I’m having difficulties with noughts. Four countries, four currencies, four months, four billion noughts between them all.
I thought I had it sorted. 1000 rupees roughly 14 quid, 1 Singapore dollar roughly 50p, 10,000 rupiah roughly a dollar (for some reason I switch to dollars in Indonesia). Then we got to Malaysia and it all fell apart.
It’s 2am and we’re just off a bus in KL and in a cab headed to our hotel. We stop at an ATM en route as we are currencyless.
‘How much do I get?’ John says.
‘Er, I think the exchange rate is 70ringitts…is it ringitts? I can’t remember. So er, get maybe twenty thousand or something.’
John slams the door and runs off leaving me with a taxi driver who seems intent on asking me a lot of cash based questions.
‘How much is your hotel?’
‘How much was your flight?’
‘How much was your…’
I cut him off before he can ask me how much I weigh or how much I earn (precisely no zeros in either answer). I’m wondering if this is how all Malays start conversations and I’m feeling weary already.
After about twenty minutes John returns to the taxi. He looks confused.
‘I don’t think I’ve got enough for the taxi.’
‘Why how much did you get?’
‘I only got 500.’
I do a quick calculation. ‘That’s about 8 quid. That’s not going to be enough.’ I frown at him. What does he think the zero button is for? If you want something done…
‘I tried three times,’ he counters, ‘it refused.’
Huh, I wonder. ‘There is maybe, perhaps, possibly a chance that I have the exchange rate wrong.’
The taxi driver has fallen very quiet.
Once we get to the hotel I check the rate. Turns out it’s 4.8 ringitts to the pound.
Barclays text us at 3am. Apparently someone has tried to commit fraud on John’s card. Some fool has tried to withdraw several thousand pounds from an ATM in KL.
But at least I now know why the taxi driver was asking me so many questions about how much our hotel cost and why he fell silent. I think he was weighing up whether he could get away with telling us it was three thousand ringitts for the two mile journey.