WHENEVER I visit a certain destination for at least a week, part of my itinerary is Chinatown. There’s something about it that I feel connected to.
Just like most Filipinos, I am a mix of all races that colonized and resided in our country. My paternal grandmother was Spanish and my paternal grandfather was half-Chinese. Because he was a cook, he dominated the kitchen where I was introduced to Chinese cuisine in early childhood. It has become a major part of my taste bud.
I love Chinese opera, even though I do not understand it (when there are no subtitiles). I love the actors’ graceful movements and the sing-song tones had so much soul in them! How about the cinema (esp. the critically-acclaimed ones that were filmed by Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, War-Kang-Wai, Ang Lee, etc.)- I follow the film critics’ review of the best Chinese films and make sure my husband (also a fan of Chinese films) & I watch them. The stories behind the books written by Amy Tan and Anchee Min resonate to me as if I was one of the characters in them.
The terrorist bombing in Jakarta’s city center the week before I arrived was an unfortunate incident. However, it didn’t discourage me from trying what locals in Jakarta do and Chinatown is top of my list. Because there’s only a small percentage of Jakartans who can speak English, I planned on getting a tour guide for my first solo sojourn of the city. I found Jakarta Good Guide that listed Chinatown (Glodok) as one of the 6 routes in their “Pay-As-You-Wish Walking Tours.” It means, “you are free to tip the guide as much (or as little) as you wish, depending on your satisfaction towards his service.”
I liked it that they said that.
So on this sunny Tuesday (February 23, 2016), I met with 2 other tour group mates, Francois of France, Novie of Bogor, and our remarkable tour guide, Indra, who made it possible for us to enjoy our short tour. I am glad I didn’t listen to the bad reviews. I believe that the Law of Attraction may be at work here!
We met at 9 am at 7-11 at the Novotel Hotel in Jalan Gajah Mada where Indra gave us a briefing of the itinerary for the half-day tour. Candra Naya is located just behind the hotel and we started there.
So here are the 10 Things You Shouldn’t Miss When Visiting Glodok for the 1st Time:
1. Begin with a quick stroll of the historic Candra Naya. Check the structures where the 1st Chinese immigrants lived.
We walked a few meters and passed Glodok Plaza, a mall where all sorts of electronics, computers, gifts, antiques, and other novelty items are sold. However, we chose not to get inside and proceeded to Petak Sembilan traditional market, where our real fun began.
2. Walk the Petak Sembilan traditional street market where meats, vegetables, fruits, fish- in all their freshness, are sold. You will also find Chinese snacks and traditional medicine.
3. Visit the two oldest Buddhist temples Circa 1650 (before getting out to Jl. Kemenangan III). Observe how the locals pray (click video) and since the temples are open to all types of denomination, you may also commune with your Higher Power there.
This is Vihara Tanda Bhakti. (You’ve already seen how it looks inside in the video above: #3 “how the locals pray.”)
4. Perform a little ceremony: “Ciam Sie,” while inside Vihara Tanda Bhakti. Ask a powerful question and draw a single stick with a number that corresponds to a divine interpretation. You might be surprised with the answer!
5. While we are still in the subject of temples, turn right to Jl. Kemenangan III to check the only Catholic Church in the city, the Santa Maria de Fatima Church. Its architecture (and the signature red door ) shows Chinese influence. Although there was only about 3% of Catholics in Indonesia (per 2010 Census), the Indonesian-Chinese Catholics tried to blend with the local culture while practicing their religion.
6. Drop-by the local neighborhood where the last surviving Chinese calligrapher lives and observe as he practices his art.
7. Sample a few local delicacies at the famous food alley known as “Gang Kalimati.” ‘Snacking’ is one of Indonesians’ favorite past times.
8. Have coffee at an old coffeehouse called Kopi es Tak Kie.
9. After you’ve been full from the snacks you’ve eaten, it is time for to-go food orders. Here are the ones you will enjoy eating at home!
At an area called “Gang Gloria,” there’s a small food counter that specializes in cooking Gado-gado. Find out why Direksi is touted as the best in Jakarta (for its price). Locals say it was a guilty pleasure of the first Indonesian President, the late Gus Dur.
Near Direksi, is Toko Kawi, a grocery store that sells special smoked ham from Bali. Glodok is one of the very few places in Jakarta where pork is being sold.
10. People-watch- it’s free and easy. Make sure you bring your camera for unexpected subjects. (If you visit during Chinese holidays, Glodok is always spectacular!)