I’ve stolen twice in my life. Both acts of thievery happened when I was aged 8 and under, both were random, spur of the moment shop lifts.
The first time I robbed was when I was staying with my grandmother and we went out shopping together in her village. Whilst she was busy talking to Mr Kerridge the village shopkeeper, my beady eyes greedily alighted on the sweet shelf perfect pinching distance from where I was standing. With both Oma and Mr kerridge distracted by their conversation, I thought I might amuse myself by seeing just how many penny chews and gobstoppers I could stuff into my mouth to pass the time.
All was going fabulously well until we were crossing the road back to Oma’s house and she asked me what I wanted for lunch. My cheeks by now were so puffed out and full of chews and gobstoppers that I must have looked just like a hamster, and I couldn’t open my mouth to reply because my teeth were glued together by the sticky sweets. Oma, distraught and horrified, dragged me straight back across the road and into Mr Kerridge’s shop which was now full of customers. I suffered the humiliation of being forced to spit out the sweets into a handkerchief and made to apologise to Mr Kerridge for being so wicked. I also received a VERY hard smack for good measure.
Theft number two took place in a chemist shop a couple of years later. Of all the things that I could have chosen to pinch like pretty hair bobbles or nail varnish or soap even, I had to be boring and chose nail files. Lord knows what came over me, but when I opened the packet in the back of my Mother’s mini van all I felt was bitter disappointment. To this day, I can still not get excited about nail files.
Fast forward several (mostly law-abiding) decades later and I am now living in Jakarta. Over the past year I have visited the National Museum here three times. This magnificent museum is affectionately known as Gedung Gajah (elephant building) by the locals because of the large bronze elephant statue that is stood in front of it, a gift from the King of Siam no less, in 1871.
This vast museum houses the most fantastic collection of Hindu-Buddhist statues from all over the Indonesian archipelago and an impressive collection of ceramics gathered from every corner of Asia. Should you visit, you will find room, after room bursting with examples of Indonesian archaeology and ethnography. Exquisite and precious golden jewellery, tableware, clothes, swords, textiles, masks and instruments that have been used for ceremonies and rituals for hundreds of years.
In the new building Gedung Arca, built on the right hand side of the original museum on the second floor there are beautifully constructed models of the different types of housing from the various islands that make up this vast archipelago.
However rich and wonderful, and stuffed full of treasures the National Museum of Indonesia is, I am more than a little concerned about the way that it is curated and looked after. Yes, I know comparisons are odious but having had the opportunity to visit some of the most fantastic museums in the world has spoilt me, and my heart sinks each time I go back to the Gedung Gajah because it deserves better. There is so much more that could be done with the space; Children’s workshops for example, a decent café with chairs and tables, a well stocked shop, an inside picnic area, rooms set aside for pottery and textile making, tables set out with computers for schools to use with the children. There is so much wasted space that could be put to better use which would turn a visit there into something really wonderful and not the slightly depressing experience that one is left feeling with when you leave.
I was reminded of my childhood misdemeanours last week when I went back to the museum with a friend. Before I venture any further I feel that I should (with my past history being what it is), make a disclaimer. I would never do what I am about to tell you, not in a million years however tempting, but, I have a fertile imagination and I like making up scenarios in my head and so it was that as I was admiring the priceless collection of ceramics the other day, it occurred to me that if I were so inclined, I could quite easily stuff one, if not two Ming vases into the bottom of my cavernous handbag. There appears to be no security anywhere in the museum and most of the valuable antiques are housed in dusty, ill lit cases on pieces of dirty, faded pale blue felt with not a padlock or security alarm in sight. In fact I’m pretty sure that the words ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ appear anywhere in the museum at all!
The last room we visited was full of ancient, rather hideous Dutch dark wood furniture, the sort that is typical of old country houses. Again, no sign of a security man checking to make sure that no harm came to it. At the back of the room was a very elegant three/four seater, ornate wooden and cane bench. Sadly one of the seats was badly damaged – I can only think that some weary tourist must have plumped their ample behind down upon it and gone straight through the 200 year old caning. I first saw this damaged seat a year ago, I wonder how long it’s been left in that state, and if it will ever get repaired?