Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Jakarta's "New" International Airport

When I was helping Singapore’s IMC Pan Asia Alliance to develop its palm oil business in Indonesia, I had to travel to the country often. I even stationed myself in Jakarta for a couple of months. We were facilitated with an apartment near our office at Kuningan, one of the up-market precincts in Jakarta. Jakarta’s international airport was not great, but adequate. The traffic to and fro could be nightmarish, though. It could take hours.

I didn’t know their new international airport was ready when I flew in a couple of weeks ago. It is actually not a new airport but a new terminal arising out of organic needs. 

The distance from the gate to the Immigration hall seems endless. Fortunately, being amongst the first to disembark - thanks to my B class ticket - I was offered a ride in one of the carriages stationed halfway along the route.

Everything is confusing once you step out! 

Traffic was quite chaotic. On seeing some vehicles bearing top hotels’ logos, I asked if there was one from Grand Hyatt. Yes, but the fare was totally exorbitant. I decided to book a limo at Blue Bird’s booth. The receptionists were very courteous, but the system seemed silly. Those who came after me got driven off first. They apologized and smiled a lot but were quite clueless.

I didn’t realise that the new terminal is such a beast until I checked in to fly back the next day!

The terminal is massive. I dare say not much thought has been put in to design the terminal.

It is totally LINEAR.

I had no issues with the check-in arrangements. But one must walk past many many shops, kiosks and eateries before one reaches the Immigration hall. And after clearing Immigration, another long journey begins. I flew MAS and it offers its B class passengers to use a lounge which is located at almost one end of the terminal. The linearity was shocking; all the gates are on one side. From one end to the other, the new terminal must be more than a kilometer long.

And the local products are expensive! A modest box of Indonesia’s very popular “thousand-layered” cake costs something like USD20!

One thing, Indonesians are generally very patient; they don’t seem to complain.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Dr Leon Comber, A Living Legend

My late eldest brother Yew Seng often talked about his boss Leon Comber when he was alive. They were both in Heinemann Singapore, Comber the managing director, and my late brother, the general manager there. And it was from him that I learned that author Han Su-yin was one-time Comber’s wife. I also came across a preface written by him in one of the books about the ambush of General Henry Gurney at Frasers Hill.

One day two years ago or so Saw Hwa and were invited by Barry Clarke, who is the CEO of Routledge Asia, to his home for dinner. There we were introduced to two other guests: Comber and his friend Lee Su Ying. Comber was very generous with his knowledge; that evening I came to realise that he was an extraordinary man.

Despite his age and condition, he would make it a point whenever possible to attend the talks that we held at The HEAD Foundation. His direct involvement as a colonial officer before, during and after World War II and the Malayan Emergency of 1948-60 fascinated me. He was kind enough to accept a lunch invitation to answer whatever my fellow directors had wanted to know about some of the legendary figures during these periods of our history. His first-hand knowledge was truly awesome. I believe being a senior Special Branch officer then, he must have known the secrets of everyone. (Robert Kuok also mentioned him in his memoir.)

During World War II, he serves as a British officer in the Indian Army. He was among those who landed at Morib and witnessed the surrender of the Japanese forces. After the war, he became the head of the Special Branch in Johor. Comber saw the writing on the wall when he was summoned and be dressed down by the British High Commissioner to Malaya Field Marshal Gerald Templer about the writing of Han Su-yin, whom he married in 1952. (They divorced in 1958.) He left for a very distinguished publishing career after that.

Comber speaks fluent Cantonese. He is now a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asia Studies (ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute).

A couple of months ago, after hearing that he had been hospitalised in Melbourne, I visited him. He is now being looked after in an aged care home there. I paid him a visit and learning that he loved Chinese food, I arranged to take him out to share a meal at a restaurant nearby a week later.

Dr Comber was born in 1921, which makes him 98 today. Although a little hard on walking, his memory is still superb.

Below are his publications. The last two titles were written when he was 96. At his age, he still wants to publish more. He puts all of us to shame!

·        Chinese Ancestor Worship in Malaya (1954).
·        Chinese Temples in Singapore (1958).
·        Chinese Secret Societies in Malaya: A Survey of the Triad Society from 1800 to 1900 (1959).
·        Favourite Chinese Stories (1967; 1975; 1988).
·        The Strange Cases of Magistrate Pao: Chinese Tales of Crime and Detection. Translated from the Chinese and Retold by Leon Comber [with] Illustrations by Lo Koon-chiu (1970; 1972; 2010).
·        The Golden Treasure Box: Favourite Stories From the Orient (1979).
·        Malaya's Secret Police 1945-1960: The Role of the Special Branch in the Malayan Emergency (2008).
·        The Triads: Chinese Secret Societies in 1950s Malaya and Singapore (2009).
·        Through the Bamboo Window: Chinese Life and Culture in 1950s Malaya and Singapore (2009).
·        Singapore Correspondent: Political Dispatches from Singapore, 1958-1962 (2012).
·        Templer and the Road to Malaysian independence: The Man and His Time (2015).
·        Dalley and the Malayan Security Service, 1945-48: MI5 vs. MSS (2018).