Old Men in Jakarta

Last week I was invited to Jakarta to help out with an English Camp programme. I was in bed at about 10 pm when I received the phone call. I said okay. There I met a TV Reporter and when I mentioned that being a TV Reporter was a dream of mine and that I had nowhere to stay (after the camp), she invited me to her place.

When I was younger I heard stories from my father of how in his youth in Indonesia he couldn’t find a hotel to stay in. He told the trishaw rider that and he was invited to his house. Who knew I was actually following my dad’s footsteps. Gosh.

My new friend’s name is Ayu. After the camp we rushed to her workplace, a TV Station and hopped on the TV Station car. She had to report about an MOE Conference that was going on that day. We were 30 minutes late and the conference had already started. Panels were sitting in front. Cameras were lined up at the back of the room. Those at the seats were paying attention. Those at the back behind the cameras were using their phones.

Except that they weren’t idling. They were all from the media, Googling or writing things down as the man in the middle speaks. One man caught my attention.

He was sitting crossed-legged on the floor, silver haired, in batik top. I noticed he was the only one not holding any device of such. Instead, he had folded the press release sheet into half and had written words upon words on the blank page. He wrote and wrote and wrote. I walked around to be a busybody and look at what other are people are doing and when I returned the man had thicker sheets of paper and continued writing.

Ayu’s interns were sitting on the floor nearby and I joined them. I watch the old man finally withdraw something shiny from his pocket, stood up, with all his papers still, nonchalantly walked up in front of the cameras, to the middle of the room to snap a picture. Using that Sony black point-and-shoot camera, he took two pictures. Probably satisfied, he walked back to sit.

“He’s a senior reporter,” Ayu’s intern told me when asked.

“Keren ya,” I replied, which means “He’s cool.”

The interns looked at me confused. Guess they didn’t understand what I meant. I didn’t either.

Dear sir, I’m sorry I did not ask you for your permission to snap your picture. But I hope it’s all right since I feel that you are unidentifiable in this picture.

I didn’t mean to include this picture, but since I titled this post “Old Men in Jakarta” anyway, why not? This was the man who spoke the most during the conference. I know his name, but not going to mention it.

The next day we went to a book heaven called Pasar Senen/Kwitang. The thing about the books here is that they’re cheap. You can haggle them. But it’s low quality printing. Still readable. There was a book that caught my eye titled “Keajaiban di Pasar Senen” loosely translated as Magic at Pasar Senen. It’s about artists in Jakarta in 1950s living life as “real” artists: penniless, relationshipless. Feels like me, ha ha ha. I wanted that book.

Upon knowing I was a foreigner the store assistant tried to charge me USD 4 (Rp 50000) for it. I said no, that’s too much.

“How much do you want it for?”
“I’ll pay USD 1.50 for it.”
“No that’s too low, the lowest I could give you is USD 2.60.”

I said no and walked away to another store. But the book kept calling me. We went back and I asked my friend to ask for the price of the book.

“USD 1.50,” the store owner said.
“Make it USD 1.10,” my friend haggled.
“No! She asked for English books earlier. Surely she can afford this.”
“Please. Please please.”
“No.”
“Please.”
“Ok ok fine.”

Wow. I would have walked away.

I got the book at one dollar then 🙂 It’s a good read. In artistic sense it’s different. Own style of telling stories. Kind of like oral but it’s written. Huh?

We walked and we saw this old man showing books he was selling. He was a walking bookstore.

We bought a couple of books from him. They’re cheap too, I spent USD 1.40 on two books. One I got for a friend. The other one for me meant for light reading when free, but it’s an Islamic book with Quranic words in it. I don’t feel right entering public restrooms knowing the book is here.

Anyway if someday given the chance, if someday I mastered Bahasa Indonesian, I want to talk to this man. Find out about his life. Who was he. Why did he choose to sell books? How many years has he been doing this?

The same kinds of questions I wanted to ask the senior reporter. I didn’t want to break him from his thought of writing. That’s why I didn’t approach him. This book merchant suddenly had other customers coming after we came (we were the only ones around him at first).

Oh well!

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