8 Sep 2007
Nusa Dua,



It's funny how things turn out. 7 years ago, when we calculated we were on track for early retirement and it was time to start taking a few holidays we decided to get ourselves a timeshare. We didn't want want a timeshare – we wanted access to the timeshare exchange companies. Permanent excess inventory means cheap rentals, and that's all we wanted. We bought into the Swiss Grand in Bali, and have been there several times for good relaxing holidays. Now, we are officially homeless (or gypsies as one kind person pointed out) and hoping to move from one timeshare rental to another. Sweet co-incidence that the first stop on our Very Big Adventure was the Swiss Grand.

So, here we are. A couple of weeks into our Very Big Adventure. We still haven't finished all the papers. We left Australia on a Saturday and loaded up the hand luggage with the weekend editions of The Australian, The Age, Herald Sun and Financial Review. There are so many supplements and magazines on a Saturday, the paper bag weighed in at almost 8 kilograms. A bugger to carry, but it's kept us going until now.

We've actually been pretty boring since we got here. Done nothing really except a bit of walking, a bit of lying around the pool and a bit of running to the toilet.

One thing you tend to forget about Bali until you return is the constant spruiking. Transport is the most heavily sold, to the point that you can't go 20 meters without someone honking their horn and/or shouting “Transport?”. Even when it's obvious to all that you are out walking. Even when you are carrying a motorbike helmet. Don't they have brains? Timeshare touts are next on the list. Your heart sinks as you see a motorbike pulling up just in front of you or when you are approached by someone on the street wearing a batik shirt. I wonder why they all wear batik shirts? It wouldn't be so bad if they left you alone when you said no, but they don't. They're like a dog on a trouser leg. “I'm not selling anything Boss” is the line they all seem to start with. Or “Tourist Survey”. No matter how many times you say no, not interested, go away, they keep on at you. And on. They follow you. They irritate the death out of you. They can't understand why anyone would ignore them or get annoyed with them. Try as we might to stay polite, it's really hard – especially when you're hot and tired and they're ultra-persistent.

They all have scratch cards which they give to couples and couples only – they don't get a finders fee for bringing in single people or those outside the age demographic of whatever resort they're selling. And the woman always wins the consolation prize of 2 t-shirts and the man always wins the grand prize which is a meal voucher worth US$15-20 and either US$500 or a video camera or a free holiday. All you have to do to find out which prize you've won is go along with him to an office, where, he may or may not tell you before you get there, you'll have to sit through at least an hour of timeshare presentation. Of course, you always win the holiday and of course, it's always in a timeshare resort and before taking it you have to agree in writing to attend another presentation when you get there. And pay a US$50 or $100 booking fee. Once inside, the sales reps can really put the pressure on – there's no wonder timeshare has such a bad name. Of course, if you have the time and inclination you can play the game – it's something of a sport. An hour isn't such a long time for a free feed in a good restaurant (we rarely pay more $1.50 each for a meal here). And as the touts get US$100 for every pair of sucker they bring in who sits down for more than an hour, they're highly negotiable on the value of the meal voucher (about US$15 is the starting offer), as it gets taken out of their finders fee. You can get yourselves a massage as well. And a full day tour including petrol. And if we can get into a good timeshare resort which we would be going to anyway at US$100 for the week, rather than the US$300 we would normally pay, we can sit with our ears shut for 61 minutes. The look on their faces when they realise you aren't going to buy is priceless. Not for everyone, but as I say, it's sport. Not like we don't have the time,eh?

The food is as good as ever, when you can find someone not intent on taking an early retirement on the strength of your business. It's one of the most annoying things here. OK, we are tourists and compared to 99% of the population here all tourists are incredibly rich. That means we pay higher prices than the locals. Fair enough, we can afford it. It really irks though when they try to overcharge to the point of being ridiculous, even in warungs (local restaurants). We use nasi goering, good old Indonesian fried rice, as the great leveler. We always ask how much it is, even if it isn't what we are going to order, just to see by what margin they're going to rip us off. Nasi goering should cost IDR5,000 in warungs and food stalls used by locals. Quite a high number of warungs quote just that, with a few charging up to 50% more, which we figure is acceptable. Some warungs in tourist areas have menus in English and are charging IDR13,000 to IDR15,000 for nasi goering- there's no way a local person could afford that (or would choose to pay it even if they could). Others don't have menus in any language. They aren't used to tourists finding them or deigning to eat at them and mostly don't speak English, but they still want to charge “stupid rich tourist” around IDR15,000. and Even the food stalls that set up by the side of the road at night, with none of the costs of operating a shop front warung and no electricity or running water will often try to charge this. Worst is when they smile and have an undisguised discussion between themselves about how much they are going to charge before telling you. To westerners, it's incredibly rude and I would hazard a guess that to be so blatant would be unacceptable in their culture too. There is no way most tourists are going to pay what, in effect, is almost the price they would pay in a tourist restaurant with clean tables and the basic hygiene standards that go along with hot running water, for rickety stools and questionable hygiene.

These traders shoot themselves in the foot by overcharging "rich tourists" 150-200%, as most won't sacrifice a bit of comfort and certainty about hygiene for the small difference in price. We see others walking away without buying too, so it wasn't just us. Also, we don't usually get nasi goering. After establishing that the rip-off margin (if any) is fair, we have a mini feast and spend quite a bit more than IDR5,000. It may seem to be penny-pinching - we're talking about paying a difference of A$1.30/55p but that is 200% more than we should be paying which is so over the top I'd rather not bother. As for the clothes shops and markets, we just don't bother. I'm not sure why some people do – you can see at a glance that they aren't the kind of people to buy cheap market rubbish at home, so why do they go crazy overseas, buying up big on t-shirts that look like like dishcloths BEFORE the first time in the wash and virtually guaranteed to fall apart by the fifth? C'est la vie! I think the only place without marked, non-negotiable prices that we've never been ripped off or overcharged is wet markets. Maybe the stall holders are better people, or maybe they think if a westerner is rummaging through the onion pile or buying chicken or fish that they must know what they're doing and what the real price is. Whichever it is, three cheers for them.

A few photographs are here – don't expect new ones to be uploaded every week, but there should be some at least once a month.