On my various trips around the different countries and across waters and different parts of India my memoirs and my camera have been my constant companion. This time it’s a slightly funny but a hugely humbling, grounding, and heart touching experience on my travel time spent touring the length and breadth of Indonesia.
Since ASA Convention was going to be held in Indonesia I decided to take a 15 days tour throughout Indonesia prior to the Convention. Before setting out as usual I always buy forex of the country I am visiting so went to the forex branch I always go to but was told we only give USD for Indonesia you will have to exchange USD in Indonesia with Indonesia Rupaiyya (IDR). I thought it was a bit strange but then again I needed the forex so I said yes.
On landing I checked in and didn’t have any local currency so gave a 1 USD coin the person who brought my luggage in to my room and he almost fainted in happiness and I suddenly remembered the forex branch saying they can’t give IDR but dismissed the thought but dismissed the thought and didn’t think much about it. However during check in I had seen a sign on the reception saying money exchange done here so I went to the reception to exchange my 100 USD note and the receptionist said sorry mam you will have to go to the bank we are not allowed to exchange anything above 50 USD. I was a bit tired but needed local currency so I went to the bank with the directions provided by the reception. I went to the counter and said I wanted to exchange a 100 USD note the woman at the counter said please wait the manager will meet you in a few moments. I was like its just 100 USD why the manager needs to meet me but they insisted so I took a seat. In a few seconds the manager came out smiling almost gushing with happiness. I told him I needed to exchange USD 100 note and a very elated manager just said sure. In a few minutes he got IDR notes and said here thank you so much for using our bank services. I was thinking in my mind its only 100 USD why is he thanking me so profusely but then dismissed the thought and went to the hotel room and started counting the IDR and it shocked me as the manager had given me literally several million IDR and not thousands or hundreds as I expected. I had never seen a million in my hands ever in my entire life and was so shocked seeing a million IDR note and I had quite a few of them that my mind went numb I was very scared and called my mum immediately using the room phone. My mom got really wild as to how much did I exchange but I assured her I had only exchanged a single 100 USD note that’s when she said please go to the bank immediately and point out the error as the manager must have made a grave mistake if you don’t go back the poor fellow will have to pay millions. I agreed and immediately set out for the bank clutching the millions in my hands very tightly and with a pounding heart I went to the bank really scared as I was carrying so much money and I had never seen so much in my entire life. I told the manager that there was a big error made as I exchanged only a single 100 USD and I received millions of IDR the manager assured me he hadn’t made a mistake but I was holding millions literally MILLIONS in my hands so I made the manager count again not once but twice and he assured me it was the correct amount. I was not sure what to do with millions that I had in my possession. I went to the hotel room still seriously scared that I had millions and because of that I could not sleep the whole night.
It was only the next day I realized why the bank manager said he had not made a mistake despite giving me millions. I needed to buy water but I did not have any note less than a million denomination. I was absolutely certain that I would be shooed away as I had nothing less than a million Rupaiyya note. The 2 litre water bottle normally costs only 15-20 INR in India and I was wondering what to do how to buy. But I needed water so I nervously entered a shop which was selling water bottles. I picked a 2 litre water bottle which showed 3,5 I did not see the coma and thought it was 35 IDR but I had nothing less than a million IDR note and very timidly and sheepishly gave one million IDR note to the lady at the counter bracing myself for her ridicule and anger. I was absolutely sure that she was going to tell me to get lost as I was going to exchange a million IDR for just 35 IDR water bottle. But to my utter surprise she simply smiled and immediately exchanged the million IDR note and gave me change. In the car I counted my money and realized that I was short by a few thousand as she took 3500 IDR instead of 35 IDR but I thought maybe she did not have so much change so gave me what she had and didn’t say anything. On seeing my troubled look the driver inquired what had happened and I told him. He stopped the car and with a very shocked look and asked if he can see the price tag on the bottle. I gave him the bottle and he said no mam its 3500 and not 35. He pointed out that see there is a coma between 3 & 5 so it reads as 3,5 that means 3500 IDR. Now it was my turn to be utterly shocked as I had just paid IDR 3500 for a 2 litre bottle!!! I was thinking OMG I have to be very careful with my consumption of water because it is so expensive!!! Looking at my shocked expression the driver said this was very cheap and I was thinking in my mind CHEAP I just paid IDR 3500 for a 2 litre water bottle. The driver must have seen a very bewildered look on my face and he explained to me why the bottle cost IDR 3500 and yet it’s cheap and why the bank manager gave me millions when I had exchanged only 1 single USD 100 note. He explained to me that Indonesia was unfortunately sitting on 3 natural disaster belts ie volcanoes, flash floods, and earthquakes. Natural disasters were a very frequent and constant part of their lives having an omnipresent presence at all times no matter what. Every alternate day there is either a volcano exploding or a flash flood gushing or an earthquake shaking Indonesia and yes I had seen flash floods, I had felt tremors and my volcano flight was cancelled as there was a thick black smoke coming out of the volcano when I was touring Indonesia. This situation unfortunately is a perfect recipe for creating havoc literally to the Indonesian
economy as everything they strive for is destroyed by nature on almost on a daily basis.
After that humbling experience I was a completely changed person. After careful calculation I realized that 1 IDR = LESS THAN HALF A PAISE INR!!! After that throughout my trip I never took the change back and always insisted on overpaying because I realized that a tiny single INR 5 coin can provide a single person 2 square meals a day for a full week. Despite living in the shadow of constant natural disasters they are still satisfied with their life and are so peaceful, calm, and serene. I realized how much pampered, spoiled, and lucky we are in India are and yet we take so much prosperity for granted. We fight over petty things like religion, caste, reservations, etc. Then there is a country like Indonesia which is so devastated by nature almost on a daily basis and yet doesn’t fight. I was a completely changed person after my Indonesia trip and never took a single thing or a single moment for granted and was always grateful for what I have.
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