Jalan Surabaya: A Charming Weekend of Antiques

Jalan S_lamps_wmTraversing Jalan Surabaya is literally strolling down memory lane, what with all the lovely antiques that you can discover in the whole stretch of this quaint street nestled in the upscale neighborhood of Menteng. Quite a paradox, actually, after seeing posh houses with sprawling yards and lush green lawns, you will be transported to a different scenery, teeming with beautiful antiques.

Solely dedicated to the trade of charming memorabilia, the wide array of items lined up in Jalan Surabaya will definitely pique the interest of antique enthusiasts or amateur appreciators like me.

The Antique Market in Jalan Surabaya was founded in 1974 by the then Governor of Jakarta, Ali Sadikin. The street became home to antique traders who used to sell their goods walking around Kota Tua (The Old City of Jakarta). The current traders manning the stalls are usually the second generation family members of the former Kota Tua traders.

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Ceramics: one of my favorite finds in Jalan Surabaya

There are several shops selling antiques including woodwork and wooden sculptures, wooden masks, wayang or puppets, paintings, woven cloths, silver and brass cutlery, metal and earthenware souvenirs, antique lamps and old fashioned accessories. You will also stumble upon telephones, cameras, typewriters, phonographs, telescopes, watches and jewelry. It will be a delightful surprise to discover that there are a handful of shops selling ship rudders, dials, compass and even old diving helmets and brass suits! There are several shops specializing in old books, plates and brassware. At the far end of the street, you can find stalls selling old bags and luggages.

My favorite purchases: ceramics displays, lamps and old Balinese paintings.

I’ve been back as an expat in Jakarta for 18 months now and I realized that I haven’t gone back. Immediately, I called my friend Mark who has never been there for a spur of the moment visit.

Jalan S_Mark and I_wm

with my fellow Pinoy expat Mark at one of the shops in Jalan Surabaya

As expected, Jalan Surabaya did not disappoint. Until now, this street never fails to enthrall me. The plenitude of items lined up on the street always catches my attention…and my wallet.

I had two specific items that I had in mind: an old typewriter and an old-fashioned stand fan, which will both be a nice addition to my antique collection back in Manila. While going through the shops one by one, though, I kept my eyes open for other interesting finds.

A few practical tips that will come in handy when you visit:

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  1. Getting there: For tourists who are not very familiar with Jakarta, this will be tricky. I strongly recommend getting an Uber, Grab or Blue Bird taxi. If you are buying in bulk, it is highly recommended to bring your own car if you have one. Stall owners allow customers to park alongside the shops.
  2. Location: Jalan Surabaya is located at the heart of Menteng, which is an upscale neighborhood. It’s near Jalan Cikini, Cikini Market, Proclamation Monument and Suropati park
  3. Best time to go: In the morning or afternoon over the weekend so there is a lot of parking space on the side street. For me, a Saturday afternoon is always ideal.
  4. Amount of time spent: Make sure you have plenty of time, but based on experience, I spend 2-4 hours, give or take. It is, after all, an entire street of antique shops! It is always more pleasant when Jalan Surabaya is experienced at a leisurely pace.
  5. Outfit: Wear casual clothes that are not too warm on the skin as the weather can get hot and humid in the afternoon.
  6. If you are not very fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, it is always best to bring a calculator with you so you can type in the price of the items. This is a necessary tool of the trade, so to speak, when bargaining for the price.
  7. If you are not an expert in antiques, bring a friend who has some knowledge about it. Not all the items are antiques and there are a lot of replicas. Most of the time, though, the real ones are stored in glass cabinets inside the store. Although this is not always necessarily true.
  8. Walk the entire stretch and compare prices before buying anything. This is an important reminder. When I was a newbie shopper in Jalan Surabaya, I had buyer’s remorse when I was too excited to purchase my antique ceramics, only to find out that the stores further down were cheaper!
  9. Bring cash! The shops don’t accept debit or credit card transactions. Everything is paid on cash basis.
  10. Most important of all: haggle. Haggle fiercely. The prices of the items in the stores depends on your willingness to pay for them. As a rule of thumb, ask for BIG discounts, as high as 70-80%. Yes, you read that correctly: 70-80% because some of them are willing to budge. Even if they don’t, if you get the item at 50% discount, it is still a huge win.

Armed with sheer curiosity for the old and some cash, an afternoon spent walking through the shops in Jalan Surabaya is something that I strongly recommend to expat friends and foreign visitors. Whenever someone asks me for an itinerary in Jakarta for a quick weekend trip, my list will always include a trip to this nostalgic street.

And for me, Jalan Surabaya, ironically, will never grow old and will stay as one of my favorite things to do on one fine Saturday afternoon.

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