Departed: The house of the late Liem Sioe Liang on Jl. Angkasa Raya in Central Jakarta on Monday. The house was damaged during the deadly riots in Jakarta in 1998. JP/P. J. LeoNiti Sasmito, 73, sat alone in his tiny security office next to a large, white, one-story house on Jl. Gunung Sahari VI in Central Jakarta on a cloudy Monday afternoon. Despite being located in a bustling business area, the house is wrapped in the shade of the many trees that surround it.
“I planted that mango tree back in 1970s,” Niti said, pointing at a tree several steps away from his office.
The house is the first property purchased by late Indonesian tycoon Liem Sioe Liong, known as Sudono Salim. Its façade is the simplest compared to its neighbors, hiding the fact that its owner was once the country’s richest man. However, several security officers are always ready to keep the house safe from anyone with malicious intentions.
But behind the white house, a blackened four-story building stands idly. It is the remains of Liem’s luxurious house, which was burned down by angry mobs when anti-Chinese riots rocked Jakarta in 1998. Liem left the country to reside in Singapore afterward.
“The white house was safe from the angry mobs because many did not know that it was also Liem’s house,” said Niti, who has served Liem’s family for more than 30 years.
Currently, Liem’s third son, Anthony Salim, resides in the white house, from which he is known as never being away. “He comes home here every day even though he has other houses,” Niti said.
However, on that Monday, no one was spotted in the house, as everyone was in Singapore to bid farewell to Om Liem [as Liem as usually called].
But for Niti, his boss would always live, at least in his mind and memory.
“He was a very kind boss and always cared for his employees. He was very close to us, his security officers,” he said, adding that Liem frequently watched his bodyguards and security officers playing chess.
In 1969, Niti was ordered by his superior in the Indonesian Army to work as a bodyguard to protect Liem’s family. He has never abandoned his duty ever since.
Out of many sweet memories, Niti always remembers his boss’s generosity when the former got married in 1973. “Om Liem lent me five cars to take me and my family to a church in Mangga Dua, Central Jakarta, on my wedding day,” he said.
“My mother cried because of his generosity. I had nothing at that time. She was so happy watching so many cars join my wedding parade,” he said, adding that he came from a poor family in Ngawi, East Java.
He said Liem was furious when he found out that he was working at the house on his wedding night.
“You’re just married! Why are you leaving your wife on your wedding night,” Niti laughingly said, recalling his late boss’ scolding.
Besides the happy memories, Niti could also clearly recall a bitter memory from 1998, when the four-story adjacent house was burned down. Luckily, he said, the house was vacant at that time.
According to Niti, fire claimed most of Liem’s belongings stored in the house, including hundreds of paintings adored by the late tycoon.
“When the incident happened, Om Liem was in the United States for cataract surgery, while his children were at their offices,” he said, adding that Liem could only sigh and shake his head when he later saw what was left of his house. Niti said his boss’s automobile showroom on Jl. Gunung Sahari was also attacked by angry mobs, but he managed to put out a Molotov cocktail that had been thrown at it.
Even after moving to Singapore, Liem frequently visited his white house. “It’s his first house after all,” Niti said.
In 1977, Liem personally requested that Niti protect his son Anthony Salim. Nothing will change for Niti now that Liem is gone. He will continue to serve Liem’s dynasty until he is worn out. (riz)