Numerous lighters and barges were tied up along the quay, now motionless on the calm, oily water of Tanjung Priok, the harbour of Batavia.
Further down the quay, towards the sea, there were three passenger ships, the mail boats that constituted a link with Holland and other countries in Europe.
The coolies had finished their work, loading and unloading the barges, precariously balancing on narrow, bending gangplanks. Tired and sweaty, the labour gangs had collected their day’s wages, and now crowded around the food stalls to have a simple but tasty meal. They were thin and sinewy, their bodies hardened by the daily, punishing labour. Many of them were also regular visitors of the dirty and gloomy opium dens in the bleak docks area, where they would lay back and drift off into semi-consciousness, temporarily forgetting the pain and the hopelessness of their existence.
The rickshaw driver’s shirt was drenched in sweat and it clung to his bony back. He was panting noisily, making his way through the ubiquitous crowds, swearing loudly to anyone who blocked his path.
“Heyaa! You tolol, watch where you are going! Give me some space, you invalid! Can’t you see I am driving Mr. Lim?” he shouted.
The old man carrying a large bamboo cage with chicken jumped to the side, muttering angrily at the rickshaw driver. People within earshot heard the reference to Lim and moved out of the path of the slowly rolling rickshaw.
In front of Lim’s shop he stopped and helped his charge out of his seat. Without a word he pocketed Lim’s generous tip, and pedalled off to have a drink with his friends, where he would boast about his lucky day.
Lim’s shop was a three storey, narrow but deep house situated in a long row of similar houses, facing the bustling quays. The second and third storeys were built outwards into the street, supported by arches of plastered brick. This created a covered walkway along the front of the row of shop houses, which provided both shoppers and shop owners with shelter from the burning sun and the pelting rain.