Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ripped Off

I love going to the market. Pasar Baru, the New Market, is only a short half mile walk away and teeming with local traders pushing fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, meat, and a million other things. 

There's a modern supermarket in town and although it requires a taksi ride to get there, is much more convenient than attempting a big shop at the Pasar. Still, you can't beat the Pasar for fruit, veg, excellent street food, and interesting conversations.

Without fail, someone always rips me off. Today, the big rip off was a handmade bag.
My new bag: the rip off

A Papuan lady sat on her mat on the ground knitting bags. She had several on display as well as a few pineapples and vegetables.

"Berapa harga ini?" I asked her for the price pointing to the bag. "Dua ratus" came the response. I knew it was high. She was asking for 200thousand, about US$17 dollars, for the bag. I asked about the pineapples and she gave me a much more appropriate price. I picked one out and handed her the equivalent of about 40cents. Then I added the bag and paid the exorbitant price with a smile.

I didn't barter for the bag, even though it is culturally acceptable to do so, mainly because I'm still not very good at numbers. We deal in hundreds and thousands in this currency and mostly people just say the hundreds part, leaving me to guess whether they really mean hundreds or hundred thousands.

Besides this, I have many mixed feelings about what price I should pay.

Should I pay 40cents for a pineapple? Or 90cents for the watermelon I also carried home with me? This may be the usual market cost, but is this really a fair price for the local farmer?

Once, in Benin, I bartered hard for a beautiful wooden chess set. I wanted it as a gift for my brother and I didn't have much money to spend. In the end I paid so little that when I told a local friend he was actually upset with me. "That man didn't make any money on what he sold you. He gave it to you for cost." Is a tight fist really the impression of a Christian witness I want to leave? I have never forgotten that lesson.

I'll keep going to the Pasar. I'll study up on my numbers and get the hang of bartering. I'll eventually pay less than I do now. I'll chit chat with the women and look for new things to try. I'll keep walking the tension of what should I pay? And still, I'm certain, I'll keep getting ripped off.