Ups and downs of the rupiah crisis

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 April, 1998, 12:00am

Don't get jealous and choke over your breakfast, but the Week Ending family has been having a relaxing holiday in Bali.

We thought of you, poring over your newspapers, following in detail the who's who of the forthcoming elections.

You have been following the special South China Morning Post coverage, haven't you? Here's a test: a) What constituency is Allen Lee Peng-fei standing in? b) In which constituency is The Frontier's Lee Cheuk-yan ranged against his former party colleague Leung Yiu-chung? c) What is the name of the party formed by Christine Loh Kung-wai? Answers, probably in the Post, some time over the past week.

We say probably, because we can't be sure. We can't even be sure if the dollar peg's still holding or whether World War III has just broken out because we've been in the hills, away from the news. And yes, you are right. It was a lie. We weren't thinking of you at all.

Or not at first. We did the obligatory 48 hours at a beach resort hotel, building sand castles, swimming and playing mini-golf. Then we decamped up the hill to the once-idyllic Ubud and groaned on discovering it was not quite the peaceful artists' colony it once was. Then we drove to the lake in the old crater of Mount Batur.

We hired someone to give Little Master Week Ending a piggyback ride up the steep slope to the active crater. That's the one which spat fire last month. It is still angry enough to roar every five seconds. The rim of the blowhole is yellow with sulphur and the steam is laced with noxious fumes, so that only scientists equipped with oxygen masks are allowed up to the area above the vent to take measurements.

This last information was not immediately vouchsafed by the piggyback man, however. It was only after we had headed into the danger zone, leaving the family to rest and drink the Coke and Fanta supplied by the soft-drink salesman who had quietly attached himself to our party, that the piggyback man remembered his other hat as guide and safety officer. His Coke finished, he began pondering whether to amble off in lukewarm pursuit.

But by this time we had noticed something distinctly stuffy and soporific about the atmosphere. It was all too reminiscent of the Legislative Council chamber on a Wednesday afternoon. So we turned back - only to come across the guide trudging his way up to get us.

As we headed downhill, the soft-drink salesman took us aside and asked a king's ransom for his unasked-for refreshments, including the bottle he had swigged himself and the one for the guide. As we haggled him down by 50 per cent, we translated the sum into Hong Kong dollars. A rip-off, considering the exchange rate, but you couldn't begrudge the man his $50, considering he'd just walked three hours to earn it.

But just as we were gleefully thinking of a way to remind you of our worry-free holiday, reality broke in with a vengeance. Back down the mountain, the exchange rate suddenly seemed to have changed dramatically in the soft-drink man's favour.

The Hong Kong dollar had inexplicably slumped 20 per cent overnight. No more glee, no more smirking about the peg; just panic. The hotel bill suddenly looked expensive. Not very expensive; but more than before. The holiday souvenirs seemed overpriced. We checked the newspaper. Indonesia was on the road to recovery, it claimed.

Agreement had been reached with the IMF.

We paid the hotel bill philosophically, did the shopping and drove back to the coast. Then we went back to the money changer - and the rupiah had slumped again. Oh well. Just bad timing really.

Enjoy your election homework. We're off to the pool.