Indonesia in Focus
Pasar Baru: Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
Up to 2002, Bandung’s Pasar Baru (which literally means “new market”), was riddled with narrow, dark and untidy alleys, which made Ida Farida, 41, reluctant to go shopping there with friends or her mother.
“It was horrible. Buyers were everywhere. You would always be worried about being pickpocketed or the possibility of fire. In the case of the latter, you would find it hard to escape,” said Ida, now a mother, who has lived on Jl. Kesehatan, Bandung, all her life.
When she was young, she would accompany her mother on shopping trips there and had to use the small alleys, which smelled badly and were very stuffy, to buy clothing at discounted prices.
Once she visited the old Pasar Baru when the weather was very hot. She walked along its narrow alleys where sellers and buyers were crowded, haggling over prices. As she was fasting at that time, the lack of fresh air almost made her faint.
Worse still, the sewerage system was so bad the floor of the market stank and was soggy.
Still, despite these dreadful conditions, the market, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year, remains a popular trading venue for residents of Bandung and its surroundings.
Apart from being noted for its textile products, the market also provides a variety of daily necessities, ranging from sundries, vegetables and fish to wedding presents.
The crowds of buyers reach a peak during the Muslim fasting month with greater numbers shopping there with the approach of the post-Ramadhan Lebaran holiday.
Quite a few visitors, especially children, forget to maintain their fast because they cannot bear the thirst while elbowing and shoving in alleys to buy Lebaran necessities at reduced prices.
The late Haryoto Kunto, an architect often dubbed the “caretaker of Bandung” for his hobby of recording the history of old buildings in Bandung, has written of this in his books.
In Bunga di Bandung Raya (Fragrance of Flowers in Greater Bandung) and Ramadhan di Priangan (Muslim Fasting Month of Ramadhan in Priangan/West Java) he writes that the din emanating from the activities of the sellers and buyers in Pasar Baru could be heard even in the Alun-Alun (town square) and Pakan Building, about a kilometer away.
Batik and garments are the main products with which Pasar Baru has always been associated. Vendors from Central Java mixed with indigenous Bandung residents, and the resulting descendants make up most of the vendors who now live in the vicinity of the market.
When Bandung hosted the Asia-Africa Conference in 1955, many members of the Chinese delegation went to the market to buy garments.
Kunto writes that at about 3 p.m. in the fasting month, food vendors would start arranging their wares around the market.
In those days, some of the most popular dishes were Bi Atjim’s gado-gado (Indonesian vegetable salad with peanut sauce), Tegal-style soto mie (Indonesian soup mixed with noodles), which could be found at the entrance to the market, or Bah Odjie’s sate gule (roasted, skewered meat in curry soup), which could be found behind the market.
Most popular in those days was an Indonesian chicken soup-like dish cooked with coconut milk, eaten along with fried chips from Cikoneng. The vendor of this popular dish could be found opposite a shop owned by Babah Kuya. You would always see a line of people waiting in line to buy the dish there.
After having enough to eat in the market, children were taken to window-shop at Eropa, Aurora, De Zon, ABC, Tjioda or Royal.
Parents would usually say: “If you can complete 10 days of fasting, I will buy you a school bag there. If you can fast for another 10, you can choose new shoes. For 10 days more, I will buy you some new clothes.”
At night, it was the adults’ turn to visit the snack vendors. They would sit anywhere, eating snacks, slurping hot coffee and chit-chatting the cool, quiet night away. Of course, all those activities took place when the market was still clean and tidy, unlike when Ida visited it from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
Memories of Pasar Baru seem to have vanished since 2003, when a seven-floor, mall-like building was erected there, sweeping away all the unpleasantness that had usually characterized the place.
The market, which was built in 1906 when Bandung had a population of only 47,000 people, is now struggling hard to attract visitors in competition with shopping malls that are mushrooming all over the city.
To compete better, and to facilitate the movement of visitors, the market management has now provided 46 linking escalators and eight lifts, as well as parking space for up to 1,500 vehicles and 1,000 motorcycles. The developer, PT Atanaka Persada Permai, has invested about Rp 150 billion on modernizing the market.
As many as 2,865 of a total 4,000 kiosks in the modernized market have been in operation since early 2000, when market activities were often disrupted by protest rallies staged by vendors who believed that market modernization was both costly and unfair.
The cost of renting a kiosk at the market, believed to be the most complete to date, may be the highest in Bandung today.
Tia, 29, who sells women’s veils, said she had acquired the right to use a kiosk measuring two meters by four at close to Rp 1 billion for 20 years.
Although the price of kiosks is no longer an issue today, some vendors continue to stage rallies.
In early May 2006, for example, some 100 textile vendors on basement 1 staged a rally because they refused to share the floor with traders in vegetables, meat or fish, arguing that the foul smells from the perishable products discouraged people from visiting their kiosks.
Pasar Baru certainly has a new ambience now, but some would dispute whether newer is necessarily better.
No longer can you find Bi Atjim’s gado-gado or Tegal-style soto mie: All have been replaced by fast-food restaurants and doughnut counters.
Yuli Tri Suwarni
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