It’s difficult to discuss the widespread delusion of Indonesians that foreigners should pay them outrageously inflated prices for goods and services they may not want, or simply fork out funds to wrench them from the latest hole they’ve dug themselves into, because every bule has a vast fortune and an infinite willingness to gift it to friends, staff and vague acquaintances in need.
It’s difficult because most of us don’t.
“Doesn’t it wear you down?” asked a visiting Scot, “…this constant assertion that we are so rich? I tell them I have to work at two jobs to fund this annual holiday and they look at me as if I am ET.”
“I want to borrow your money to pay my brother’s university fees,” announced an acquaintance. How many hours does your brother attend university each week? Only six, huh; well, tell him to get a job. This suggestion is met with total disbelief and a lecture on how as a student the young man must keep a clear head. We observe that he finds a generous nightly intake of arak a marvellous tonic for clearing the head – certainly of any capacity to work.
“I’m confused and I want to borrow your money because baby needs many things,” ventured our former housekeeper after going to great pains to demonstrate how baby was indelibly linked to us as we had shared its nine-month formation. We had indeed housed and nutritionally fed both its parents and pandered to its mother’s whims throughout the pregnancy. We felt this was enough.
Sorry, honey, you deliberately created this baby knowing you would have to finish work and live in your husband’s village, sans salary, for at least six months after the birth. Perhaps you should have saved for the occasion. And I got really tired of all those SMS messages complaining about your newly limited diet. What on Earth did you expect – free-flow gourmet hamburgers?
“I’m very upset,” said our DVD salesman. “I want to marry my girlfriend but I don’t have money. I’m very confused. You are my friend and I was coming to your home to borrow your money but my girlfriend already split with me.”
Look, we are sorry, pal, but the fact that we buy consistently sub-standard DVDs from you at 50 percent higher than normal price, because you are local, doesn’t mean we are friends and doesn’t mean we’d be going yippee and yahoo at the opportunity to finance your marriage.
“You must buy my pearls,” whined the Gili Trawangan beach trader edging on to my chair and hypnotically waving the two little white pearls on a black string in my face, “because I need the fare for the ferry back to Lombok and the bus home to Mataram. Only Rp300,000, so I can go home.”
Listen, chum, I know what the ferry costs; I know what the bus costs; and I know what the pearls are worth. Please get off my chair and out of my face. “But the Japanese pay Rp300,000.” Silly, aren’t they? And you’ve made me angry. I told you I live here and wanted the true price.
At a Nusa Dua market I spot a desired item of clothing and explain in clear Indonesian that I live here and want the true price. “Only Rp150,000.” Don’t be ridiculous; I can buy it in Legian for Rp35,000. “Okay, Rp30,000.” I’d have paid Rp50,000 if she’d been sensible at the outset.
We were called next door to sort out the visiting homeowner’s bill for some new bamboo blinds and the service of some others. The bill listed five rather than four new blinds, gave an exaggerated measurement of each item and charged a per-centimetre service fee, only a little lower than the cost of the new product, for the full measurement of each serviced blind when only the edges had been attended to. Having re-measured the new blinds and corrected their number, we addressed the extortionate service bill.
Why should we pay you more than Rp1 million for two hours’ work? “Because mister agree.” Forget mister; he’s not here. Deal with us. Rp1 million is a monthly salary for some people. Many people work for Rp50,000 a day. “But I have business.” Not for long at this rate, ratbag. My mechanic doesn’t charge a tenth of what you do and he pays rent and has training and equipment.
The guy had all day, possibly all year. We persisted: Why should we pay you more than Rp1 million for two hours’ work? “Because I want to go home to my family in Java.” Flying up the pointy end, are we? Hey, I’d like to go back to Buenos Aires. Can you help me?
“How do you live here with these people?” asked the neighbour. You choose your friends, staff, vendors and servicemen very carefully, dear. You look after them and hope they respond accordingly. You accept that few will believe you have a budget, commitments and family of your own. You do your best to avoid any situation which would require a fruitless explanation of the same. Ironically, the Indonesian for proceed with caution says it best: hati-hati.