Jakarta’s insatiable appetite for fish is first served up at the Fish market (Muara Angka ) as fresh ‘catch’. The boats trawling the seas off load their catch here every day and are moored at the nearby jetty. The market is clean. The smell is of fish. The range of fish, shrimp and lobsters is the best the country has to offer. From eight in the evening till 2 am, restauranteurs, families, and traders come here to purchase the day’s catch.

This is no ordinary fish market. Fluorescent lights beam down from the high ceilings of hangar like structure, and the concrete floor is glistening, and clean. It’s cooler in here. Fish are resting in slabs of ice. A man is cutting a slab of ice. He’s busy and doesn’t say “Take photo Mister.” I’m almost disappointed! But taking care of fish are first priority here.

“Mister, take photo.” Almost every second seller makes this offer. How can you deny them? It’s not really a great way to get a spontaneous picture, but it surely helps to win their hearts. A few got down to business and actually asked me if I wanted to buy some fish!

There’s no need to be shy here. The fish mongers love the distraction of a visitor  visiting them and documenting their livelihood. So much so that they distracted me. I could have taken photos all night. I only snapped away for five minutes. You couldn’t ask for a perfect model. Indonesians are like that, and so gracious. This is not an earth shattering story which makes it a good story. To enter into the banal lives of others, and instill a bit of magic by taking interest in them and taking photos, is what makes this story all the more uplifting.

Everyone is wearing gum boots and I’m not. It doesn’t take long for my track soon pants to be drenched with fish juice. A word of advice. Don’t ware flip-flops. They were soon soaked with fish juice too.

 It was the cleanest market I have ever seen. Men with fish in buckets, carried by a stick, waddled the floor. I was tired just looking at them, and imagined that was the way produce was carried to market over a millennium ago.

Rickshaws whizzed by. I snapped an old lady getting a tour of the market. She was buying fresh produce for the family, no doubt.

We headed back to the restaurant, nearby , and told the cooks to cook up a storm with our snapper, crab, squid, and prawns. And they did. And then came the singers. Each one had their own ballad. The last one stayed for a few songs and enchanted us with Indonesian folk songs. Then the fireworks went off. A simple but enchanting night. The seafood murals were a delight too.

There are four restaurants nearby at the fish market where you can up your purchase. What you see is what you get there – they know how to cook up seafood. And the boys who get customer’s to the restaurant put on a great show, saying, “Come here Mister, this place cooks the best food.”

A car arrives, and the touts are swarming around it. This is what makes Indonesia so unique. We value business, and will go to extreme lengths, within set and proper perimeters, to muster up business.

The fish market certainly isn’t’ a tourist attraction. But it well could be. Lets keep this one a secret!

Ali Syarief  is our guest writer of The Far Side. He is currently writing a book on Cross Culture, which will be published soon. For more of his insightful writings on Indonesia, please visit his blog www.alisyarief.com



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