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.



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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