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40 years on, mother’s food stall stands test of time in Glodok

Keshie Hernitaningtyas
Keshie Hernitaningtyas

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Tue, February 5, 2019  /  09:05 am
40 years on, mother’s food stall stands test of time in Glodok

Yanti (left) poses with her son Akhmad Wijaya at their street stall in Glodok, West Jakarta. (The Jakarta Post/Donny Fernando)

Among the crowded street stalls and item-packed shops in the capital's Chinatown of Glodok, West Jakarta, offering everything from Chinese cuisine and snacks to herbal medicine and cheap electronics goods, the tiny business spot owned by 63-year-old Yanti hardly stands out. 

There are many street vendors like her on the crammed street of Jl. Pancoran, luring strolling customers with neatly arranged displays of various products – in Yanti's case homemade Chinese cookies and cakes, some stacked up on a medium-sized table conveniently placed in the corner to keep them from falling off.

"I have been a hawker since I was 9 years old. I settled in this area in my 20s, selling food I was able to cook and Chinese cookies like these," said the cheerful grandmother of nine, who had opened one of her round plastic containers of nastar (cookies with pineapple filling) to let me nibble before I make a purchase.

Donning a black hijab and affectionately acknowledged by those around her as "Bu haji" (a person who went on the haj), Yanti shared that she was an Indonesian of Chinese descent from Bogor in West Java.

"My surname is Lim," she said, adding that she had converted to Islam after marrying her Muslim husband, who died when she was 33. "We held a ceremony that included [servings of] red and white porridge when I changed my name to Yanti."

With no husband and two children to take care of, Yanti is grateful to own a long-running business in Glodok, however small it may seem.With no husband and two children to take care of, Yanti is grateful to own a long-running business in Glodok, however small it may seem. (The Jakarta Post/Donny Fernando)

Despite the conversion, Yanti, who has two children, maintains a close relationship with her Chinese relatives, who make the cookies she sells. "When I got married, I invited everyone; I didn't try to hide it or anything," she said. "All my relatives are kind people; some of the cookies came from Tangerang, some from Medan."

With no husband and two children to take care of, Yanti is grateful to own such a long-running business, albeit a small one. "I couldn't afford a store, so this will have to do."

Read also: Jakpost guide to Glodok

Having undergone heart valve surgery less than a year ago, she is also glad to be able to step back and let her son continue her work. "He was initially reluctant [but later agreed]. I came along today to accompany him, since we're approaching Chinese New Year and the area is crowded. We have to be cautious of thieves," she said, before leaving me to talk to customers stopping by.

Previously a personal driver for the same person for 17 years, 42-year-old Akhmad Wijaya has been helping his mother out since he was little. "Since I was in elementary school, I accompanied my mother when she was hawking. When she finally settled in Glodok, I would visit her after school, riding my bicycle and staying until closing hours around 6 p.m. When I was still working as a driver, I took time off once in a while to help her out as well."

With only a younger female sibling, Akhmad realized it was his duty to continue the business. "If we're talking about inheritance, such has indeed been transferred to me, since I'm the oldest child and male; I have to help out my mother."

"She is old now; however, we still have many loyal customers. It would be a waste not to continue this business," added Akhmad, who lives in the Karawaci area of Tangerang, Banten, not far from his mother.

"One of my customers has been shopping here since she was in kindergarten; now she has a married daughter. She invited me to the wedding. I came and gave them an angpao [red envelope containing cash], but she returned it to me, saying, 'why would you do such a thing?'" Yanti shared, laughing.

In terms of income, Akhmad said that, similar to all trading businesses, there are highs and lows. "Back in the day, this area had many gems that attracted visitors, such as a cinema, but today on regular days the income is only enough to cover our food and transportation. It is only on days like today [around two weeks before Chinese New Year] that we have more customers coming."

A father of four, Akhmad said he might pass down the business to his children. "However, if possible, I want it to be a store, not a street stall like this."

As I prepared to leave, the very friendly Yanti whom I had only just met took both of my hands and smiled earnestly. "When you're in Karawaci, do come by my house. I will cook you sayur asem [vegetables in tamarind soup] with ikan asin [fried salted fish] and sambal [chili]."

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