Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Walk Around Old Jakarta....

This past week I had a little bit of time between sitting in traffic jams and recuperation beneath my oxygen tent, so I decided to hit the street and see some of the sights. I ventured up to the northern part of the city to an area fittingly called "Kota" ("city" in Bahasa Indonesia). Even though Jakarta is a sprawling city of millions, there still exists a core area rich in history and heritage. People have been settled here for at least 1500 years and the harbor has long been an important trading center (see my previous post on Sunda Kelapa). However, in the early 1500 the Europeans began to make their mark here, beginning with the Portuguese. "Jakarta" is a derivative of an early name for the city: "Jayakarta", which means "great victory" and commemorates the success of the Sundanese in repelling the Portuguese. This victory would be short-lived, however, and by the end of the 17th century the Dutch had established a significant presence in the area. Before long the Dutch would control most of Java and later the other islands that came to be known as Indonesia, ushering in the colonial era (1). Many of the structures I visited for this post are relics of Indonesia's colonial past.

The first stop on my tour was the Bank Mandiri Museum, located in one of the huge buildings constructed by one of the Dutch banking houses. The building is a beautiful example of art deco colonial architecture rich with artistic embellishments ranging from beautiful arts-and-crafts glass doors to intricately carved banisters. The museum contents themselves aren't really that noteworthy; they have a room full of trophies (who knew they give trophies for banking?) as well as cases and cases of old cash registers, vaults, and ATM machines. It wasn't too long ago that people would've been falling all over themselves to destroy stuff like this in their justifiable revolutionary furor, but fortunately for historians of cash-registraria some striking examples have been preserved here. You can also catch a glimpse of the ghoulish wax (I guess it's wax) figures they have scattered throughout the museum to illustrate colonial banking practices, which can be summarized thusly: white people taking lots of money out of the country. I included an example to the right to give you an idea. The money in this picture isn't real; rather it's made of Styrofoam. The real money is hidden somewhere in the Bakrie building (2).

Right next to the Mandiri Museum is a museum dedicated to the financial system in Indonesia. It tells the fiscal story of the Republic from the first days after the initial declaration of independence in 1945 right through the financial crisis of 1997-98 to the ambitious reforms that have been instituted since. This museum is really first rate with excellent displays and information in both English and Indonesian. It also has a really neat numismatic room with examples of all the different types of money that have been in circulation. I HIGHLY recommend this museum, especially if you are interested in economic issues.

Next I moved up the street to the Wayang museum, which is dedicated to the ancient art of puppet shows (shadow puppets and conventional prop puppets) which is still very popular in Indonesia. This museum has been remodeled since I was last in Jakarta and has gone from being a hot, dingy, dusty hole to become a fascinating and informative repository on puppets and their meaning. This is another museum that I would highly recommend. I'll make a post in the future about puppet shows because here they aren't just entertainment; they are a part of the culture.

After the Wayang museum I quickly went through the old colonial city hall, which has also been converted into a museum. The contents of this museum are somewhat like Iolani can see antique furniture, models of ships, and some other historic relics. Then you can venture over to the art museum, which I hear is really excellent. I was only able to visit the outside, because the museum closes at 3pm (all of them close at 3).

All in all you can see some pretty neat things in Old Jakarta, and it's definitely worth the trip. To get there you can take a taxi, but the best way is probably via the city's busway ( The busway is a network of routes with dedicated lanes for the use of the city's buses. The busways enable you to avoid Jakarta's infamous traffic jams (macet) to a certain degree, but they can be VERY crowded. Anyway, make your way to Koridor 1 on the Busway heading north and get off at the last stop (Kota). You can start your walk at the Mandiri museum, which is right across the street.

Last but not least is today's photo of the day (right). I took this picture because I'd never seen a flagstone skyscraper before....

(1) Colonialism is a policy whereby one country exerts control over an area outside its borders. Colonialism usually involves administering the outside area for the benefit of the colonizing country rather than the people that live in the colony. Between 1500 and around 1970 European nations, the US, and Japan colonized much of the world. The policy of colonization had lasting effects that persist until today and the memories of the colonial era are often very painful to the colonized. In many places the colonized peoples were only able to free themselves after long periods of struggle. I'll dedicate a future post to the practice of colonialism in Indonesia.



  1. I've really enjoyed reading through your blog, Keith. The frequent sarcasm that is written to go over the heads of the students you're writing to is hilarious. My wife, baby, and I recently moved to Sungaipenuh working to improve tourism in the area. Although, for now we're in the midst of struggling through language learning (really wish there was a school in SP!). Best of luck in your ongoing research!
    Luke Mackin

  2. Hi Luke! Thanks for reading and for the nice words. I get carried away a bit sometimes, but I hope my love of Indonesia is reflected in the good-natured humor :)

  3. Among three museums, I am really interested in the second one because of examples of all the different kinds of money. Puppet shows sounds interesting, but the photo looks a little bit strange. Rui

  4. I think these photos show a contrast in the history of Indonesia. I think sometimes we do not think about the many places that were colonized. I did not remember that Indonesia was a Dutch colony. I think that these photos are really interesting because they show the difference between the Dutch history (in the architecture and money) and the Indonesian culture.