“Who wants to be a millionaire?” “She’s one in a million.” “I feel like a million dollars.”
A million is a special number. Not small, not huge. A nice comfortable big-ish size, in fact. A hundred, unless referring to a person’s age or the number of press-ups they can do, isn’t quite as impressive. A trillion is too immense, too unimaginable. It’s like a black hole.
What about a million rupiah? Satu juta rupiah certainly doesn’t sound like much money anymore. I can’t pretend it is unless you are among society’s lowest income earners – then it can feed a lot of mouths. But its value has been worse in the past. In 1998 during the Asian financial crisis, people anxiously studied exchange rate charts in the same way they now look at Covid-19 case charts. Here is a brief list of what Rp1 million can get you these days.
ANOTHER RP1 MILLION
We live in strange times. These words have been repeated by every generation since fish started hauling themselves onto the land 385 million years ago. But we really do. The first indication that the world was beginning a new cycle of strangeness was in 2016 when singer/songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel prize for literature. This baffling episode was followed by Brexit when the UK population voted to fill the Channel Tunnel back in. Then came the shocking election to the White House of a man who boasts about his country’s “super-dupa missiles” and describes police brutality as “beautiful”. What came next was the COVID-19 pandemic. Who would have bet on it last year? And there’s the way of doubling your money. Just think of the craziest most unlikely change that’s coming next and put your money on it. You’re bound to win.
COVID-19 SWAB TEST
It’s that time of the century again. Time for a new pandemic. It’s already here. I’m sure you’ve noticed it. The most famous pandemic of course was The Black Death, which killed up to 25 million people in the middle ages. This was despite several bizarre cures touted that included blood-letting, self-flagellation, eating rancid 10-year aged treacle, feeding a dog a biscuit soaked in your urine (it would die and you would live), ingesting crushed emeralds (strictly for the rich), and attending dinner parties (thought to help by relieving stress but in reality quickened the spread). Ultimately, quarantine and hygiene were found to be the best measures. So nothing has changed much since the mid-fourteenth century.
A TEMPORARY BICYCLE
I say “temporary” because a bicycle that costs just Rp1 million will start to fall apart on your ride home from the shop where you purchased it, and will continue breaking apart no matter how many bolts you re-tighten. So spend more money if you want a sturdier model. Cycling has long been a popular pastime among Indonesia’s long-term expatriates. It’s a great way of getting to the bar three streets away for a start. These days some apps make cycling even more meaningful. You can monitor your journey, Livestream a close-up of your contorted face as you puff and pant up hills, and count the kilometres like Pacman. Cycling is good for your health and your immune system. Best of all? You can wear close-fitting Lycra and marvel at how better it looks on you the fitter and slimmer you get. Watch those rolls of fat gradually deflate!
Life today is all about checking and testing. Venture out shopping in Jakarta and you’ll have your temperature checked dozens of times either by gun or infra-red camera. You’ll have to wash your hands just as frequently. In fact, this generation will go down as having the most angelically clean hands ever in recorded history. Then there are the masks. Did you ever once imagine you’d be living in a world where you were required by law to wear a surgeon’s mask on the streets? It’s like Monty Python meets Mad Max with a little Carry On Nurse thrown in. Luckily, you can buy 100 packs of five masks with your million rupiah at Indomaret.
FIFTY PORTIONS OF FRIED RICE
Some restaurants have been taking a dark-humoured attitude to the virus. This is normal. It happens during any crisis. Think only of World War Two songs written about Hitler only having one ball, or Charlie Chaplin’s lampoonery of the Fuhrer in the movie “The Great Dictator”. A restaurant in Bali, for instance, was sold alongside its regular Nasi Goreng Special and less regular Nasi Goreng Gila, the positively irregular Nasi Goreng Pandemic. Only Rp20,000. There was also a range of similarly styled cocktails on the drinks menu. I forget their names, so I’ll make some examples up instead: Mask on the Beach, Tequila Temperature Rise, Symptomatic Sling, Antibody Mary.
A FLIGHT TO BALI FOR TWO
The need to social-distance aside, flying is relatively safe in Indonesia these days, unlike in 2007 when the country’s airlines were banned from entering European airspace on safety grounds after a string of accidents. This was a time when anyone with enough money could set up a budget airline, name it after their son (like giving him a train set on his birthday), and start herding passengers. Nowadays, passengers are more worried about developing a high temperature while up in the air than crashing. Citilink recently offered a free COVID-19 rapid test to anyone flying with them. Gimmick or welcome safety measure? If you are leaving the country and your visa has expired, you will have to pay an overstay fine. That’ll cost you Rp1 million for each day.
TWO BOTTLES OF JACOB’S CREEK PLONK
Go ahead and drink up one bottle of this cheap Australian wine, and then use the other to launch the ship that you might have to build to leave Indonesia if outward flights are banned. If you don’t fancy your chances at sea on a home-made boat, then the wine can be saved to celebrate the day when the world is officially declared back to normal and no longer strange. Some damage can never be undone though. Listening to Bob Dylan albums will now always be considered elitist.