There’s no better spot in Jakarta to pick up unique Christmas gifts than Jalan Surabaya. A living, breathing museum, Jalan Surabaya is more than home to the best bargains on antique typewriters, gleaming chandeliers and bronze Buddha statues. Stepping into a shop along Jalan Surabaya is like stepping back in time.
Before you pack your bags and head off to the airport this holiday season, drop by the leafy Menteng landmark and support local businesses and enjoy a bit of outdoor shopping, complete with storied artefacts, stylistic 17thcentury sculptures, and the smell of kretek cigarettes. Spanning half a kilometre and filled with more than 50 distinct and unique shops, the storied road is a one-stop shop for anyone looking to bring home a handful of unique gifts to put under the tree back home.
Pick up Dutch colonial earrings for your mum, a spear from Papua for your papa, a Cold War era pilot’s oxygen mask for your brother, and a handful of two-hundred-year-old Batavia coins or a brass doorknocker for your wife. Plus, perusing the shops along Jalan Surabaya gives you a chance to support local businesses, instead of simply flipping over price tags at five-story department stores in Pasaraya or Plaza Indonesia.
But for the best deals, it’s a good idea to peek back behind the first row of shops and along the canal that runs just behind Jalan Surabaya. Just off the main road, younger, more eager shop owners like Fizal, are looking to sell weathered picture frames, shipwrecked dishes that have grown into corals, and antique music boxes that stopped playing tunes nearly a century ago.
Fizal, a 20-year-old shop apprentice, explains that antique dealers and tribal arts dealers from all across the archipelago drop by at any time of the day and sell directly to the Jalan Surabaya shop owners, making each stop a different experience and trip back through time.
One day, you might pop over in search of wayang characters, but walk away with a woodcarving from the jungles of Borneo. The next time you drop by with a friend in search of the perfect Christmas gift for an adventurous uncle you might find yourself bargaining for an hour over a Cousteau era scuba helmet, complete with a story of how the shop owner came upon such a rare find.
The thing about Jalan Surabaya is that the shopping all depends on you. If you have twenty minutes you can hop out of your car and cross everyone off your Christmas list in a matter of minutes. But if you have the time, you can duck into a kiosk and walk away with something that might remain on someone’s wall or living room bookshelf, forever reminding you of your wonderful times in Indonesia. And be sure to bargain. That’s half the fun.