01 of 07
Discovering Indonesian Culture through Jalan Surabaya
In the quiet residential Menteng District of Jakarta, Indonesia, Jalan Surabaya (Surabaya Street) stands apart: it’s an antique market with roots in the old city surrounding Fatahillah Square, an interesting home for old stuff in one of Jakarta’s more upscale residential areas, and an endangered tourist destination, under attack by declining sales and a city government intent on reclaiming the land for other purposes.
Occupying a 500-yard stretch on one side of Jalan Surabaya, the 184 shops along the line hawk antiques of all sorts: batik, salvaged accessories from ships, old coins, porcelain, wayang golek (Javanese puppets), batik, lampshades, vinyl LPs, old phones, wood carvings, utensils, and books, among others.
The sellers are persistent, but may not really have a high degree of knowledge about the wares they’re selling. And don’t expect to be informed if the item you’re interested in is just a reproduction. The rule on Jalan Surabaya is, as with all flea markets, caveat emptor.Continue to 2 of 7 below.
02 of 07
What You’ll Find on Jalan Surabaya
The goods on Jalan Surabaya reflect Indonesia’s past and patchwork present.
From the Dutch colonial era, you’ll find plenty of old coins, Dutch porcelain, chandeliers, and silverware. From modern culture, you’ll find rotary telephones, cameras, and LPs. From traditional Indonesian communities, you’ll find Javanese puppets, batik, and Balinese carvings.
You'll find a few dedicated, one-product shops. An air-conditioned shop in the middle of the stretch sells rare vinyls. A number of stalls on one end of Jalan Surabaya sell secondhand luggage. And for some reason, there is a glut of accessories salvaged from ships, from portholes to diving helmets.
All this requires patience and time to sift through, so you’re better off arriving early in the morning or later in the afternoon, avoiding the noonday sun entirely. The shops open daily from 10am to 9pm, so work around that schedule to get in about two to three hours of dedicated shopping.Continue to 3 of 7 below.
03 of 07
Old Cameras for Sale, Jalan Surabaya
A collection of old cameras behind glass waits for buyers in Jalan Surabaya. The range of antiques on sale in Jalan Surabaya reflects Jakarta’s past – including its relatively recent modern past as well as its colonial one. The old Dutch colonial trinkets are steadily being supplanted by more modern ones, from rotary phones to Indonesian LPs.
Many of Jalan Surabaya’s antique sellers trace the origins of their trade to itinerant antique sellers in the old city around Fatahillah Square. As their numbers grew, the need for a permanent place for these sellers grew as well.
In 1974, then-Governor of Jakarta Ali Sadikin moved the sellers to their current spot on Jalan Surabaya, where they have been hawking their wares ever since.Continue to 4 of 7 below.
04 of 07
Haggling Down Prices in Jalan Surabaya
You’d be a fool to pay the first price quoted for any item on Jalan Surabaya. If you want to get the most out of your shopping experience on this street, you’d better know how to haggle.
Many of the more expensive items can be had for less than fifty percent of the stated price; a wood carving that starts at IDR 300,000 ($30) can be dickered down to as low as IDR 120,000 ($12) if you have the patience and good humor to talk the price down to a level you can tolerate. (Read about money in Indonesia.)
There are exceptions to the rule, of course; Caucasian buyers are often quoted higher prices than locals, because it’s presumed that bule, or white folk, have more money. To get around this problem (and also to navigate the language barrier) you’d better have a local intercede for you whenever possibleContinue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Record Collectors’ Stop on Jalan Surabaya
A favorite stop on Jalan Surabaya is the air-conditioned LP shop in the middle of the stretch. This shop is a must-visit for vinyl record collectors, as the proprietor has put together an eclectic collection worthy of the pickiest vinyl enthusiast.
You have to have a little patience to work your way through the collection, which isn’t arranged in any particular order, and are housed in a shop no larger than a walk-in closet. Johnny Cash, the Beatles, and Eddie Murphy are all here, as are a good number of obscure artists. As with any treasure hunt, you have to go through so much dross to find the really valuable stuff.
Records go for IDR 20,000 ($2) to IDR 40,000 ($4), although you’re free to dicker down.Continue to 6 of 7 below.
06 of 07
Antiques vs. Fakes on Jalan Surabaya
Jalan Surabaya’s reputation for antiques aside, a fair number of reproductions and out-and-out fakes proliferate among the goods in the stores.
While this writer was able to ascertain the authenticity of the old Dutch colonial coins pictured above, a number of hawkers attempted to foist a number of large but obviously fake coins. (Even a novice like myself could tell that the coins were far too light to convincingly pass as legal tender in the 18th century!)
Telling the fake from the real on Jalan Surabaya is not easy. One rule of thumb: if an item seems too cheap to believe, it’s probably fake.
Even with seemingly authentic items, it pays to do due diligence and the right amount of sniffing around to ascertain its authenticity. The tips in this article on how to spot a fake handbag apply very well to sniffing out the reproductions on Jalan Surabaya.Continue to 7 of 7 below.
07 of 07
Location of Jalan Surabaya in Jakarta, Indonesia
Jalan Surabaya is located on Menteng district in Central Jakarta (location on Google Maps), about 1.5 miles southeast of Jalan Bundaran HI.
President Barack Obama lived in Menteng for part of his childhood, although the neighborhood is much changed from when he was living here. Menteng is now home to some of Indonesia’s upper crust, including the official residences for government officials and ambassadors.
One side of Jalan Surabaya has a row of such posh houses, while the other side (facing a canal) features the row of antique shops.
Jalan Surabaya is a peaceful respite from clogged-up Jakarta proper. The shopping area is shaded by a number of trees, and your guide spotted a squirrel negotiating a telephone wire while he was there. Shopping in Jalan Surabaya is quite peaceful, assuming you schedule your shopping when the worst of the heat is over.
There are no public transportation options for Jalan Surabaya; ride a taxi or a bajaj to get to the area.