Saturday, April 24, 2004

Saturday Morning at Petak Sembilan

Saturday Morning at Petak Sembilan

Now that I am no longer in living in Jakarta, every opportunity here in this city is to be fully utilized. So I started my weekend very early this morning, setting off at 6.30am with Setiawan to Kota, the Chinatown of Jakarta, for some nice chicken porridge breakfast. Our plan was to spend half a day snapping pictures around Glodok. Even though the Pasar Glodok area was razed during the riots of 1998, the place is now bustling again with Chinese businesses. Nothing can dampen the industry of the Chinese--when it comes to business, the Chinese has the dogged single-mindedness of the Terminator.

So we too pursued our subjects with equal single-mindedness, aiming our lenses, sometimes obtrusively, at the food-sellers, butchers and labourers who were going through their daily affairs. We started off around the Pancoran area and moved on to Petak Sembilan, just when its wet market was bursting with early morning shoppers. It was a dizzying sight of pork, fish, turtles, frogs and all sorts of exotic meat being slaughtered and slashed in a frenzy of blood and knives. Our cameras devoured all these sights hungrily.

The Petak Sembilan alleyways were choked with all sorts of traffic--goods being carted in many directions, bicycles and motorcycles competing for passage with shoppers and pedestrians, tukang jamu in traditional Javanese dress hawking their miraculous potions and from within this stampede of humanity; here and there, the up-turned palm of a grotesquely handicapped beggar would reach out for sympathy.

Some of the oldest Chinese temples (known as "klenteng" to the locals) in Jakarta are also located around the Petak Sembilan area. I entered and explored them, with a slight nagging feeling of guilt that I was somehow intruding on their sanctity. They were all painted in gaudy red and choked with incense smoke--they looked exactly like the ones back in Malaysia. Worshippers were busy raising offerings of food and incense to the pantheon of Chinese gods. Right outside the main temple, there was a community of beggars loitering in the courtyard; a street barber was also busy mowing the hair of one of his customers right at the entrance.

I had a wonderful morning immersing myself in the atmosphere of Petak Sembilan and filling my Compact Flash card with two hundred over digital snapshots. Later during lunch, while munching tim sum with Setiawan at the Metropole Hotel along Jalan Hayam Wuruk, I began to realise how much I've missed this wonderful city.

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