2016
08.04
NATIONAL MUSEUM OLD WING WITH ELEPHANT SCULPTURE

NATIONAL MUSEUM OLD WING WITH ELEPHANT SCULPTURE

SYNOPSIS:  About a day in Jakarta.  About a visit to the National Museum and a sermon at the oldest cathedral in town.

For forty five minutes I was screening every oversized ad lining the tollway leading into Jakarta as I have been screening every road for the last six weeks all over Indonesia  not a single smoking ad!    That was unheard of and quite unexpected.  I had hoped to add an image or two to my ever-growing repertoire.  In every mid-size town I have come through from Sumatra to Timur, cigarette ads were a sure bet; you could count on them in every village, too; but not on the main road leading into the center of Jakarta.   Instead, there was everything from the latest smartphones, expensive fashion, new cars, newly built condominiums, Western food, to vacation spots,  There even were two anti-terrorist ads, a couple of Islamic ads for Koran readings, an anti-illegal logging ad and two encouragements to go green; but no smoking ads!  Does that mean that the cigarette companies specifically target the rural population?  I would not put it past them.

I did not see much of or in Jakarta.  I had dreaded this town and almost cut out coming here altogether.  After villages and mid-sized towns like Banda Aceh, Yogyakarta, and Bukittingi, I was in no mood for a vast metropolis known for its heat, its pollution and huge traffic jams.  But how could I leave without seeing the National Museum of Art and Anthropology?  I would not have forgiven myself for not even trying.  My guidebook stated that the museum was closed on Sundays and Mondays.  Double-checking online on the museum’s own webpage, I verified that it was open on Sundays after all but only until 2:30 PM.  Contrary to all the information out there, the truth was that it was open until 5 PM.  That tells you something about Indonesia:  You just never know.  And what you find out may or may not be so.  You just can’t trust either the good or the bad news. 

A classical facade and a peristyle court seem to be the hallmarks of museums around the world.  The Museum Nasional of Jakarta is no exception.  The museum consists of two parts, the old wing, started by the Dutch, and a recent addition.  Focus of the collection is the ethnic diversity of the country, which is represented in various models of architecture, maps, artifacts and textiles.  Descriptions in both Bahasa and professional English — the only flawless English descriptions I have seen anywhere in the entire country — are both helpful and informative.  And it’s air conditioned!  Still, after four hours of this I was pooped.  What else could I do with a few more hours of daylight?

Outside the museum a bus stop advertised a free city sightseeing tour on a double-decker tour bus.  That sounded promising and I spent over 40 minutes waiting for a bus that was scheduled to come every 15 minutes.  Then, of course three buses came in a row.  But the tour was a waste.  No information in any language, just a roll down the three-lane highways, slower than I could have walked due to all the traffic, even on a Sunday.  When a promising cathedral tower appeared on the horizon, I got out. 

I found myself at the Cathedral of Jakarta, obviously a leftover from the Portuguese times in town.  It was shortly after 4 PM and quite a few people had gathered in the church.  Was a service to start?  I opted to hang out.  But when 4:30 passed without any sign of action I began to wonder.  But then the church bells rang — something was about to happen.  Why would people come so early for an ordinary church service on a Sunday afternoon?  I would soon find out.  Who would have thought that in the heartland of the Islamic part of Indonesia a full-sized Gothic cathedral would fill to capacity?  In fact, by the time the service finally started at 5 PM not a single spot in the church was left and dozens of people were standing at the back.  The brochure I finally got a hold of indicated that services had been held all day long; five of them already and one more at 7 PM was to come.  Were all of them this cram-packed full?  How many Christians are there in Jakarta?! 

This is not the only church by all means.  The oldest one in a different district of Jakarta dates from 1695.  I would have loved to see that and there are many more.  Just as I had stumbled on a church service in Banda Aceh on my last day there, I had stumbled on this one the very last day of my stay in Indonesia.  It felt like a good way of wrapping up my visit, giving thanks for so many good things and appreciating that church bells could ring here.   That outside, not far from the big Monument to National Independence and a statue of Sokaerno a huge monument to Arjuna, one of the figures of Hindu mythology had been erected, and that McDonalds was just down the road.

If museum collections, vendors, and monuments are any indication, their presence and proximity to one another speaks volumes about the spectrum of the mission of Indonesia, a mission I have seen manifested in many ways over the last 8 weeks. 

Viva Indonesia!

3 comments so far

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  1. Had a week of posts to catch up. I remain in awe of the richness of this year’s travels. Thank you, and safe exiting as you approach the trip back to AA. Diane K

  2. That the church bells rang out is, indeed, a surprise seeing that it is against Sharia law. I wonder if they permit that in Aceh.

  3. Wish that you could have seen the children’s activity center in action but I am happy that you found so much on this day in Jakarta – and of course, always a surprise or two, like the packed church on a Sunday afternoon.