Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by mumunmumun on 25 May 2015 • Destination
Tags: walking tour
Once upon a time, Jakarta was a small green city. It seems like a far concept considering the state the city is in at the moment, but there was such a time. I had the chance to dwell on the seemingly impossible idea when walking Jakarta, specifically within the Menteng and Cikini area. Suci, a new found friend, happened to know much about the history of the area and agreed to help me meander through the area and burn a few calories in the process.
“I miss guiding,” Suci says. I look at her weird. This was the first time I’ve heard somebody miss ‘guiding’ and was not misguided. Hurah! I was happy that she was willing to help me learn through the area out of her love to share history, not because I put a knife at her throat. I wanted to have a nice walk that afternoon and with her help, I explored this part of town, retracing a bit of the history of the rich and famous. My main goal in walking Jakarta this time was the house of Raden Saleh, one of Indonesia’s most prominent painters in the 1920s, and a legend for reasons that will be explained below. I won’t go into details as I’ll leave that for those that will experience it for themselves, as this is just a nice afternoon stroll with a little addition of history on the side.
Menteng is still one of the greenest parts of Jakarta. Understandably, it’s predominant with houses rather than business properties, meaning less skyscrapers and billboards, but more trees and gardens. It is also one of the first rich settlements during the colonial days, which was built about early 1900s.
There are a lot of buildings that are maintained as its original form. Kunstkring, the art center, is one of them. Not only is it maintained mostly as its original form, it’s returned as its initial function, as an art center. Heart! Not far from it is the Cut Mutia Mosque, which was an office building turned into a mosque. Because it was not designed as a mosque, the direction of the qibla is crooked towards the building’s structure. The building itself is relatively well maintained, probably since it’s a public place and requires constant cleanliness. There are a few stained glasses that still exist, which is delightful in a time where stained glasses are rare.
We quickly moved to the other part of town, but quite close by, Cikini. Not much of the 1910s remains in this part of the city, but much of the following years does. On one side of the one-way street is a line of old shops with recent tenants. Some of my favorite places are within these shops, naming Tjikini Restaurant with its humble yet tasty menu, and Bakoel Coffee with simple interior and maintaining blasts of the past along with its produce, coffee.
A little trivia about the Bakoel Koffie is that it’s an old coffee distributor dating back to the early 1900s. The woman with the thatched tray on her head (as in the picture) is their official logo and was a tribute to one of the most dedicated coffee pickers during the time. It’s heart warming that the producer took notice of the important people of the business, the little people that handpicked the goods.
Tan Ek Tjoan is a local brand bakery that had lived since the Dutch days. It was a somewhat a successful form of assimilation between the different nationalities within the area (locals and non-locals) and had produced some delicious dense bread. The factory, unfortunately, has been closed down. They were sold out as I’ve heard. But, their bread sellers are still around to distribute the yummy heavy bread. It’s kinda like a bagel. Gambang is their signature bread with a sweet taste of palm sugar.
Walking into Raden Saleh street, more old buildings remain standing but with different functions than before. The Oasis Hotel once was the home of a wealthy businessman, who had quinoa and tea plantations. Considering the early 1900s, he was an uber rich man.
Not too far from the hotel was the Cikini Hospital. As a girl blind of history, I thought Suci had walked in the hospital because she had encoutered medical problems during the light walk. Odd. Little did I know, the Raden Saleh house was right in the middle of the hospital.
Raden Saleh was blue blood and ridiculously rich. His main house looked unlike any Indonesian house; very European. It is now an office space for the hospital. The rest of his settlement is so huge, it’s filled with patient wards. Doctors ride bikes just to do their errands. What’s even more astounding is the fact that Raden Saleh’s house used to extend all the way to the Cikini Road. The Taman Ismail Marzuki (TIM) complex used to be his zoo. Yes, Raden Saleh’s belongings were the old version of Michael Jackson’s wealth. The middle school not too far from TIM used to be his gateway to the house. I’m like, WOW!
In a way, I’m glad that the hospital decided to maintain much of the original building. It takes a real walk to grasp the vast property that Raden Saleh used to own. On paper, I could only imagine how rich he was, but seeing the remaining property itself and actually walking the distance of his home-land alone really put things into deeper perspective to his wealth. With the help of the the movie ‘Life of Pi’, I also got a glimpse on how much wealthier he was by having a zoo and maintaining it.
One side of the house.
Walking Jakarta around Menteng & Cikini is a pleasant activity because most of the roads are with decent pavements, although much of the area are sadly losing their trees. There aren’t many areas like Menteng & Cikini but I’m seeing progress with our current Governor looking to improve the city. It was a nice way to spend the day and with some context too, which is always a great way to spend time. If you’re looking to do the same, you can contact Suci through twitter here. I think she is pretty fluent in English, too.
You can also catch our post about walking Jakarta here.