Out of Gas

The other day (Sunday) we went to the grocery store and bought a whole bunch of food for a couple of nice dinners this week.  We really broke the bank: $35!  We came home, put everything away, got all of our stuff prepared to make a coconut curry chicken dish, and then discovered that we were out of gas for our stove.

Let us explain.  In Indonesia, there is no system of gas pipelines like in the US.  Gas comes in a big metal canister, about two feet high, that you physically plug into your stovetop, directly to the burners.  We had just been using the canister that came with the apartment.  Unfortunately, there is no gauge or dial that tells you how much is left, so, irrationally, we behaved as if it were endless.  (This is the Julian Simon view, named after the environmental economist who argued that since we cannot physically count all of the natural resources like oil in the world, it must mean that there is no limit to them.)

OK, so here we are, out of gas.  First off, this was annoying, since we had spent an hour mashing up spices and hacking up a chicken, and had to get snacks from the convenience store for dinner.  Second, and more disturbingly, we had no idea what to do about it.  We didn’t know if you took it somewhere to get filled up, or if you traded it in like a grill’s gas canister in the US, or if someone came and filled it up for you, or what.  And, of course, it was in the middle of Idul Fitri, so no one was around to help us or tell us what to do.

The next morning, I (tp) wandered around looking to see if any of the offices at the apartment were open.  They were not.  However, I did manage to talk to a nice security guard.  He told me that he’d "send someone up," but then remembered that it was Idul Fitri and no one was around.  But, as I trudged off, he called me and pointed at a barefoot dude on a bicycle pedaling down the street.  The claim was that this guy would get me a canister and bring it up in 15 minutes.  Knowing that I very regularly do not actually understand what is going on in situations like this, I said OK, and went back upstairs.  Not seven minutes later came a knock on the door.  Sure enough, this guy had a new canister, and he even installed it for me and took away the old one (still with no shoes).  It is apparent now that this is actually how you get more gas in Indonesia–you find some dude on a bicycle whose job it is to distribute gas canisters, which they get from the state oil and natural gas company Pertamina.

As a final note, the whole cost for two months’ worth of gas in the new canister was $4.50.  Thank you, market-distorting government subsidies on fundamental household goods!

Comments 3

  1. Sandy November 17, 2004

    Hmmm… Guy on bicycle delivers 40lb of propane for $4.50. Sounds like a good deal to me! How long do you suppose it might be before you really understand how things work in Indonesia?

  2. Tom and Julie November 18, 2004

    You mean, how long until we give up actually expecting to understand how things work? Probably soon.
    The problem, of course, is the unknown unknowns. We had no idea that we didn’t know how to get more gas until the problem arose. Who knows what other situations we might find ourselves in?

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