One third of Silvia’s first book (AL) is devoted to her time in Bali. She travelled here from California, armed with a letter of introduction to ‘Jim and Helene’. They were an American couple who had travelled far and wide but when they arrived in Bali they found a fishing village called Kuta. It had two miles of coral sand and tall palms, whereupon they decided to stay here for ever. This led them to build some wattle huts and develop a small hotel. They were very friendly and efficient and the hotel prospered and grew and became famous in the East. The village, in an uninhabited part of Bali when Silvia visited, is now one of Indonesia’s main tourist destinations.
Silvia slept in one of the wattle huts on the edge of the shore. There was a gecko in the roof, a toad under my bed, while rats, land-crabs and beige-coloured flying-beetles, together with enormous ants, dragon-flies, grasshoppers and scorpions, were not infrequent visitors. Fishermen and burglars also drifted in and out of the room where there was hardly a dull moment.
She waxes eloquent about the Balinese who were nearly all wonderful to draw and observes that when they stand about watching dances and plays, often they are as exciting to look at as the play, for they naturally fall into beautifully composed groups, while their bodies are so relaxed that their limbs seem to flow down from their shoulders like water.
There are tales about the Bali customs and ceremonies, fellow visitors, the servants, her models and the wildlife. She is aware that religion is the most powerful influence in Bali as the island is thickly sown with temples. On one occasion, she went to a temple festival that involved sailing down a river and crossing a short stretch of sea to reach an island. She describes it as a truly heavenly experience – with hundreds of boats going in both directions, filled with people in gay (sic) clothes and crowned with flowers – like floating down the Styx.
Her departure from Bali in October 1940 was precipitated by a letter from her Bank in London. She learnt that, unless she lived inside the British Empire they would no longer be able to forward money to her. After ten special months, she suddenly had to find £60, out of nowhere, to pay for a voyage to Calcutta or Rangoon.
Lombok, Java & Singapore, 1940-1941
Silvia wanted to travel off the beaten track which led her to purchase a ticket on the SS Rochussen which took her to Java via Lombok. It was an old ship carrying five thousand Balinese pigs and fifty cows! They docked at Lombok where she arranged for an agent to drive her round the island. She was intrigued by the fact that a faunal boundary (the Wallace line) runs between Bali and Lombok – the former has fauna from Asia, whilst the latter has Australasian fauna; this division applies to some flora as well.
The ship then sailed to Surabaya in Java. She mentions being there for the Chinese New Year (27th January 1941) and enjoying a drink of arak whilst admiring the Javanese girls, so slim and deliciously pretty in their pink veils. There is no clue as to where she was at Christmas or how she occupied her time in Java. However, according to her first journal, she was in both Java & Singapore in 1940. This could mean she went across to Singapore (?for Christmas) and then back to Java.
Initially, she discounts the possibility of going to Singapore (or Malaya), as single women were not admitted. But in the following chapter, we learn that she was confronted in Singapore by a fierce Immigration Officer who confirmed that lone women are not permitted to remain here. She tried weeping by way of softening this officer (a propos Napoleon who said that rouge and tears were women’s only weapons) but her tears had no effect on him. Even so, she managed to stay in Singapore for five weeks, somehow or other. One wonders how, why and with whom…??
Her journal then jumps to Rangoon in January 1941 (post Chinese New Year?). She stays in a hotel in a place of decayed splendour but she thought the city was fantastic. The men wore pink silk wound round their heads. Everywhere one saw rose-colour. She was taken to the races where she is entranced by the elegant Burmese women and where a Burmese princess joined them for tea. After the races, she was driven to see the most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in Burma – the golden pagoda, ShweDagon, which was flood-lit and its image reflected in the lakes.
Then at some point (soon after?), Silvia took a boat from Rangoon to Calcutta.