Indonesia. Winston Aldworth

Shopping for bargains in Java

YOU'LL see batik cloth everywhere in Java.

To the unfamiliar eye, the local Indonesian shirts made of it bear some resemblance to the tapa clobber common in Auckland.

But batik is even more common as daywear on the streets of Indonesia. There's nothing quirky or kitschy about wearing these shirts and, in Jakarta, you'll see businessmen clad in batik.

Blokes in the office are as likely to wear batik with a nice pair of trousers as a plain suit. Equally, the wearer could be kicking back in the evening.

Batik has been recognised by the UN's cultural body, Unesco, as part of Indonesia's cultural heritage (to the chagrin of Malaysia, where they claim the shirt-making style as their own).

So they're sought-after commodities.

Haggling in the chaotic roadside markets is common and something of a trap for the uninitiated - Hallensteins this ain't.

After a briefing from my Indonesian friend, I had a go at haggling a souvenir T-shirt down from a couple of Kiwi bucks to a handful of Kiwi cents. My efforts were met immediately by uproarious laughter from the woman running the shop and her three pals. A couple of Kiwi bucks it'll be then.

But plenty of stores have fixed prices; significantly, these are the stores in which you'll see Indonesians buying their decent batik gear. On Jalan Ahmad Yani No9 St in Yogyakarta, a shop called Mirota is a relative sanctuary from haggling. It's still chaos, but a more tolerable form, akin perhaps to Farmers in the week before Christmas. Outside is bedlam.

Once you've found your fixed-price store, you can still find yourself spending a princely sum. But at least you'll do it with certainty. The top-of-the-range batik shirts are silk with a silk lining. Expect to shell out $400-plus for these. For that money, you get a serious object of beauty, worthy of a frame and a spot on your wall.

For something that would look more at home in a respectable wardrobe, $20-$30 goes a long way. Cheapskates can festoon relatives back home with batik gifts for a fiver.

The patterns are created using wax-resistant dyes.

In Yogyakarta, the shirts are often in subtle burnt tones with delicate patterns. Indigo, dark brown, and white represent the three major Hindu gods: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Wider stripes or wavy lines of width are meant to be worn by nobility.

A good spending model is to get yourself a couple of cheapies and spend heavily on one big-ticket item.

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