As the saying goes, take care of the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. So, when I’m not blowing a million rupiah on dinner, I’m trying my best to make the smaller notes stretch as far as possible.
Bali is a place of contrasts; catering for the champagne set taking a tropical break down in Nusa Dua and looking for luxury, to the locals who are living on a minimum wage of approximately $100 a month.
So for the discerning foreigner willing to stray from the beaten track, there are definite bargains to be had, particularly in terms of food.
1. Breakfast at the Market
The first time I visited the market at Tegallalang, I was overwhelmed by the sights and smells. First thing in the morning, there are many food stands selling breakfast to locals. I looked around trying to find something familiar. An old lady on one of the stalls took pity and started talking to me.
– Di mana tinggal?
“Where are you from?” she asked me in Indonesian. No English here, unlike the market in central Ubud. I took it as a good sign. We had a stilted conversation, her laughing at my terrible Indonesian, but clearly appreciating the effort. I pointed to the round, spongey-looking cakes were that she was serving up and she told me it was called Lak-lak. I ordered a portion, which she piled into a newspaper cone, topped with shredded coconut and then syrup.
-Berapa? I asked. “How much?”
I looked at her, confused. Had I misheard? How could anything cost 10p, never mind such a delicious-looking snack?
She waved a 2,000 Rp note to indicate what she meant. Yes, indeed it was 10p. I gave her a 5,000, feeling like I had a bargain even at twice the price!
2. Bike Repairs
Sensing my Scoopy is not responding particularly well, and not keen on becoming another road-splat statistic, I swing into one of the roadside mechanics. My mechanical Indonesian being non-existent and the mechanic’s English being not too far off, I attempted to communicate that there was something wrong and I wanted a service.
-Er, ‘servisi’?, I attempted
He looked at me blankly.
-‘revisi’?, I tried instead.
A look of recognition passed over his face eventually and the mechanic dragged my bike into the workshop.
The service consisted of checking the brakes, ignition, axles and filling the tyres with air. The whole thing took abut 10 minutes.
Then, as it came to asking the price, I prepared myself for the worst. We all know the reputation of mechanics, particularly with women and even more particularly one who clearly has no clue about motorbikes and barely speaks the language.
-Dua ribu, I am told.
The same look of incredulity as in the market crosses my face. 10p?
He pulls out a 2,000 Rp note and waves it in front of me. How embarrassing, it seems no matter how many times I hear those words, I just can’t bring myself to associate them with an actual price!
The first time I went to Canggu and pulled up by the beach, I saw there were parking attendants and, as I found my space, one of them came over, handed me a parking ticket and requested ‘Dua ribu’ (which by this point I confidently knew was that 2,000 Rp note). ‘Hmm, we don’t pay for parking in Ubud’, I thought. But still, ‘it’s only 10p’, as I handed him the note.
After visiting a few spots, I realised I’d been handing out 2,000 Rp notes all over the place. Wherever you parked in Canggu it seemed, and for however long, you had to pay the 2,000 Rp parking fee, and it started to grate on me. You constantly had to carry around a stash of small notes with you and if you were just doing a bit of sightseeing, you’d soon get through a whole bunch of them.
Later that day, I met up with a friend who I’d known from Ubud but who had moved to Canggu and he told me about how paying for parking had really annoyed him at first.
-I used to park up the road and then walk 5 blocks into town for drinks with friends so I didn’t have to pay for parking. Then I realised that I was going and spending 80,000 Rp for one cocktail and realised how ridiculous that was.
Amazing how quickly you can get accustomed to local prices! I reminded myself how cheap it was to run a motorbike and all the freedom it gave me, loaded up with 2,000 Rp notes and didn’t complain about parking again (even when my Indonesian friend told me that Indonesians only pay 1,000Rp!).
4. Eggs and Bananas
If you’re sick of cheap breakfast eats at the market, you can make your own (almost) as cheaply by buying a few ingredients from your local shop.
The first few times I tried buying bananas I could never work out how much they were supposed to cost. I’d pick up a bunch of 6 and ask “berapa?” (How much?)
Which is 5,000Rp.
I’d scratch my head; but 5,000 doesn’t divide by 6.
So I’d peel off three bananas and ask again “berapa?'”
2,000Rp. That doesn’t divide by 3 either. Huh? What’s going on?
I figured they were rounding up to whatever the nearest note was to avoid having to give change.
Anyway, after much banana buying, I can more or less guarantee that 2,000Rp will almost certainly buy you two, decent-sized bananas. The rest is up to your bargaining skills.
Also, used to buying my eggs by the half-dozen, I now experience the unbridled freedom or being able to purchase 5, or 7, or maybe 10 if I’m feeling really crazy! They don’t come in a box you see, but in a plastic bag, so getting them all home in one piece is a part of the adventure.
2,000Rp per egg but breakages are the client’s own responsibility!
Bargaining Do’s and Don’ts
- Get familiar with the money – Memorise the colour and size rather than the number, looking at so many zeros whilst you are under bargaining pressure will make you dizzy!
- Learn your numbers in Indonesian – Being able to shop like a local brings many advantages, so get those numbers memorised and then practice, practice, practice.
- Follow the locals – Most Indonesians do not eat in restaurants, they get food from the market or by the side of the road. Be curious about what people are selling and particularly the ones with the big queues!
- Get angry when you get ripped off – it’s all part of the learning process!
- Be a clean-freak – Your food may well get served up with fingers but don’t get grossed out, ask for extra chillis, that’s sure to kill off any nasties.