Saturday, 26th September 2020

Paul Spencer Sochaczewski

Curious Encounters of the Human Kind – Indonesia

Posted on 07. Oct, 2015 by in Books, Curious Encounters of the Human Kind

Curious Encounters of the Human Kind – Indonesia

Curious Encounters of the Human Kind – Indonesia
True Asian Tales of Folly, Greed, Ambition and Dreams

Buy the book:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Explorer’s Eye Press. Geneva. 2015.

ISBN: 978-2-940573-05-9      Kindle
ISBN: 978-2-940573-03-5      Print on demand
ISBN: 978-2-940573-04-2      Ingram



This is the second book in a five-book series of unusual (and true) personal travel tales.

Why do prominent modern Indonesian sultans continue love affairs with the Mermaid Queen?  Why is the island of Flores Ground Zero for Hobbit sightings?  How does a Papuan hunter juggle the preachers and other do-gooders who want a piece of his soul? Why did a now-neglected spice cause historic mayhem among greedy Europeans?  Why does it make good business sense to make friends with the dragon princess?  Why is discovering a new species almost as good as sex? What is the allure of Waltzing Banana Island?  Can an elderly village woman armed with just a broom and gumption kill giant mosquitoes ‘til they’re dead?

This is Indonesia as you’ve probably never imagined, full of curious people, startling happenings and unexpected moments of humanity and introspection, giddiness and solemnity, avarice and ambition.


Editorial reviews 

“In the great tradition of Asian reporting.  The humanity of Somerset Maugham, the adventure of Joseph Conrad, the perception of Paul Theroux, and a self-effacing voice uniquely his own.” Gary Braver, bestselling author of Tunnel Vision

“The spirit of Kipling in contemporary Asian journalism.  This collection is essential reading for anyone who wishes to pass beyond even the unbeaten track, right to the heart of Asia.” John Burdett, author of Bangkok Eight, Bangkok Tattoo, and Bangkok Haunts

“A fun, and funny, introduction to some of the most interesting people, places and sights of South and Southeast Asia.  A must-read for all serious travellers.” Jonah Blank, author of Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God: Retracing the Ramayana through India and Mullahs on the Mainframe: Islam and Modernity Among the Daudi Bohras

“If anyone can pull off something as innovative as Curious Encounters, it’s Paul Sochaczewski. Expect pellucid writing, insightful irreverence and universal truths elegantly presented, in a genre that defies categorization.” John Keay, author of When Men and Mountains Meet, India: A History, China: A History, and Mad about the Mekong

“Most of Paul Sochaczewski’s curious encounters start out as intelligent travel writing, exploring hidden corners of Asia and characters very much out of the ordinary.  But this series works on a more complex level, he frequently zooms in out of left field with a curious tangent, a sensitive reminiscence, a provocative opinion, a new way of looking at events that already are beyond most “normal” travelers’ tales.  I read each story feeling refreshed, enlightened, and curious to see what the next stage of Sochaczewski’s journey will bring.” Judith M. Heimann, author of The Most Offending Soul Alive: Tom Harrisson and his remarkable life and The Airmen and the Headhunters: a true story of lost soldiers, heroic tribesmen and the unlikeliest rescue of World War II

“Constructed on a base of strange but true personal travel adventures, Curious Encounters adds elements of history, an edgy sense of humour, mysticism, political-incorrectness, current affairs and memorable characters you’ll wish you had the pleasure to meet on your travels.  Consider each book in this series like a good curry — the result is more than the sum of its parts; each tale has its own zing.  Travel with these books to the little-visited corners of Asia, and savour them.” Jason Brooke, director of The Brooke Trust

“Paul Sochaczewski skips about Asia like a Monkey God hopping from mountain to mountain, bringing back life-prolonging peaches while annoying the gatekeepers. Whatever you do, follow him on this journey!” Lee Chor Lin, director of National Museum of Singapore, former curator of Asian Civilizations Museum-Singapore, author Batik: Creating an Identity

“In this series Sochaczewski explores the hidden corners, the forgotten people, and their surprising tales.  All the personal traveler’s tales in these volumes are captivating, all filled with humor, drama and insight, with an edgy take-no-prisoners voice; you won’t find anything else like this on the bookshelf.” Jeff McNeely, chief scientist, International Union for Conservation of Nature

“Sochaczewski is a world-class searcher, reporter, and observer who has criss-crossed Asia for forty years, pausing in the most unlikely places and finding extraordinary people.  The essays in this insightful and witty chronicle present a rich tapestry of eccentric nobles, self-serving naturalists, scoundrels who will make your teeth ache, celebrity monks and memorable folks whose stories are too good to be true.  But they are.” Christopher G. Moore, author of the Vincent Calvino novels, and Heart Talk

