Monday, September 03, 2007

Festivals and Inflation

I've had a fair to middling week I suppose. We're still having trouble getting Astro to connect us up to televisual images of 22 men kicking a leather ball around. There seems to be a big backlog of potential customers who are waiting for their footy and I guess we are way down the queue. Last Sunday I had to resort to watching the Turkish Grand Prix as a substitute.

Still, at least my fellow compatriot Lewis Hamilton, the rookie sensation and first ever colored Formula One driver, is still doing well. Being a black man driving a fast, expensive car though, I keep expecting to see a police car chasing him around the track trying to pull him over. "Excuse me, is this your vehicle, Sir?" Anyhow, come on Astro, pull your collective fingers out.

Last Sunday I hot-footed it down the road to the Kemang Festival as I thought that this would kill a bit of time and afford me the rare opportunity to witness Kemang's snobby boulevards overrun by Plebian hordes. Crowded it certainly was. The world and his wife (and kids) seemed to be on the streets of Kemang, squeezing themselves along the two narrow rows of stalls that ran virtually the whole length of the street.

It was a fun little Festival and perhaps Jakarta should have more of these. If you're actually reading this on Sunday, September 2nd, then you may care to pop along to the Jalan Jaksa festival/fair, which will be in full swing until the evening. God knows what it will be like though; perhaps a bit boozier than the Kemang Festival but no doubt fun nevertheless.

Yes, more festivals please. Although I guess Jakarta is already, in a sense, one huge, permanent street festival. Back to Kemang Fest though. A friend and I started to stroll slowly through the stalls. Many were no different from the clothing and knickknack boutiques that you would find in any market. Others were selling more interesting curios however. There were stalls of old colonial pseudo antiques; including vases and even old bicycles, that could be bought cheaply, taken home and dusted off for display. There were also plenty of plants and flowers up for grabs for your green fingered Jakartans.

One of the most interesting stalls that I ran into was being run by an old acquaintance of mine, Mr John, an expatriate teacher who has for a long time run a little cottage industry sideline turning out framed photographs and creative handicrafts. His latest ruse is old vinyl records. He sources out classic rock albums and binds both the discs and the sleeves into a single, decent quality frame to produce objets d'art worthy of any bedroom or bar room wall. Clocks manufactured from old records were also available for the budget connoisseur.

What really caught my eye, however, was a tastefully framed Rp.1 (yes one) note from the 1950s with the following passage decoratively printed underneath it:

Five things you could buy for one rupiah in the 1950s:
5 cups of coffee (for you and your mates)
two packs of cigarettes (to go with the coffee)
two litres of rice (two-day's sustenance for a family of four)
two Nasi Goreng brackets (for you and your date)
a bus ticket home (still saving up for the motorbike)
Those were the days!

A very creative talking point for my wall, I thought and snapped it up for Rp.150,000. Those were the days indeed. It makes me feel slightly vertiginous when I think of how inflation has tacked so many zeros on to our beloved local currency in the intervening years until now. I've often wished that Bank Indonesia would chop a few zeroes off and start again from one. I would also appreciate seeing the public execution of the bright spark at the Treasury who decided that it would be a good idea to make the new Rp.100,000 and Rp.10,000 nodes the same approximate size and color. How many people have found themselves Rp.90,000 out of pocket since they were introduced I wonder?

Back to my framed vintage currency though. I thought I'd get the calculator out and see if I could create the 2007 equivalent of my friend's Rp.1 purchasing power table. The first item on the list was 5 cups of coffee. Rp.1 today? Well if we take a cup of Starbucks's ludicrously expensive brew (let's say Rp40,000 for a cup size of about 350ml) then Rp.1 should buy you precisely 0 .008 mL of coffee; presumably not enough to drown a mosquito in (or even be visible to the naked eye?)

Next up was two packets of cigarettes. If we assume Rp10,000 and 16 cigarettes per pack then you should be eligible for 0.0016 of a single cigarette or around a 10th of a drag. Well it should make quitting easier.

Then we have the foodstuffs. Let's go with the fried rice. With your 1950s Rp.1 you should be in line for 0.0001 of a plateful. I guess this wouldn't amount to a single grain of rice. Again, we’re going to have visibility issues with this one.

As for the bus ticket, let's calculate one rupiah in a Bluebird taxi. Let's take a rough estimate of Rp.400 for every 200 m travelled (is this correct anyone?) This would give us a 50 cm long journey. Admittedly, I've cheated here because of the Rp.5000 flag fall charge but at least 50 cm has the benefit of being a distance visible without the aid of a microscope. Perhaps a snail or similarly low paced mollusk would be interested in popping down to the other end of the flower bed to see their bank manager at these rates.

Those were the days? Perhaps, perhaps not. However, I'm not sure that the reverse time travel option would be that much fun either. Take Rp.50,000 back to 1955 and purchase 40,000 plates of fried rice and 60,000 packets of cigarettes. That lot would probably raise your blood pressure a few points, although living in modern Jakarta's pea soup air sometimes makes me think I've just smoked 60,000 packs of Gudang Garam. Bring back hyperinflation I say. Let's see if we can't get a few more zeros tacked on there by the end of the decade.

By the way, those interested in perusing my friends handicrafts and antique jewellery and porcelain, should telephone Kustiana Murtjono on 0817 139 577 or come along to Cilandak Town Square on a Wednesday and check out his stall. This shameless plug has been brought to you courtesy of Metro Mad.