Textile Tycoons and the Old Jakarta Feel

by Rosemarie John on August 24, 2011

Apart from its rich marine life and nature reserves, Indonesia is known for its variety in textiles and traditional batiks. Home to all sorts of fabrics in its capital Jakarta is Pasar Baru. Founded by the Dutch and initially named ‘Passer Baroe’ when Jakarta was referred to as Batavia, this souk like trading ground is situated in the heart of the city.

In between a rich  tapestry of  textile tycoons that dominate at least four main streets in Central Jakarta,  lie shops that carry footwear, handicrafts, vintage clothing and musical instruments. Strolling along these coble stone streets with shop lots built in both old Dutch and Chinese architectural design, you can’t help but feel you’ve gone back in time.

Built in the early 1820s,  this commercial area has withstood a test of time. Sadly, some areas are plagued with litter bugs and badly maintained walkways. Some shops have been refurbished and renovated to fit the modern times, while some only boast zinc and aluminium sheets for roofing that house some of the most interesting curios and trinkets in town.

Known however mostly for its diverse range of clothing and fabrics, its basically a one-stop shop for acrylic, cotton, brocade, chiffon, rayon, nylon, wool, crape, silk, taffeta, georgette and batik. Intricate embroidery, patchwork, cut-work, pintex and even sarees can be found among humble and luxury concept stores. There are a few stores that only offer fixed prices, but majority of them have flexible pricing and the better you are at price negotiating, the more interesting shopping can get.

Pasar Baru meaning “New Market” in the Indonesian language is an amalgamation of Indonesian, Chinese and Indian shop owners. Amidst the hustle and bustle of drink and food vendors, Chinese temples and sales attendants with blaring loudspeakers announce the latest bargains. Pasar Baru is also the centre for Jakarta’s Indian community catering to the basic needs of any Indian household, offering spices, décor and movie DVDs.

As you soak in  the sights and scents of this unique tapestry of Indonesian heritage, it is adviced to be aware of pick-pocketers and snatch-thefts. A hive of activity and extremely crowded over the weekends, always have your bag or purse zipped closed and kept close in front of you at all times. Avoid wearing jewellery and never lose your temper when haggling for a price – bargain with courtesy. Its acceptable to ask for a 25% to 30% discount, however, if you are lucky and manage to speak directly to the store owners, a far bigger discount is often attainable.

Also avoid purchasing drinks from street vendors as their water source may be contaminated, hence always make sure you have a small bottle of drinking water with you at all times which you can buy from nearby pharmacies, restaurants or groceries stores. For great selections of fabrics visit Tonnico Textile & Tailor situated at No. 29, Jl. Pasar Baru Selatan.

Exploring these streets during the day can get pretty tiring. The weather in Jakarta is often hot and humid, and if sweating profusely isn’t your cup of tea, head to the modern shopping malls nearby – Plaza Indonesia and Grand Indonesia, abode to all major designer labels.

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