Manual Spot: Menteng

by Julius Kensan
26th August 2016
For the next series of Manual Spot, we explored Menteng, a neighbourhood that is rife with the old and new.

The elite neighbourhood of Menteng can be pretty intimidating especially with its lofty mansions that no doubt matched the status and bank account of the occupants inside it. And to think that this highbrow locale was once a vast swamp filled with wild animals. Any planned or impromptu visit to Menteng is never complete – not that one could ever avoid it anyway – without soaking up the post-colonial air that has endured on for decades.

Over at the famous Surabaya Street, lies the antique and flea market that stretches the entire course of the drive. The mixture of objects one could find here easily ranges from precious to absurd. The bizarre sight of, say, elegant wooden pedestal fan standing beside a vintage diving helmet and even ancient Chinese canon shows that over here, anything goes. After all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

But the place also earned itself a less dignified title as the Thieves’ Market. German author, Horst H. Geerken remarked, though with much exaggeration, “you could find almost anything that had previously been stolen from you,” in his book, A Gecko For Luck that recounted his 18 years experience in Indonesia.

Historic buildings, some preserved while some left to rot, continue to transfix Menteng into a constant tug of war between the old and modern. One of them, Metropole, belongs to the lucky ones that enjoyed a few facelifts and was declared an architectural heritage site in 1993. Now this famous movie theater, which boasts international coffee chain, Starbucks in its annex, revels in a glorious warm yellow glow from sunset onwards.

Old buildings and objects aside, Menteng is also known for its green, where parks cover thirty per cent of the area. Taman Menteng, the biggest among all of them, is a popular spot for the younger generation, albeit for different reasons. During the day, visitors can be seen circling around the park with their faces glued to their phone screen, no doubt trying their luck in catching a wild Pokemon.

Those who are not financially blessed to partake in such activities create their own fun here. Kids, most of them barely over ten years old, entertain themselves with game of tag or soccer before plunging themselves stark naked into a makeshift pool, the park’s fountain.

Menteng extends over a large area in the Central Jakarta. So much so that it even has its own “backyard”.  The latter refers to Cikini, a long stretch of road that is lined with many old famous establishments. Essentially, residents of Menteng would regularly visit Cikini for gastronomic and entertainment purposes.

The hustle and bustle is mostly congregated around the complex of Taman Ismail Marzuki. This cultural centre not only consists of art theatres, cinema and exhibition hall, but also a Jakarta Planetarium as well as a park. Even if you’re not here for any specific purposes, delighting in the complex’s various architectures is a leisure activity in itself.

Late afternoon is the ideal time to explore this energetic backyard of Menteng when the sleepy street is slowly buzzing up in anticipation of the evening crowds. From the uppermost tip of Cikini, slowly make your way down towards the famous Taman Ismail Marzuki, where new and old hangout spots hanker for your attention in between. It’s a beguiling experience to notice just how much the area of Menteng has evolved over the time. But with the area thick with traditional everything, it can also be argued that, in fact, very little has changed.