Thu, 24 Jul 2003

Tantri Yuliandini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

When the Dutch government allocated the position of Deputy Director of the Erasmus Huis in Jakarta five years ago, Ton Hamoen's mother rejoiced, saying that at last she knew exactly where her son was working.

"My mother was brought up in Magelang and she always had a lot to say about Indonesia," Hamoen said. His grandfather was a teacher in the same town in Central Java, during the Dutch occupation and Hamoen's mother and siblings were raised there.

Born Petrus Anthonie Hamoen on Aug. 29, 1938, in Philips, Eindhoven, southern Netherlands, Hamoen heard much about Indonesia, and the beautiful Magelang countryside, as a child.

When he had the chance to visit the town several years ago, he was surprised and pleased that at least two of his grandfather's pupils were still living there.

"One (former pupil) was working behind the counter as a cashier, and it was like she was seeing somebody from another time," Hamoen related.

For the last five years, he has been the face of Dutch cultural center, Erasmus Huis, on Jl. H.R. Rasuna Said in South Jakarta.

As deputy director of Erasmus Huis, Ton has been responsible for the performances of local and Dutch artists at the Huis's auditorium. It has become one of the most prominent and loved performance halls in Jakarta.

"I try to maintain the standard of the Dutch and Indonesian performances, you know, so that people know that (the performances) are always good and interesting," he said, explaining the secret of his success in Jakarta. According to Hamoen, his greatest achievement was in bringing the dance group, Introdans, to perform three times in the country.

An adept performer himself, Hamoen has also entertained guests with his singing and often participated in choirs and performances.

Whether the music is jazz, classical, or opera, Hamoen can not seem to keep still. Even waiting for the elevator doors to open at Plaza Indonesia, Hamoen can not help humming and even tapping his toes to the rhythm of a jazz song, drifting out from a nearby cafe.

"Jazz I like, but classical music I love because it's so melodious," Hamoen said, explaining that this love began when he watched a production of Sergei Prokofiev's Peter en de Wolf many years ago in highschool, back in Eindhoven.

Hamoen has an educational background in social geography and economy. But despite his claim, that music is just a hobby, again and again he has found himself immersed in the world of the arts.

He had initially applied for the position of Russian translator at the East European Desk of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but a twist of fate led him to work at the African Desk, and later at the Cultural Desk.

"And when they opened the Cultural Desk (at the Ministry) in 1969 I was asked by my boss to join in, because people knew I was always going to all the interesting theatrical performances nearby," Hamoen explained.

His career in the Ministry took him to The Hague, Paris, Washington, London, New Delhi, and finally Jakarta ("I thought it would make a very interesting end to my career"). And always, wherever he went, the singing-side of him was apparent.

In The Hague he joined the Lutheran Church Choir, in India Hamoen sang in the New Delhi Soloist Quartet, and he performed with Dutch soprano Heleen Mendl-Schrama and pianist Paul Webster in London.

"My mother loves singing very much. I think I must have heard my mother singing even before I was born," he said.

Besides singing, Hamoen also has an extraordinary gift for languages. He could not say exactly how many languages he knows, but at the least Russian, Danish, French, English, Hindi, and Indonesian, besides his native Dutch language.

Hamoen studied Danish at the University of Copenhagen and picked up Russian while doing an obligatory two-years of military service. "I was the translator for the military, that's why I still love the Russian culture... composers like Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky".

French he studied during his work as Press and Cultural Attache at the Netherlands Embassy in Paris. "It was not easy to touch the people there. First you must learn to speak the language fluently. But once you do that you can enjoy a very nice contact with people."

During his four years in New Delhi, Hamoen took the time to learn Hindi, and he is still taking weekly conversation lessons in Bahasa Indonesian.

"I always follow conversations and the grammar of the Indonesian language. Although I don't have much time I try to read the newspapers, and to learn words and expressions,"

"I love it very much because I think through the language you can learn a lot about the people and about culture. If you don't do that and you only speak English you lose a lot, a lot stays hidden to you," Hamoen said and added that he thought Bahasa Indonesia was a very polite language, compared to the directness of Dutch.

"In Indonesian you don't say 'this is terrible', you say 'this is too much', which is nicely said. Not 'this is bad' but 'this is kurang baik', less good".

Hamoen also admitted to the same tendency, attributing his understatements to the influence of his mother's Indonesian upbringing.

Now that his five years in the country is up, Hamoen is ready to return to Eindhoven and a life of retirement. He said that he may teach geography or economy, since he has degrees in both, and because "there's an enormous lack of teachers in Holland at the moment." Or he may just return to singing and the theater.