The “Fast Four”

10  Batavia/Jakarta

Our last post

former town hall of Batavia
The former town hall of Batavia, seat of the governor of the VOC. Today it’s the Kalarta Historical Museum.
Bron: Gunkarta / Gunawan Kartapranata
Our last transfer late 1938 was to what used to be called Batavia in the former Dutch East Indies. It was here that we were startled by the German invasion of Holland in May 1940. During the two years that followed, several funds were established in the Indies including the ‘Spitfire Fund’, a fund to supply our air force, which had fled to England, with the renowned Spitfire fighter jets to be put into action in the battle against Germany. In Batavia, the well known Chinese shop “Toko Tio Tek Hong’ located in the Sluisbrugstraat - a side street of Pasar Baru - sold, in addition to the latest records of artists such as Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and other Big Band dancing orchestras - also air pistols and air rifles.

Air rifle

I don’t know whether or not my father conferred with my mother, but my father must have considered me to be old enough as one day I was allowed to go with him to buy myself an air rifle with which 4 mm lead shot could be fired without requiring a license. Permits were required however for weapons using 5 mm shot! After ample consideration I selected a Wembley, a model which didn’t require clicking down the barrel of the rifle in order to cock the spring; instead, this was done via a trigger under the barrel. Actually, we boys found the air pressure to fire a shot, obtained by cocking the spring, quite ‘insufficient’. Which is why we usually inserted a double spring to increase the air pressure of the rifle somewhat, however this also required more effort to cock the spring. The idea was to shoot at a target in the yard, but I had other things in mind. More often I would take it out into the fields and into the kampongs, not for shooting small birds, but for shooting half ripe mangoes, kedongdongs and other fruit from the trees, so our elderly cook could make them into a delicious rujak manis at home.

Satay in Glodok in Batavia

On my solex
On my solex
I could also often be found in Glodok in Batavia Benedenstad, where I went rather frequently by moped. However, that wasn’t until after World War II. I had my favourite food stalls, where, seated on a timber stool on the side of the road, people could enjoy crustaceans, immersed in hot water for a short period of time and served with a small bowl of some delicious sauce. Another satay stall, somewhat bigger than most and selling excellent satay kambing, could be found in Batavia/Jakarta on the outskirts of town along the road to Kebayoran, which was still very quiet at the time . The stall had tables and chairs and entire parties of people neatly dressed in suits or dresses would stop by on the way to some function or other, just so they could have some great satay first.

Building in swamp area

In those days, Kebayoran was still a town in the making. It was separate from Batavia/Jakarta and consisted of a limited number of houses in that reclaimed marshland, just like the later Taman Mini Indonesia near the Ancol Canal, which used to be marshland as well.

 Back then Batavia was surrounded by small townships like Pasar Minggu, the town of Kebayoran in the making, the still mostly swamp area of Kemayoran, Sunter, Klender and so on, which were combined into one Greater Jakarta in the sixties.

World War II

I was a student at the Strada-Mulo (high school) at the time of the air raid of Japan on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. After the attack, World War II became a harsh reality also for us and in early March 1942 the Dutch East Indies were overrun and occupied by Japan.

 Also at sea Japan was a supreme power because practically all battleships of the allied naval forces were completely destroyed in the battle of the Java Sea. Those lucky enough to escape all fled to Australia, as did the small passenger and freight ships of the Royal Packet Boat Service KPM from Surabaya and Cilacap. Not many people know that today’s global oil company Shell had its origins in Cilacap, south of Central Java, where it started up as an oil refinery many years before the war.

Pasar Senèn

Speaking of money, it’s needless to say of course that as a young boy, I could always do with a bit of extra money to buy a roadside snack despite the fact that my parents had strictly forbidden me to do so.
My father never had much money on him; he took a lunch box to work just like all other office workers and therefore didn’t really need to have any cash on him. Yet on Sundays, my father regularly took me and my younger brother for a stroll to Pasar Senèn, where we would enjoy a delicious coupe of ice cream ‘Shanghai’ at the Chinese place in the ‘cold corner’, served in a tall glass. And only for a mere 5 cents!

Street barber
Street barber


Our regular hairdresser was the Sundanese barber who kept shop a little further down the street. He was slightly more expensive than others, but you got something in return for paying a little extra. After he’d finished cutting, your head was suddenly twisted left and then right with a loud click, you received several hard blows on the shoulders which were followed by a massage. Which was all very well, but I needed some extra pocket money. So sometimes, when I had been given money to get a haircut, I would visit the street barber under an asem tree (tamarind), who would literally indulge in bluntness by using blunt clippers. For a trifle.
When I got home, my mother wondered how come the hairdresser had done such a poor job, which I countered with the excuse that maybe he just didn’t have his day. Which my mother accepted suspiciously!

Transport by tram

Tram in Batavia
Tram Wagon, mentioning ‘Batavia and natives’, in front of a depot building. Foto: 1899. Collection Prentenkabinet University of Leiden
In my spare time I often took the electric tram. It criss-crossed all through Batavia and only had a 1st and a 3rd class carriage. Travelling 1st class cost 4 cents and 3rd class just 1 cent, regardless of the distance travelled. For that matter, travelling 3rd class in trams and trains anywhere on Java was far from comfortable, even during those ‘good old days’. Among the passengers were many street vendors taking up space in the carriage with their huge, heavy baskets filled with live fish and chickens, piles of fresh fruit and vegetables and even occasionally someone with a live goat they’d bought somewhere. And as if that wasn’t already enough of a chaos, at most stops some vendor of cigarettes or candy would enter the carriage and climb his way over all those full baskets in order to sell his goods to the passengers.
Postspaarbank Batavia/Jakarta Postspaarbank Batavia/Jakarta

Gas lights

At night streets were usually lit electrically, but alongside the houses gas lights were still used for lighting, as was the case in our street. Towards evening, a council officer would come on foot carrying a ladder, a two metre long pole with a hook and a small box. If the light wasn’t lit after he’d pulled a handle using the hook, the mantle would be broken so the man would climb his ladder, open up the glass ball and replace the mantle with a new one from the box.

Family gathering on 16.6.2013 when Joyce, Albert Yzelman's daughter from Bandung, visited The Netherlands, together with her daughters.

Next (11) »  Top Page   ^^  « Previous (9)