I—like many people I suppose—do not like to talk about money. I am thankful that I have not been placed with a family that is constantly asking the price of every day things in the United States, or worse, the price of the things I own. Yet, as we both get more and more familiar with each other, I can’t help noticing that questions of the sort are slowly coming up more and more.
If one were to live in Indonesia while making even a meager American salary, one can live fairly well. However, for Indonesians making Indonesian wage—life is just as proportionally expensive. When I first arrived in Indonesian with my peers, we all couldn’t help mentally converting rupiahs into dollars. Naturally, our first reaction is to marvel at how “cheap” everything is, but it occurred to me that it might be extremely offensive to those Indonesians around us who don’t get paid in dollars. Just as I found it difficult to save money back in the States, it is even more difficult here since saving millions of rupiahs only converts to hundreds of dollars.
Though I no longer think everything is cheap, I sometimes buy something for my Indonesian family and I fall into the trap of answering whether I think the item is murah atau mahal? Cheap or expensive? In the latest instance I brought home laundry detergent that was about 13,500 IDR or about $1.40. I didn’t want to say it was cheap, but in the U.S. detergent is about $8.00 and up. I answered quickly and without thinking, murah. My family answered – Itu mahal untuk orang Indonesia! That’s expensive for Indonesian people!
A few weeks ago, my neighbor, Ibu Jumani, and I had a conversation. She told me about her job at a food factory where she works for 8 hours a day, seven days a week for $2.00 per day. That’s $14 a week or $56 a month. The laundry detergent I bought the other day cost more than half of her daily wage.
Afterwards, she asked me how much money I made working in the United States. It didn’t feel great to tell her. I asked her if she’d be willing to leave her life here to work in the U.S. and she didn’t hesitate to say yes.
I wanted to tell her that I’ve known immigrants who have left their families for work opportunities as maids and drivers in the U.S. and in their experience, they have found it worthless. They seemingly make more money, but everything is so much more expensive that they still end up saving nothing. They are basically in the same situation, but alone in a foreign country. However my bahasa Indonesian has its limits, so I could only explain that even though people working in the United States seem to make outrageous amounts of money, the life there is also outrageously expensive. Regardless, she’s still convinced that they’d be better off – a true case of “the grass is always greener on the other side.”
Although Ibu Jumani’s job and wage may seem outrageous for American standards, about 560,000 IDR a month goes a long way in Indonesia. Which brings me to a whole other question, how do things around the world get priced? Are most products sold in the United States imported and subjected to so many quality control standards that it causes the price to severely inflate? The cost of living in different countries obviously influences the wages of the people living in them. So is the price of a good dictating the worth of a person’s labor and thus, giving a price to a person’s time?
I will have to look into this some more…
In the meantime, here’s a snapshot of prices in Indonesia:
• One 1.5 L bottle of water – 3,500 IDR – $0.35
• A small bottle of Coke – 500,000 IDR – $0.50
• Short angkot ride – 2,500 IDR – $0.25
• Longer angkot ride – 3,000 IDR – $0.30
• A pack of kelapa biscuits (coconut cookies) – 6,000 IDR – $0.60
• Kelapa – Coconut Drink – 7,500 IDR – $0.75
• Dining out in a warong (small restaurant) – 17,000 – 18,000 IDR – $1.70 – $1.80
• Meal at Pizza Hut – 50,000 – 100,000 IDR – $5.00 – $10.00 (This is the most expensive meal I’ve had in Indonesia)
• An hour of internet in the local warnet (internet café) – 2,500 IDR – $0.25
• The average cellphone in Indonesia – 150,000 – 350,000 IDR – $15.00 – $35.00
• One text message – 100 IDR – $0.01
• Pulsa or minutes for cellphone – (I put in) 50,000 – $5.00 (and it has lasted me for a long time)
• A month of unlimited Internet on my iPhone – 100,000 IDR – $10.00
• Bhatik – Traditional Indonesia clothing – many I saw were about 50,000 IDR and up – $5.00 and up
• Bus & Ferry included to Bali – 150,000 IDR – $15.00
• Plane ticket to Bali – 500,000 IDR to 650,000 IDR – $50 – $60
• The most outrageously expensive thing I’ve heard about here is wine. Apparently, it can cost between 350,000 to 650,000 IDR – $35.00 – $65.00. The cheaper wine is produced in Bali.