A feeling of sadness always descends on me when I travel to the old, colonial part of Jakarta, Kota Tua. It was once the busiest part of Jakarta since it was close to the sea and port. Many old buildings stand there still. A few have been restored well, some have been mangled by modern bad taste.

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This row of houses along Jalan Tiang Bendera III are one of the very few privately restored buildings I saw. I imagine that if in Penang, Malacca, Hoi An or other historical cities they would have been restored and turned into shops, cafes or restaurants

The majority of buildings however, are left to rot, abandoned and neglected and suffer the indignity of being a dumpsite for rubble and rubbish.

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DSCF0306 This building along Jalan Pasar Pagi Kecil I (above) is now used as a backdrop for carts and other personal effects. Below- this building along Jalan Malaka is now the backdrop for recyclable rubbish

In spite, or perhaps because of this neglect, the Kota Tua area has grown to be a hodgepodge of narrow streets, filthy drains and canals, small recently built houses, and homeless workers who sleep outside the buildings at nights or on holidays when the shops are closed.

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The underclass sleep along the wide corridors of the old buildings

A way of life has evolved there, with middle-class to poor Chinese Indonesians living cheek by jowl with the Betawi and other immigrants. This life recalls a Jakarta gone by, a simpler and less prosperous time when people made do, things get repaired or recycled rather than discarded.

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Bicycle repairman. Many of the Kota Tua residents still rely on the bicycle to get them around
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A worker, watched by presumably his boss, recycles old bones of staples, probably to sell off as scrap metal

It is also a time of simpler pleasures, such as a bicycle ride but now done with the menacing roar of traffic beside the cyclists.

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If not for the modern bicycle and the cars, this scene of a father taking his son out on a bicycle would have been played out in the last hundred years in old Jakarta.

It is a life of simple commerce where you’re likely to know the street vendor and shops catering to local tastes.

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Fruit vendor, Jalan Melaka II
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Turtle or Pi Oh is a delicacy in the Kota Tua area. A shop near the Glodok market sells them and cuts them up for their customers. The shells of the turtles are flung onto the roof to dry once they’ve done their grisly work.

The Jakarta Government has talked about reviving Kota Tua and have even formed a Jakarta Old Town Revitalisation Corporation, but it seems to be more talk than action.Buildings lies neglected but life goes on as people, in their ingenuity, will find some means to make money to feed themselves and their families.

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Talk is cheap about revitalisation and restoration but the truth is that many magnificent buildings in Kota Tua are left to rot

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Facets of life in Kota Tua. 1. many buildings are left to rot in spite of talk about revitalisation and restoration 2. A potential buyer checks out semi-precious stones along a Glodok sidewalk 3. Who’s the monster? Mural in Glodok 4. Some eke out a living as sidewalk artists in Kota Tua

So another year goes buy. The buildings rot even more. Some are knocked down, others catch fire. Slowly, what was once the heart of Jakarta gets buried ever deeper into the mists of time. DSCF0330