No sooner had Jaya dropped us off at Henry Manila’s Bird Farm and Student Dormitory then the extremely generous Henry had us in the car on the way to a volcanic hot spring. On a bumpy lane more dry stream bed than street we began our climb over Upside-down Boat Mountain. As we passed roadside huts offering pumpkins, papaya and Kelinci, (bunny sate) Henry talked Perkutut.
He bred and competed for 11 years and then came the avian flu outbreak. Perkutut were not affected but fears about any birds made the market collapse just after Henry made a huge investment. Two years ago he got back in, going to every contest to rebuild his standing. His new strategy seeks out offspring of champions which can be gotten cheaper than the champions themselves. He nurtures the voice with sweet saga leaves commonly used in human cough medicine. Normally the monogamous dove shares egg sitting time and males anger if eggs are removed. Henry treats the testy boys with a light dose of de-worming medicine which induces fatigue.
As he educated Kian and me Henry drove with gusto – passing trucks on blind curves and tailgating. We progressed steadily across the boat’s keel and made a left at the rudder passing manicured tea plantations and strawberry farms. The road carved through deep ravines terraced with mist-soaked cabbage fields and a million roadside shops offering fresh fruits, live rabbits, air for your tires, fish, ayam, pineapple and durian.
Henry told us that he came to the hot springs about once a week when friends visited and offered to take us for massages later. “Beautiful ladies,” he said. “I like beautiful ladies.” He then let out a long bird-like cackle. After an energizing soak in the spring (think big resort, not pools formed in Jurassic-period rock) and fresh, iced strawberry juice Henry treated us to some local food in Lembang. We had fresh eels caught in the local rice fields and I tried my first lime-soaked, tamarind-marinated cow stomach. It was actually very good.
Henry lives in a bizarre meandering complex that he constructed in stages over a few years. Little student monk-like cells open to narrow inner courtyards littered with tea kettles, flip-flops and laundry racks. A small canteen is on the first floor and everywhere you can hear cooing doves. The residents are mostly Chinese students at a Christian college who sit at their desks, doors open because of the heat. Kian and I were each given a room complete with squatting toilet which sounded like it emptied into the stream outside. Henry’s house sits in the middle of a maze of corridors and stairs. One turn reveals an old woman in a jil-bob (head scarf) ironing laundry, another two teenage boys scraping poop out of cages.
Because Perkutut are from hot coastal regions they have a hard time in Bandung’s temperate clime. Henry compensates with glassed-in, sun-facing enclosures on the roof to increase the heat. Puter birds, or babysitters, (Gunawan had called them babysisters) take over the hatching from the Perkutut and their gentle purr is everywhere.
On the second day a high school biology teacher named Dede came to buy a bird. Indonesia seems to have perfected the art of hanging out and the negotiation lasted for hours during which Master Kwan arrived to demonstrate bird binding for us. By inserting adjustable strings through the outer layers of skin the Perkutut can be tuned. Pak Kwan sat patiently sewing up the bird harness. The perkutut seemed perfectly relaxed. Then he, Henry and Dede practiced cooing to encourage the Perkutut to sing. None did. What I thought was failure on their part turned out to be a magnanimous act for the film. The adult birds just don’t sing in the afternoon.
As Kwan was leaving Henry said, “He has four wives.” Kwan smiled and nodded. Apparently you can have multiple wives in Indonesia, but four is the limit. Ha Lim, another breeder and owner of the ass-kicking perkutut Napoleon (complete in a regal purple and gold imperial cage) arrived and told us his strategy for winning the upcoming competition in Solo. Henry would hire a driver named Boon Cheese the next day to take us and birds there. But first we would meet the national head of the Perkutut association General Zieruni and visit his Xena Warrior Princess Bird Farm.
(The fruit above is a Jirpaya, a cross between orange and papaya. The thick rind is the part you eat. The woman hugging me is my masseuse. It was all innocent.)