Toko Oen

Tyres swish through puddles, car horns’ toots punctuate the incessant grumbling of car and moped exhausts. Strains of Amazing Grace sung by a female choir waft through the welcoming restaurant doors. A cacophony dampened by drumming relentless tropical rain. Yet not torrential as it might so easily have been. Or yet may become. Bustling traffic medley of people-carriers, motor-bikes, pedaled rickshaws their power unit porting umbrellas with some futility. Cars, diminutive Japanese delivery trucks, more and more mopeds. Now a grossly polluting bus. This torrent of mechanised transport bisects two eras on each shore of the street. On the far bank a late-nineties somehow post-modern inspired commercial building. It bears the beaming countenance of Colonel Sanders. Below him synthetic snow and twinkling fairy-lights delineate Santa’s grotto this eleventh night. Facing the Colonel and Santa, on this near bank of Jalan Malang Raya, nestles Toko Oen cafe. Fading but not yet crumbling monument to Art Deco. It announces to have ‘de sinds 1930 aan de gasten gezelligheid geeft‘ (… since colonial times been cosy-ing its guests.). Low easy-lounger rattan chairs in pastel lime and cream huddle about low red-white check clothed glass-topped tables. These are scattered between more formal dining tables for six, eight or more. The high airy ceiling fan-cooled space sports on two sides tall glass-fronted counters. Inside each, displays in enticing arrangements of the bakery’s bread, pastries and cakes, speculaas biscuits and many other Dutch recipe delicacies. Enticing aromas waft this way and that including a tang of fruit-syrupy gelatos. And the pastries’ slightly warm yeasty odour, no longer as intense as this morning now dusk transitions rapidly to night.

The tall entrance invites in from the broken paved street. Above it, a warm yellow glow permeates through slats of stained-glass joined by geometries of deep purple and azure depicted by wooden frames. Centre of the room four frosted glass pillars, square with dark-wood surrounds. Once these were illumination it is imagined, in days when the electricity was affordable.

Easing abruptly to a pitter-patter, the down-pour’s legacy of swollen storm gutters impart a whiff of drains which seeps inside. After a motor-cycle splutters to a halt outside, two customers hurry in shaking off their full-length cagoules. A young couple, Europeans, expatriate English-teachers almost certainly. Choosing a corner table, they order Bintang in a large bottle with two glasses summoned while the menu studied. Quick curious glances are passed towards the door where in the fresher air the greying fellow expat gent sits with a pretty local girl in only her mid-teens. Maybe some inquisitiveness about this incongruous pairing. Wondering too perhaps what it is he scribbles in a small green notebook wedged in his lap.

In front of the man, now wearing a studied expression, sits also a Bintang (star) beer bearing the lone red five-pointed emblem, reference to its origins with the colonial power’s brewer Heineken. A further tribute paid by the once colonial haunt in this particularly forgiving provincial city of former Dutch East Indies. The empathy of Malang’s population with the exploiters of past centuries perhaps derives from the legacy of religion in this now significantly Christian enclave. Still buleh (foreigners) are scarce these days even in Toko Oen. Two girl students in full Muslim dress of the younger fashionable style appear. Identifying the man with the notebook as a likely English-speaker he is approached for an ‘interview’, some kind of project. Both are equally engaged in their assignment yet only one can be photographed with the interviewee. The other declines also his hand-shake in favour of a praying gesture and slight bow.

At another of the low red-checked clothed tables a family of well-heeled tourists perhaps Burmese, a young couple with one or other set of parents. Clearly Toko Oen features in tourist guide books of many languages. The rain has completely subsided for another day, gone too the gentle currents of breeze which had been so refreshing.

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