(Column 12 in a 45-column series about Joan's bicycle trip around the world).

                  Holding Millions in Bali
                   Despite Currency Crisis

                   By JOAN INDIANA RIGDON

                  SINGARAJA, Indonesia -- By the time we landed in this island nation, the
                   Indonesian currency had plummeted to 11,000 rupiah to the U.S. dollar,
                   down from around 3,000 rupiah in October.

                   A few days later it hit 17,000 rupiah. Now it's at 9,300 rupiah.

                   When a currency craters like that, people usually get mad. They riot over price hikes, hoard food and
                    shout nasty things about the elderly president, especially when presidential elections are just a month away.

                   That's what people are talking about on Java. So Eric and I were a little
                   jumpy when we started bicycling here on Bali, the Maui-sized,
                   Maui-shaped tourist island of three million people just a few miles off
                   Java's east coast.

                    The Balinese seemed jumpy, too. At the airport, after we walked past a sign promising
                    the death penalty for anyone bringing drugs or guns into the country, we met an immigration
                   official who frowned at our plans to stay for 60 days. He kept asking if we
                   were really tourists. "I hope you're not planning to work," he said, twice.

                   I didn't say so, but at first look, I hoped not either, since the most I could
                   hope to make here would be about $100 a month.

                   Instant Millionaires

                   It's one thing to read about a "currency crisis." But it didn't hit me how
                   serious the problem was until Eric and I became millionaires. The day after
                   we arrived we swapped $100 for 1.04 million rupiah.

                  The brick of bills we got back was bigger than a paperback book. Looking over our shoulders the
                  whole time, we had to stuff it into several pockets.

                 Then we went on a spending spree, helped by scores of Balinese who trailed us wherever we
                 went, yelling, "Halo [Hello], Transport?," "Halo Room, Room?," "Halo, Snorkeling?" We rented
                  hotel rooms for the equivalent of $1.50 a night, including banana crepe breakfasts, ate in fancy
                   restaurants for 75 cents each, and bought dresses, shirts and batik sarongs for 20 cents to a buck apiece. (All of
                   these prices are based on our exchange rate of 11,400 rupiah to the dollar.)

                   Even imports are cheap. Film works out to $3 a roll (and so does
                   developing). Four Energizer AA batteries cost 50 cents. "I feel like I'm
                   stealing," Eric said one day, after he bought a well made short-sleeve,
                   cotton, button-down shirt for a buck and change.

                   The Balinese people don't seem bitter. So far, no matter how the rupiah
                   gyrates, everyone yells, "Halo! Where you go?" as we ride by. One guy
                   was so friendly he trailed us in a van for 15 minutes, begging us loudly and
                   incessantly to take a 30-cent ride with him to the next town. Unfortunately
                   he snarled traffic, forcing other cars to nearly run us down to get by. I had
                   to scream to get him to scram.

                   I actually had a nightmare about this: A few days earlier, I woke up from a
                   dream where I was screaming "Pergi! Pergi!" which means "Go Away!"
                   The dream scared me, but I thought it was a good sign I was dreaming in

                   Friendly Looks

                   The smiles come easy here. We get them from women carrying
                   television-sized rocks on their heads, and from wide-mouthed school
                   children who look like they stepped out of a toothpaste ad. Even people
                   burdened with huge baskets of roosters on the sides of their motor
                   scooters manage to throw us a friendly look.

                   It's not just us. Most everything gets a friendly look here, since the Balinese,
                    who practice their own brand of Hinduism, believe God is everywhere.

                  Many Balinese women spend several minutes or even hours each morning
                    weaving intricate little baskets from coconut leaves. They fill the baskets
                     with flower petals, rice and incense and then lay the offerings everywhere
                    God might be. We've seen them on sacred statues, in the middle of the
                   road, and even on computers in Bali's handful of
                   tourist-oriented Internet access offices.

                   Based on personal experience, I must say that if God is in computers, God
                   must be that Big Guy with the Bad Temper from the Old Testament. And
                   judging by the glacial speed of the Internet connections here, the offerings
                   aren't helping.

                   The vendors and inn keepers seem nice, too. They usually smile and joke
                   as they sell. Of course, many of them are smiling because they figure
                   they're ripping us off by charging us a nickel or a dime more than they
                   charge the locals.

                   'I Love Rupiah'

                   They even laugh abut the rupiah. At a shadow puppet show for tourists,
                   one puppet won snickers between acts when he performed one-handed
                   push-ups, counting like this: 1, 2, 3, 100, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 15,000,
                   one dollar ..." I asked several people if they "love" the rupiah in accordance
                   with the government's new "I Love Rupiah" campaign.

