Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ship Happens!

"First we have to light a fire in the hull," says the lady with the Indonesian warships.
She has scores of battleships in the dockyard of her shop - a sheet of plastic and a washing-up bowl on the ground at Setu Babekan, the Betawi cultural village in south Jakarta.
The hand-painted ships are made from recycled tin cans. Each carries the red and white Indonesian flag as its national ensign and is stamped across the stern with the legend: Indah Asmara (Beautiful Sweetheart).

The boatlady lifts a showboat to her mouth and sucks quickly on one of two inlet pipes on the underside of the boat. Then, using what looks like a plectrum curled into a tiny metal ice cream cone, she scoops water from the washing-up bowl and channels it into the front hold of the boat through the pipes.
She places the ship in the ocean of its bowl and ensnares a wisp of cotton wool on a zigzag of metal. She dabs vegetable oil onto the wool, strikes a match, sets the cotton wool alight, and slides the blaze into the hull of the boat.

Nothing happens. 
And then war happens. The boat pop-pop-pops and shuttles forward. A thin trail of black smoke escapes through the central flue. The artillery officer onboard is unblinking at the helm.
Twin guns mounted on the bow rat-a-tat and jiggle as the water heats inside the front chamber.
"You can only buy these here," the lady adds smoothly. But I'm already counting the notes from my wallet.

The tiny warships are made by a man called Yono. The smaller size (10cm length, pictured here) sell for Rp 10,000 ($1.00); the larger boats are Rp 15,000.
Sadly my boat later sank during its maiden voyage.


  1. Oh these are so cute! How clever!

  2. I love these photos. For such a simple subject, they really came out wonderfully - especially the boat underwater.

  3. Thanks Drewbie. I am certainly a sucker for colour.