With the annual Inacraft fair on in Jakarta this month, Melinda Murphy recounts getting a massive dose of retail therapy at the event last year.
“Wow. Just wow.” I’m a long-time shopper. (Aren’t most women?) And rarely do I get overwhelmed by choice. Heck, I thrive on choice! But I momentarily lost my bearings when I first walked into Inacraft 2017 – or the Jakarta International Handicraft Trade Fair – which is billed as “the biggest and most complete exhibition of gifts and housewares.” Boy, is it.
With more than 900 vendors, the Jakarta Convention Center (around an hour from the airport) was overflowing with fabulous things to buy last April. I felt like a puppy who found a giant stash of toys, running from one to the other with no real direction. My friend Natasha and I finally took a breath, devised a plan and started to methodically snake our way up and down the rows, visiting each and every vendor spread throughout several buildings.
Item after item made out of batik beckoned us, but not the same ol’ batik you see in Bali. No, these pieces were brought from all over Indonesia, which meant there were hundreds of varieties – a veritable rainbow of fabrics on every aisle, some traditional and some more modern in style. There was an equally mind-boggling number of styles and sizes. Sure, there were the usual petite sizes you find in Asian clothing, but there was also a large selection for “real women”, as one salesperson put it. The quality was much better than most of the batik items I’ve seen elsewhere, but the prices were still really low. There were even batik shoes!
Massive selection. High quality. Low prices. Heaven!
The event is mostly clothing, more so than I expected, but there are lots of other items to delight in: jewellery, python handbags, housewares, wooden carvings, bags, breath-taking wall hangings, antiques, children’s items, leather items, table decorations – even some furniture – just to name a few.
Making it even more fun was the reaction of all the locals. They loved that some Westerners were shopping and, I must admit, there weren’t many of us. We felt like celebrities because every shop owner wanted to snap a photo with us. Many of the vendors had been selected to represent their village and the shopkeepers were quite proud to show us their handiwork. It was a bit like taking a mini-vacation, in the comfort of air conditioning. We shopped and shopped and shopped for two full days of the five-day event. I took home two skirts, two pairs of pants, a dress, some table linens, three sarongs and a few gifts – all for about S$300. Not bad, eh? I think Natasha’s take was about the same.
Sound cool? Then start planning! Inacraft is on at the end of this month, and since the show is celebrating its 20th anniversary, it will no doubt be bigger than ever!
Stay at The Sultan Hotel Jakarta.
A room here will run you about S$100 per night for a double. The big plus? There’s an underground tunnel straight to the convention centre so you don’t have to walk outside or battle the notorious Jakarta traffic. The room comes with breakfast, too. The food isn’t great, but it’ll fill you up. Book early as the hotel sells out for this particular weekend. sultanjakarta.com
Go on a weekday.
The event opens on Thursday and runs for five days. Go when it opens. For starters, there are more choices available before shoppers start to pick through it all. However, the real reason to go early is that the weekend is insanely crowded. Our first day, a Friday, was enjoyable. We could walk in the various booths, comfortably browse and indecisively try on outfit after outfit. Saturday felt more like the Running of the Brides in the US, when Filene’s Basement drastically discounts all its wedding dresses. It was crowded and not nearly as much fun.
Dress to impress.
My mistake the first day was wearing big, loose pants. I had a tough time trying on clothes because there were no dressing rooms. The second day I had on a T-shirt dress, which meant I could easily slip on the items that caught my eye. And definitely wear good walking shoes!
Eat lunch outside.
There is a food court of sorts upstairs at the Convention Centre. It is cheap, true, but the food isn’t all that great, nor recognisable in some cases. Instead, head outside to the little café. It’s still pretty inexpensive, but far better.
Take plenty of cash.
A few vendors take credit cards, but most prefer cash and will even bargain their prices for cold, hard rupiah.
Use Google Translate.
Most vendors don’t speak English, so having Google Translate on your phone will make things easier. Plus, if you have a food allergy or such, you can easily read the labels.
Use XE Currency.
Again, most vendors don’t speak English. Key in your offer on a calculator or XE Currency on your phone. I personally love using the app because I can instantly see how much the offer translates to my preferred currency.
Two days will do.
We shopped hard for two days and saw every booth twice. I think any more than that and I would have gone a bit bonkers, but any less and I would have worried I missed something. Another thought is to shop in the mornings and have a spa treatment in the afternoon.
Go with an honest friend.
The temptation is to buy everything – it’s all so cheap and cute. You need a friend like I had with me. Natasha was brilliant at saying “No!” when I was lured by something that didn’t make me look my best.
End with a massage. There is a foot reflexology and neckrub area set up in the basement. Do it – you deserve it!
Inacraft 2018 runs from 25 to 29 April this year. To find out more about the event, visit inacraft.co.id.
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This article first appeared in the April 2018 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!