It was a dry, hot Friday afternoon in August when Rest of World visited Glodok, the formerly bustling outdoor electronics market in Jakarta. It was eerily quiet. The narrow alleyways that used to be filled with endless rows of bootleg VCDs and DVDs were mostly empty, save for a few stalls.

There haven’t been many customers since the pandemic began, according to shop owners and workers. In fact, that day, Rest of World couldn’t find a single one.

On the third floor of Pinangsia Plaza, a shopping mall by the main road in Glodok, 62-year-old Koh Akwet was busy fixing a clunky Panasonic fax machine from the 1980s. His two business partners were trying to help, but the machine was old, and none of them could remember the steps and unique codes they needed to input to take over the machine. 

Akwet pulled out a 10-year-old handwritten note about the programming for machines from that era, but it didn’t help much. Finally, one of the partners used his phone to Google the problem. After some tinkering, the machine slowly hummed back to life.

Akwet tells Rest of World he’s been selling electronics in Glodok since 1979, starting with rotary-dial phones. He has since graduated to selling mostly landline phones, branching out only to printers and fax machines. Demand for landlines continues to trickle in even to this day, and that’s how Akwet’s shop stays open. 

“There’s someone setting up a new office in Bintaro,” Akwet said, pointing to several secondhand landline phones stacked on a shelf. “They need 16 [of these].”

In the not-so-distant memory of Jakarta residents, Glodok used to be filled with brash music from shop speakers, and shop attendants calling out to prospective customers. Washing machines, cellphones, laptops, radios, computer mice, walkie-talkies — name it, and you’d find it at Glodok. Alleys would be filled with stalls selling everything from savory dishes like dim sum, noodles, dumplings, pork stew to sweet desserts like moon cakes.

These days, most owners are relying on a few loyal customers, hanging on from the golden era. Younger owners, more tech-savvy, have quickly pivoted to online shops — setting up YouTube channels or livestream-selling their goods on platforms like Shopee and TikTok.

The Harco bridge in Glodok. The bridge becomes home of many electronic shops.
A woman walks past deserted shops in Glodok.