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As Long as We Remember...

November 5, 2014

The National Museum and Confusion

Tom McLaughlin


Jakarta, Indonesia – The plane landed in what I thought would be a medieval airport. I expected to see Commodore 64’s at the terminals and people sleeping at the baggage check. To my great surprise, it was a gleaming 21st Century edifice. Our baggage came quite quickly and immigration check was smooth.


We had decided to stay at a hotel halfway between the airport and the city center. We found a nice one, although expensive by Asian standards, a little closer to town than I would like given Jakarta’s infamous traffic jams. We were only going to stay one full day, so we had to make the most of our time.


The next day we told the taxi driver that we wanted to go to the National Museum and the antique street, Jalan Sourabaya. Only two places, an easy drive or so I thought.


The driver let us off and told us the museum was just over there – waving his arms in every direction – and then drove off. We entered the break in the steel White House-like fence. To the left was a car park with autos deposited every which way. To the right was a series of stalls selling foods, like fried rice and meat skewers roasted on a charcoal fire. Others had a propane tank attached to a burner. “This can’t be right,” I told my wife.


We asked a 50-ish woman, who was selling green and white drinks from large cylinder-shaped containers. Each held about five gallons of the sweet stuff. There was only one cup tied to the wooden-slatted table. She managed to wave her arms in one direction when questioned about the National Museum.


We walked about two football fields along the sidewalk, rounded a corner, and came upon a large Washington Monument like structure about another football field away. It was sand and white, but more white; plus it had a platform that traveled all the way around it. We asked again for the National Museum and they pointed to the structure. I knew that couldn’t be it either. We took the train on wheels to the Monument and wove our way inside in the blistering low 90’s heat.  We were still assured this was the National Museum.


We paid the entrance fee, about 52 cents, and visited the “museum,” which was downstairs. It consisted of dioramas on the history of Indonesia on all four walls in a massive rectangle. I thought we had a ride to the top but, apparently I had not paid enough money even though I used my finger and pointed up and she nodded her head and also pointed up.


We took the train back to our starting point. My wife had consulted with many people and sought the directions to the National Museum. We hiked another two or three football fields, down the bus lane where we nearly got run over in a crosswalk, the only one in Jakarta, to the entrance. The museum was free and was housed in a small Dutch colonial building.


The first floor held a line of Indian-like statues, about a meter tall all carved from black stones. If you know your Indian gods, then you would be at home, but they were more fantasy to me with elephant tucks coming off, four hand waving and other such bizarre edifices. They all had their noses broken off; a symbol of Islamic ideal that you can’t have replicas of the human form, but I couldn’t understand how there was anything human about the elephant trunks coming out of the face. The rest of the three floors were a hodgepodge of various items all mixed in together. There would be ancient prehistoric artifacts coupled with Chinese bead and plates.


I wasn’t sure what this museum was showing, but there you go. I never did find out what the Washington Monument like structure was supposed to be.


…life is good. . . . .


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