Sun, 05 Jan 2003

Traditional markets: the pulse of life

Despite the increasing number of modern, lavish supermarkets and hypermarkets which offer convenient shopping, traditional markets in the capital, many of which are in a deteriorating condition, are still bustling with activity. The Jakarta Post's Arya Abhiseka, Sari P. Setiogi, Moh. Taufiqurrahman and Evi Mariani look into the conditions and the early morning activities at several traditional markets in the capital.

It was five minutes past midnight. The traditional market in Kebayoran Lama, South Jakarta, was very quiet.

Suddenly, a big pick-up truck filled with mountains of fruits and vegetables passed by, waking up a number of people sleeping on the side of the road.

The dusty old truck pulled over to an empty lot in a small ruko (shop house) complex. The driver turned the engine off and waved at a group of people.

A few men quickly approached. Two of them climbed up into the truck and began passing down the fruits and vegetables to the others.

Parmin, 47, looked at his watch and said the truck had arrived on time.

The Kebayoran Lama traditional market has always been bustling with people, and is continuously colorful and vibrant almost throughout the day.

However, the hustle and bustle starts at 9 p.m. and goes on until 5 a.m., when vendors prepare for their daily operations in the market, one of the largest and oldest in Jakarta.

During these hours, trucks keep coming in one after another, delivering the fruits and vegetables purchased by vendors earlier at the Jakarta wholesale retail market of Kramat Jati in East Jakarta.

"My wife and a few other sellers, usually five or six people, begin shopping in Kramat Jati at 4 p.m. Then we rent a truck to deliver our purchases to Kebayoran Lama Market," said Parmin, a native of Madiun, East Java.

Trade activities at Kebayoran Lama Market begin when millions of Jakartans are still at home, in bed.

"Now, we start working. After unloading, I have to set up my vendor table," Parmin said.

Vendors carry and place their vegetables and fruits on wooden tables, or simply arrange them on plastic mats on the ground, placed along the street leading to the Kebayoran Lama railroad tracks, where the largest area of the market is located.

Everyone arranges their spaces in the most presentable way to entice customers. There are more than 1,000 vendors operating in Kebayoran Lama Market.

The market is a big, traditional wet market that serves traders and other end-users, such as food stall owners and general households. However, in order to cater to traders and to adjust to the opening time of other markets, sellers always start early.

"I think by 3 a.m. this morning, I will have my vendor table ready. Just the right time to catch traders from smaller markets who come and buy our goods," he said, busy setting up his vendor table.

Not long after, a few traders began to appear and started purchasing various produce from several vendors. Transactions are conducted under the white light of kerosene lamps.

Most of the traders buy items in bulk and transport them by mikrolet (public minivans), taxis or even ojek (motorcycle taxis), and so hire transportation to take them and their produce to their respective markets.

Traders come from markets in the surrounding areas, such as Meruya Ilir, Puri Kembangan, Alfa Indah, Rawa Belong and many countless others. Kebayoran Lama Market, for these traders, is the closest big market in West Jakarta.

"It's tradition for other traders from smaller markets to buy their produce here at Kebayoran Lama Market," Parmin said.

One of the many reasons traders and customers shop at Kebayoran Lama Market is its easy access and the wide variety, large volume and availability of the goods for sale. Any item sold at other big markets are also available here.

The butchers have their cuts of meat and chicken delivered at around the same time when the fruits and vegetables come in, and the last to arrive is seafood from the fish market in Muara Angke, North Jakarta.

"They come in at 5 a.m., 6 a.m., or sometimes even 7 a.m., when people are already flocking to market," Parmin said.

The volume of the goods on display at Kebayoran Lama Market is quite large, as traders and customers usually come and purchase in large volumes. This condition allows Kebayoran Lama Market to claim its reputation as the central wholesale market for West Jakarta, complemented by Kramat Jati Market.

However, customers do not have to buy goods in bulk.

"We also cater to households and start selling to housewives and housemaids from 5 a.m. until 11 a.m.," Parmin said.

A trader interrupted the interview, wanting to purchase a variety of produce. The vendor and trader recognized each other, and so began the familiar transaction.

According to Parmin, another reason that Kebayoran Lama Market is the largest in the area was because good ties were established and maintained among sellers and customers.

"I have some loyal customers, who began buying things from me on my first day selling here. They still come here to shop," he said, "and I have been here for 22 years. This place is full of history and tradition."

Approaching dawn, Kebayoran Lama Market starts to show its true colors. The vibrant combinations of reds, greens and yellows from chillis, tomatoes, spinach and many other produce interweave with the dynamics of customers who crowd the place. Vendors shout their prices while customers bargain.

The unique smell of fish and meat, the stench of garbage and exhaust from vehicles commingle with the freshness of vegetables, fruits and freshly baked traditional cookies and cakes.

Customers pick through every item displayed by vendors before deciding to buy. No one ever wonders how it all started.

"Today, it is busier than yesterday. It is good, but I guess we just have to start a little earlier tomorrow," Parmin said excitedly.