By William J. Furney
The Bali Times
Wow!” said the woman beside me, stepping back and reeling. “Wow.”
I was passing by the booze section of a new supermarket in Kuta, and the visitor latching on to me as a channel to vent her astonishment, a middle-aged African-American in dreadlocks, couldn’t quite take in the sky-high prices.
“That’s more than US$130,” she said, pointing to one imported bottle of liquor and laughing at the absurdity of it.
“Welcome to Bali,” I said with a commiserating smile, and told her she was lucky there was any imported booze at all, even if it was so ludicrously priced.
We were joined by her husband or partner, a gray-bearded man with a mop of curly hair. Taking in the scene, he joked, “I could have had more success here than I did at AA,” and we all had a good laugh.
The couple said they were from LA and had recently spent some time in South American countries that are noted for their vineyards and had grown used to buying wine for $3 a bottle, and were shocked that here, the same type cost about 10 times that, or more.
I advised them to try a local label, and gingerly they reached for a bottle – costing around $7.
(If this new store wasn’t shy about such intoxicating rip-offs – though, granted, most of it is ravenous government levies – the vacant-stare checkout guy didn’t blink when he charged me 100 percent more than what my items were worth, until I pointed his error out and he reluctantly called a manager, who checked and apologized and the kid rescanned.)
Last week at an early morning breakfast with a visiting Australian media chief executive and a chief editor, at a Nusa Dua hotel, they remarked on the dearth of decent drinks in Bali.
“I was at a conference in Tehran,” one of them told me, “And the booze situation here is almost the same as there, where they have none” due to Iran’s hardline Islamic government.
After a long, hot day speechifying and listening to others drone on at a conference here, one evening she had ordered a G&T at her luxury hotel. But they didn’t have any gin, and the lady was left wondering about the state of international tourism on this island.
“I mean, one of the things people like to do on holiday is have a drink,” she said with an exasperated chortle that suggested the Balinese – or those running the hotels – hadn’t a clue.
I’ve heard the same laments from other visitors in recent months.
So what to do? Should tourists visiting Bali, especially during this merry festive month, have teetotalism enforced upon them?
New daily the Jakarta Globe reported this week that a Japanese delegation canceled a booking at the capital’s prominent Borobudur hotel because they had run out of booze and could not replenish stocks, mortifying the management.
“It’s so embarrassing that here, in a leading five-star hotel, our Japanese restaurant doesn’t have sake. It’s probably the only place in the world where a Japanese restaurant doesn’t have sake,” general manager Poul Bitsch was quoted as saying.
(How did the Japanese know in advance the hotel had run dry? “We confirm your booking, and just to let you know we’ve no booze.” Or: “We would like to make a booking for our delegation, but amid reports of no alcoholic beverages in Indonesia, can you confirm beforehand that you at least have adequate supplies of sake?”)
Japan. The single largest investor in Indonesia.
The Globe said some Jakarta nightspots had resorted to borrowing alcohol from friends while travel agents in Australia were telling their clients traveling to Bali to bring their own.
It’s all about taxes and imports (lack of) and general befuddlement, and those in control in Jakarta that just don’t get it, that foreigners on holiday expect the basics of booze and at reasonable prices. Because those holding the reins are of a certain persuasion that deems alcohol immoral, they don’t see what all the fuss is about.
And so, as you would expect, the black market is thriving, at a very high price.
Wherever you are, may I be among the first to wish you a very spirited holiday season.