Tessa: There used to be an Indonesian restaurant in Scheveningen, Holland called Bali. The restaurant looked like an old house that had been renovated. As a child my family used to travel to Holland frequently to visit and this was one restaurant we would always go to. First we would pick up my grandmother, Nenny, who lived in Den Hague (The Hague) and off we would go. Those visits always included my mom and dad, my sister Petra, brother John and if my exiled sister Jokelee was in town from Switzerland, she would be there too, along assorted aunts, uncles and cousins.
Even though we would often eat indonesian food at home going to a restaurant like this was a big treat because we would order the entire rijstafel that included alot of things I didn’t know. AND bonus my dad would order in this strange language that was neither Dutch nor English. What is that, I asked? What? he’d say. That language. Malay, he answered. What’s Malay? A language spoken in Indonesia. How come you’re speaking it? Because that’s where I’m from. Really? Yes. Does she speak it? I said pointing to my grandmother. No. Why? At which my grandmother looked at me and said, I speak only Dutch. Ik spreek alleen Nederlands.
I think that was the first time, although certainly not the last time, I realized my dad was something other than what I thought he was. As a six year old I don’t think you actually think about things in that kind of a way but I definitely knew in that moment that both he and my grandma were different even if she denied it. And the only reason I could figure that out was because even though my dad spoke that funny language he looked like me; blonde and blue-eyed, and my grandmother was dark and exotic like our waiters. For that brief moment that a kid cares or pays attention to those kinds of things it just seemed twisted.
That was my first introduction to Indonesia, a place that my father, his brother and sister and my grandmother were all born and raised.