Bali, Hi - Eight months in Bali

Part 2
Welcome to the 'hood

by Mad Dog


When I got here the exchange rate was 8500 rupiahs to the dollar. Itís great. For about $117 you can be a millionaire. And do it without having to watch Regis smirk or point. 

    My first week here was spent getting acclimated. Since Iím going to be here for a while I donít have to run myself ragged like a typical tourist, wondering if things are really that different and odd or whether itís the jet lag. I suspect thatís why people take more photographs at the beginning of a tripóthey know they wonít remember any of it. If thereís one compelling reason we should be spending less money on the space program and more on time travel itís because it would let us leapfrog over the time zones rather than wander through them, putting an end to jet lag. I think. Iím waiting for Stephen Hawking to get back to me on this before notifying the Nobel committee.

    Traffic here is incredible. The roads are narrow, the potholes are the size of Rhode Island, and thereís only one traffic regulation: drive on the left. Okay, so itís a suggestion and not a law. Picture Brownian Motion with motorbikes playing the part of the molecules. The drivers wear helmets during the day but not at night when the police canít see them. Not that it matters since most of them wear baseball batting helmets. Barry Bonds would feel right at home here except that instead of chewing tobacco they chew betel nuts, which may go a long way towards explaining the traffic patterns.

Balinese woman    The exhaust fumes will choke you in Ubud so itís always wonderful to turn off the main road and walk into the rice paddies towards the cottage. Suddenly the air is fresh, clean, and humid, with only occasional whiffs of smoke. Smoke, you see, is common in Bali since people burn their trash in front of the house, burn the rice fields after the harvest, and burn their dead, but more about that later. Bali is a pyromaniacís paradise.

    I had the hardest time getting used to the money. Itís always tricky adjusting to a new currencyóyou spend the first few days, at least, carefully examining each coin and bill while trying to figure out which is worth five whatever-they-use, but this is different. When I got here the exchange rate was 8500 rupiahs to the dollar. Itís great. For about $117 you can be a millionaire. And do it without having to watch Regis smirk or point. Of course you donít get to use a lifeline when youíre standing at the ATM trying to decide how many rupiah you want, but you canít have everything.



One thing Iíve learned to do is raise my eyebrows to say ďHiĒ instead of waving. Thatís how they do it here. Iím getting used to it but I still feel like Groucho Marx.

    Obviously nothing costs a rupiah. In fact the smallest coin or bill I know of is 100 rupiah, which makes me wonder why they donít just chop a few zeros off the money and make life easier. I went into immediate zero overload. I couldnít tell a 1000 rupiah note from a 10000 rupiah note from a 100000 rupiah note. It doesnít help that they donít use commas on Indonesian money. I was told to tell the bills apart by color but most of the money is so worn you couldnít tell what color it is if your sate depended on it.

Look at all those zeros!    All this is a problem not just because you donít want to throw money away, but because no one wants the 100000 rupiah notes. The banks and ATMs give them to you, the shopkeepers refuse to take them. Hell, they donít usually want to take a 50000 rupiah note. Thus you end up hording small bills and breaking large ones whenever you can. And you find yourself walking around with a huge wad of money getting very tired of the traditional Balinese greeting of ďIs that a dollar fifty in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?Ē

    To make things worse, if a store doesnít have small change they give you a piece of candy instead. Sure, it tastes better than the bills, but if I wanted candy Iíd buy some. Besides, they donít give you a choice of flavors. I need to pay closer attention because the coffee ones might be 25 rupiah, vanilla 50 rupiah, and that odd-tasting tropical something-or-other is their way of saying ďDonít come back until you have small bills.Ē But I have a plan. Iím not going to eat my candy change. Iím going to save them and pay for my next grocery purchase with them, though something tells me that if I do theyíll give me my change in grains of rice. Iím going to suggest to the government that they do away with money altogether and switch to candy currency. The bigger the candy the more itís worth. Iím sure I can get the Nestle lobby to rally behind me on this.

Wanna buy a duck?    One thing Iíve learned to do is raise my eyebrows to say ďHiĒ instead of waving. Thatís how they do it here. Iím getting used to it but I still feel like Groucho Marx as I walk down the street lifting my eyebrows at people. If I come back to the states walking in a crouch, smoking a cigar, and raising my eyebrows at everyone donít be alarmed, just try to cast me in a remake of Duck Soup. Or maybe a Vlasic pickles commercial. I especially feel strange doing this when I greet a woman because it feels like Iím leering. Okay, so I am. But they donít need to know that.



Just to be safe I gave the guys 20,000 rupiahs, or about $2.35. They pursed their lips and shook their heads sadly as if to say, ďBaby needs a new sarong, you know?Ē But they were cool. 
    I was sitting on the veranda the other day when two guys pull up on a motorbike. They were neat, clean, and polite. They walked up to me, introduced themselves, and started pulling out semi-official-looking laminated documents. In Indonesian, of course. I admired the nice lamination job, which of course made it appear as if I was studying the documents. The papers looked suspiciously like an Internet joke someone had forwarded to me a couple of days before but I couldnít be sure since there werenít any >ís in front of each line.

    Their English was just good enough to get across that they were soliciting donations to fight narcotics. Or maybe they wanted to buy some, I canít be sure. I shook my head ďnoĒ and they looked at me sadly like, ďThatís a mistake.Ē I figured if they actually were real, it would be a mistake. And if they werenít, well, it still could be.

    They handed me some receipts showing that other people had given 50,000 rupiahs and 70,000 rupiahs and Iím pretty certain it was their handwriting but how could I be sure? After all, the previous dayís International Herald Tribune (motto: ďSome of the news a few days laterĒ) said Indonesia is still high up on the list of corrupt countries, close behind Nigeria, Yugoslavia, and New Jersey. Okay, so New Jersey isnít technically a country, I still say anyplace where they speak a strange language and wear really weird hairstyles is foreign.

    Just to be safe I gave the guys 20,000 rupiahs, or about $2.35. They pursed their lips and shook their heads sadly as if to say, ďBaby needs a new sarong, you know?Ē But they were cool. They politely shook my hand, got on their motorbike, then drove down the road, making a note to come back often, Iím sure. A minute later they passed me as they headed out to the main road. Why they didnít stop at the other houses on the road is beyond me. Okay, so it isnít. Is it my fault I was the only white guy sitting on his porch with a flashing neon arrow over his head that said ďSuckerĒ?

    As I watched them vanish down the dirt road through the rice fields I sat back in my chair and smiled. Now that the Welcome Wagon had stopped by to visit I could move onto the next phase: playing tourist. 

 Previous ] Part III - When in Bali, do as the monkeys do ]     [Bali, Hi! INDEX]

 

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