broadcast sexual education program that contain naked couples doing sex, or also European movies that have sex scenes. One of the favorite show in this category is “Sex / Life” which was broadcasted every Wednesday night on Channel Ten at around 0930pm, or European movies, especially the French and Spanish ones, where steamy sex scenes are regularly seen.

Other than risqué shows, I also like to watch other more general TV show such as music or perhaps documentaries. And every weekend I would tune music show. And there were two of them: RAGE on ABC and Video Hits on Channel 10.

RAGE would start around midnight on Saturday, and it will play all the way until 9am in the morning. Amazingly, they didn’t repeat any of the songs throughout that duration. Instead, they will play any songs from any genre in western music industry (techno, dance, alternative, punk, RnB, and pop).

Video Hits focusing on the top 10 pop songs. They didn’t just show pop songs from American artists, but also British and of course, the local talents whom some already made their name in Britain or America. They also broadcast some classic pop songs (mostly Australians). Some of the songs that they played had become the soundtrack of my life there, and truly adding color to my love life which will develop later on.

Such as “(Something About) The Way You Look Tonight” by Elton John. I always get emotional whenever I hear this song.

Or “Honey” by Mariah Carey.

The song “Together Again” by Janet Jackson, was really popular too. And at one point she herself did live performance on local TV show called “The Gong Show”.

But my favorite had to be “Barbie Girl” by Danish disco band Aqua. I like its catchy tune with the youthful voice of its lead singer. And whenever it was aired, I always watched the TV.

Apparently my aficionado on this song became laughing stock for Shiraj and Shahjehan, who often teased me whenever I watched its video clip.

Little did I know back then that a few weeks later I would met my “Barbie Girl”, or a girl who her baby face and mannequin alike appearance made her looks like doll.

However, during this period I witnessed one event that didn’t just stun myself, but also shocked the world: the death of Lady Diana, the Princess of Wales.

It was in one morning at the end of August 1997. I was watching Video Hits TV show, when suddenly a news ticker appeared at the bottom of the screen, informing that Lady Diana and her fiancée, Dodi Al Fayed, was involved in a car crash in Paris. It said that Lady Di was in critical condition, while her boyfriend died.

Initially, I was glad she survived the ordeal. Since the degree of the incident didn’t seem to be very serious, I decided to have a shower. But as I finished my breakfast, more news and details of the accident began to unfold. It turned out that she and her boyfriend was traveling onboard a Mercedes from Ritz hotel and crashed inside Pont D’Alma tunnel. The driver and Dodi Al Fayed were killed instantly, while Lady Di and her bodyguard survived, albeit in critical condition.

As the event progressed, suddenly the saddest news of all was announced: Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, has died!

The live coverage of her funeral procession, complete with the revised “Candle In The Wind” song, dominated the TV airings at that time.

I was utterly shocked by this. Although I wasn’t really big fans of her, I was always enthralled by her larger-than-life beauty. She wasn’t just beautiful, but also elegant, and truly had natural grandeur looks, up until the last year of her life. She was pretty much the epitome of English Beauty. Her death somehow gave me feeling of loss.

I didn’t realize that the feelings were later compensated by the arrival of one special lady in my life, that had almost similar elegant looks as her, a few weeks after that.

Other than watching TV, my favorite activity every weekend was going out to explore the city and its surrounding areas.

Although my housemates did showed something on my first days in here, most of the time they never accompany me on weekend. They kept themselves busy: Danny worked in hospitality industry so he hardly had day off in weekend. And most of the time he would spend his holiday with his girlfriend. Eric, often did part time works every weekend, or doing some activities in Indonesian church.

The only time where we went out together during weekend was we went for Indonesian Independence Day ceremony. It was the first time that I celebrated the event in overseas country. And it was also the first time that I didn’t have to stand on the outside and saluting the flag during ceremony. At that time, there were two major 17th August event that took place: firstly is in the Consulate. It feature formal ceremony, as well as buffet traditional Indonesian meal party. The second one is the one that we’re going to: Independence Day ceremony with the Indonesian church organization.

If I’m not mistaken, we went to a meeting hall of Wesley College (where many Indonesian students studied there), located on the southern suburb of Perth. In that large hall, many Indonesians came to attend the gathering. There were some ceremonies, including flag rising and salute. But since it was Sunday, it was also doubled as Sunday Mass praying. For non-Christian like me and some of my friends, we had to sit down when the proceeding is religion related.

After the ceremony and Sunday mass, they also opened “Indonesian market” which sells many Indonesian foods, snacks, and souvenirs. It was truly entertaining for homesick Indonesians who stay in Perth. Since I had only been in Perth for less than 3 weeks, I didn’t feel homesick at all and found the market as nothing sort of special.

In addition to the activities mentioned above, they also held match and competitions which would normally held during Independence Day in Indonesia. The matches were gunny sack race, tug of war, or bakiak wooden sandal race (where each pair was worn by 2-3 people, and they have to coordinate their move to walk, while also competing with other teams).

Indonesian students from one Indonesian church community celebrated Independence Day event in Wesley College in southern Perth in 1997. They’re seen doing gunny sack race. Erick* is the guy with glasses, seen second from right in the background.

