October 18, 2010

Cultural Orientation Day Two

Welcome to Day Two of our orientation!  

This day was a little more interactive, thank heaven.  This is the official logo of the Miniature Indonesia park...

...and in the park itself is where we spent our morning.  Our hosts thoughtfully started the tour at 8 to give us the best chance of not melting into large puddles of expatriate sweat as we moved from place to place and stood in whatever shade we could find to listen to our guides.  

We were moved around in small 9 passenger open trams.  These were built like our current home, i.e. for much smaller people, and once again I offer my scale model to show the difficulty we had folding our tall selves into the space provided...

I am sitting at the same angle, shooting the picture, while our even taller friend Liu with PetroChina sat to my right in the same pickle, facing the opposite direction.  Our tram bristled with poking out knees and dangling legs. 

In fairness, we later learned that in some of the trams, if you grabbed the front three seats, there was sufficient leg room behind the driver and guide to actually sit normally.  

And we did, leaving our shorter compatriots to fight it out in the munchkin seats.  

Anyway, the tour.  Here are some samples of the architecture we toured...

Traditional Sumatran home

Traditional Papua home in village

Java (Bali).  I think. 

Rice house.

This rice house is cool- the rice is kept in there and as you can see there is no entrance or stair way. If you belong and want in, you will know the 'password' to send the ladder down to you.  Otherwise it will be hard to steal this person's rice.  Ha!

We also toured a museum that contained mostly exhibits of foreign dignitaries' visits and/or things that showed what a great and humble man Suharto was, at least according to Suharto.  Even the guides kept saying, the park is wonderful- just don't think about who started it.  :-)

By this time we were all pretty hot, sweaty and wilted, so we were whisked back to the pavilion for another presentation by BPMIGAS that covered their business position (basically "give us your knowledge then go home"- a common theme among developing nations with oil and gas reserves).  


I don't have to deal with it everyday like Ted and it just rolls off his back.  Indonesia is like so many places we have lived and visited- the governments are kind of dorky and the people are terrific.  

I'll stick with the people.  

Lunch on Day Two was just as yummy, and our table mates were two Malaysian men who were pretty darned funny and gave us great insight into the rivalry between Indonesia and Malaysia.  There is a lot of playful and not so playful animosity between the two countries, very much like state rivalries we have in the U.S. - lots of back and forth about who invented what and who has the best "-----" (you name it).  

Our lunch pals were not terribly impressed with our hosts and even went so far as to claim that Malay batiks are superior.  When I asked one of them if his shirt was an example of Malay batik he said,  "No! This is inferior Indonesia batik.  But when you are in Rome, you must be Roman, yes?"

Cracked us up.  

After lunch, we got a chance to hear the brother of Dr. Agoes, Dr. H. Arief Rachman, on the subject of Indonesian culture.  

He laid out for us, in many ways, how Indonesians see and react to the world, and did it in a very engaging and funny manner, even when he was touching briefly on his 17 arrests for dissenting with certain unpopular governments (if you have been paying attention, you can fill in your own presidential name here).  

He has a high giggling laugh and absolutely no self consciousness at all and he had us all practicing Balinese meditation, learning Sumatran songs, and working on our Bahasa Indonesia pronunciation.  

We got a lot of good and useful information about Indonesian Muslims and we will continue to learn about them throughout our life here, I think.  Knowledge trumps fear every time.  

Dr. Rachman was followed by a brother and sister from Bali whose parents have spent a lifetime learning, teaching and expanding Balinese dancing- you will probably recognize the style from the following picture-

That's Dewi (day-wee).  And she was spectacular. There is a lot involved in the movements and like any dance form once the nuances are explained it becomes so much more fun. Dewi runs a graphic design firm in Bali, but does this whenever she can... her love for the history and dance is so obvious. 

This is Dewi and her brother Marlowe giving some history and instruction before we followed them into the museum where they had laid out pads and oriental rugs for us all to go and do a Kecak dance with them, chanting and dancing with our hands in a circle on the floor.  

It was a hoot.  

The final part of the orientation, was our initiation into the joys of playing the Angklung (ahng- kloong).  They are bamboo instruments, each one tuned to play a single note and then played by a group (think carillon choir).  When we returned from the Kecak, each of our seats had an angklung on it, with a number sticker.  

