Guilty As Charged – Confessions Of A Tea Leaf


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?

8 thoughts on “Guilty As Charged – Confessions Of A Tea Leaf

    1. These artifacts and antiquities are irreplaceable, these are national treasures to be proud of, they need taking better care of, and showing off. Don’t get me started on the National Gallery….I went a few months ago and water was pouring down the walls and down the back of the paintings. I was speechless – I stood there in total disbelief that these old paintings where basically being left to rot. The grounds of the National Gallery are a bit like tumbleweed and the toilets are broken and brown gunk comes out of the taps. I love Indonesia but I wish that more money was being ploughed into maintaining the ancient cultural and heritage side of things – so much could be gained by it.

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  1. I once tried to steal a plastic hamburger from toys’r’us…i didnt have any pockets so i recruited my sister as accomplice..we were caught at the checkout and dad rubbed our faces with a dirty rag as punishment…then bought us ice cream.

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    1. I would have killed for that plastic hamburger too. In fact I’ve I’d seen it, it may have been my 3rd robbery, no question. Your Dad is sounds wonderful, ice cream is so much nicer than a hard smack! xxx

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  2. I really resonate with this post, because I was burned pretty badly, recently.

    I’ve been homeless for 6 months, running my business on my only possession besides the clothes on my back.

    Some one stole my life’s work and my only tool.

    Dramatic? Powerful?

    It gets crazier.

    Last week someone stole my laptop, after 6 months of the grace of god protecting me/it, it was removed from my life.

    I’m writing this from an internet cafe.

    And my point is, stealing is what it is.

    The most secure things can be broken into, like the Pentagon — and some people go through life untouched in even the most insecure environments, like aid-workers in war-torn nations.

    These things can’t be explained, but people try. Whether people do it while they’re 8, or on the job, or make a life of it… no one can really own things, and nothing is ever guaranteed secure.

    Easy come, easy go 🙂 My 2 cents 🙂

    Thanks for the interesting post, and your ‘fertile imagination’ 🙂

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    1. I LOVED your comment and Thank you. Right now I’m sat in Dubai airport – we spent the first 2 hours here under police arrest, the nearsest I’ve ever got to prison!! Don’t ever, what ever you do, do 2 fingers here……!! Keep in touch and great to hear from you. Thanks, again from a very appreciative and FREE Lottie!

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      1. Well thank you kindly, Lottie 🙂 I really appreciate it!

        I have some friends Dubai, and the luxuriousness of it always appealed to me, at least to experience for a while. I think I’d like to be there with a strong reputation/position of power, but if not, I’ll just avoid the two fingers 😀

        It’s great when people connect, I’m just learning Triberr, but that’s how I found you 🙂

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  3. How sad that this museum isn’t cared for properly. Of course, all this costs money. Perhaps they don’t have enough donations or benefactors. Or are they just disorganized? As much as I love the future, I believe it’s extremely important to preserve our past.

    I’ll admit, with the lead up you were giving us I was beginning to worry where your post was leading. Did Lottie steal that amazing statue with the skulls at the base? Whoo-hoo! I cannot wait to see it! What a wonderful addition it will make in her garden in Bali. How will she get it past airport security? Maybe she can dress it up and disguise it as a sleeping relative? Imagination can be a wonderful thing…

    Fabulous post, as always, Sis. xoxo

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