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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 23, 2005


Learning to deal in Indonesia

By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Columnist

Neither terrorists nor tsunamis can discourage Bob Short and Gary Corwin from making deals for teak furniture, stone carving, primitive masks and handwoven cloth in Indonesia where bombs and earthquakes make headlines.

Short is going back in a few days to pick up more exotic merchandise for the Bamboo Barn on Ward Avenue at Kawaiaha'o Street.

"After 9/11 we were very worried because many of the people we deal with are Muslims," said Corwin. "But it doesn't matter where you are in the world — business never stops. As businessmen, we have to make the best of it." He said 10 percent of gross proceeds during January will be donated to the tsunami relief fund.

Corwin was in Bali about 5 1/2 miles from the bombs that went off in a nightclub on Oct. 12, 2002. "I felt and heard both bombs," he said.

"We've heard some horror stories from friends who have gone to Indonesia on buying trips. One of them was robbed in a transport (small bus)." Short said another friend withdrew some money from a bank, unaware that the teller allegedly tipped off his friend outside on a motorcycle.

The American drove out of the city with the motorcycle on his tail. At a lonely spot on the road, the victim was ambushed and robbed.

The worst that has happened to Short and Corwin is leaving a camera in a car and having thieves steal it by breaking the lock with a screwdriver. They said they get strange looks in Muslim Java but have never been threatened although they travel by rail and bus.

Both said they are more concerned about conforming to the local customs so they can buy products at the right price.

"There's a morning price, an Indonesian price, a business price, a tourist price, a start-of-the-week price and a local price," said Short. "It takes a long time to get to the real price. You can't hurry. You have to sit and drink coffee while you bargain for each item one at a time. Otherwise you'll pay too much."

The partners have done business with Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Chinese who don't profess any of these religions.

Short said he checks the merchandise he purchases when it's loaded into a truck because dealers may substitute a shoddy piece for the one in the showroom if they can get away with it. Corwin and Short employ an interpreter who arranges their itinerary for a modest fee and receives a percentage of each purchase from the native manufacturer.

All the items are handmade because electric tools are too expensive. Carving usually comes from villages and each village does only one type of carving. "If you want a porpoise carving, you go to a certain village," said Short. "If you ask them to make a carved door, they'll tell you to go to another village."