Sunday, October 24, 2010

Historic Jakarta

I was warned that there wasn't much to do in Jakarta, but when I saw that there was a historic section, I figured it would definitely be worth checking out. The tour included seeing Jakarta's China town, port, museums that used to be Dutch government buildings, and a flea market/fish market. All these places and buildings were built between the 17th and 18th Centuries. Citi was my guide again, and she said that Jakarta is nicknamed Old Amsterdam because it resembles the Dutch city. I haven't been outside the airport in Amsterdam, but I'm pretty certain the buildings there are better maintained than the ones here are. Of course, that often happens that old palaces and structures built by the colonisers are either totally abandoned or used for other purposes once the colony gains independence and the colonisers leave. Many buildings are like that in India, I find, too, and in Mexico, I can't even say I saw one building that still exists from the Spanish era, although I'm sure some exist, only that I never saw them.

I didn't take any pictures of China town, although I would have liked to, but I already really stuck out, and people were constantly trying to get me to buy stuff, and it was crowded and narrow, and I didn't feel comfortable taking out my camera to show everyone! Maybe one day I'll get to go to China anyway and get pictures of the original country.

The first museum is of the old Dutch city hall and showcases a number of old furniture items and ceramics. The jail was also there, and aside from the front of city hall where they would do public beheadings, prisoners would either be confined to dark, short rooms with little ventilation or would be sent to the "basement" that was half-filled with water, so prisoners would drown if they sat down. Citi told me that so many people would die in the dark rooms because of the heat, and in the water jail, they died from illness because they had to urinate and defecate in the water they lived in. It's pretty disgusting, and she told me with pride how great it was to be free from Dutch control. It was the Japanese who took control from the Dutch, and knowing how Japanese colonisation wasn't usually a bowl of cherries either, I'm not sure which would have been worse, but Indonesia finally gained independence from everyone in 1945.

After the city hall museum was a tour of the puppet museum. This, I have to say, was really interesting. I was perfectly primed for this museum after having been exposed to the puppets in a movie I had seen in my hotel room in Hong Kong, right before I arrived in Jakarta! It's a really old Mel Gibson film called The Year of Living Dangerously, and I highly recommend it as it opened my eyes to not only the puppets, but some of the political turmoil in 20th Century, post-colonial Indonesia. I thought it was great timing, considering I didn't know much about Indonesia before I came, aside from the fact that it was a Dutch colony that lead to the creation of the Dutch East Indies Company that also had British rule for a short time as well as having Hindu and Muslim roots at some point. You can read more about Indonesia's history in a Wiki entry, although for some reason, it doesn't include any info about the British being here. Citi confirmed there was a short period of British rule, so I know I'm not mistaken. To get back to the puppets, they're quite interesting. All the flat ones you see (photos forthcoming) are made from buffalo leather, and the sticks that control their movements are made from the horns of the buffalo. I bought some tiny re-creations of them. The guy at the gift shop is apparently Citi's friend, and he claimed his grandfather makes them and that it would be a really big honour for me to buy one because the grandfather is old and can't make so many of them anymore. He said he's the 4th generation of puppet-makers in his family. Who knows if it's just a story. The problem when you're on these tours is that you have to assume they're selling you a story, but regardless, the puppets look cool, and I didn't mind buying a small set, which I will frame.

The port wasn't quite as exciting as I had hoped; there are so many gigantic boats in the way that you don't get to see the ocean, and there are so many trucks still hauling stuff from the boats that all you smell is dust and exhaust, not the beautiful smell of ocean mist. But it was interesting to learn that the boats are still in use today, still exporting spices and other goods as the Dutch began doing more than 300 years ago. You can actually go on to one of the boats if you like, but I thought better of it because all you have to walk on are some old, narrow, wooden planks that are somewhat precariously placed, and I wasn't about to risk falling into the water. Besides, I felt really conspicuous there as it didn't seem to be the place for women around all these sailor-type men, and it was a little uncomfortable for me.

Finally, the flea market tour was great, and I did manage to get some photos of that. It's a pretty decrepit place, but if I lived here, there are definitely some items I would want to buy from there. They even had an instrument shop, but I refrained from buying anything or even looking. I figured Citi would try to get me to buy something I didn't want, and I don't know if the instruments would be good quality anyway.

So that's pretty much it for my mini-tour of Indonesia. I've already become quite fascinated with the country, and I'm thinking I need to come back and see more and learn more. I think one of the things that interests me the most is that the country has such a multicultural history, and yet you don't find much evidence that they mixed biologically. The remnants of the Indian traders who came here is the widespread change of religion to Islam, and in some cases, Hinduism. Some people in some parts of the country still maintain Portuguese names according to that Wiki entry, but perhaps that's the only place where you might see people who look mixed, I don't know. The remnants of the lengthy Dutch colonisation appear to be mostly gastronomical as they have some great pastries here, and perhaps also architectural to some extent, but there isn't anything else very obvious. There is no real evidence of the British or Japanese influence. You would think with all these different influences, the people here would reflect that mixed history in their appearance like they do in Latin America, but they still look like all other Austronesian people. That's why I'd like to see more of the country to see if and where genetic differences exist. Hopefully in the future!

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