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Of Kota and things

sunny 30 °C

Once known as Batavia, Kota was once the hub of Dutch colonial Indonesia. From its earlier years, it developed into a centre for trade with a shoreline fortress, and it was surrounded by a defensive wall and a moat. Today, however, Kota is easily distinguishable from its former self; much of it has crumbled or been destroyed, and now, old Batavia can be considered a sort-of-Batavia, where traditional Dutch buildings – buildings which are uncared for and literally falling apart – are plastered with huge advertisements, posters, and billboards, celebrating the latest Blackberry or Bigmac or Nike sneakers. Of course, this is a lamentable sight to behold, yet appearances are definitely deceptive. Kota is a great place.

First of all, Kota is home to Jakarta's best nightclub, a place which can only be described as a dungeon; a wretched place of horrors and terrible things. I cannot say any more than this. Come and visit me and you will have to see for yourself. Trust. Kota is also notorious for its rising crime rate, and confused bule such as myself are often warned about its many dangers, especially after dark. This has not stopped me from frequenting the area, however, and let it be said: I have spent more time in Kota during the eve than anywhere else in Jakarta; that is, anywhere other than my abode.

During the day Kota is, like the rest of Jakarta, overcrowded and intense, with a certain energy and vibrancy. It is a town of many stalls, selling all manner of goods, from trinkets and ornaments to clothing and musical instruments. This energy is especially prevalent in the town's main square, Taman Fatahillah. Indeed, of all the places in Kota it is Taman Fatahillah which most reflects its Dutch heritage. Here, one can not only purchase all manner of goods but also experience some of the best streetfood in Jakarta (at least from my own experience). It is also home to several museums, such as Museum Sejarah Jakarta, Museum Wayang, and Museum Seni Rupa. And so, I travelled to Kota – not for the first time, yet camera in hand – some weeks ago. This is what I found.

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These fellows are called Ondel-Ondel, a name given to both the puppets and the performance. I found them – or it – on the streets, a treat which I have had the chance to stumble upon on a number of occasions. The Ondel-Ondel originates from the Betawai people, who, my friends tell me, are the native people of Jakarta and the surrounding region. It is a traditional performance which has, and still is, utilized to ward off bad-spirits; however, today, it is also used within the inner city as a means of entertainment. Bagus!!!

Unfortunately, I have been unable to visit any of the museums in Kota, chiefly because they are closed during the weekend. We were thus refused entry from Museum Wayang, and so we decided to enter an old, abandoned building.

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Although the interior of this building will mean little to my British bredren, to my Indonesian companions it was of great interest. In fact, it was their plan and endeavour to take me precisely to this particular establishment, which, to my eyes, was good for nothing but an illegal rave or squat party.

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Still, I decided to venture forth throughout the place, and before long, I heard a voice beckoning me through a door. I saw a man, and followed the voice. It was here that I met a certain fellow (I forget his name), who specialised in the creation of Wayang.

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The wayang kulit, or shadow puppet play, is a near thousand year old theatrical tradition native to the island of Java (where Jakarta resides). The wayang kulit uses flat leather puppets with moveable arms, who's shadows are reflected through the use of light on a pale canvas. It is especially popular in Jogjakarta, which is in Central Java, and it is one of my great endeavours to travel to the place so that I might appreciate the spectacle. The man I spoke to both creates the puppets and directs the performances. After discussing matters with the fellow, we then visited Cafe Batavia, a famous and overpriced bar/restaurant, which purports to offer a glimpse into Jakarta's colonial past. In truth, the place is pretty cool, with live Jazz, cool décor, and interesting drinks. The horrors of Jakarta's colonial past, however, are far from reflected.

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That's all for now. I am aware that I am far behind in keeping this blog up to date, and it is my plan this week to remedy the problem. This is particularly important for next Saturday I will be traversing West to stay with a tribe far removed from the dreadful clutches of modernity. I cannot say more than this now but stay tuned Mother, Father, Nanas, friends, and the rest of my wonderful family!

Posted by dabey 05:28 Archived in Indonesia

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