JAKARTA MOVES

The white facade of the Museum Bank of Indonesia (MBI) just beckons you to take a look, and it also helps that admission is free. Inside, Johnny Depp immediately came to mind as I crossed the turnstile. Not the idiosyncratic Captain Jack Sparrow, but the sartorially adept John Dillinger, one of America’s notorious gangsters who lived openly in Chicago in the 1930s. The bank’s high ceilings, vaults and vast spaces were a throwback to an era when banking was far from computerized. Picture the teller ensconced behind the bars as wads of cash sit on his desk ready to be kept in the safe near him. Meanwhile, the customer stands across, behind the other side of the bars waiting for the transaction to be concluded.

Following a night of birthday celebrations at a friend’s house at Permata Buana in Barat, Jakarta, the motley crew of friends was game for an afternoon of sightseeing around their temporary home. A cab would have been a faster way to MBI, but the TransJakarata busway was the unanimous choice. It is Indonesia’s fleet of air-conditioned buses – regular and “bendy” – that travelled along a fixed loop route stretching from point A to Z, which is no short route as Central Jakarta is huge. At only Rupiah3, 500 per person per trip, it’s a cheap way to get around the city. Boarding the busway, however, requires agility, as the gap between the busway and the terminal station is quite considerable, but the conductor does lend a helping hand.

 

All aboard the busway - the cool and comfortable way to getting around Central Jakarta. (Photography by Rico Falcunitin)

All aboard the busway - the cool and comfortable way to getting around Central Jakarta. (Photography by Rico Falcunitin)

 

History of Money

Running through my mind as I handed my knapsack at the counter for safekeeping was how impossible it was to transform a bank into a museum. Lackluster was its jogging companion, but the experience proved otherwise. 

MBI, which sits on Jl Pintu Besar Utara No. 3, was officially opened by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in July 21, 2009 although it had its soft opening three years ago. Indonesia’s banking history was rendered three-dimensional through display cases of its currency from the earlier days to its current form dovetailed with a succinct explanation of the collapse and upturn of its financial industry against a backdrop of high-tech wizardry. Interspersed with the display cases were huge and ingenious dioramas that rival Madame Tussaud’s wax museums. Out of the multitude of displays, the wall of phones (the old phone where you dial the number, not key in the numbers) ringing cartoon style was eye-catching as well as the simulated bank vault with a cage of gold bars in the middle.  Photo ops were popular in this section of the museum.

The motley crew of Filipino missionaries-English teachers conquer Indonesia. (Photography by Rico Falcunitin)

The motley crew of Filipino missionaries-English teachers conquer Indonesia. (Photography by Rico Falcunitin)

The surprises never stopped as we strolled through the exhibition halls. One waited outside the museum, a few steps along the corridor after the exit. A stain-glass wall of gods and goddesses stood before me – local divinities, I thought – but closer inspection revealed something astonishing. MBI, according to the signboard, was “under the patronage of two goddesses and one god”. The first is Dewi Pelindung Alam, or Artemis, the Greek deity of forests and hills, child birth, virginity and fertility. She is followed by Dewi Kesuburan, or Demeter, the Greek goddess of grain and marriage. Rounding up the triumvirate is Dewa Pelindung Perdayangan, or Hermes, the Olympian god-messenger and patron of travelers.

 

Welcome to Museum Bank of Indonesia! (Photography by Rico Falcunitin)

Welcome to Museum Bank of Indonesia! (Photography by Rico Falcunitin)

 

Shooting the Breeze

Although still reeling from the encounter with the Greek divine beings, we made our way to Fatahillah Square at the Old Jakarta Kota area, the next stop on the itinerary. The square was filled with people shooting the breeze, and the vast space that was slowly filling up. Some sat on the ground or the steps while others cycled around. At the other end of the square were bikes-for-rent and behind the bikes-for-rent was the famed Batavia Café, which is the second oldest building on the square. Erected between 1805 and 1850, it boasts an all-teak wood Grand Salon on the second floor that was added in the 19th century.

Parallel to the café was one of the many museums in the area, the Fine Art and Ceramics Museum. I’ve always liked visiting art museums, but, sadly, disappointment was what greeted me during the tour. Behind the imposing white-pillared facade were numerous paintings and sculptures that were potentially gathering dust and possibly decomposing in the humid gallery hall. Worse, one of the sculptures was broken – the chipped fragment haphazardly placed atop the work of art. Similarly, the ceramic collection was veiled in dust and the theme was completely discernible. The only thing I managed to observe long enough to comment that the reedy models were absolutely nondescript was the two fashion shoots on the second and ground floors.

Es potong (ice cream on a stick) lightened up the discontent with the museum. A row of ice cream vendors were lined up a narrow street that led from Fatahillah Square to the main road. Only one was making brisk business. I wanted a chocolate-flavored es potong but one of the pubescent teenagers milling around the trolley had walked off with it. I settled for durian, which was quite flavorsome without being cloying.

Next stop was Ancol (pronounced Anchol) that was suggestive of Luneta Park in Manila, Philippines, during the days when pollution was kept at bay and street crime was virtually zero. Angkot #12 zipped through the streets from Fatahillah Square to Ancol, and within 20+ minutes we were at the entrance to the sea-side theme-park-ish waiting our turn to pay for the fees – Rupiah12, 000 per person and Rupiah10, 000 for the vehicle. We wanted the angkot to drop us off at the park and save us the long walk.

Cable cars glided through Ancol’s skies. Families settled into tents, lovers sat on the seawall overlooking the waves and teenagers sauntered the pathway. Kiosks selling sunglasses, hats, scarves, chips and drinks were ubiquitous, each jostling for a share of the business pie. The breeze that blew in from the sea was a welcome reprieve from the afternoon heat of Fatahillah Square – apart from the utter disappointment.

We cooled our heels at Café Risa, with some tucking into nasi goreng (fried rice topped with sunny side up egg and served with prawn crackers) and sate ayam (Indonesian chicken barbecue) while I bit into my roti bakar special (thick grilled bread dusted with grated cheese and swirled with chocolate sauce).

The skies were fading into pale white, slowly making way for the dark mantle of the night yet the crowd never seemed to lessen. Lovers were still perched on the seawall; children still posed with the mascots; and the vendors were doing business. Sated, we leisurely made our way to the busway terminal for the ride home amidst the weekend rush hour. That’s one adventure down and several more to go.

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