                   To show your affection, residents are supposed to swap any U.S. dollars
                   they've been hoarding for rupiah, and conduct business only in rupiah. That
                   may sound standard, but it isn't in Indonesia. Several fancy hotels and
                   some Jakarta office buildings price rent in U.S. currency.

                   Most people were a little wishy-washy about their currency love. The man
                   who ran an Internet computer-rental service in the town of Ubud was
                   downright fickle. He said he did love the rupiah, "but for awhile, I loved the

                   A waiter named Dewi was more devoted. "I must love my rupiah," he
                   intoned, sincere and big-eyed as Jimmy Stewart ever was on the big
                   screen. But the feeling melted in the next instant. "Because I have no
                   dollar!!!" he screamed. Then he doubled over into a shrill fit of hysteria.

                   Of course, we met a few traitors, whose names shall remain secret. We
                   agreed to pay one painter for some of his work partly in dollars. "I will
                   keep a secret from my government," he said, shoving Andrew Jackson into
                   his pack.

                   All joking aside, I kept waiting for someone to shoot us, if only for the
                   $100 emergency cash we keep stashed in our gear. One day, I thought it
                   might happen. As Eric and I rode on the southeastern coast, I spotted a
                   little boy holding a huge rifle, its barrel pointed vaguely into the road. Heart
                   thumping, I raced past. I was still shuddering when Eric told me it was a
                   toy air gun.

                   Another time, as we lazed in a two-story bamboo beach cottage we
                   had rented for $3 a night in the fishing village of Padangbai, I heard several
                  serious sounding announcements over loudspeakers. "How do we
                  know they're not saying, 'Please evacuate the village. We are about to
                   shoot the tourists,' ?" I asked Eric. He pointed out that we were right next
                   to a ferry terminal, and the voice was announcing the comings and goings
                   of boats.

                   Now I've calmed down. Two weeks into our cycling tour here, I've
                   concluded that most Balinese don't hate us. They're just a little irked. One
                   day, after we paid 100,000 rupiah to develop three rolls of film in Ubud,
                   the cashier told us she makes only 90,000 rupiah a month. She called us
                   "lucky tourists," with an edge to her voice. She told us the price of rice has
                   recently doubled to 2,000 rupiah a kilo.

                   But as we practiced our phrasebook Indonesian on her, she warmed up
                   and invited us to sit down. Personally, I think I won her over with my most
                   popular sentence, "Nene saya dari Philippines." That literally means my
                   grandmother is from the Philippines, which is true. But more importantly it
                   means, "I got my black hair from a gene pool near you." People like that

                   We ended up showing her our photos and telling her about our travels in
                   Australia. We got a crash course in Balinese home economics from the
                   photo lady, several waiters, the seditious painter, and a few government
                   workers we met on the road. It helped that all of them had to study English
                   for several years in school. The bottom line is, based on what they told us,
                   I'd rather be a working Indonesian in Bali during a currency crisis than a
                   Silicon Valley computer grunt with a fistful of gold Visa credit cards any
                   day of the week.

                   Beauty for a Steal

                   Forget about Bali's beaches, coral reefs and the fact that it costs only 20
                   cents a day to support a fierce coffee habit. Forget that the place is so
                   relaxed they have just one word, lusa, for "the day after tomorrow." And
                   never mind that the Balinese like to wave hello with five fingers at a time,
                   compared to the one-fingered waves so common on the highways back

                  Bali's appeal, even now, seems to be a matter of math. First of all, Bali sure doesn't look broke.
                  Although several airlines have canceled flights to Indonesia, plenty of tourists are still here,
                 dropping all sorts of dollars. The day after we arrived, a U.S. Navy ship docked at Kuta Beach,
                  driving up the price of drinks and baubles, thus guaranteeing the education of generations of Kuta
                  children to come.

                  The same day, when Eric and I were in Denpasar trying to change money, Bank Bali clerks turned
                   us away near closing time because they were too busy counting bricks of
                   Ben Franklins. More than 20 bricks lay akimbo across the counting desk,
                   which lay unprotected by any counter. That's more than $200,000 in
                   American greenbacks, the most money I have ever seen in one place.

                   The Balinese people don't look broke either -- not the ones we saw in
                   cities, villages, roadsides, or cheap local buses. At least not yet. In fact,
                   unlike most of the people in my old neighborhood, the average Balinese
                   family apparently makes more than they spend.

                   The salaries don't sound like much. We met a government family-planning
                   worker who is happy with his 200,000 rupiah a month. An Ubud waiter
                   said he makes 300,000 rupiah a month. And a government auditor, who
                   earned his master's degree on an Indonesian government scholarship to
                   Australia, said he makes 800,000 rupiah a month.

                   But expenses are low. Here's where I get jealous. In Bali's high-rent
                   district, the provincial capital of Denpasar, our government-auditor friend
                   told us he rents a 1,400-square foot house for two million rupiah a year, or
                   167,000 a month -- around $20.

