I’m coming to the end of my 14 weeks of teaching in Jakarta and next Thursday my students and I, along with their fellow scholarship awardees and other members of staff, will be celebrating the end of their three month course with a bit of a knees-up in a local bar and restaurant.
My class decided that this called for some traditional clothing and whisked me off to a huge indoor batik market place called Thamrin City in central Jakarta. Four years ago in October 2009, UNESCO designated Indonesian batik as a ‘Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ and insisted that Indonesians preserve their heritage. After this public recognition, all Indonesians were asked to wear batik on a Friday, and this is now encouraged in all government offices and private companies. I always know it’s the end of the week when I come out of Starbucks and see all the office workers striding down the street in their brightly-coloured clothing.
The plan was to kit our whole class out in matching tops and for me to find some little outfits for my four nieces to take home as souvenirs. As we wandered around the huge shopping centre past rows and rows of beautifully woven fabrics and displays of intricately embellished bags and accessories, I began to appreciate why it had been christened Thamrin City. You could easily spend a whole day in there and still come away with the feeling that you might have missed something.
There was so much choice and such a variety of styles and designs that in the end we just plumped for the stall whose sales assistant had the biggest grin and whose clothing had the brightest colours. Within about twenty minutes all five of us had found and tried on a top that we liked and also chosen two extra ones for the women who weren’t able to join us.
After a couple of aborted attempts to kit out the men in our class too (they didn’t want to come with us, of course), we decided that it was too time consuming to keep sending them pictures of possible shirts and waiting for them to reply (usually with a ‘No way!’) and made our way to the Grand Indonesia shopping mall for a coffee instead.
One thing Jakartans know how to do is shop, whether it’s in a bustling marketplace wading through cheap fabrics or in one of the huge plazas racking up credit card debt in Chanel. Personally, I find the traditional places more fun and so much more authentic, but it does help to have your own local guides to point you in the direction of a good bargain and make sure you don’t get charged ‘foreigner prices’.
Thanks to Lidya, Deasi, Euis and Riza for my beautiful pink batik shirt and for helping me find my way out of Thamrin City.