Each number corresponded to a single note and our director taught us to play them (hold tight by the center with the left hand, shake rapidly in a side to side motion with your right), and then gave us hand signals that corresponded to each number/note while we played Beethoven and the Beatles.  

Then she dropped a screen sized piece of sheet music and we played Queen's "We are the Champions".  

We rocked.  

Our angklungs were given to us as gifts, and incredibly there were people there who didn't want theirs- (don't ask me... how could you pass that up???), so we now have three because I accepted one of the orphaned angklung.  Ted says I just took it, but I prefer to think of things left behind as "offered". 

Here's the original two...

That was the finale of our two day orientation, 80% fun and interesting, 20% boring, so all in all pretty darned successful.  As a parting gift we were given a small bag with two kinds of batik fabric.  Very nice.

It had started raining during the Balinese dance, and in addition to the thunder and lightning, the rain was pretty heavy and constant and on the museum roof were gargoyles that acted as rainspouts.  So as your parting shot for our two days at TMII here is a long shot and a close up of the coolest rain spouts ever.

October 16, 2010

Cultural Orientation Day One

This week we spent two days in a cultural orientation put on by the Government agency in charge of Oil and Gas Production, BPMIGAS.  

It's a newish requirement for expat employees in Indonesia, part of the process for getting one's work permit renewed.  (one of the requirements is 40 hours of language lessons, which is a solid idea in my opinion, and our company actually pays for 80 hours!  But out of self-preservation I have managed to forget all the other requirements...)

Spouses were encouraged to attend, and I can't resist this stuff, so I tagged along.  

They did it up right- even our name tags were leather!  That's a first for me.   

The whole thing was conducted on the grounds of TMII (Taman Mini Indonesia Indah) which basically means Beautiful Park of Miniature Indonesia.  

Included in the park are representations of Indonesian life and Indonesian ethnic buildings (both homes and public places), plus a large water feature with the entire archipelago re-created to be viewed from the air in aerial cable cars that cross the park, and a large children's play area modeled on a Disney type castle, along with many official buildings and museums.  They have tried to capture as much of the diversity of Indonesia in one place as they can.  

The park was begun by President Suharto (you might want to read up on your Indonesian political history if that name doesn't set off red flags in your sub-conscious), and aside from the self-aggrandizing displays of his humble beginnings and tremendous accomplishments, he had a pretty good vision for the park. 

At this point it is a little threadbare and greatly underused, except apparently on Sundays.

So this is the what we saw when we got out of our car...

It is one of the museums- this one holding costumes, depictions of everyday life and a collection of arts and crafts practiced by the many different peoples of Indonesia

and once we entered the Seminar....

The moderator is the guy on the right, and the gentleman on the left gave us an overview of the Government's position on the Oil and Gas industry in general and expatriate involvement in specific.  He was very polite and tasked with being the messenger for a policy that is restrictive, just a little insulting ("Expatriates will be treated fairly, but not equally." - don't ask me!), and boring as hell.  

To add to the treat, the guy read every one of his slides.  Verbatim.

Good news is, it didn't last long....

...and I had this lovely ceiling to contemplate while he spoke...

 Not the best photos, since I had to snap them with the camera in my lap, but you get the idea.  Lots of teak, lots of carving.  Really pretty. 


Ted and I figured that a lot of the stuff we were hearing that made us go "WTF?" was due as much to language problems as anything.  Most of the slides contained simple, common mistakes that are made when moving from Bahasa Indonesia to Bahasa Ingriss (bahasa means language, Ingriss is English- see how smart you are getting?). 

Mistakes using plurals, gender pronouns, and the lack of articles are  all easy to mix up when moving between the two languages and judging from the laughs and hilarity I get when speaking Indonesian, I do my fair share of caveman speak.

When the differences in culture are added in, what you end up with is a multitude of small language gaffes in a succinct, direct slide show from a culture that is very UN-succinct, indirect and unsure of how to convey hard truths tactfully (remember this is Asia and 'face' is very important). 

No harm, no foul.  The wish to be polite and welcoming was evident and we took the presentation in the spirit that was [hopefully] intended.   