                   Outside Denpasar, rents are cheaper. Cheapest of all are the villages,
                   where many families live, albeit modestly, on land that's been in their family
                   for generations. True, most Balinese have a bucket of water and a hole in
                   the floor instead of a shower and toilet. And the homes aren't wired. Some
                   have satellite dishes, but few have phones.

                   Even our auditor friend says he just uses his computer off-line because it's
                   too much hassle to get a phone line. But there is an upside. Nobody calls
                   him during dinner to sell him magazines.

                   Transportation is cheap too. To get around, the Balinese walk, bicycle, or
                  pay government-subsidized bemos -- jitney buses -- anywhere from a few
                   pennies to a dollar to go a few hundred yards or across the island.

                   Richer Balinese squish families of three or four onto single mopeds, which
                    cost 4.5 million rupiah new. Government subsidized gas costs 700 rupiah a liter,
                    or about 25 cents a gallon.

                   Food is a worry. Shopkeepers told us they have stopped replenishing
                   stocks of more expensive items, like milk, which have risen by 36% in the
                   past few weeks. They're hoping if they wait, the prices will come back
                   down. According to the Jan. 5 Jakarta Post, overall food prices have
                   jumped by 10.1% in January alone.

                   People don't seem to be panicking here yet. The doubling of the price of
                   rice has hurt people like the Ubud photo developer. But other people say
                   it's not too bad. That's partly because around one in four Indonesians work
                   for the government, and receive a rice subsidy as part of their pay: 10 kilos
                   of rice per family member per month, up to 40 kilos per month.

                   One government worker said the rice, which comes from Thailand and
                   Taiwan, is sometimes inferior; he mixes in some Indonesian rice to make it
                   taste better.

                   Konang, a spiky-haired, family planning worker we met in Amlapura, said
                   he has no fears the government will trim the rice subsidy anytime soon. And
                   he said the government is still providing free contraception to all
                   Indonesians, as well as small funds to start microbusinesses in little villages.

                   In fact, Konang said his biggest worry is about his own wheels. In light of
                   the rupiah crash, he no longer expects the government to quickly deliver on
                   its promise to provide every family planning worker with a motor scooter
                   they can use to visit villages. Konang said he and his compadres kept
                   asking after their wheels right up until December. "Now we are keeping
                   quiet," he said.

                   Of course, the worst may be yet-to-come. Food prices still haven't
                   stabilized. And last month, the government announced plans to start scaling
                   back its fuel subsidy starting in April. For the moment though, the Balinese
                   are still waving and smiling as Eric and I ride by and laze around their

                   In two weeks, we've ridden only 20 or 50 miles every third or fourth day,
                   for a total of 203 miles here.

                   We plan to spend just a few more days here to see if expected massive
                   layoffs lead to serious rioting on Java. If not, we plan to ferry to Java.
                   Otherwise, we may skip ahead to Sumatra.

                   Technology Update

                   In an experience that brought back flashbacks of Costa Rica, Eric and I
                  tried and failed to connect the Newton here. We couldn't use our mobile
                   phone, because we can only use it with a prepaid calling card, and those
                   cards aren't for sale on Bali yet. (They're supposed to arrive sometime this
                   month. Meanwhile, we hear we can buy them on Java).

                   So we tried a land line. We went to a "wartel," or telephone office, where
                   you can call anywhere in the world and pay after you're done. We hooked
                   up the Newton to the wartel's phone and called CompuServe's Jakarta
                   access number, which we had looked up on CompuServe's Web page. A
                   computer answered, but wouldn't let us log in.

                   After several more failures I called CompuServe technical assistance in the
                   U.S. (one five minute call to the U.S. costs the same as three nights of
                   luxury beach accommodation here). They gave me another access number.
                   That didn't work either.

                   I called back and got a nice guy named Christopher in Tulsa, Okla. I asked
                   him if I had to key-in any special passwords to access the network in
                   Jakarta (in Costa Rica, as you may recall, I couldn't connect because I
                   didn't know I was supposed to key in several long, secret passwords to
                   enter the network there).

                   Gamely, Christopher looked up the answer on his computer. He said not
                   to worry, it wouldn't take long because he had a T-1 line. But of course his
                   computer crashed during the search.

                   Then he tried again. To access from Indonesia, he said, reading from his screen,
                    I should "follow the -." I got all excited. But Christopher stopped talking. It turned out
                    those were the end of the instructions. His computer simply said "follow the"
                    followed by a blank. He apologizE. Now CompuServe is batting zero-for-two in developing countries.

                   To transmit this column, I had to take a bus across Bali to Ubud, where
                   I've retyped it on a rented Internet-access computer.


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