Jakarta – from colonial Dutch to shadow puppets and English practice – in pics

We were fascinated by Jakarta, though horrified to see on Australian TV since we finished our journey, that the city is sinking at an alarming rate. We headed straight to the old town, once known as Batavia, for a spot of lunch in the 2nd oldest building down there.

Cafe Batavia in Jakarta

Café Batavia is a bit of an institution in Jakarta, with its beautiful colonial architecture and its live music scene. There’s a real 1920s feel to the place, in the decor and the music…

Cafe Batavia in Jakarta

Turn right out of the café and right again to follow the original canal that the Dutch built here hundreds of years ago. There is still one Amsterdam-style bridge.

Dutch canal bridge in Jakarta

We didn’t take many photos round here because we were so overwhelmed by the dreadful conditions people were living in. Levels of poverty we had not seen anywhere else on this long journey through 25 countries, and we were told that things have improved in recent years!

But there’s something about heat and damp and pools of water (from the daily rainstorms as well, presumably, as the flooding from sea levels), with rubbish floating on top of everything, that made this whole area utterly depressing and made us turn back fairly quickly – something we had very rarely done in the whole four months of the journey.

Back at the main square, on which you’ll find Café Batavia, there are lots of vestiges of the Dutch presence here. A post box.

Dutch post box in Jakarta

A gravestone.

Dutch gravestone in Jakarta

Makes me want to read some sort of novel set in Dutch colonial era to get more of a feel for how life was both for locals and colonials in those days. Any tips most welcome…

This was the first time in Jakarta for both of us. Our previous ‘knowledge’ of the place being purely based on that 1980s film classic ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’. One of the most powerful scenes in that film introduced us to Indonesian shadow puppets, so we were delighted to meet the manager of Wayang Museum, who is a 4th generation puppet maker.

Indonesian puppets in Jakarta

Shadow puppets in Jakarta

He showed us round the museum dedicated to the puppets and told us countless stories of the background to the characters and the different generations that created new versions of the puppets.

It was transfixingly fascinating, and we were easily led to the market stall afterwards where we bought a pair of puppets for our new home in Australia (only to have them picked out by Australian customs, who encouraged us to chuck them out, though we opted for the expensive treatment of them because we love them so much and the craftsmanship was so extraordinary – we’re still waiting for them post-treatment by Aussie customs!).

Back outside in the main square, Jakarta was alive with people enjoying a warm Sunday afternoon. There were lifesize puppets doing a special local dance, usually in pairs, a kind of busking, but looking deeply traditional, too. We loved it.

Puppets in the main square of Batavia/Jakarta



And clearly, every English language college, every English school lesson had tasked its students to grab any native speaker and conduct an interview, to find our views on Indonesia (difficult to say much in depth after less than 24 hours), where we planned to go, and where we were from.

Jakarta English language students

It’s actually a really good teaching idea. Just funny that every single class seemed to be doing it, and we must have done six interviews in the short hour or so we were in the square, running away from a 7th in order to get to that puppet museum before it closed.

We’ll cover the rest of our thoughts on Indonesia through our coffee and tea blogs, to follow in the next few days, as the story of this great journey nears its end…


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