After the blah blah blah stuff, we got a shot at the museum pictured at the very beginning.  Here's a sample of the stuff we saw, inside and out:

Wedding Attire- Java
Wedding headdress- central Java

Balinese masks

Museum grounds

Note upside down stump...

Then it was time for a terrific lunch, with a mind boggling mix of cuisine designed to please the multi-cultural crowd (U.S., UK, Australia, China, Malaysia, France, Kuwait).  

It was very very nice, all served in an outdoor tent (think wedding reception) with a pair of Indonesians doing wood carving and fabric painting the whole time to demonstrate just two of the many indigenous crafts done in this country.  

After lunch it was time for the Intercultural expert, Dr. Irid Agoes who has a PhD. in Intercultural Studies - it was fun and humbling to watch an actual expert speak to the subjects I covered at work everyday in the U.S. in orientations for company employees headed overseas. 

She covered a lot of information on the differences between world cultures and Indonesian cultures and helped us see ways to bridge the gaps and not spend all our time accidentally insulting each other.  

Since these kind of orientations are voluntary in our company, often the people I saw at work were not the people I really needed to see, so this was an additional opportunity for everyone (including the folks from companies who aren't clear on the positive business sense in encouraging intercultural understanding) to get a better handle on how hard it can be to, for instance, have someone ask "How are you?" and continue walking when you come from a country where the answer to that question would customarily be waited for as part of a respectful [Indonesia] or time wasting [United States] morning conversation...

Anyway, Dr. Agoes was animated and engaging, funny and full of information about how to bridge the differences between the cultures, and hopefully made some things more understandable for all of us.  

Her bottom line was 'embrace the differences while maintaining your sense of humor', which has always been, reassuringly, my bottom line too, so hopefully I have been on the right track, both personally and professionally.  

On a side note, I want to mention that Dr. Agoes' sense of humor has been sorely tested- she attended graduate school in the U.S. and has a grown child living in New York, so frequently travels to there.  As a Muslim Indonesian woman, she is stopped and body searched every single time she enters the U.S.  She has renamed herself Mrs. Random, since the TSA people always tell her she was chosen 'at random'.  She has accepted the unfortunate reality and now cheerfully agrees to her 'special treatment' without letting it spoil her experience every time. 

She was our entire afternoon session, and a terrific way to end the day. I could spend days more with her, but I expect everyone who meets her feels that way. 

Next time, I'll give you the skinny on Day Two. 

October 11, 2010

Fun (Useless) Facts

There is a fast food chain in the U.S. that sells chicken.  It's not as ubiquitous as KFC or even Popeyes so some of you may not even have heard of it.  

But for whatever reason, since we've never eaten there, we know the restaurant  and we were puzzled when the logo popped up in Indonesia.  

It's the same logo, but a different name.  And we spent way too much time trying to figure out what restaurant it was whenever we passed the sign.  

Now it's your turn. Sorry for the photo quality, but it was taken from a moving car. 

If you have seen this logo, try to remember the name of the restaurant in the U.S.  (hint: we believe the name change has to do with a major cultural difference between the two countries)

(Play the thinking song from Final Jeopardy in your head while you ponder.)

Time is up!  

Here is the logo for the U.S. chain:

Ta da!  

We suppose they were trying not to alienate their Muslim customers.  Because really- would you rush into a restaurant called Mosque's Chicken?  Probably not.  :-)

October 4, 2010

Hansel and Gretel Go to the Mall

Indonesia is so diverse- ethnically, economically, culturally, just about every way you can think of.  In population it is fourth in the world after China, India and the USA, but it's only three times the size of Texas (albeit with 34,000 MILES of coastline).  There is poverty equal to what we saw in Africa and affluence that rivals any in the United States.  The infrastructure is functional, although the water is only good for external uses, the streets are in really good shape- yet the traffic crush makes them unimpressive. 

I tell you these things to give a little perspective and minimize the brain torque you will be getting often in these posts; e.g. from Bajajes on the streets to today's subject: Monster Luxury Malls.

Jakarta has 12 million people and at least twice that many major malls.  

At this point you need to adjust your thinking a little re: shopping mall.  I'm not talking about a sprawling suburban one or two story place with long arms.  Space is tight here in the capital and the malls are all vertical.  Usually 8 stories.  And no straight lines anywhere.  You can't see more than two or three stores ahead of you before the walls make a turn in some other direction.  The farthest you can see is straight up.  

