Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - No quiet rules at flyover library in Indonesia’s congested capital

No quiet rules at flyover library in Indonesia’s congested capital

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Indonesian children attend a programme at the under-bridge library called ‘TBM Kolong’ in Tangerang, just outside Indonesia’s capital Jakarta. Despite its unlikely location, the Taman Baca Masyarakat Kolong has been a hit. ADEK BERRY/afp

No quiet rules at flyover library in Indonesia’s congested capital

SINGING and laughter briefly drown out the roar of cars under a flyover in Greater Jakarta, where an unlikely library for kids is thriving despite choking fumes – and opposition from menacing gangsters.

There’s no quiet rule at this open-air reading park wedged between two lanes of traffic just outside Indonesia’s capital, a city of some 30 million that is notorious for having some of the world’s worst traffic jams.

Despite its unlikely location, the Taman Baca Masyarakat Kolong has been a hit. A shortage of public libraries means it’s one of the few places where kids from this area can read books outside school.

“We wanted to bring books closer to the community,” Devina Febrianti, a library coordinator, said as car horns blared accompanied by choking exhaust fumes.

Several years ago, the flyover in suburb Ciputat, part of Jakarta’s greater metropolitan area, was strewn with rubbish and roamed by intimidating street thugs, Febrianti said.

But armed with books and paint, local organisations set about transforming its down-and-out reputation.

Artists painted murals on the walls, installed planter boxes and a futsal pitch, and a library with several dozen books was built on site.

Still, it wasn’t met with universal acclaim when it opened for business in 2016.

“In the beginning not everyone was supportive when we came with books because there were already other residents here,” Febrianti said.

“We asked for forgiveness first from the gangsters who were here and then the ‘angkot’ drivers,” she added, referring to cheap and ubiquitous minivans that provide public transport.

Winning over parents afraid that their children would be kidnapped or hit by a car was no mean feat, either.

‘Smell, rubbish, loud noises’

But eventually, parents – and even the street gangs – warmed to the idea.

Today, it’s not uncommon to see up to 70 kids attending after-school sessions, where they read stories with teachers, get help with homework, or sing and dance on concrete covered with green Astroturf.

Bookshelves are stuffed with hand-me-down kids books and some other less likely titles such as “Accounting” and “Glossary of Marketing Terms”.

Emilia Clara, an 11-year-old student, said she liked reading stories, especially fairytales, with friends.

“It makes me happy and it’s exciting,” she said, before rushing back to join the other kids.

And it has won over parents like Salmih Usia, a 41-year-old mother of two.

“This is a great place for learning, creating and playing,” she said.

Free reading gardens, known as Taman Bacaan, have existed in various forms across Indonesia for several decades.

They’re often run by NGOs or volunteer associations funded by public and private sector contributions.

Some 80 reading parks have been established this part of the sprawling capital, although there is only one located right below a flyover, Febrianti said.

In Hong Kong, a small outdoor library that doubled as a children’s playground was set up under a flyover in the bustling city as part of research into how to better use community spaces, according to a report in the South China Morning Post last year.

Back in Indonesia, library volunteers admit the street-side location poses some potential health problems because of the fumes from traffic and the subsequent impact on air quality.

“But so far there haven’t been any complaints about the smell, rubbish or loud noises,” Febrianti said, adding: “We use a sound system, which is quite helpful for us to overcome the [noise] problem.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Draft law on state of emergency pending finalisation

    Prime Minister Hun Sen will lead a top-level meeting on Tuesdays to review the draft law on imposing a state of emergency. Meantime, he has decided to close all casinos in Cambodia effective April 1. In the press conference after the National Assembly met today, Hun

  • Stranded passengers petition UK for help

    Some 10,521 foreigners in Cambodia, the bulk being from the UK, have signed an online petition calling on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and relevant officials to fly them out of the Kingdom. The petition is targeted at 15,000 foreigners. Among them are nearly 200 Europeans, the majority

  • Covid-19 Pandemic: Force majeure and legal consequences

    Is the Covid-19 pandemic considered an event of force majeure? The World Health Organisation declared the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak a pandemic on March 11. Following this declaration, the Ministry of Health and other ministries have taken various legal and administrative measures to prevent the rapid

  • PM set to mend ties with US

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has responded to US Congressman Ted Yoho, saying he is ready to improve Cambodia-US relations, and not take up issues of disagreements which have become a barrier between the two countries’ bilateral cooperation. His response to Yoho came after the congressman

  • Mysterious century-old structure found at bottom of Angkor pond

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has discovered a mysterious 1,000-year-old structure of a wooden building at the bottom of a pond after the Angkor Wat temple’s conservation team completed restoring its northern cave. The deputy director at ANA’s Angkor International Research and Documentation

  • Cellcard announces Cambodia’s first use of 5G to help Kingdom during Covid-19

    Cellcard on Friday announced Cambodia’s first use of 5G for a telemedicine service at four locations across Phnom Penh to help the Kingdom’s most critically ill during the Covid-19 outbreak. Cellcard, which is the only 100 per cent Cambodian-owned and "Proudly Khmer" mobile network