copyright 1998, James Waldron Design, all rights reserved
2/28/98 Ubud, Indonesia
It's unavoidable. Sooner or later tourists in Bali turn their thoughtsto money. My suggestion is, if you have any vacation time saved up, andonly a little dough in the bank, you saddle up and get to Indonesia rightnow. Sure you'll be taking advantage of a country in a tailspinning financialcrisis, but when was the last time you went to the ATM broke and came outa millionaire?
As of today the currency exchange rate is 9000 Indonesian rupiah foreach 1 U.S. dollar. That means that each rupiah is equivalent to .000111dollars, about 1/10th of a cent.
This all came clear to me today when I rented a brand new 100cc Suzukimotor scooter, went for a 10 hour tour of the island, and filled the gastank twice. Total cost: two dollars, fifty-five cents. Lunch, a triple-deckerham, cheese, and cucumber sandwich with two Coca-cola's, sitting in a bamboolounge chair on Lovina Beach gazing out over the Indian Ocean was an additionalone dollar, thirty-four cents.
Kuta Beach is the embarkation point for most tourists visiting Bali,the popular Indonesian vacation destination. When I got to Kuta I decidedto live large. I'd been paying around 15 bucks a night in Australia tosleep six-to-a-room in hostels, so at Kuta I thought I'd get a room aroundthe same price. What I got was very different. For 17 dollars I had myown private bungalow, two queen beds, a front porch with furniture forfour, a private garden view, and just 40 feet away the pool. Breakfastis included, as is the safe, the nightwatchman, maid service, and all thepeace and quiet you need to comprehend the novelty of the situation.
As it turns out, I was living large. A new aquaintence, Ed Pringle,a kid From Canada, did the extremely smart thing. He hung out with a groupof us at our hotel, using our pool, while he checked into an only slightly-lessglorious hotel down the street. His nightly cost: 15,000 rupiah, $1.60per night, also including breakfast, but no pool. Perhaps he'll becomea Wall Street trader. He'd be a genius.
Cheap does not come without a price. Everything and everyone in Kutais geared towards removing rupiah from the tourists. Imagine if you tookall the telephone salespeople in the U.S. that call you relentlessly atdinner time trying to sell you a subscription to Readers Digest, and putthem on each street corner and beach entrance at your favorite ocean resort.Havoc would break out wouldn't it? Well that's Kuta.
Walking down any street in Kuta is like being at a carnival midway whereall the hawkers had been snorting cocaine for three weeks, and their armswere 20 feet long. "Braid your hair, buy watch yes, massage, hat, hat,lighters!"chant the street vendors. "Transport? Where are you going? Youneed room? You want girl? Good price, special price for you my friend."And
After a week or so, maybe as your tan gets darker, or the braids yougot have come out, the sales routine gets easier to shrugh off with a quiet"no," or a gentle shake of the head with a knowing smile. "Cheap pricefor you!" is easier to ignore.
And stuff really is cheap. Top of the line genuine Nikes are fifty-fivebucks. Top of the line knockoff Nikes are five-fifty. My favorite excursion,in an attempt to calm down my gastro-intestinal system, was every day ortwo to Wendy's. The extra value meal, a Big Classic with cheese, largefries, and a Coke cost seventy-nine cents. A beer is forty-four cents,grilled Swordfish is $1.88, Indonesian specialties are slightly less. Iwent wild one day and bought a pair of shorts and two t-shirts. Statesidethese would have been 70 bucks. I coughed up 10.
Culture, as we New Yorkers know, ain't cheap. Here too, every museum,temple, and tourist trap has an entry fee. It's pretty much fixed at 1200rupiah, fourteen cents. You'll need, of course, a local guide, driver andchartered car: eight dollars a day, all inclusive. I rented a surfboardfor three bucks, and broke a rib for free.
So, having tired of the hustle and bustle of Kuta I made my way to thepainting and dance capital of Bali, Ubud, and write to you now from thedeck of my suite overlooking the rice paddies at sunset. I'm sipping hottea left for me by my host Ketut. My daily room and board is $1.66. I amking.
Today I made a gasoline salesman very happy. The going rate for a liter,which is dispensed from 50 gallon drums with a saucepan and a funnel (canyou say confligration?) is 750 rupiah. He demanded 2000. Every price inBali is open for negotiation, but it's hard to get real motivated to arguethe price down from 22 cents to 8. He made a killing. Yesterday I climbedan active volcano at sunrise with a guide. As soon as we got out of thevan at four a.m. another Balinese guy with a small satchel joined us atthe rear. I thought he was looking out for us as part of a team. He was,in fact, selling Coke. He followed us for five hours around four volcaniccones, and weathered a slight earthquake (my first) while relentlesslyoffering me a soft drink. My friend paid 4000 rupiah. Not a big sales day,but a truly outstanding sales pitch.
I have the solution to Indonesia's financial crisis. Enlist Balinesestreet vendors into a sales army. Fill ten Boeing 747's and fly them toWall Street stock sales call centers. Send all the money back to Jakarta.These guys will generate so much cash it will make the International MonetaryFund look like a piggy bank.