Fuzzy Math

Several years ago we spent time in Romania. In particular, the far northern region, called Maramures, just miles south of the Ukrain border, in an area dubbed the “last peasant community in Europe”. We’ve referred to that travel adventure on a few occasions of late, comparing it to Bali in a couple of ways. Maramures was a very remote place. The villages were relatively sparse and the larger region was a long ways from Bucharest. It was a step back in time, save for the skinny power line. The clothes, dwellings, horse-drawn carriages, food, churches, artisans, markets, and agricultural lifestyles were much as they had been for centuries.

We thought of Maramures during our recent visit to Tenganan because that felt even more primitive. Though this walled village is much closer to the modern communities than Maramures is, it still oozed of an even more ancient and primitive lifestyle. It seemed almost like a re-creation that you’d see at Disneyland, from the confines of a small, mechanized boat: kris-wielding, topless dark-skinned men; wandering water-buffalo; basket-balancing women; wood and stone carvers; looms; communal tasks performed everywhere; campfires; etc.

The other way that Bali has reminded us of Maramures is in regards to the money. We left Maramures in a private car owned by a friend of the woman who’s home we stayed in. He drove us for an hour to the closest bus stop -which was still many hours away from the next hub. Before our car adventure began, we bargained him down to a mere $1.5 million in Romanian leu. This hefty-sounding price did not include keeping the car, just the hour-long ride in it. But in American dollars it was something reasonable considering how remote we were.

The currency situation in Bali isn’t as extreme, but it’s the next closest that we’ve seen, and it takes some getting used to. We made a simple mistake at our first ATM (they’re common) that many visitors do. We chose the type that spits out red $100,000 IR (Indonesian Rupea) notes instead of blue $50,000 notes. Within a few hours I got the message and exchanged them at a bank for the blue variety, though those bills too are often considered “large money”, and can cause problems.

$100,000 notes are worth about $10 US dollars. Yes, ten. Yes, many businesses cannot give you change from this.

$50,000 notes equal about $5 USD.

$20,000 equals $2 USD

$10,000 equals $ 1 USD

$5,000 equals 50 cents

$2,000 equals 20 cents

$1,000 equals 10 cents

And then there are light, silver coins ranging from $1000 to $100 -a dollar to a dime. Coins are often not a part of the transaction, and many business round up or down to avoid using them -though they still manage to accumulate in my pocket.

One of the things we’ve quickly learned is that, as retired folk, we are on a predictable, fixed income. Even though things here are inexpensive, we can’t just eat out every meal -or every day, or get a massage whenever we want. When we do go out, we look for meals that are in the $20,000 -30,000 price range. This is a common price range and not hard at all to find, though many visitors prefer the 50,000 – 70,000 – 90,000 range or much higher. Compared to their homeland standards, they are still getting a good deal -but so are we, and for a lot less. Often, its the ambiance that they are paying for, which is probably true all over the world.

But we’re constantly finding charming, clean, interesting places to eat, that fall into our price range. (Ubud has many far out and groovy spots to eat and relax affordably). As in San Francisco, the drinks can quickly up the tally, so we have water often. However, there are tasty fruit juices and iced teas, etc for $8,000 – 20,000 most everywhere. We frequent warungs often, and canopied food courts away from central Ubud. These are genuine eateries that rarely see outsiders. The tables and chairs and surroundings might be a bit dirty, but the people are still friendly, the experience is fascinating, and the food can be excellent. We’ve been known to have 2-3 plates of tasty food, and 2-3 drinks and pay less than 2 US dollars total. I mean, come on, why shop anywhere else?!

We’re eating healthy, which is easy to do (tho I do like my Snickers bars and Bintang beer!) Lots of fresh veggies and fruits, and tempeh. Little if any sugar or dairy. Combined with lots of walking and sweating, and stretching and yoga. We’re feeling good. I’ve lost 18 pounds without trying, and feel lean and good. There’s a significant health-oriented consciousness and movement here: raw foods; organic; vegetarianism; mixed with yoga and etc, but healthy food is generally the Bali way.

Nasi Gareng (fried rice, with a fried egg on top) is a staple here. A nice sized portion usually costs between $15,000 – 25,000 IR ($1.50 to $2.50). Same for noodle dishes, salads, and drinks. Almost always, the meals are beautifully presented. You almost don’t want to dig in and wreck it. The person who takes your order usually reads it back to you before taking it to the kitchen. And the bills afterwards are usually very detailed and precise (and legible), and include a 10% government charge and a 2-5% service charge. Tipping is optional, and 2-5% is standard, not expected, and quite appreciated.

-matt

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Matt & Rita
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 15:03:25

    Hey Matt, thank you for your post. To me, the most interesting aspects of of visiting or living in another place are often the nitty-gritty details of day to day life. We had a similar problem breaking “large bills” in Buenos Aires. The ATM machines generally would give you all 100 peso bills (about $20 US at the time), but we quickly learned that many small businesses would not accept such large bills. We learned where we could go to break the bills (such as the subway ticket office), and we also learned to trick the ATM into giving us smaller bills by withdrawing an odd amount of pesos (something indivisible by 100).

    Reply

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