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…


Tea in Xi’an after the shadow puppets

The problem with tea in China is that it’s everywhere, but it’s also a bit of a rigmarole to get just a cuppa when you feel like one. And that’s what we found when we arrived in Xi’an, our first stop in the country.

Tea shops are ten a penny. But they sell tea and are not the kind of places you can sit and have a good natter over a brew. You can let the shopkeepers take you through the Gong Fu ceremony and have you taste their teas, but then there’s a fair bit of pressure to buy a bag afterwards, and our cases were already getting too full to fit much more of the leafy stuff in them.

Contrary to my memories of 28 years ago, too, hardly anyone seems to have tea with their dinner in the evening (or maybe that’s more of a habit in Hong Kong and Guangdong Province?).

So we did struggle a bit to find good places to go for just that relaxing afternoon cup of tea we so crave around 4pm usually.

What we did find in Xi’an was the Folk House museum, a wonderful old building in the heart of the Muslim Quarter which was the old home of a local family, though it reminded me more of the set from Memoirs of a Geisha, and there did appear to have been a few geisha/concubines around in the building’s past.

Folk House in Xi'an

You can pay a small fee to enter the Folk House and look around or you can pay the full 35 yuan (about £3.50) for the shadow puppet show and a spot of tea afterwards.

Shadow puppets at Folk House in Xi'an

The shadow puppets were fantastic. Done by a genial old bloke, they delighted the Chinese audience and he even threw in a sentence in English, much to the merriment of the others in the room, just for us it seemed. It was all the story of love lost, of a woman so beautiful that ‘a glance of her eyes can cause a city to fall and a second glance the fall of a country’, and of rivalries between those competing for her affections.

Tea in Xi'an at the Folk House Museum

Not many others had paid for the tea tasting afterwards so we had the full attention of the tea room manager, who took us through the Gong Fu ceremony and introduced us to the teas she had to offer.

Just to be different we tried a Ginseng Oolong, which managed to taste sweet without any sugar added; and then an exotic sounding ‘lychee concubine’ tea, which wowed us so much we went ahead and bought a sample anyway, in spite of those overloaded bags.

Tea at Xi'an's Folk House

I think you can just sit in the courtyard and have a flask of tea brought to you, but since this option wasn’t offered to us at the entrance and our lack of Chinese made it impossible to ask too many questions, we couldn’t tell you how to go about that.

But this is definitely our top tip for tea in Xi’an.

And the building is a fascinating place to visit in any case.

We don’t really have any more suggestions for tea in Xi’an. One word of warning though, if you go and visit the tombs of Jing Di (a sort of mini-terracotta warriors, and more domestic than warriors), don’t be misled by this rather inviting sign outside one of the main museums there.


I slipped away from our guided tour, desperate for a cuppa and didn’t even mind if it was tea or coffee at that stage.

But when I asked for a coffee, the reply I got was the all-too-frequent ‘Mei you’ (there isn’t any); and when I said I’d have tea then, I was shocked to hear another ‘Mei You’.

Instead of voicing my annoyance at their totally misleading sign, I decided not to make an issue of it, and instead made a point of taking a photograph of their very large sign.

Mei you tea or coffee here

They probably wondered why I bothered. And I have to say that having had ‘mei you’ said to me more often than any other expression in our three weeks in China, I’m not sure myself why.

But it makes a bit of a story for this blog. And I guess the lesson for any readers visiting Jing Di is: if you see someone else drinking tea or coffee, get in there quick and join them, because you may not get another chance of a cuppa until you’re back in the centre of Xi’an.

Or just stay with your tour party and see more tombs: they’re actually quite interesting…