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The Ugliest Beads

There they are, hanging on my wall. Well, taste is relative. There have been visitors to the Center for Bead Research who spotted them right away and said, "Oh, what nice beads!" But I don't think so.

It took me about 2 hours to buy them. It took that long for the young salesman to come down to my price. The scene was Jalan Surabaya (Surabaya Street) in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. It has dozens of stalls selling antiques or things presented as antiques.
They have plenty of beads.

I wanted them because I had never seen them before. The salesman immediately told me they were old, made of stone and came from Kalimantan, the Indonesian side of Borneo. Geographically, it is a patchwork of mountains, jungle and rivers, difficult to traverse.
The native people live in longhouses that stretch along the river banks and hold a dozen or so families.

Tourists are supposed to go crazy for anything that comes from this mysterious land.

I might have been a tourist, but I knew something about beads. That these ugly ones come from Kalimantan is true. They are made in Central Kalimantan, though I have no more information about them yet.

That they are stone is ridiculous. Their cores seem to be bonded sawdust and their surfaces melted polyethene plastic. That they are old is obviously also absurd.

So, why did it take me so long to get these treasures of an enigmatic far-away island?
It was simply a matter of cost. I laughed at the original $15 asking bid. I left the shop and the kid followed me down the street. Every once in a while his price would drop one or two thousand rupiah (then about 2000 to the dollar).

At the end I was told he would have to clear the price with his "father." It was a great show on his part, and I was pleased with my $3.00 "world's ugliest" necklace.

That's bargaining in the Orient.

For information on heirloom beads in Indonesia, order:
Heirlooms of the Hills: Southeast Asia


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