A 'Starling' rider preps his bike at Kampung Prapatan in Central Jakarta on Wednesday. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

Starling: Jakarta's Starbucks-on-Bikes


OCTOBER 17, 2019

Rows of bicycles stacked with thermoses, ice boxes and sachets of instant coffees and other drinks are lined up neatly in an alley in Kampung Prapatan in Senen, Central Jakarta, on Wednesday. The kampung, located near Tugu Tani, has been the unofficial headquarters of Jakarta's famous "Starling", short for "Starbucks Keliling" (Roving Starbucks), basically Starbucks-on-bikes, since 1985.

According to 50-year-old retired Starling Abdul Rosyid, who now manages a fleet of young Starling riders, Kampung Prapatan used to be home to thugs from the nearby Pasar Senen. But then Madurese migrants – famed for their toughness and resilience – came to start the Starling trade and the thugs moved out.

Abdul himself came to Jakarta after he graduated from junior high school in 1983. "Drink traders used carts before we invented these Starbucks-on-bikes," the father of three said.

The idea to sell hot and cold drinks from a bicycle came during the presidency of Megawati Sukarnoputri in 2001-2004, when the park around the National Monument in Gambir was closed to the public, but people kept milling around the area. Riding a bike around the 80-hectare park to sell the drinks sounded like a much better idea than pushing a heavy cart around. 

Kampung Prapatan, sometimes called Kampung Madura since many Madurese migrants live here, is not too busy in the morning. Women bathe their children in public bathrooms and then prepare breakfast before taking them to school.

Their Starling husbands are still fast asleep because they are tired from working late into the night.

Wholesale stores where the Starlings stock up on their arsenal of drinks (but also candies, cigarettes, pot noodles, snacks – some of their wives pack up nuts in tiny plastic bags to sell – and sometimes headache and diarrhea tablets) – and pay their debts – open a little later at 10 a.m.

After packing their thermos and icebox and hanging as many sachets of drinks – coffee, tea, milk, instant oats, even Tolak Angin, the all-purpose herbal health drink Indonesian chug like water, the Starlings ride their bicycles to little alleys behind tall offices and shopping centers on Jalan Thamrin, to public parks in the elite suburb of Menteng, around train stations and to mosques (especially on Friday for the midday Friday prayer) and churches (on Saturdays and Sundays).

Mukhlis Riyadi is 24 and rides or parks his bicycle around the old-school Sarinah Mall – the first-ever mall in Indonesia – on Jalan Thamrin. He said he earns around Rp 150,000 ($10)-Rp 300,000 every day, just enough to cover for his daily needs. 

"I work 20 days a month, and I live near Pak Abdul's house. I've got no problems doing this, I just enjoy serving drinks for people," Mukhlis said.

An old-fashioned "gotong-royong" ("esprit de corps") spirit seems to help many of these Madurese migrants in Jakarta to survive a hard life in the capital with little income. Help in Kampung Prapatan can come from anywhere.

Abdul, for example, provides a simple dormitory for his workers. He gives them extra money so they can go home to their hometown during Idul Fitri. "Madurese or Javanese or Bugis, that doesn't matter. We're all fellow Starlings, we've got to help each other," he said.

A woman carries her child at a rotten bridge in Kampung Prapatan which is located near Tugu Tani monument in Central Jakarta on Wednesday (16/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A typical morning scene at Kampung Prapatan, a mother taking her child to a public bathroom. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A retired starling, Abdul Rosyid (50) boils water in the morning at Kampung Prapatan in Central Jakarta on Wednesday (16/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Starling boss Abdul Rosyid pours boiled water into thermoses for his riders. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Women pack chips and snacks for sale by their husbands who work as starling. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Women pack snacks to be sold on their husbands' Starling bikes. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
List of goods which is prepared by starling in a wholesale stores where the starling count their debts and expenses as well as their daily capital. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
 A Starling's shopping list. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A starling departs from Kampung Prapatan in Central Jakarta on Wednesday (16/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A Starling rider begins his morning round. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A starling serves some customers at Taman Menteng, Central Jakarta on Wednesday (16/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Serving drinks to office workers at Taman Menteng. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Starling sleeps and take a rest in a simple dormitory at Kampung Prapatan, in Central Jakarta on Wednesday (16/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Starlings taking a break in their dorm room. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Midnight work - a starling goes to work at Sarinah shopping complex in Central Jakarta on Wednesday (16/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
A Starling waits for customers near the Sarinah shopping center. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Elquze, 24 (left) ask Mukhlis Riyadi, 24 (right) to give some ice to him at Sarinah shopping complex in Central Jakarta on Wednesday (16/10). Communal life and 'esprit de corps' soul make it easy for them to survive in the capital city with little income. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Elquze, 24 (left), asks Mukhlis, 24 (right), to give him some of his leftover ice cubes. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Working late into the night - a starling rides his bike near Sarinah intersection in Central Jakarta on Wednesday (16/10). (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)
Nightrider – a Starling crosses the Sarinah intersection. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)