We took some time to fill out the Customs forms for entering Indonesia and boarded the final two-hour flight to Denpasar. We were seated beside a rather twitchy guy with leathery skin, prominent cheekbones, and salt-and-pepper stubble over his scalp, dressed in a wrinkled sharkskin suit. My overactive imagination made up all sorts of stories about who he might be and what he might be involved in, but that’s as far as I’m willing to embarrass myself here.
He didn’t speak English, but that didn’t stop Rebecca from helping him with viewing an in-flight movie. He was struggling with the video interface on the back of the seat before him, so she gestured and showed him how to work the controls, setting him up with a movie to kill the time. He was delighted with her assistance, grinning broadly and patting her arm, and shaking hands with both of us when we finally touched down and disbarked. Rebecca’s a better person than I am, taking more chances to be nicer than I might.
All the passengers emptied out into Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar, Bali, and we shuffled off to collect our bags. Very rapidly we were ushered to the downside of pillaging a foreign community for tourism, as that community will play by the rules as well as try to hack the system with little to no oversight.
We lined up at Customs and checked in, got our visas stamped, and Rebecca went through first without a problem. I was about to leave when the government official who registered me seemed to crack a joke with me, suggesting that I get him a gift. I laughed politely, but he repeated: “Do you have a gift for me?” I yelled for Rebecca to wait up, as I was being held up in line, then patted down my pockets for some kind of gum or candy, guessing that he’d been at work for a long time and was asking for a favor.
No, he wasn’t asking for the kind of favor I was thinking: less than ten minutes into setting foot in Indonesia, I was being hit up for baksheesh by a government employee. “Do you want candy? Is that it?” I asked, holding up the line behind me. He became flustered and tried to wave me off, saying it was all right, whatever it was. “Wait a minute: are you asking me for a bribe?” My voice rose as realization slowly, painfully slowly, dawned on me. And while cops and government employees will commonly solicit for bribes (or demand them), they also famously get into a lot of trouble when they’re caught doing so, which was why he was now hunkering down and desperately waving me off.
And so I left, but immediately two young men in white polo shirts ran up to us. Stitched onto their shirts were ID tags that read “PORTER”, and without asking they hustled our bags to the next station. We thought that was awfully handy, until we discovered the next station was less than 20′ from where we were standing, and these two young men demanded to be tipped for it. We didn’t have Indonesian currency on us yet, of course, since we’d just arrived and hadn’t even gotten very far into the airport.
This didn’t really surprise me. I was expecting to be taken advantage of left and right by a hundred people offering us favors and services for every little thing; Rebecca was much more disturbed by this than I was. We got some money changed, and I tried to ask the girl behind the counter what was a reasonable tip to hand the “porters”, but she was unwilling to commit to an answer, neither to defend us nor to screw over these leeches. Rebecca tried to hand them IDR 5,000 (50¢), but the young men were pissed at that and demanded more. I wondered how strong their position was to complain from, whether the airport authorities would kick them out for harassing travelers or would turn on us (and demand even more money for their “help”). I gave them IDR 50,000 to split, which they found eminently satisfactory. This disappointed my wife, but I’d make up for it by not buying a candy bar at some point.
I lost nothing in deferring to her concerns; had it been up to me, anyone could have milked us for considerable sums of money, as I’m much more prone to rolling with punches and giving the babies their respective bottles, rather than standing up for myself and our interests.
We arrived at Hotel Yani, checked in, and collapsed in our room in exhaustion. It was a very pretty little hotel, reviewed as being sufficient for the budget traveler (which we fancied ourselves) albeit reeking of urine (the area had exposed sewers or something). I sat down to write about our adventure thus far in my travel journal while Rebecca fought with the front desk about struggling with our Wi-Fi access: we still had to call the States and alert our credit card companies as to our overseas status, made more difficult by the diametric time difference.