My Nights in Asia Africa: A Memoir

Eres Ferro Bastian

At daylight, it looks like your typical museum for tourists. Decently maintained, but uninteresting. You rarely ever gain access to its balcony, even though there are several park benches. When you enter, two guards will stand by to open your doors and scan your bag while you walk through the metal detector in front of you. You’ll probably linger to look at the globe near the entrance door, sadly you’ll be hurried by the guards to register, to gain access to whatever room is open. In the Entrance Hall, you’ll find that the room is too bright and too bleak to begin with, but you move further, and you can find a display of statues depicting the event of the Asia-Africa Conference, with Soekarno standing in front of several historical figures. His speech recording sometimes can be heard, if you’re lucky. That is the only statues you can find in the Entrance Hall. When you move to the middle of the Entrance Hall, you can find museum pillars with newspaper clippings about the Conference. Sadly enough, they are scanned and put into the wallpaper for the museum pillars. Most of them are so enlarged so that they get pixelated. On several pillars, you can find historical figures and their slight descriptions, which you can access easily through Wikipedia, complete with their pictures and even more detailed description about them. The Interactive TVs are dull in colour, unfinished in development – some buttons do not work and the information from it are the same as in Wikipedia articles.

That’s about it in the Entrance Hall, you’ll then be guided by the small poles leading to the museum corridor. As bleak as it gets, the only paths you can go to are the restroom and the Conference Hall. You can only enter Audio Visual room when there’s an event going on, and you can rarely visit the library. Fortunately, you won’t find the conference hall that bad. You can sit on the armchairs and the room is huge. After that, exit. That is all.

Yet, this museum adorably and probably witnessed my short little journey inside. These journeys you and I will find dull, but I find remembering them a joy. Not because the memory was interesting, no, but because my senses tingled in there, it got super-sensitive. Maybe because the museum is alive, you know? Just like in the movie Night at the Museum. Because every time I was there, the broken-white rough walls, warm street lights designed like it was in the 50s, its tedious stone pavement, made me adore this museum. Even though what happened there was quite unimportant.


It was always on Tuesday, when I arrived at the Asia-Africa museum. I was late an hour, and I was already dazed trying to find where I could park. I found it 300 meters away from the entrance of the museum, near the intersection at Jalan Naripan. It was my first visit to the Asia-Africa museum for a small film screening. Atumbua 39’ Celsius was the film, with Riri Riza, whom I had never known before as the guest for the event. I entered hurriedly the museum through the side entrance. The corridor was filled with white neon lights, with white walls, and white tiled floors, creating a wider feeling. If only the floors are a lot whiter, and of marble ceramic instead of plain white tile, I would enjoy strolling through the corridor. Following the direction given by the security guard at the entrance, I entered the Entrance all. Inside, the film was already running with a lot of people. They probably already knew that Riri Riza was inside. The hall was not completely dark, they turned off the big lights and kept the small spotlights for the displays on. Somehow it gave a warm feeling, albeit it was freezing inside. Everyone was all focused on the movie, and I was quite troubled trying to find a chair, the empty ones were at the front and I was afraid to block the audiences’ view. Yet, this old man came, in his Pink Floyd shirt, jeans, and sandals, which I never knew what their songs are. He came to me and grinned lightly. He was warm enough to give me his chair, and went to the front row, sitting with probably the guest stars. He was probably the owner. Not too long after that, the film was paused for recess for Maghrib. I walked around the Entrance Hall, with the fluorescent yellow spotlights aimed towards the displays and statues. The hall felt different, it was warmer. It gave you the atmosphere to stay silent and focus, so everyone was silent and wandered the hall slowly. The marble ceramic floors and the white yellowish wall gave a sensation of luxury for me. It was cold, but that was what I wanted, and I wished that the museum would open this way. Shortly, the film continued until the credits, and the old man in Pink Floyd shirt stood up to greet Riri Riza to the stage. I guessed right, he was the owner.

I was never really interested in films until the discussion began. The film was unique enough, giving messages through tapes because of the difficulty to access East Timor due to the anarchy in the area. So that was it, I thought it was another different experience. Not everyone inside was enthusiastic about the event, but Riri Riza and the old man spoke endearingly. I didn’t get what they were speaking about at the beginning, but I knew they hold dear the Indonesian film industry. Finally, after a short while, I picked up what they were talking about. The Indonesian Film Industry is having a hard time catching up with modern standards, Indonesia lacked theatres designated for unrecognised films made by locals and screening at theatres such as XXI and CGV are extremely expensive and had a lot of regulations. Thus, they send their films to world festivals, many of them are well-praised, but that was it, there are no theatres in Indonesia who wants to screen them. Realising that, I knew that I should have paid more attention to Indonesian film industry. That was also when I realised that Riri Riza is one of the most iconic film figures in Indonesia, by browsing through my phone.

After the talk had ended, everyone was eager to take a photo with Riri Riza, while I stood up and left. Leaving with a big smile, with my hands lightly touching the rough walls as I left, the museum switched on the something in me. More appreciation for local films.


So I invited my two close friend to the museum, the film was Chacun son cinema, or To Each His Own Cinema – an anthology of 34 short films made by 36 directors. Only one of my friends came along, let’s call her Pim. We arrived early, this time, it was quite late in the schedule, but the event also started late. I gained access to the Audio-Visual room. The floor was covered with dark green carpet, and the light was bright. The walls are of wood with holes on several parts and some part of the wall also jutted out to the inside of the room, probably made so to absorb the sound well. Pim invited her friends and were on their way. The film started, and the lights was completely turned off, everything was dark except the projection screen. I didn’t understand the filmuntil the recess for Maghrib, in which I realised that it was an anthology of three-to-five unconnected films, except that they were all about cinema. When the recess came, I went to the parking lot near the exit door to accompany Pim smoking. We didn’t talk much, most of the time we enjoyed the silence at dusk. The street lights were all on, few cars were passing by, sometimes smoke went through my vision, accompanying the sweet twilight I was looking at.

After the recess had ended, discussion was held. What could I say when I had almost zero understanding of the films except for their own plot. However, everyone inside had clarity in what they were discussing about. Especially the friends Pim brought, they knew filmmakers such as David Lynch, Wong Kar-wai, Lars von Trier, Roman Polanski. They knew how different Asian films can be when screened side-by-side to the European films. It made me realise how unknowing I was in films. When I realised that the films I was intrigued at such as Nymphomaniac, Antichrist, The Elephant Man, Chungking Express are made by the filmmakers who participated in making the anthology. Coming home, I realised I should have given more attention to the context of the film. Appreciate the artistry of cinematography each filmmaker gave. Coming home, I always felt Asia-Africa Museum smiled at me, as I always come home with something new.

Photo by Agung Darmawan, retrieved from

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