For the longest time, I was hesitant to go to Indonesia because of two things: Chyng Reyes’ horrific experience at the immigration and the country’s Islamic extremism. But then learning from our Singapore trip that opinions can’t always be right and besides the fact that Rowjie had been wanting to experience Indonesia, I finally shrugged off my uncertainties and booked tickets to their surf paradise that is Bali.
We didn’t go through Chyng’s nightmares at the airport when we arrived and learning that though Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, Bali is 90% Hindu gave me such a relief. I thought that this much-needed relaxation after our 14-day trek to the Everest Base Camp couldn’t get ugly. Or so I thought. We were to spend eight days in Bali and it was just day 2 when our vacation almost got spoiled.
Stack that Money
It was around lunchtime when Rowjie and I decided to get out of bed to find an eatery or a cheap restaurant. Under the heat of the sun, we walked and walked and walked. It kinda irked Rowjie, who was suggesting all along that we just eat wherever’s near because the scorching sun-heat was outrageous, that I wasn’t listening to him. Instead, I was eyeing all the money-changing stalls we’d been passing by and taking note of their exchange rates. When I thought we hit jackpot with this one stall along Jalan Kartika, I just had to have our last Benjamins changed to Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). I was thinking that the rate might plummet in the next few days if we don’t take advantage of the current rate. Despite Rowjie’s irresolution, he didn’t protest and just accompanied me.
When we approached the stall, there were two males who I thought were in their early twenties. I am really meticulous when it comes to my hard-earned money. I studied them first, observed their behavior, and when I felt at ease, I decided to have our money changed there. Their rate was $1 = IDR 12,350 over the normal IDR 12,125 of other money changers.
I took out $100 from my sling bag as the younger male counted their money in IDR 20,000 bills. I was supposed to get IDR 1,235,00 based on their current rate. He would arrange the bills in stacks amounting to IDR 100,000 (five IDR 20,000 bills) each. Since I should be getting IDR 1.2M, there were 12 stacks in front of me along with the additional IDR 35,000. I was carefully watching him count and was certain that I wasn’t being tricked. When he was done, the other male stood beside him and started counting the money again in the same manner. But when he was finished, he carelessly gathered all the money, piled them into just one stack, and handed it over to me. The older male asked if I have IDR 5,000 with me so they could give me IDR 40,000 instead of IDR 35,000 since they no longer have smaller bills.
Thinking that nothing shady was happening, I accepted the stack and handed him IDR 5,000. Rowjie took the stack of Rupiahs from me and started counting the money again. I interrupted him and told him that we better get going so we could have our lunch. “Bahala ka,” he said.
Okay, here’s where everything got messed up. Rowjie must be really famished and exhausted from the walking we did that when we went back to the eatery we saw near our hotel and I gave him the diva attitude, he just blew up. “Akin na yang susi ng hotel! Kumain ka mag-isa mo!” And he left. I was appalled with what just happened and became quiet for a few minutes as if my soul left my body. I was brought back to earth when the waitress asked what I wanted to eat.
I decided to stay, keep calm, and just eat before returning to the hotel, which was just minutes away from the eatery, to patch things up with Rowjie. To kill time while waiting for the food I ordered, I took out the Rupiah bills we got from the money changer and counted it again. I thought I might have counted the money wrong when I noticed that it’s just half of the amount we had exchanged so I counted again. This time, I knew that I wasn’t making any mistakes and that I was missing a lot of money. I rummaged through my small bag and didn’t find the missing bills. My heart rapidly beat. Patay.
I haven’t finished my seafood lunch and didn’t even enjoy it despite being my favorite. In my mind, all I could think of was the missing money and hoping that Rowjie had it. And speaking of Rowjie, how on earth could I ask him if he had half of the Rupiahs if he was angry at me? Now I was terrified. I went back to the hotel, almost running, to seek the answers to my questions. And when I arrived and asked Rowjie about the missing money this was what he said, “Wala! Hindi ka kasi nakikinig sakin eh!” I knew it. What was I supposed to do? That was half of all the money we had left for Bali!
I grabbed the hotel keys and went out to go back to the money changer stall. I didn’t mind the sun’s heat and walked as fast as I could. When I arrived there, I quickly surveyed the stall and when I only saw the younger male who I thought I could handle in case things go bonkers, I went ballistic.
The money you gave me is not complete! I’m missing half of the money you were supposed to give me! Give me back my money!My ballistic self, 2014
I thought it did the trick because he just handed over my $100 back without saying a word. He didn’t even ask how much was missing. All of our dollar bills had a stamp of the money changer in Mandaluyong where we had them exchanged. Upon seeing the stamp, I returned all of the Rupiahs in my bag and turned my back at him. Forget about the IDR 5,000 I lost! I just wanted to get back to the hotel the soonest.
Upon returning to the hotel, I quickly looked up “Bali money changer scams” on the internet, and what an idiot I was to have not thought about it. Apparently, it was an old trick that’s rampant in Kuta. After the second counting, the person holding the Rupiahs would ask you to look at a calculator in which you will see the total amount you would be getting. As he does this, his other hand will magically fold half of the stack of the money he just counted and would hide it under the table.
Had I not retrieved our money, it would surely be World War III between me and Rowjie. Muntik na kami magdildil ng asin. So now that we discovered how this scam works, we became extremely cautious about having our money changed to IDR again. We thought we’d win the battle on our next attempt.
Running out of Rupiahs, Rowjie and I again went on hunting for a money changer with decent rates as we roamed in Poppies Lane 2. This time, the average rate of the money changers around that area was a lot higher compared to those in Kartika, $1 = IDR 12,650. And this time, we knew what to do.
Since most of the money changers there have the same rate, we randomly selected one. We stepped inside a fashion shop where the money-changing stall was and we were greeted by a male Balinese. We stated our intention and agreed on a deal. As expected, the Balinese did the counting in the same manner as the first money changer in Kartika had. Rowjie didn’t let him do the second round of counting and instead gathered all of the money in just one stack and did the counting himself. He ended with just one million IDR when we were supposed to get IDR 1,265,000. We asked for the remaining IDR 265,000 and we were told that it’s for his commission.
Oh. So since he couldn’t longer do the magic trick of hiding some bills, he now had to resort to charging a commission. The great thing was that we still had our USD with us and Rowjie just returned him the Rupiahs. Of course, we didn’t let this scumbag double-cross us and we just left his shop.
So when you’re in Bali and need to have your money changed to Rupiah, here is some info that may be useful in spotting a fraudulent money changer.
- have license numbers
- issue receipts
- have proper establishments comparable to our pawnshops here in the Philippines
- have lower rates
- rate doesn’t change regardless of the day
- don’t have proper establishments and do transactions on brown booths or stalls only
- rates are extremely higher
- may or may not have the “NO COMMISSION” signage
This Bali trip could have gone wrong in a manner I did not foresee. It also made me realize that I failed to do a lot of things that a traveler should do before leaving his or her home. That it’s an unspoken rule to research on scams you can possibly encounter when visiting foreign places. That when it comes to money, regardless if you’re just buying a sandwich off a fast-food chain or having it changed to another currency, always count it before leaving the counter.
But what’s the ultimate lesson I learned from this? Listen to your hungry husband. He knows best.