Another Virtual Travel Story: Indonesia “Trudeaumania”

Here is another true tale from the collection, Missing The Bus. The book is divided into five sections, each of which explores a different type of connection with other countries that adventurous and perceptive travellers often make. While this story relates to the former government of Pierre Trudeau, the theme is as relevant today as ever.

I don’t know what came over Dot. I had never seen her like that before…Normally she is highly attentive to my needs and moods…But it wasn’t like that when Prime Minister Trudeau visited Indonesia in 1971…

When Trudeau and his entourage arrived at the… Kemajoran International Airport…the prime minister was introduced to the embassy staff and their spouses. To get his attention, Dot had all the kids in tow…in white cotton, studded with red maple leaves…The prime minister did stop to speak to them, his sharp blue eyes focusing intently. “When you’re back in Ottawa,” he said, “you’ll have to come and see me.”

Me, I only saw the back of his head, hurrying from meeting to meeting, handing him the text of a short address on development that I had drafted, passing him a memorandum of understanding to sign, and blotting his signature afterward…

Author is at far left

Throughout the visit, Dot looked for seemingly natural opportunities to come face to face with Trudeau. “You keep popping up from behind every potted palm,” he joked at one point…

It was because Dot was so distracted that I couldn’t get her to focus on the seating plan I had drafted for the dinner party that Trudeau was to host…

About an hour before the guests were due to arrive, I, half-dressed, did a final inspection of the large, functional dining-room where visiting dignitaries did their entertaining… I froze suddenly and gasped for breath. “Oh, no! What’s this?” I shouted to one of the embassy staff. “We’ve got the two middle tables reversed.” I could feel blood surging into my head, my heart racing. “That means all the tables are wrong! Oh my God!”

I grabbed at some place cards frantically. “Come on, we’ve got to change everything! Hurry!”…

There was a head table across the top of the room, covered in white damask and decorated with ornate candelabra, and then there were four long ones running at right angles to the head table the full length of the hall. One was directly in line with President Suharto’s silk-brocade chair and another with Trudeau’s. I had inadvertently reversed their order of precedence…

Stripped to the waist, except for my suspenders holding up the trousers of my tux, I tore around the room on the edge of control, snatching place cards from the settings, dropping others in their places, and shouting the changes to my helper at the entrance…

Into this maelstrom, twenty minutes before the guests, strode the ambassador on his own final inspection. When he saw me, Tom blanched and his draw jobbed.

I raised my hand. “It’s all right. Everything is going to be fine. Just don’t talk to me. I’ve got to concentrate. And I’ve got to hurry.”…

But returning to the guests who had now assembled for drinks in an ante-chamber, he spoke to Dot, suggesting that it would be a good idea if she checked on me. “What’s up?” Dot asked me cheerfully as she walked into the dining-room, looking ravishing in a long, silk evening gown.

“A problem with the seating plan.”

“Oh.” She sounded nonchalant. “Is it going to be okay?”

“I hope so.”

“Good. Well, come and have a drink when you’re free. The hors d’oeuvres are yummy.”

She went back to the party and her tracking of the most eligible bachelor in Canada.

It was a close thing, but just as the guests were about to file into the dining-room, we finished the rearrangement. Everything was in order again, but still I glanced around anxiously as people took their seats, fearful there might still be a hitch.

Sure enough, there was a guest who didn’t show, so I plunked myself at his vacant spot–at one of the central tables. The wife of an Indonesian cabinet minister was beside me, and she eyed me suspiciously…

“And what is your position in the prime minister’s party?” she asked me, assuming I had come from Ottawa.

“I’m first secretary at the embassy,” I shot back defiantly.


|” She put down her soup spoon, dabbed delicately at her lips with her serviette, and turned to talk to the person on her other side.

I couldn’t have cared less. Everyone but me, I knew, was where they were supposed to be…

For me, the dinner was really over the moment it started successfully. My neck had been saved by the paper-thin slice of a place card.

I’ve just found two of them, in fact, in our souvenir box. They’re three and a half inches long and an inch and a half high and decorated with gold-embossed Canadian coats of arms. One says, “Mrs. T.A. Keenleyside.” And the other, taken at the end of the evening from the head table, “The Prime Minister of Canada.” Snatched from behind a potted palm by an infatuated guest.

For more misadventures and other travel experiences, Missing The Bus can be purchased by contacting

About t. a. keenleyside

author of travel/food books and popular fiction
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