Today, I got scammed in Yogyukarta. I knew I was being scammed because the method was described word-for-word in travel reviews I'd read just the day before. And I couldn't stop it happening!
It was cunning. Or feasibly, I lacked a backbone.
The morning before my flight back home I had decided to visit the Kraton; the palace of the sultans of Yogyukarta. Online reviews of the palace were clear about a popular trick for unwary tourists. As this one review on Tripadvisor reports:
We took a taxi from our hotel and they dropped us off at the wrong entrance. There is an entire scam set up to let you in a bit then take you to buy Batik. Make sure you go into the entrance by the clock.
I knew the taxi driver was suspect when we told me that there was a minimum fee for a cab that meant I had to round up the fare by a couple of thousand rupiah. Since it had been a good twenty minute journey from my hotel, it was highly unlikely I was below any kind of minimum threshold. The car had pulled up to the only obvious entrance to the Kraton, but there was no clock in sight and the price on the gate was cheaper than that listed in my Lonely Planet guidebook. In fact, the requested 7,000 rupiah entrance fee was just slightly more than the price listed on the website reviews for exactly this scam.
The problem was that it was not clear how to reach the true entrance to the Kraton. I was standing before of a wide open park, in an area crowded with taxis and stalls with a single obvious ticket booth. Short of walking off in a random direction with no signposted route, there was nothing to do except go through the gate.
Rather bemusedly, I bought a ticket. I was instantly approached by a guide telling me that he would be taking me around today. While musical performances were common at the Kraton, I was informed that unfortunately there were none on Wednesdays. But not to fear! My ticket also allowed me entry to a batik workshop just opposite and we would be going there next.
My tour guide told me guiding people around the Kraton was on a volunteer basis only. For his main work, he played a traditional Indonesian musical instrument in performances and taught music to elementary school children. The batik workshop was also a labour of love, with all profit from the sales going to a children's charity.
Well, wasn't that lovely?
It was a pity I'd read this entire shtick on the tourism websites the night before.
I'd be lying if I said I did not feel more than faintly irritated by the whole escapade. I find that with many scams (or even when witnessing inappropriate actions or comments), it's surprisingly hard to act at the time. Before you know it, you're in the middle of the situation and it's always possible that you're misunderstanding and the whole thing is legit.
Then you look back later and realise nothing has ever been less legit in the entire history of the planet.
However, the exchange rate between the Indonesian Rupiah and Japanese Yen is so extremely favourable that even after tipping my tour guide the amount he would have been paid as a real guide in a major temple, I was only out about ¥900 ($8 or £6). My personal scam artist was pleasant fellow and I never felt unsafe. Also, the batik workshop was genuinely quite interesting.
Batik is made by dying cloth to make (traditionally) patterned fabric and more recently, art. To allow different coloured dyes to be used consecutively, the design is picked out in hot wax that protects part of the cloth from dye not destined for that section. The result can be made into clothing, or stretched out on a frame.
The small part of the Kraton that my scam ticket allowed access consisted of two large halls and a display of traditional costumes on terrifyingly white plastic manikins. According to my guide, the roof of one of the halls is the exact mid-point of Yogyukarta, sitting equidistant between the sea and Mount Merapi. Of course, the guy also told me he worked for the love in his heart, so take this trivia with a pinch of salt.
At the end of our tour, I was asked (repeatedly) where I wanted to go next. I (repeatedly) remained vague on the subject and was directed back to the city centre. I nodded, smiled and turned the opposite direction. Around the corner I found the true entrance to the Kraton, complete with clock and the sound of music drifting on the breeze.
Just inside this entrance, I was confronted with a grinning, goulish face decorating a wall. It totally knew I'd been scammed. And it laughed at my incompetetance.