Close Encounter of Papandayan Kind


Hotel Papandayan in Bandung

I worked as an international consultant on behalf of GTZ (now GIZ) for few years in Indonesia. I used to make several missions spread over a week and spaced over couple of months. The project was called Produksi Bersih (Cleaner Production). Idea was to build capacity of the Ministry (BAPEDAL), develop demonstration projects on Cleaner Production in industries, set up counseling clubs to provide advice and prepare Guidance Manuals. I liked the project.

City of Bandung was one of the focal cities for the Produksi Bersih project. Bandung, as many of you know, is one of the hubs of Indonesian textile industries. It made a sense to introduce project Produksi Bersih in Bandung.

I used to fly into Jakarta via Singapore, land by afternoon and then take a train to Bandung that had a picturesque route with a climb.


Train from Jakarta to Bandung

I remember the first time I visited Bandung. My colleagues in BAPDEAL had specifically asked me to book Hotel Papandayan. “You will love this hotel – it serves good Indian food”, one of the senior officers at the BAPEDAL advised.

I checked into hotel Papandayan on Saturday. The train was a bit late so it was already 6 pm in the evening. As the check in formalities were getting completed, the Lobby Manager Tim, a Chinese Indonesian, ushered me to the Bar.

“Sir, a welcome drink for you”. Tim introduced me to the Bar Tender “Susilo, please offer Sir the best – but as per his choice. He is going to be our regular guest from now on and this time he will be with us for 2 weeks”.

Susilo was a medium height gentleman with a warm smile. He was smart. He looked at my hand bag tag. “Dr Prasad Modak, Welcome to Papandayan. Let me propose you our signature cocktail”.

“Oh, thanks Susilo” I said.


A look a like of Susilo

Susilo got into action. He poured some 50ml vodka into a tall glass and seasoned with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper, a good few slugs of Worcestershire sauce, a dash of Tabasco, a pinch of cayenne and of celery salt. His face looked like a magician. Susilo stirred everything together, then topped up the glass with ice and presented to me with a stirrer.

“Here you are Sir”

I took a sip and felt like a fire blasting to my belly. The drink was certainly like a fireball!  But nice!!

“What you call this mix Susilo?” I asked.

“Well Sir, it’s called Papandayan. Everybody loves this drink before the sunset” Susilo said this with a smile.

Some of you may know – Mount Papandayan is a complex stratovolcano, located in Garut Regency, to the southeast of the city of Bandung. At the summit, there are four large craters which contain active fumarole fields. An eruption in 1772 caused the northeast flank to collapse producing a catastrophic debris avalanche that destroyed 40 villages and killed nearly 3,000 people. The eruption truncated the volcano into a broad shape with two peaks and a flat area 1.1 km wide with Alun-Alun crater in the middle, making the mountain appear as a twin volcano; one of the peaks is called Papandayan and the other Mount Puntang.

No wonder Susilo’ s mix was a “volcano” drink.

I started my work on the Produksi BersiH project – I used to be mostly in the field with the textile industries and return late evening by around 7 pm and hit the bar with Susilo.

My usual drink was a glass of Bintang Beer. Susilo used to serve chilled Bintang in a putter glass with garlic flavored “Garuda” make peanuts.

Susilo himself was a non-alcoholic “I will drink only when I get shattered! And it will be my signature drink Papandayan” he told me

On the second day, Susilo walked to me and asked “Sir, Tim, the lobby manager tells me that you love listening to music. Is this true?” I nodded.

Well, is it OK if I ask my girlfriend Dewi to sit along and give you a company?  Dewi is a music freak and loves to talk. I am allergic to music and don’t understand a bit” Susilo said this to me like a confession. “Dewi always complains “

Dewi was the reason for Susilo’s heart-aches. She was a singer at a nearby café called – Atmosphere Resort and used to perform there between 8 to 10 pm every other night. Dewi used to come to the bar at Papandayan by 7 pm to have a shot of virgin bloody merry with Susilo on the counter and then swing to the Cafe. She would return back to Papandayan by 10 30 pm and get back with Susilo home after a dinner together. This was the routine.

Susilo introduced me to Dewi. Dewi was a beautiful and elegant Indonesian woman in late twenties. Her eyes were rather deep and mysterious. She made an impression as she spoke to me in the voice of a singer. I could sense the “power” in her voice.

Dewi liked to talk and dominate the conversations. So, we got along very well as I was a good listener.

