Monday, November 4, 2013

The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Posted: JAKARTA, Nov 03, 2013 (AFP) - After years of being overrun by a racketeering mafia, drug addicts and prostitutes, Southeast Asia's biggest textile market is cleaning up its act in an effort to win back droves of shoppers.

Spread across several blocks in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, Tanah Abang market is a colourful whirl of activity that has attracted shoppers from across the region for centuries.

While glittering skyscrapers have shot up around the city centre trading hub, the market itself, which was founded in 1735 by a Dutch businessman, is a series of modest buildings in an area of traditional, red-tiled houses.

Traders looking for wholesale bargains and shoppers looking for smaller items haggle at myriad stalls on several floors in the market buildings, looking for everything from raw cloth to branded goods.

"There is so much variety under one roof and 20 to 30 percent cheaper than in Kuala Lumpur. And fashionable too," said Malaysian shopper Mariam Ahmad, who makes an annual trip to the market to buy clothing ahead of the Muslim Eid holiday.

But the market's increasingly seedy atmosphere and traffic gridlock in the area caused by illegal street stalls were putting shoppers off. Vendors estimated customer numbers had fallen around 10 percent in recent years.

Bag seller Desmawita, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said that crime had been "getting out of hand".

"Two prostitutes pounced on one of my customers from Brunei while he was praying and he had to give them money before they let him go. He bought 29,000 bags from me but cancelled a five-year business deal."

Jeha, who sells traditional patterned "batik" shirts and goes by one name, added: "Even for us locals, Tanah Abang was scary.

"It was normal to see hundreds of needles used by drug addicts strewn along the back alleys. Gangsters would demand money and beat us up if we refused."

Popular Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, who took power around a year ago, decided to tackle the issue.

In August, he pushed through a plan to relocate around 1,000 vendors who had been illegally hawking goods on the streets and were blamed for many of the market's problems.

They were moved to a refurbished building in the area, joining another 15,000 vendors working legally inside the market's original blocks.

The number of public order officers, who help police in keeping the peace but come under the authority of the local government, has also been dramatically increased.

With the vendors off the streets, the mafia-like gangs that demanded cash payments to rent out illegal lots have largely gone.

And the increased security has succeeded in frightening off many of the sex workers and drug addicts, vendors say.

"A Philippine customer was shocked when she came yesterday to see how orderly everything was. She said she would definitely return - that's good news for me," headscarf seller Rinaldi said.

However the change has not been without problems. Some vendors say that business has been hurt by the move from the street, where they could catch casual shoppers as they walked past.

Rahmat Hidayat, who sells dresses, said he had not made a single sale since moving indoors but previously he could make $50 to $80 a day.

"I make money from impulse buyers because I'm not selling household staples like rice. Nobody will climb three flights of stairs just to come to my shop," he said.

And while it is striving to change without losing its authenticity, some complain that the clean-up has wiped away the market's old character.

Gone are the noisy, streetside market stalls that used to spill across the main roads and fill up narrow alleyways.

"Please bring back the old Tanah Abang," said headscarf seller Andalusia, complaining there were fewer customers since the market had been spruced up.AFTER years of complaining about the unprofessional behaviour by real estate agents, Singaporeans now have a new rant against them: junk mail.

Unwanted fliers or advertisements with misleading information have overtaken poor service as the top complaint about realtors, according to the industry watchdog's latest annual report.

The Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) said 36%, or 319, of the complaints it received in the 12 months up to March this year were about advertisements.

This is a sharp rise, compared with the 16% in the previous 18 months.

The offending ads had misleading information, left out pertinent facts or were posted without the prior consent of home owners.

For example, some fliers marketed industrial properties for other uses, which is not allowed.

Salespersons and agents also cannot advertise or offer any gifts, including cash and vouchers, to lure customers.

The CEA issued two letters in June and August last year specifically to remind its members not to contravene both guidelines.

As for unprofessional behaviour, the complaints about agents giving wrong advice, not being punctual or not following proper procedures slipped from 44% to 29% of all the complaints received, or from 729 to 255.

Another 16% of complaints were of agents using threatening words, harassing people or misrepresenting facts. -- The Straits Times / Asia News NetworkBEIJING: China's ruling Communist Party aims to silence the voice of the Dalai Lama in his Tibetan homeland by tightening controls on media and the Internet, a top official said.

The party's top-ranking official in the Tibet region Chen Quanguo vowed to "ensure that the voices of hostile forces and the Dalai group are not seen or heard", in an editorial published in a party journal called Qiushi.

Officials would "make sure that the voice of the party is heard and seen everywhere in this vast 120 million sq km region", Chen wrote in the editorial.

China has worked for decades to control the spread of information in Tibet, but some Tibetans remain able to access non-official sources of information including from exiles abroad by using radio, television and the Internet.

But the party will attempt to stamp out access to such sources by creating party cells in some websites, confiscating satellite dishes and registering telephone and Internet users by name, among a host of other measures mentioned in the the article.

China calls Tibetan exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and accuses him of masterminding violent efforts to seek independence for Tibet.

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, says he advocates greater autonomy for Tibetans rather than independence.

Chen referred to Tibet as "a front line of the struggle against separatism" and vowed to "strengthen the role of party committees at every level, as the sole power", in the editorial.

Tensions between Tibetans and the Chinese government continue run high, with more than 120 members of the minority setting themselves on fire in protest in recent years, leading to a security crackdown.

Chinese police opened fire on Tibetans marking the Dalai Lama's 78th birthday in July, shooting at least one monk in the head and seriously wounding several other people, overseas rights groups said. -- AFP

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