“The Curious Encounters of the Human Kind series is a delicious stew of improbable characters and intriguing stories, served up in thoroughly pithy style, and with a hearty dash of irreverent humour.” Tim Hannigan, author of Raffles and the British Invasion of Java and Brief History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices, and Tsunamis: the Incredible Story of Southeast Asia’s Largest Nation

“The Curious Encounters series is proof positive that a writer/traveler can immerse himself in Asian cultures and yet remain objective enough to write extremely entertaining and often irreverent articles and colorful stories about what he has experienced.  From Indonesian mystics to Burmese white elephant hunters, the descriptions are spot-on.  There is something in these articles and stories that reminds me of the writing of Paul Theroux — not as cynical, perhaps, but the author is just as able to look at events with a clear, unsentimental and yet sympathetic eye.  You won’t regret a moment spent reading these tales which perfectly capture the allure and spice of the places visited.” Dean Barrett, author of Memoirs of a Bangkok Warrior

“What a discovery!  Paul Sochaczewski is that rarest of writers, who knows that the real “Asian miracle” isn’t malls or computer geeks. In his years traveling the continent he has discovered an eternal assemblage of arcane explorers, putative emperors, frivolous mystics, sacrosanct elephants and, yes, miracle workers. When Sochaczewski finds them, in Javanese palaces or sacred forests protected by spirits, they are caviar (or sweetened bird’s nest) for his fascinating portraits. A book for everyone who knows that the Mysterious East is alive and well, and more how-about-that-wonderful than you perhaps imagined.” Harry Rolnick, author of The Chinese Gourmet, The Complete Book of Coffee, and Spice Chronicles: Exotic Tales of a Hungry Traveler

“I never tire of living vicariously through Paul Sochaczewski and his writing adventures. He keeps finding these wonderful details that miraculously open up entire worlds to be explored.  Paul is the last of the Great Hunters, only instead of trophies, it is stories he brings home for our admiration, wonder and delight.” Mark Olshaker, Emmy-winning filmmaker, author of Einstein’s Brain, The Edge, and Mindhunter



Some relationships aren’t meant to be analyzed too closely. “Accept it.  Or not.”

The four “religions” of modern life promise benefits that might take a while to pay off.

A visit with three types of Hobbits on the isolated Indonesian island of Flores.

How could one now-ignored spice have generated such mayhem?

It’s not a good idea to get too close to a Komodo dragon.

Komodo dragons, woodcarvers, and the princess who controls them all.

After dinner in Sulawesi, chatting with a man who has a message from Moses.

Where have all the giant Caucasian cannibals gone?

In isolated eastern Indonesia, the tough question is who owns the resources.

Choreographing the horny goat, the cute twin rabbits and the singing chicken.

Discovery of the coelacanth in Sulawesi, and why some scientists get a headache when they find something new.

Is a turtle worth risking your life?

It’s everywhere, it’s nowhere, it’s dancing in three-quarter time.


Sample chapter (excerpt)

Choreographing the horny goat, the cute twin rabbits and the singing chicken.

The spiral that launched a village drama.

The spiral that launched a village drama.



Incense is far from a simple commodity. It’s an essential component of Indonesian meditation. But add a swig of insecticide, manufacture it into coils that emit an insect-defying smoke, and you get that wonderfully Asian invention dubbed the mosquito coil.  Ridding the world of little devils, either through prayer or poisoning.

Back in the 1970s, Hennoch Tampi, one of the clients of the Jakarta advertising agency in which I worked, wanted a new campaign for his three mosquito coil brands.  In the visual and not always-literate marketplace they were named after the animals represented on the packs: Kambing (Goat brand, so called because it has a picture of a goat on the front), Ayam (Chicken) and Dua Kelinci (Double Rabbit).

I felt I owed him a Big Idea.  After all, he was the first to feed me rat curry, a major treat in his hometown of Manado.

We did lunch at the Executive Club.

“How about we get some famous comedians to slap each other all night because they can’t sleep because there are so many mosquitoes because … ” he suggested.

I saw greatness beckoning.  “Here’s what we do,” I said, scribbling on the linen tablecloth.  “The film starts with an animated scene of a mosquito control tower sending mosquito fighter plane-warriors to attack a peaceful human village.  Who comes to save them?   I paused, like I imagine Steven Spielberg would during a film pitch.  “Why the heroes of the mosquito war — Super Kambing, a human goat dressed like Superman but with horns; Abdul Ayam, a giant chicken looking like a refugee from Aladdin’s lamp; and Titi and Tati, the two rabbits.  Together they beat up the mosquitoes and save the village.”

“Is that it?”