The first thing Dewi asked me was about the women singers I admire. I said Madonna. She nodded. Then I said Celine Dion – she said OK – but wasn’t very enthusiastic. She is too formal she said. When I mentioned Lauren Wood, she was excited. I love Lauren’s “Fallen” she said and ended the conversation rather thoughtfully “You have pretty decent choice to start our conversations”

She must have enjoyed my company – as Susilo told me that Dewi really likes me and wants to come a bit early for our music conversations.

Dewi had researched a lot and had stories to tell.

According to Dewi, Madonna’s first attempts at songwriting were perceived as an important self-revelation. Most critics admired Madonna’s talent for developing “incredible” hooks that allowed the lyrics to capture the attention of the audience, even without the influence of the music.



One of Dewi’s Madonna favorite was “Rain”. Lyrically the song communicates rain to the empowering effect of love, and as describes water’s ability to clean and wash away the pain.

Rain was perceived as an exceptional ballad. It peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, while becoming a top-ten hit in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

The song’s arrangement captures turbulent elements associated with rain (such as thunder), orchestral stabs that invokes crisp lightning bolts, and a surging bridge segue driven by what sounds like electric guitar snarls. I was really impressed with Dewi’s articulation.

Having said this Dewi got rather technical. “You know Prasad,  key change happens towards the end from B♭ major to C major, followed by two spoken parts and a harmony alongside it. The coda has another melody with it, and the song ends in a group chorus without the harmonies”

I did not understand this part at all so I gulped some Bintang. “Hmm Interesting” I said


Madonna and her backup singers, Niki Haris (right) and Donna De Lory (left), performing “Rain” during The Girlie Show World Tour in 1993

In one of our discussion session, I asked Dewi about Celine Dion’s famous song A New Day has Come.

Dewi said that this song  was a new chapter in Dion’s life and career. “The song represents her child that was just born then. The song also expresses Dion’s sorrow for the 9/11 episode. Many critics say that in such mixed feelings, the song comes off like a gentle exhale against the world’s ills”.


Celine Dion

I did not know this background to the song and was amazed with Dewi’s research. Dewi continued

“Did you know Prasad that Dion was a founder of Nickels Restaurant food chain and later in association with Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Shaquille O’Neal she opened a popular night club called Pure. And In 2003, Dion signed a deal with Coty, Inc. to release Celine Dion Parfums.  Since its inception, Celine Dion Parfums has grossed over $850 million in retail sales”

To me this was a new dimension to Dion’s personality.

Our conversations were getting more engaging and interesting. Dewi started coming to the bar by 6 30 pm and I started wrapping my Produksi BersiH work in time.

It was the Friday of my first week at Papadayan. Dewi invited me to join her at the Atmosphere Resort Café. “I am doing a very special number today and I want you to come with me to listen” She was panting when she said.

I left along with Dewi but forgot to tell Susilo that I was going along with her.

Dewi was outstanding at the Atmosphere Resort Café. We were at the terrace – with a slight chill in the air and amidst the lights that were romantic.


Terrace of Atmosphere Resort Cafe

After rolling out a few “usual” songs, Dewi spoke into the mike and said “This song is very special – and I am going to sing for my dear friend Prasad”.  Many in the Café looked at me as the spot light moved to the table I was sitting.

Dewi sang Lauren Wood’s Fallen – song that featured in the film Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. The soundtrack for the movie exceeded eighteen million copies in sales, largely fueled by Lauren’s song, which rocked the North American and European charts.


Lauren Wood

I saw Dewi very emotional while singing “Fallen”. The lyrics and the tone of her vocals mingled – and the combination was really special.


A Look-alike of Dewi

Dewi held my hand after the song ended and asked the waiter to set a table for us for dinner. “The Ayam Betutu here is simply outstanding” – Dewi said

We however had a rather quite dinner. Dewi did not speak much. Her eyes were moist.

When we got back to Papandayan, it was nearly 11 pm. At the reception, Tim, the Lobby Manager stopped us. “Where were you Dewi? Susilo has been waiting for you for so long”.

We went to the bar and saw Susilo sitting alone on the stool with his back towards us. “He is having a drink” Tim said

Dewi walked to bar and hugged him from behind.

I could sense that Susilo was terribly upset. It was odd to see him drink. And I knew that the drink had to be the signature one – the “Papandayan”.

I turned to Tim and asked him to check me out in the morning

“I am shifting to the Holiday Inn for the next week” I said.

Tim did not protest and neither questioned me why.

I checked out the next day.

It was a close encounter of the Papandayan kind.

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One comment

  1. Nice experience….So, have you ever checked in to Papandayan thereafter…or met the couple thereafter………..visited the Atmosphere Resort Cafe…..Curious!!!!

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