The match was done in an open field next to the meeting hall.  It was a fun and rousing occasion and everyone truly enjoy it.I even joined one tug-of-war match, where my team lost and I fell hard to the ground. Thankfully, one kind participant from opposite team willing to help me stood up.

But one interesting thing that I notice was, although we also share the field with a group of Australians who practice football in another corner, they didn’t seem to be interested with our activities. Some of them were looking down upon us, as if we’re inferior race to them. Indeed there are some group of people in Australia who doesn’t like us the Indonesian, and seeing us with disgust.

The onlookers applauding the race participants.

It can be said that my relationship with Danny* and Erick* tend to grow worse as the time progresses. Their egotistical and ambitious attitudes simply do not match with my easygoing and introvert manner. Since they came from Jakarta, they perceive “regional boy” from Surabaya like me as a person of lower class than “metropolitan boys” like them. That was quite an irony, considering that Danny’s girlfriend also came from Surabaya (she studied in Edith Cowan University, and occasionally came to visit us).

Erick* might be busy doing his college duties, as well as part time job. But once at home, he was anything but communicable. Most of the time, he would be busy tuning at phone and chat with his friends. And those were the days before even cheap cell phone was available in the market, let alone smartphone and social media! If not busy chatting on the phone, he would be busy chatting loudly with his visiting friends, also Indonesian students from Jakarta. I sometime tried to join the chat, but most of the time; they disregard me for being “outsider”.

Basically we never had long and friendly chat. Most of the time, whenever I drop by to his bedroom, he would simply ignore me and paid more attention to his computer while chatting on the phone. Sometime, Erick would sang church songs loudly, with some electric guitar (despite of his poor guitar playing), much to the amazement of the landlord family and me.

Danny*, is also equally selfish. Although he was friendly and helpful during my first days in here, he gradually turned cold on me. He may not have computer, nor had habit of chatting over long period on the phone. But he would simply ignored me, or doused off any conversation that I tried to start with him. Most of the time, he would prefer to have fun with Shah Jehan, Shiraj, Feroza, or the kids. Yet, he often treated me as if I wasn’t around with him.

If it wasn’t enough, once he scolded and humiliated me by saying that the reason he refused to socialize with me is because of my “childish and backward attitude”. It truly gave me heartache feeling. I was truly offended and mad, so much that I later sobbed in my bedroom. I have never forgive him for his arrogance.

There are several reasons behind their despicable attitude, ranging from the palpable ones, like false sense of superiority for being from Jakarta, seniority, group thinking, all the way into rumor that because they were members of hard line Indonesian church in Perth, where they want to avenge poor treatment towards Chinese Christian minority. I occasionally could sense that they probably tried to drag me into the church and convert into their religion. They simply want me to conform with them, which could probably be attained if I talk and behave like boys from Jakarta and member of their church. In short, I simply did not fit with their mold.

Since they were minority in my social life in Australia, I didn’t give damn about their demands, and continued on with my life.

I occasionally travel to the city center alone every weekend to enjoy whatever attraction that they had in the city.

Enjoying lone trip to Fremantle. I used a tripod to take this “selfie photo” (back then the term was unheard of).

And the cold weather seems to enable me to test my physique well beyond what I would normally do in Surabaya. I could walk longer and less likely to be fatigued. I remember once I went to the city by walking, much to the amazement of the Shirajs!

On weekend, there will be some street artists doing performance on the plazas in the city center. Unlike busker in Surabaya who played music only to beg, they’re genuinely talented and delivering top notch show.  For example, once I saw one pianist who pushed his piano to one spot, and then playing excellent tunes. Sometime I saw a guitarist who performed classic musical piece, or a comedian who doubled as magician. Most of the time, people would flock to see their performance, and these performers do earn respectable amount of money that they can use to make living.

A pantomime artist dressed up as “Paddy Hannan” during a performance in Fremantle. Whenever passer by dropped a coin, he would change his pose, often in comical fashion.

On rare occasion, there are some events held in the city center. Such as rock music concert, or this fashion show which was held at Forrest Place.

Once I was lucky enough to be able to see the podium finish event for Australian World Rally Championship, which was won by late Colin McRae with his Subaru Rally team. I remember Forrest Place was temporarily fenced, and there was also a slalom demonstration by the podium winners. It was so crowded that I barely able to see what was in front there. At least I caught glimpse of Colin McRae and his navigator Nicky Grist being interviewed on the podium.

The racer Colin McRae (right) and navigator Nicky Grist (left) won the Australian leg of 1997 World Rally Championship series. They’re seen celebrating their victory on a podium at Forrest Place.

Although Perth is a modern city that is comparable to Singapore, and deemed better than any major cities in Indonesia, I notice that once shops closed, the city gradually went eerily quiet in a matter of minutes. Shops opening hours were limited. They normally open around 9am, and by 5pm they have mostly closed, except on Friday where they will open until 9pm. So it was highly unusual for me to see such a big metropolitan city can be deserted, like a ghost city, even on weekend!

So where do people goes every weekend? In the evening, the adults would normally head to pubs and bars. The establishments are mostly located in Northbridge, a suburb just to the north of the city center. This area is would be the busiest place in the city every weekend. Those who don’t enjoy going out into the pub or discotheque (like me) had to be contend by staying in the house, watching rather boring TV shows…..



About bagus70

I'm an adventurous railfans who love to seek out the world of railway, beyond the border of my office.
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