Customers sit on stools fashioned from chopped logs and sip Tiger beer or Royal brandy at the Cafe Chieu-Anh. Propietor Khou Ky-tai takes their orders from behind a bar created from fish net, rigging and wood salvaged from a boat he used to escape Vietnam.
"All the people who came on our boat have invested in the cafe, which cost about $450 to build -- and all share in the profits," Khou said.
The interior of the Chieu-Anh is decorated pleasantly with local vegetation in hanging planters, also made from refugee boat remains, and filled with disco music from a portable tape player. It is part of a bustling nightclub district of four establishments, the first and only to spring up on Jemaja Island in Indonesia's sparsely-populated Anambas group.
Khou and the owner of the Lan-Anh, a "cafe and patisserie" offering nightly entertainment just around the corner, admit the clubs are not very profitable. But such throwbacks to pre-communist days in Saigon play an important role in maintaining the psychological well-being of the 11,467 refugees crowded into this camp as they await word when, and if, they will be accepted by a resettlement country.
Journalists and officials well-traveled through Southeast Asia's refugee shanty towns say the extent to which Indochinese here in the Anambas have brought order to their lives is unmatched.
"I am extremely impressed by the way they have organized themselves, by the self-discipline in the camps," said Guy H. Horlin, while interviewing resettlement candidates for the French-Vietnam Aid Committee.
In addition to the modest entertainment complexes, the refugees here and several other spots have formed minigovernments that encompass police forces, health and sanitation departments, and even post offices. Democratically elected organizing committees have appointed working groups that keep the refugees' minds off their problems and funnel their energies into more useful pursuits.
Clinics, churches, schools, pagodas and guest house facilities for visiting officials have been built or are under construction. There is even an entire hospital complete with a surgical unit going up in the Kuku camp, about a half-hour ride from Air Raya by boat.
In islands as isolated as this South China Sea group, failure of the refugees to fall back on such contemporary conventions as cafes and governmental groups could lead to the deterioration of their lives into a savage "Lord of the Flies" scenario.
The lush South Sea-scapes of the Anambas Islands are deceptive. Although surrounded by aqua blue waters and blessed with forests of coconut palms, the soil is poor and the location, about 170 nautical miles north of Singapore, is too remote to allow regular deliveries of food and medical supplies.
The difficulty of living in these islands is underlined by the fact that their total population is no more than 12,000 Indonesians in a country of 140 million.
Yet if it were not for the existence of these islands, 31,491 boat people may have gone down with their ships. Most came here from refugee camps in Malaysia, which has been towing boat people from its territory. Three boatloads with 299 refugees arrived this month. The Malaysian Navy pointed them in the direction of a lighthouse on Mangkai Island at the north tip of the panambas.
The majority of those who arrived safely live in Air Raya and Kuku.
N. Van Van, once a public magistrate in Saigon, serves as one of two deputy chairmen of the Kuku camp. He was elected to that post by a body consisting of one representative elected from each of the 44 boats that landed here. The names and registration numbers of those boats serve as block names for the rows of palm huts where refugees live.
Van Van proudly ushers visiting journalists and immigration officials from a newly dedicated dock on the beach into a sturdy palm hut restricted to organizing committee activities and interviewing for resettlement screening.
"It used to be you couldn't walk on the beach because of the garbage. Now our working group on sanitation has cleaned it up," he said pointing out young men wearing green badges with the blue letters, Trattu Vietnamese for discipline. The men patrol the beach to keep people from littering it with coke cans and coconut rinds, Van said.
Van also pointed out that the river that runs along the western edge of the camp has been divided into three sections: the upper part is restricted to fetching drinking water, the middle is for bathing and the lowest part for washing clothes. Each division is marked with signs in Vietnamese.
Housing is still a problem and Van, an ethnic Vietnamese, grumbled that some enterprising Chinese refugees, who have paid local Indonesians for the privilege to build units, sell them to fellow refugees at a profit. The price can run from $40 to about $60 depending on the size and whether the unit has such luxuries as walls.
That means five or six families occasionally must split the cost and the space inside a hut, Van said.
A professionally lettered chart on an easel in the headquarters hut spells out the entire history of the Kuku camp for visitors: 12,533 residents, 50 dead on arrival, 21 newborn babies. The names and offices are diagramed with the chairman, Col. Ng The Nhu, at the top. There is also an architectural rendering of the camp layout to which new additions are being made each day.
The most needed addition is a hospital going up with the aid of four volunteer French physicians.
When it is finished, the French volunteers and about 25 Indochinese doctors will be better able to care for the camp's common medical problems including diarrhea, malaria, dengue, hemorrhagic fever and peritonitis. By far the most common and serious problem, however, is malnutrition among the young.
Irregular deliveries of food by United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees officials and the Indonesian Red Cross mean meager diets for most camp residents. A tin of rice, cabbage and soy sauce are the average daily ration.
Besides the shortage of food, the refugees also face the problems of the upcoming monsoons. The Indonesian Navy already has moved 1,538 Terempa refugees to the safer confines of Kuku and Air Raya, sheltered from the northeastern storms by peaks that rise sharply behind the camps.
The Indonesian government planned to move 800 refugees from the Anambas Islands on Tuesday to a new processing center being built on Galang in the Riau Islands. Indonesian officials expect to be able to move only about 6,000 refugees to Galang before monsoons set in. That would leave 26,000 refugees on the Anambas.
Indonesian concern for their well-being has come as a surprise to the refugees, who tell painful stories of robbery and rape at the hands of Thai fishermen and pirates, as well as cruel treatment by Malaysian authorities who often demanded gold and then pushed their boats back out to sea.
"The Indonesians have been very kind to us" said Lan Khanh. She and her 12-year-old daughter, Mimi, have been living with Salim Syamsuddin, an official of the local provincial administrator.
Although Salim has a wife and four children, he has opened his home to 10 refugees who have set up housekeeping in and around the small compound. Unlike some residents of Letung, Salim charges no money for the accomodations.
A mustachioed man from boat MH 4581 lives on a slab of concrete with his two teen-age children in Salim's dusty backyard. Of North Vietnamese descent, he requests that his real name not be used, but he agreed to be identified by the fake Chinese name he adopted to escape from Vietnam -- Achay.
An estimated 80 percent of the refugees in the Anambas are ethnic Chinese. Achay said those who are ethnic Vietnamese all had to adopt Chinese pseudonyms to get out of Vietnam.
Other Indonesians have exploited the situation, however.One high ranking island official has sold "permits" to Vietnamese for from $50 to $100 enabling them to do business in Letung instead of in a refugee camp. Vietnamese charged the same man has enlisted a number of young refugee girls as prostitutes in exchange for housing and meals.
Earlier newspaper reports of such activities prompted a crackdown by the Indonesian Navy and a personal visit to those involved by Indonesia's refugee coordinator.
Also of concern are the effects the Vietnamese influx is having on the island residents.
"Maybe some people are making money, but these refugees will change our customs," an Army major said. "Better we lose the money and save our customs."
Walking down the main street of Letung, he pointed to Vietnamese squatting around a bunch of bananas in front of a store. "They are even taking and selling our fruit, and it's not even ripe yet," the major said . "If only they would ask permission, that's all we ask."
He said he believed that if Vietnamese were allowed to continue living side-by-side with islanders, conflicts could eventually develop. Every refugee in Letung now has been ordered to wear a colored ribbon pinned to his shirtsleeve identifying the camps to which all are scheduled to be moved.