Sun, 23 Jun 2002

Yogyakarta library is a labor of love

Cynthia Webb, Contributor, Sumberan, Yogyakarta

The city of Yogyakarta will soon be presented with an incomparable gift, but it comes as a result of a tragic tale of lost love.

Taman Bacaan Natsuko Shioya is a library built as a memorial to a 23-year-old Japanese woman who died tragically in Sapporo, on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, in August 1997.

A 70-ton pile-driver toppled over on soft ground and destroyed the neighboring house, which was the home of Natsuko's family. Her parents were not at home, but Natsuko died of suffocation buried under the rubble.

The famed Shah Jehan gave the world the beautiful Taj Mahal as his memorial to his beloved wife, and Taman Bacaan Natsuko Shioya is the memorial of Glen Goulds, the Australian man whose life was changed forever when he met and fell in love with Natsuko in Yogyakarta during several business visits to the Indonesian cultural heartland.

"I had the privilege to meet Natsuko, who had great purity of spirit and who was both humble and selfless. She had the capacity to light up a room with her presence, and all felt it. She was an enlightened soul, who did not know it. She is the love of my life," Goulds said.

The couple planned to marry, and each returned to their own country to inform their families. Only the night before the tragic accident, Natsuko had spoken to her parents about her love for Goulds and their marriage plans.

Strangely, about three weeks earlier, she had told her parents that if something should happen to her, she would like her ashes to be brought to Borobodur temple in Central Java, and to Varanasi, India. Like many Japanese, Natsuko was a Buddhist, and these are both important Buddhist sites.

About two days after the tragedy, Goulds telephoned from Australia to speak to Natsuko, and was shocked to hear the terrible news. Her parents had not known how to contact him. As soon as he could, Goulds departed for Hokkaido and was able to attend some of the ritual ceremonies for Natsuko although he was too late for the funeral and cremation.

He began his friendship with her parents and resolved to reorganize his life so that he could go to Japan to live. He felt bereft and the difficulty of accepting the reality of his loss was immense. He thought about the Buddhist belief in the enduring soul and the spiritual strength of Natsuko.

Perhaps it would be possible to come to terms with his tragic loss if he was in her hometown, the place where she died, and perhaps he could even communicate with her spirit if, as Buddhists believe, the spirit lives on after the death of the body. Since Natsuko's death, Goulds has also been a practicing Buddhist.

Goulds returned to the Gold Coast, Australia, and made preparations to change his life. He enrolled in an intensive graduate diploma course in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) at the local university. This would enable him to get a visa to live and work in Japan. He sold his business and residence and was soon working at a language college in Hokkaido.

As he grew closer to the people whom he now calls "my Japanese family", the idea formed of using the accident compensation money to build a memorial for their beloved Natsuko. In both Goulds' Australian family and the Japanese family there is a passionate love of literature and the highest value is attached to books. That the memorial should be a library soon seemed obvious as he and her parents discussed the question. Natsuko's father is a writer and photographer and possesses a large personal library, and her mother is a teacher.

The Japanese family came to Indonesia with Goulds and agreed that Yogyakarta seemed to be the ideal location for several reasons. The lovers had met there. The site has also been chosen for its similarity to Japanese landscape. There is a clear view of Mount Merapi across the rice fields, bringing to mind its resemblance to that other famous volcano, Mount Fuji.

It is close to Borobodur, the world's largest Buddhist monument. Also important was the fact that there was a need for a high quality modern public library in Yogyakarta, a city with a reputation of being a center of learning and culture.

Construction of Taman Bacaan Natsuko Shioya began in April 2001 with the aim of bringing the opportunity to enjoy reading to the citizens of Yogyakarta. It is located at Sumberan on the outskirts of Yogyakarta in a beautiful village environment. It is quiet and peaceful there, the air is clear and the atmosphere is perfect for enrichment of the mind and spirit, through the wonderful world of books.

The building's design has features reminiscent of Japanese style and tradition. The project has been carried out to the highest degree of quality in design, materials and workmanship. Goulds describes himself as "a perfectionist".

On the roof are two terra-cotta elephants, a poignant touch, which recognizes Natsuko's love of elephants. The garden is also inspired by Japanese tradition, too, and even has a tea house which may be hired for the equivalent of Rp 25,000 for half a day. Readers may sit on cushions and enjoy tea and a good book in this uniquely beautiful place.

Membership of the library will be open to all and after paying a small and refundable membership fee, borrowing will be free of charge. There will be an up-to-date collection of high quality fiction and nonfiction, comprising approximately 10,000 books.

There will also be a collection of valuable coffee-table books, which will not be available for borrowing. However, the facilities of computer, scanner and printer will be available to people wishing to use them. The book collection will be in three different languages, 60 percent in Bahasa Indonesia, 20 percent in English and 20 percent in Japanese, and including a children's library.

Natsuko's parents entrusted the execution of the project entirely to Goulds. The total cost of the project is A$250,000 (about Rp 1.2 billion), and the completed library will be administered from a trust fund in perpetuity by a foundation.

During Goulds' childhood years his own father had instilled in him a lasting love of literature which he in turn had communicated to Natsuko. Goulds says that, in many ways, his own dedication to the project of building the library in Yogyakarta flows from his father whom he loved and respected immensely, whom he describes as a "man small in stature who cast a giant shadow".

Tenacity and perseverance were his father's hallmarks. William Goulds survived three years in Changi prison during the Japanese occupation of Singapore in World War II.

Like fellow prisoner author Laurens Van Der Post, Goulds senior, who had a leg amputated in the prison camp due to infection, was convinced that forgiveness was the answer and he never harbored or expressed any hatred or enmity toward the Japanese after the war. He was of the opinion that these were invalid emotions and must be "let go", because they had the potential to destroy, if one allowed them into the heart. The younger Goulds describes his father in the same words as he describes Natsuko Shioya, a humble and selfless soul.

In their hometown of Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, after the war Goulds senior was instrumental in designing and implementing a children's playground for the city in the 1960s. Now Glen Goulds finds himself following his late father's example -- doing something unasked, for the betterment of others, and in particular for the benefit of children.

When the library is completed and functioning smoothly, Goulds will fulfill the last of his sacred promises by journeying to Varanasi, India, to scatter Natsuko's ashes. He has already entrusted her ashes to the highest Buddha on Borobodur, which faces east, into the rising sun.