Helen was tied up today trying to push her problematic visa application, which rather suited me as a chance to escape the girly throes and re-establish some focus on the job in hand. It was a crushing frustration to realise it Monday and all the museums closed then, but I stuck with the plan in any case of hitting the Kota district of the city. This was old Batavia, the historic heart of colonial Jakarta and the port from which the Dutch East India Company the VOC had ruled and exploited the archipeligo for centuries. There were architectural attractions here aplenty, with my first foray from the convenient Kota urban rail station being the Gereja Sion (Sion Church), also known as the Portugese Church. Its simple angular lines and pristine condition masked its vintage, it was built in 1695 to serve the so called "Black Portugese", captives snatched from Dutch raids throughout the Portugese Asian outposts and fleet, who were transported here and committed to slavery. There was no remaining trace of the reputedly once sizeable graveyard here, and unfortunately the church mirrored the museums in its closure.
It was a short jaunt back the way dodging what proved to be persistently atrocious traffic to find a cobbled square, what had once been the functional heart of Batavian colonial rule. To the south lay the immaculately whitewashed and bell towered Jakarta History Museum, a fantastic perfect remnant in defiance of its 1627 pedigree, which had originally served as the Town Hall, law courts and main dungeons. The 19th century Fine Arts Museum off to one side, once the Palace of Justice, was a contrasting typically grand but squat Roman columned edifice, and the former Museum of Old Batavia, now a Puppet Museum, was more akin to true Dutch aesthetics as a tall square pointy gabled house. From here a rare cobbled promenade revealed more Dutch style buildings of a more dilapidated ilk, a theme continued along a canalside plod which had once been a Little Amsterdam of rich residences, boasting variously high corner domes and red tiled roofs. Though now defunct of its purpose, the 17th century Chicken Market Bridge still stood as it had done for centuries, a wooden chain elevated drawbridge full of Olde Worlde character which had once fed traffic to the port area. I dodged more trucks, mopeds and crummy looking foodstalls across its modern replacement in that direction then, first spying a tall slender watchtower resembling a tower house which the Dutch had built facing the port entrance in order to direct shipping. The habitual plethora of corroded cannon and a gigantic aged anchor stood guard, alas it was closed as ever. In further inquisitive forays I first discovered a very long colonial looking warehouse, all wooden shutters and red tiles, but its VOC titling and promise of the old maritime area transpired to be a tourist rip off extravaganza undergoing a restoration which depreciated it of any historical interest it may once have held.
Then I hit upon a grungy market cum slum area of people living very rustic lives in wooden shacks decorated with washing lines and pathetic front room grocery stalls. I found the port entrance eventually though, a spot known as Sunda Kelapa and famed for its Pinisi (Schooners). A long awaited dream, I was very surprised to find not a beautified boardwalk of preserved colonial era sailing ships as I had long surmised but a full on working wharf of contemporary wooden craft, variously loading laboriously by hand in the scathing heat an assortment of cargo such as bags of cement, lengths of timber, and all manner of plastic containers and cardboard boxes. Originating from Makassar, Sulawesi, these craft though notably larger reminded me of Arab dhows with their strong high bows and up-tapered sterns, it gleaned an unexpected insight into the relatively rudimentary and precarious manner in which Indonesia disseminated its wealth. They were the same design the ancient Buginese maritime empire had used centuries earlier. I knew that their was an undercurrent of discontent at Javanese political and economic dominance within Indonesia, but perhaps this was an alternative indicator as to why the outer lying islands lagged behind the national hub, and why Indonesia in general struggled to keep up with its more contiguous northerly neighbours. The "Hello misters" followed me round to a neighbouring wharf of mainly more orthodox shipping, and though there were modern conventions revealed in fork lift trucks and cranes, vehicles destined for some distant isle loaded open to the elements high above the gunwales on one rust bucket still served to confirm a rudimentary backwardness in need of investment.
In need of a well earned beer, it was only left for me to retrace the cobbled main square where the Cafe Batavia had succeeded in retaining a colonial era vibe of pillar mounted lanterns and ragtime jazz, the prices unfortunately were definitely modern 21st century however. Kota had been a surprisingly grungy spot in spite of its reputation, with bare arsed kids, a trully skanky fish market devoid of a catch and rubbish variously scattered across wasteland next to carpets of sun drying shrimps, awash in open cesspools or heaped in piles of stinking rot too putrid to walk past. I sensed another point of note in that though, perhaps indicative as to what happens when an especially unsuitable colonial master rules by decree, then is finally pushed out amidst disarray to leave a people ill- prepared to take on the challenges of self rule. Considering they were ethnically similar, time and again it surprised me that though Indonesia had gone independent before Malaysia, her northerly neighbour was streets ahead in cleaning up the streets for example. That said, modern Jakarta might have been a massive swathe of dubious urban planning with horrendous noise and air pollution, but bus lanes serving ultra modern coaches and touches such as ornate fountains and decorative gardens still managed to extricate it from my poor expectations to a passable showcase of generally impressive ilk. And the unexpectedly chilled out temperament of Jalan Jaksa was a winner.