“Oh, I forgot.  They sing.”  And I made up a jingle while gulping chocolate mousse.

He loved it so much he paid for lunch.  Now I really owed him.

First I flew to Singapore and saw my buddy Horace Wee.  Whenever I had a jingle idea I sang it to Horace and he would grimace, strum on his guitar and say “surely this is what you had in mind.”  Without the aid of a synthesizer he would then take the basic melody, call in a few of his musician friends (we were usually on a tight budget, and we’d get a couple of high-school violin players to record, then over-dub, time and again, the string parts, creating the impression of an orchestra), and make a demo reel of the jingle with a bossa-nova beat, a soft jazz version, a bubble-gum pop rendition, a spirited march, and a Johnny Mathis-like soft ballad.

The film was combination live action and animation — the cartoon mosquito villains would be added later.  I gave the role of Super Kambing, the goat superman, to my kung fu instructor, a Bruce Lee protegé.  He asked that filming not interfere with his special armed forces assignment.  “I’m bodyguard to the ambassador,” he said.

“Which one?” I asked.

“Yours.  The American.”

His buddy was a perfect Abdul Ayam.  We told him he looked very nice in his turban and balloon pants.

Now for Titi and Tati.

I liked to hold casting sessions in the office.  It amused my colleagues to have wanna-be commercial stars prancing around.

We found Titi, the first rabbit pretty easily.  But no Tati, and we were on the fourth casting call and shooting was set to start in a few days.  Then a very pretty Arabic-Indonesian lady arrived, a minor film actress, together with a friend.

“Can you do kung fu?” I asked the actress.



“No.” She added, “And I won’t wear skin-colored tights.”

“Well, then you must be able to dance.”

Her eyes lit up.  “Yes.  Disco.”

She didn’t get the job.  But the Arabic-Indonesian woman’s friend, Yeti, was great.  She had rabbit-like curves and had been a gymnast.

“Have you ever been in a film?” I asked.

“No, and I don’t want to.”

I looked her straight in the eyes with my most intense, but sincere, gaze.  “Yeti,” I said.  “I can make you a star.”

The shooting went smoothly.  We had asked the prop man to get white smoke coming from the end of the fake 2½-meter mosquito coil.  So before every take he puffed on two packs of cigarettes and stuffed them into the hollow end of the model mosquito coil.

During the mosquito attack a terrified mother clutching a baby looks up at the sky and implores, “Who can save us?”  And we figured we’d have a great shot because the kid would be crying her eyes out.  All little kids cry when they’re put in front of the lights and surrounded by strangers.  Well this mellow kid wouldn’t stop laughing and gurgling.  “THE MOSQUITOES ARE COMING!  WE’RE DOOMED!  SAVE US!” people screamed.  “Gurgle, gurgle,” gurgled the baby.  “Go on Tony,” I told the Australian director.  “Pinch the kid.”

“I can’t,” he answered.  “I’ve got a kid her age.  I hate to see little girls cry.  You pinch her.”

The two rabbits were terrific.  They swung on vines and punished an imaginary giant mosquito with flying kicks.

There’s one scene in the commercial in which a little old lady chases the fleeing mosquito villains with a broom.   Of course there were no giant anthropomorphic mosquitoes for her to chase during the shoot since they were to be animated and added later.

“Now Ibu, in this scene you’re really angry,” I explained.  “You’re chasing after these real bad mosquito villain guys.”  Here we were asking a four-toothed, seventy-something woman, who had probably seen about two commercials in her life, to give a performance that would have challenged Dame Judi Dench.  “You can’t really see the mosquitoes, Mother, but I want you to chase them down this path just the same.  They’re about this big,” I said, holding my hand as high as her shoulder.  “Pretend they’re there.”  And she did, with gusto.

The grand finale of this epic comes after all the mosquitoes have been run out of town and the villagers cheer their four mosquito-banishing heroes.  After the first take, Titi, Rabbit Number One, was furious.  Some boys in the front row of celebrating villagers were, well, taking liberties.  We moved the naughty boys to the back and the little old ladies to the front.  Kambing the Goat picked up the baby and swung her over the crowd.  The baby was supposed to be happy and gurgling, safe in the hands of the friendly giant who killed mosquitoes and saved the village.  The formerly happy kid bawled and screamed.  Never mind.  It was a long shot, and with a bit of luck we wouldn’t see her face.  Film was expensive and the cast of dozens was getting restless.

“All right you barnyard animals, SING!”  Tony shouted.

“I’m Super Kambing,” the goat man bellowed.

“I’m Abdul Ayam,” the chicken crooned.

“We’re Dua Kelinci,” the rabbits trilled.

“And we’ve come to kill mosquitoes ‘til they’re dead.”


Buy the book

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