Monday, December 11, 2006
Bali: A Suspicious Paradise?
A couple of friends just came back from their one-week stay in Bali. The husband, who is a colleague at my research group, attended a conference in Nusa Dua. Never having been to Bali before, and upon recognizing the reputation of Bali as a Paradise on Earth, he took his wife along to spend some relaxing days in the Island of Gods. Naturally, they asked my recommendations to everything; where to eat, what to see, where to visit, things to do, etc. (to which I provide, thanks also to my cousin and friends' suggestions and blogs about their recent visits to Bali). All things set; Oguzhan and Emine brought a list of recommendations from me, departed to Bali and came back a couple of weeks ago.
I didn't get the chance to talk with Oguzhan about his adventures in Bali until a couple of days ago, when we had lunch at the school's cafetaria. Surely he expressed their pleasure of the island; the food and the culture, the scenery and the people. But there are also some unpleasant happenings..
The first evening
They spent two days in Hong Kong (also for fun) before entering Bali. As soon as they reached their hotel in Nusa Dua, they wanted to go out for dinner. They called a taxi and (without using my list) told the driver to take them to a decent eating place. That means nice place, good food and reasonable price - but what they get was the opposite. In the end, they had to spend around 60 Euro(!) for their lousy food, an even worse service, and an unpleasant eating place. Disappointed, but very wary from the trip, they didn't want to make this predictable scam a case and decided to use my list from then on.
I gave Oguzhan a telephone number of Putu (as recommended by a cousin), who offers his car and his service to drive visitors around Bali for a very reasonable price. Another phone number is of Putu's brother, Surya, just in case Putu is not available. So the next day Oguzhan dialed Putu's number and asked if his transportation service is available.
Putu said he's fully occupied, but he'll ask someone else. 'Is it your brother Surya?' Oguzhan asked. No, another person', Putu said, 'He'll call you immediately'. Oguzhan waited for five, ten minutes.. half an hour.. then a full hour passed. He dialed again, 'Where is the person who's supposed to call us?' At the other side of the line, Putu replied hastily, 'OK, now he's calling you'.
Indeed, a person called and told Oguzhan that he would drop by soon. As soon as they met, Oguzhan explained to him (perhaps his name is Karna or Kurnia or something like that - let's just call him Karna) about places he wanted to go to. 'But Karna has an attitude', Oguzhan explained to me, 'Everytime I pointed out that I would like to go to Menega, for example, he rightaway argued: Nooo, no, I know a better place, don't go to Menega, it's no good, believe me!' 'But I want you to take us here and nowhere else!' Oguzhan exclaimed - and still Karna insisted that he would take them somewhere else. Oguzhan was taken aback by this attitude and started to despise Karna, but still asking the price of his service. It's twice the price of Putu's. 'That's it', Oguzhan continued telling me, 'Even if he asked for half of what Putu offered, I wouldn't use his service; he's such a jacka$$ and I wanted to rid him off my face immediately! Please say sorry to your cousin.'
The next day, Oguzhan just used his luck. He called a random taxi in front of his hotel and told the driver, 'Listen, we are going to need your service to take us around where we want to. If you do your job well and if we are happy, we are going to hire you again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after, and the next, and the next.'
Oguzhan said, the more he mentioned 'the next day', the brighter the taxi driver's eyes seemed to sparkle. It turned out that Yoga, the driver, did his job well and Oguzhan and Emine were happy with his service. So happy that on the last day, before departing back to The Netherlands, they left him a huge sum of money, with a jokingly-serious message, 'Please take this and use it for your children. Promise, don't spend it on yourself but use it for your kids. If you use it for yourself, we're taking the money back!'
Menu vs Menu
Oguzhan was surprised that wherever they went to eat, they were always given the 'tourist menu' - as opposed to 'local menu'. He thought it's just the language that's different, but a little later he found that the prices are also different (one with IDR, another with USD). In their last few days in Bali, he always asked for the 'local menu'.
On one hand, I understand that there can be a diversion of prices for local and foreign tourists in the case of hotel rooms. But - never having had a similar experience in a restaurant anywhere I went - on the other hand I was also wondering if this is normal.
One of the days, they went to Besakih Temple. There was hardly any other tourist around, and they were accompanied by a man wearing an outfit that gave an impression that he was a priest of the temple. After walking around for about 15 minutes, my friends were ready to leave. Naturally, the 'priest' asked for some money. At the moment, all they had was one bill of 100.000 IDR. Oguzhan told the man, 'This is all I have with me, so please don't take it all, because I still have to pay our driver'. The 'priest' started to haggle, whined, acted upset, then begged.. but was finally subdued and gave 50.000 IDR back to Oguzhan. That was still way too much for what he did! But, as said before, my friends didn't let these things ruin their holiday and disregard this unpleasant scene.
Perhaps Oguzhan could sense my embarrassment, which I couldn't help feeling, eventhough I know he's telling these stories not to discredit Balinese or Indonesian people. He said it himself, 'Please don't take this as a scorn to your fellow countrymen. These tourist rip-offs are everywhere. I mean, you can also find it in Turkey, even twice as bad. But really, I thought being a Turkish made me street-wise enough to deal with these things. Apparently not. I'm really an alien in Bali!'
Still, their experiences (which, most likely, were also experienced by thousands of foreigners) in Bali lead me to think about the lack of Indonesia's competitiveness in tourism business compared to our neighbouring countries. We are not capable yet to provide trust and safety, and the fact that the majority of our people are still hungry (and greedy) does not help improve the situation either. I don't know how else to close this journal entry except by asking, 'What can we do now?' to prevent further embarrassment..