“You, young lads, listen to the old tales
That we, old men, will be telling you.”
– A Song, from ‘A Captain’s Daughter’, Алекса́ндр Пу́шкин
As I have mentioned elsewhere, I have quite a thing for trinkets and treasures that have resurfaced from the past, wherever — and whenever — they may originate from. Indonesia is certainly no exception.
This Christmas break I’d had the most incredible time surprising my mother with my sudden arrival in Indonesia, where I had a seductive encounter with various antiques. My journey from Cambridge to Jakarta was a long one, however, and not so straightforward either:
One unbelievably cold December evening I submitted a draft of the introduction and all completed chapters of my thesis — as well as a Merry Christmas/Happy New Year card — to the porters at King’s, to be passed on to my supervisor. That same evening I left Cambridge for my 6AM flight to Tallinn. I spent a week traveling through the Baltic States, after which I returned to Cambridge from Riga for a 12-hour layover. The following evening I hopped on to a plane to Doha, then to Singapore for a 34-hour layover. Finally I flew to Jakarta, taking with me into the clouds that morning many prayers that my journey — thus far covering six countries across two continents — would continue and indeed remain under His protection.
When I showed up at my aunt’s doorstep, no words could describe her delightful surprise and slight disbelief upon my arrival, and my mother’s teary welcome, which also brought me to tears. I thought to myself how relieved I was to finally put down my backpack for a long time (though we were already scheduled for a departure to Bali in a few days). I was in Jakarta, a foreign city I hadn’t stepped foot in since I was 12, but in the embrace of my mother I was home again.
My arrival was warmly welcomed by our gracious hostess — my aunt, who is a Jakartan native (Betawi) through and through. There was no time to deal with jetlag; early the next morning, after expressing interest in all things antique and having found out from my airport taxi driver that a street filled with antique shop lots called Jalan Surabaya existed in an affluent suburb of Jakarta known as Menteng, I was taken shopping immediately. And though we didn’t find anything worth taking home, Jalan Surabaya certainly proved to be a feast for the eyes:
Bali too impressed me with its wealth of antiquities and antiques. The things that the Balinese built with their very own hands have been proven to last centuries — even millennia — as testified by its thousand-year-old Hindu temples (pura) and the antique shops along the main street in Ubud simply overflowing with antiques. I know I will return here in the future, and there is no question that I will not be leaving the island emptyhanded.
I have loved Indonesia for the warmth and generosity of its people, and for its vast repository of items and furniture that have endured through the ages. I am especially in love with Javanese antique furniture with handcrafted motifs, imperfect in their finishing yet beautiful, nonetheless, in all their age-old glory. My maternal grandfather was himself a furniture-maker, and so this love for such wooden gems is perhaps unsurprising, given my Javanese heritage.
It is incredible how antiques have the power to inject new life and a warm atmospheric charm into a certain space, whether indoors or outdoors. Some may remain as they are until the end of time but some, such as antiques made from reclaimed wood, have been repurposed into something else, thus even prolonging its life and functions to spectacular ends. There are indeed some things in this world — like a mother’s love, one’s first concert ticket, exceptional friendships conceived in the innocent days of our youth, and antique dressers — that are worth keeping for many, many years to come.