Friday, December 24, 2010

Airing of Grievances

In the spirit of Festivus, I have decided to cleanse myself by airing my grievances for the year. In no particular order, here are my grievances for the year 2010

"I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you're gonna to hear about it."
Frank Costanza

1) Rizieq Shihab and the FPI (Islamic Defender's Front) - You are a constant thorn in the side of Indonesia and the tens of millions of Muslim Indonesians who are happy with the way things are. For some reason, you justify your silly acts as a necessity of security and lifestyle. Stabbing female priests and burning things down is not OK, even if it is in the name of God. I do applaud your effort to ensure that nothing bad will happen during Christmas but I am sure that it will be business as usual for you come New Year's Day. Stop trying to be every one's daddy and let people have free will to make their own decisions.

2) The Jakarta Post - For years now, I have had to put up with your overly sensationalized news. Your newspaper reads like a tabloid and is filled with spellink and grammatical mistake. Thankfully, there is The Jakarta Globe which enables me to avoid having to digest your literal diarrhea.

3) Mother Nature - You must be getting old and senile because you can't seem to decipher when the rainy and dry seasons begin and end. It rained throughout the dry season this year. The last couple of weeks have been the driest of the whole year yet it still rains pretty much every day. Ironically, this is the rainy season. I am sick and tired of you causing floods, traffic jams and a general malaise. What gets me the most is that you screwed with mango season, the thing I look forward to most at this time of year.

4) First Media - In the modernity of 2010, I STILL cannot get you to provide me with cable and internet service, despite living within spitting distance of one of the wealthiest areas of Jakarta. All I want to do is be able to come home at night and watch a hockey game on television. A colleague of mine recently told me that you told her that your services were not available in her complex despite the box on her front lawn that said FIRST MEDIA on it. After she called you 3 times, you finally agreed that it was indeed available in her area. Please get your head out of your ass and provide cable to the entire city.

5) BB's Blues Bar - The only grievance I have with you is that you have closed your doors. Despite having not been to your bar in a while, I always looked forward to your reggae nights. You will be sorely missed and don't deserve to be on this list.

6) Zebra Mosquitoes - I really hate that you choose to bite people in the morning hours and give them dengue fever. When you did this to me, my life was really screwed up for a couple of months. Can`t you just be like other mosquitoes and be nighttime ankle biters? I would appreciate if you would refrain from giving me dengue fever again in the upcoming year as it really really sucks.

7) The Old Security Man on My Street - You really are a nice and friendly old fellow but is it really necessary to bang your stick on the iron bars of my gate at 2 and 3 and 4 A.M. every night? I understand that your purpose is to inform people that you are indeed keeping watch and not sleeping but there really is no need for that. This is similar to calling someone on the phone every hour to inform them that everything is fine. This reminds me of Homer Simpson's everything's OK alarm invention. It keeps making noise as long as everything is OK.

Well, that's about it, glad I got that off my chest. If any of you have any grievances that you wish to air, feel free to comment. I can take it. This is my strong suit as I don't stand much of a chance in the Feats of Strength. Here's to hoping that your Festivus miracle comes true.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Nickel & Dime

With the Indonesian Rupiah having such a low exchange rate, it is sometimes very easy to get hung up on a small amount of money without realizing it. The usual exchange rate is around 9000 Rupiah for 1 American dollar. This can get quite confusing as you are always thinking in tens and hundreds of thousands or even millions. I like to tell the people back home that I am a millionaire. The irony of this is that 1 million is only $110 US.

Cash transactions can be very confusing as you have
to constantly think on your toes. Buying a few
items at the supermarket will set you back (for example) two hundred and thirty four thousand eight hundred and twelve Rupiah. Once you get used to it, it's not that difficult but I still regularly ask people to repeat the price of things. When this gets really weird is when you are bargaining.

It is common to haggle over the price of things in Jakarta. Any time
there is no price tag, the cost is negotiable. In many instances, I have found myself hard bargaining over a kilo of mangoes or a motorbike taxi ride. It will get down to a difference of 1000 Rupiah and I will stand my ground in order to get the price I want. Afterwards, I will reflect and realize that I managed to save 11 cents. In the heat of negotiation, it seems like a big deal but really it's nothing. When you hear the words one thousand or 500, your mind instinctively thinks that it is a decent amount of money.

Sometimes, these situations are more about respect than the actual m
onetary value. A pack of cigarettes used to cost nine thousand or nine thousand five hundred rupiah. Whenever I would buy a pack, I would give a ten thousand Rupiah bill and wait for my change. Quite often, the vendor would blankly stare at me and ask what else I wanted. I would insist that I wanted my change. They would then give me either five hundred or one thousand Rupiah. Literally nickel and diming.

Another fine example of this is a motorbike parking lot. The standard price is around five hundred Rupiah for the first hour and then one thousand extra for each additional hour. It is dirt cheap really as it rarely costs more than two thousand Rupiah.

Just a couple of days ago, I was exiting the parking lot at Gandaria City (lovely, by the way) and my parking fee was a whopping five hundred rupiah. I have a one thousand Rupiah bill (smallest bill, five hundred is a coin) and the attendant asked if I had uang pas (exact change). I replied that I didn't and she took the one thousand bill and said I'd have to pay that much. I objected and she replied with "Hanya lima ratus" (only five hundred). I argued that if this was the case, I wouldn't pay as it would be "only five hundred". I snatched my bill back and said I wasn't going to pay as I had a suspicion that she was lying. She then opened a drawer filled with five hundred Rupiah coins and gave me my change. Did I care about the 6 cents? Not really. It was more the point that she was probably doing this to eve
ryone and going home with a nice chunk of change that didn't belong to her. Did I feel a little like Larry David? Yes, I did but I just want to be treated with respect and not be scammed, even if it is "only" 6 cents.

So what do I do with all of these coins? It's simple, I
them in a jar as most westerners would in their home country. One day I actually decided to count
my change. There are five hundred, two hundered, one hundred, and fifty Rupiah coins. They are made of an inferior metal that makes tin seem strong. I've heard that this is because a decent metal would be worth more than the value of the coin itself. As I set out to count my coins, I realized that I had a large amount of one hundred and two hundred coins but barely any five hundred coins. After some serious thought, it occurred to me that my maid had likely been swiping the five hundred coins thinking that I wouldn't notice. All of my nickel and diming had manged to put an extra 3 dollars or so in my maid's pocket. At least I have my pride and my collection of 200 Rupiah coins, they make
great gifts.