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.

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