Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Ghost of Kota

The Ghost of Kota

After a very tiring day at work, I decided to reward myself with dinner at Cafe Batavia. Took a TransJakarta Busway from my hotel to Stesen Jakartakota and walked a hundred metres north to Taman Fatahillah, where this colonial heritage building is located.

I haven't been here for a while but as expected, I had the whole upper floor dining hall to myself. Except for the odd bule tourist who would bother to make their way here to peer at the hundreds of framed pictures that adorn its wood-panelled walls; the place is usually deserted. Which was also why I had chosen Cafe Batavia--I wanted a quiet place to read (It is virtually impossible to find a place that's quiet in Kota).

Eating there alone, I remembered dining alone more than a decade ago at a similarly deserted place in Ipoh--the Station Hotel--before it underwent renovations. I had decided to stopover one night at the hotel on my way back from Penang: the rooms were cavernously large and the ancient plumbing emitted strange echoey sounds all through the night. There were probably lots of colonial ghosts roaming its dark corridors outside but I had no time for them--I was so tired that I slept like a baby that night.

These old colonial places have lots of charm and I am extremely fond of them. The E&O Hotel was another one of my favourite hangouts when I was working in Penang. I haven't visited this grand dame since it got renovated but I have many pleasant memories of the place...

Back to these old Dutch buildings in Kota: The Jakarta History Museum, the old Dutch administration center, is located directly opposite Cafe Batavia and the space between them is the Fatahillah Square, what used to be the old town square--the scene of many public executions and massacres. I'm sure a lot of ghosts haunt these places too. But nowadays, it's the irritating pengamins and petty traders trying to sell you fake Mont Blanc pens that you would want to avoid rather than ghosts.

Once upon a time, Jakarta/Batavia city was known the Queen of the East. But now only sad traces of that old glory remains. And there, among the vestiges of neglect and ruin, was a ghost: dining alone in Cafe Batavia, amidst the emaculately empty tables, trying to relive a past that has long fled.

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