The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Sunday, February 26, 2006


HOW MUCH IS IN THE BULE’S KITTY? © Duncan Graham 2006

It was only Rp 10,000, just over one lousy US dollar. Hardly worth getting catatonic. Just let it pass.

Not so easy. Sure, the sum was small. But it’s the principle that rankles. What principle? The one that says: White skin = big bucks.

Most bule who leave their comfort zone encounter the attitude daily in public transport, shops and restaurants. If you can spit back a bit of invective in street Javanese the issue usually dies with a shrug and a grin. Anyway, who can blame the poor and hard pressed for trying it on?

But I draw the line with professional services offered by the well-heeled. Or maybe this was the last straw, one passenger too many in the bemo after a series of non-stop demands for hand-outs.

To keep the screeching toms at bay the house ratter needed a contraceptive jab. Indonesian colleagues were quoted Rp 20,000 by the vet, but the identical pussy in the hands of the walking ATM would cost 50 per cent more. Same cat, same owner, different carrier.

Do not assume this is some pampered Persian purr machine whose owner imports Manchurian dove-breasts for kitty’s cuisine. This moggy is a rapacious kampung scavenger whose scarred ancestors know every drain. She’s called Ora, the Nusa Tenggara term for Komodo dragons. The resemblance goes beyond the name.

Long time foreign residents can pick rip-offs quickly enough. If there’s a nanosecond’s pause between the question: “How much?” and the reply, or a snap glance between worker and boss, then you’re getting the harga bule (Westerner’s price).

Although common in Bali and other tourist traps, different rates aren’t as frequent as some claim. In the suburbs of Surabaya and the East Java villages beyond where foreigners seldom stray, bule usually pay the same as the locals for a meal or a drink.

Though not around Malang. Bus station kiosks have become so used to backpackers that snack prices can be more than double. One hotel in a nearby town has a no-tax rate for Indonesians, but foreigners have to pay 20 per cent extra for the same room. Even if they’re married to an Indonesian who’s paying the bill.

Borobudur has probably the nation’s most outrageous entry-fee surcharge: Rp 7,000 for Indonesians, Rp 100,000 for foreigners.

How do they spot a local? The ticket clerks don’t ask, they just go on skin color. So lone olive skinned Italian-Australians and Taiwanese usually get the non-discriminatory ticket provided they don’t open their mouths.

Our complexion is the gift of the Deity and our genes. It has nothing to do with the number of rupiah we can stuff in our wallets. In fact there are many more seriously rich Indonesians than there are middle class Australians.

Never judge an Okker by his cover. We don’t like to show off and mask signs of wealth. If you want to be mocked Down Under, be ostentatious.

Aussie retailer Harvey Norman who has made his millions selling electrical goods boasts he owns only one pair of shoes, using the pedestrian argument that he has only one pair of feet. Not a line that would appeal to Imelda Marcos.

Despite Mr Norman’s riches the tax system in Australia is so ruthlessly efficient that it’s almost impossible to build the money mountains that can be seen in Indonesia. Earn anything substantial and the government will confiscate 47 per cent at source.

In a fair and just taxation regimen the rich pay most and the State uses this to build and maintain services for all. That wealth is measured by income, not eye-colour.

So when the Indonesian government sorts out its tax processes let’s hope officials rigidly enforce a just law. I don’t care about the cost of pussy’s progesterone if the price is the same for all and the tax goes to building a new school or upgrading health services.

(Tailnote: Pussy allegedly got her contraceptive jab at the Indonesian rate. It made no difference. Maybe I should have paid that extra Rp 10,000. Anyone want a kitten?)

(First published in The Sunday Post, 26 February 2006)


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