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Hidden Wonders: Pasar Baru

On the surface Jakarta is a polluted traffic-filled mess. This isn’t a tourist friendly city where you can just wander and stumble on something interesting or historic. It takes effort to find things in Jakarta. And for the most part your efforts and time are rewarded with tucked away, hidden wonders:

Down a gang kelinci (gang means alley, kelinci means rabbit, so you get small alley, or rabbit hole) in the Pasar Baru area are two hidden Chinese temples. As Chloe, Fajar and I wandered we asked some mie (noodle) vendors where the Sin Tek Bio and Kuan Im Bio temples were located. We were directed down a narrow dark alley where vendors were selling fake Crocs and men were hunched over small tables slurping down bowls of noodles. It was dark and this didn’t seem like the likely place to go, but I reassured myself with my ever-growing faith in Jakarta — eventually we would find it and it would of course be worth it.

In the midst of a neighborhood full of daily life, with women washing clothes in the street and children running around, are two Chinese temples that date back to the 17th century. Sin Tek Bio, also known as Wihara Dharma Jaya (both photos above), dates back to 1698 and is devoted to the god of business. A young man working at the temple motioned for us to go upstairs where we discovered more altars with offerings. He also showed us how to leave the temple through the back and end up directly in front of the Kuan Im Bio temple:

Kuam Im Bio is devoted to the goddess of love and affection. In both temples, candles and incenses were burning and every altar was oily from all the fuel used to keep the candles going. We sat peacefully in the hot temples and watched worshipers come and go.

Pasar Baru, meaning New Market, dates back to the Dutch era and is today known as a spot to buy fabric, especially lace that is used for traditional dress, kebaya. There are many Indian and Chinese vendors in this area. I had the spiciest Indian meal of my life at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Taj Mahal.

The Dutch used ‘oe’ when spelling. This was changed to ‘u’ later on to get away from Dutch influence, which explains why you see Soeharto and Suharto spellings and the spelling of Baroe on the main entrance.

We wandered the market and looked at beautiful lace and the old buildings that still stand in the area. Many buildings are crumbling or simply obscured by new fronts. Sadly, bits of the past are lost.

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