Malls here contain everything from Gucci to Ace Hardware to grocery stores.  There are food courts and multi-plexes and miles and miles of escalators.  

You can get Gap tees next door to the YSL store and then pop down a floor and buy a dog bed from Woof!.  Conspicuous consumption does not begin to describe it. 

So last weekend, Ted and I decided to try a new mall (his office is practically on top of two in Senayan and there are three fairly close to our house...).  We had Ivan take us to Plaza Indonesia, close to Central Jakarta.  This is the directory- a book with a fold out page complete with map for each floor, and a separate directory just for food.  

After ten minutes of navigating the mall, Ted and I sat down on a bench, looked at each other, and admitted we were totally lost and unable to decipher the floor plan.  

We were hungry and we knew that a restaurant that sounded interesting was on L5, so we took escalators up five floors. 

This is not a "turn 180˚ and ride" kind of set up.  If you are lucky you can do two floors without having to wander around looking for a new escalator that goes up or down far from where you popped up on your current floor.  

Anyway, we got to L5 eventually, wandered like Hansel and Gretel (i.e. without bread crumbs) and tripped over the restaurant we were looking for.  

As we gratefully sat and stuffed ourselves with pancakes covered in chicken and mushrooms, we faced the fact that we were completely and utterly lost inside this mall.  

I can't explain the sheer size and volume of this place.  We took pictures straight up a couple of times because that is the only direction that gives any perspective at all.  

And any of you who know Ted know that if he is lost, there is no hope for the rest of us.  He is the poster boy for directional savants.  He always knows where he is, and he can arrange the layout of any new place in his head with very little effort or time.  

Well, Plaza Indonesia kicked his ass.  

The english major and the engineer were reduced to wandering aimlessly,  occasionally tripping over a store of interest, and hoping to eventually end up at the correct exit door so we could catch a ride home.  

But did we absorb the lesson of this humbling experience and cut our losses? 

We did not! 

We noticed, instead, that there was a different Monster Luxury Mall just across the (large, mult-lane, extremely busy) street from Plaza Indonesia!  It was called Grand Indonesia and we decided we had to see that one too.  

We exited the first MLM on foot which was no big deal until we passed through the throngs of people waiting for their drivers and walked across the five lanes of cars moving past the entrance (think of white zones in airports... constantly moving cars picking up and disgorging people while men in uniforms whistle and yell and wave their arms).  

Once that gauntlet was run, we just had to follow the zebra stripes on the pavement to the area where another uniformed man with a crossing guard stop sign about the size of my palm would help us and the other two pedestrians across the street.  

This doesn't mean he stops traffic so we can cross.  This means he walks into one lane and we follow.  When he can walk into the next lane without being run over he does, and we follow.  Repeat three more times and voila! we are across the street and just have to get through the pile of cars in front of the entrance to the new MLM.  

Now we are inside Grand Indonesia Mall.  It has two sides- East Mall and West Mall.  We wander east a little, start to get overwhelmed, do an about face and wander west.  We are completely lost and dizzy within just a few minutes and after a quick Haagen Daas break (don't pretend you wouldn't have done the same thing), we moved toward what we thought was an escalator, but turned out to be the entrance to a Toys R Us.  

As we walked from the front of the store to the back, we realized that without doing anything but walking forward, we would be switching from Toys R Us to Ace Hardware.  

Currently Ace is our favorite store in Jakarta because it has just about everything practical you need at home.  We joyfully entered the Grand Indonesia Ace Hardware and grabbed a basket to hold our Yankee Candles and window washing squeegee.  At one point Ted was talking to a guy about an impact drill (we will need one to hang anything on our cement walls once our stuff finally gets here from the States), and I wandered off a little to see what I could see.  

I got lost.  

The store was so huge, and so full of interior walls and alleys, I had no idea where I was.  So I backtracked using landmarks of things I knew I had already passed... toilet seats-check, ceiling fans-check, patio furniture-check, until I ended up back with Ted and the drills.  

Once he was done, he asked me how to get out of the store.  I shrugged, pointed in the general direction of the likely exit and we headed that way.  

Obviously, we made it out.  But just barely.  And we're still looking at that mall map trying to make sense of it.