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To Market, To Market




Suddenly, just like that, we’re on the downward slope of our time here.  A handful or two of months.  A bushel of weeks. The clock is ticking insistently.


With the dwindling weekends and not quite enough time or money to get away out of town, I decided to explore some of of Jakarta’s markets recently.  


One rainy day headed to Tanah Abang, the city’s “Arab district.”  One of the older areas of town.  This

walk started in the goat market. That’s right. In this city of 15 million, 24/7, if you need to buy a live goat, this is the place to come. You can get a sheep or a cow, too, and probably a water buffalo if you wait around long enough. They’ll butcher it for you on the spot or you can take it home and do it yourself.  How?, you ask.  Like this.


A few meters down is a chicken market.  Here chickens are processed and distributed to all the myriad of food sellers in the area.  There are thousands of pounds of chicken parts and pieces.  I think I got there late for the actual deed of killing, but there were plenty of carcasses. .


Further on from there is a place where fruits and vegetables are cut and cleaned for the same food vendors.  Carrots peeled.  Mangoes cleaned. Coconuts husked.  Hundreds of well armed people hacking away and vegetable matter.  And all the scraps go on a ever growing compost pile in the middle.  Let me say that between the rain, the goats and chickens and the rotting vegetation, I picked the wrong day to wear sandals.  


It was off to the textile market.  On the way the road was blocked by a wedding.  Apparently you can do that here. Just block off a whole street.  I was forced to detour down what appeared to be a hallway.  A dark and dingy hallway about 3 feet wide.  But once inside was actually a major thoroughfare with countless cramped rooms and apartments.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was walking through people’s living and bedrooms.  Rickety ladders led away higher to other nooks and crannies.  It was fascinating.


Strolled briefly through the zinc market with tiny metal tea sets, chickpeas and a huge variety of dried dates for sale.  Then it is across the street to main market at Tanah Abang.  This place is a marvel. Some nine floors covering more than a city block, chocked full of stall upon stall of clothing and textile vendors.  This is where, Indonesian retailers come to shop for products and supplies.  



If you want a full size range of hello kitty shirts. This is your place.  If you want a case of 8” red zippers, this is the place.  Need a few yards of camoflage fabric.  There is one stall with nothing but.  It is mind boggling how there can be such a demand for such specific items, but within minutes of opening, they are moving products.  They have special porters to help people load their purchases into their cars.  It is a buzz.


The following day we head out to another area known for two things, gemstones and birds.  



The new gemstone market replaced the old gemstone market which was apparently just rows of old shacks and houses.  The new building was 4 stories tall and sectioned off into individual stalls selling all manner of precious and semi-precious stones and jewelry.  I’m sure there were some really nice gems. I’m sure there were bits of glass. You’d need a geology degree or a great deal of trust to spend a lot of money here. Prices seemed pretty impressive.  One shop was nothing but silver chain.The price of a nice length necklace was a few dollars.  In one of the lower corners was a room full of stone cutters and polishers.  All just sitting waiting for a job to do.  Some were polishing, some were reading the papers. All were smoking.  Seems people buy rough stones out on the main floor and then bring them here for finishing and then people mount them however they want.


After wandering for a couple floors, it was on to the bird market


This was down the road a ways and situated behind a giant pharmacy market which in itself might be worth an explore.  4 stories full of Depends and antibiotics and mystery creams and ointments.


The Bird market is possibly the largest in the world.  The Indonesians love having pet birds.  Walk

through a village and up and you see bird cages everywhere.  Even in the poorest neighborhoods, houses will have a couple ornate wooden cages with wonderful songbirds contained within.

This Bird Market is where many of them come from.  Brought in from throughout the archipeligo, they’re fed, bred and displayed for a rabid buying public.  Walking up you can hear them and the closer you are, the louder the cacophony becomes.  Walking around the periphery, it’s fascinating.  A rainbow of color and sound.  Some stalls sell just food. Some are making and selling the bamboo and wood cages.  


Dive into the interior and the sound is deafening.  Yet, hundreds of mostly men, are wheeling and dealing in poultry.  Bird cages are stacked 10 feet high. One man is in the corridor training his pigeon to return to his mate, apparently so he can race them.


One man walks up and puts a thumb sized sugar glider in our hands.  We see Loris. Adorable and big-eyed, but it’s teeth are tinged with poison that it gets from a patch on its elbow.


Once your eyes adjust it becomes quite clear that people are sleeping  in these stalls with their stock and then slowly you become aware of the feathers, and shit and then you feel something hit your head and your become attuned to how thick the air is with bird dust.  You have images of how maybe this is where an Avian flu epidemic may start…. And then it is time to go.  

Not sure I’d go back.  Except to get an owl.  I saw a bad-ass 5 inch tall owl that the shopkeeper had taught to dance.  I might brave the market again for that.
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