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. 


Jessica said...

Hi Leanne,

I hope I won't bother you with a request. I'm planning a trip overseas (I live in South Carolina now) and have more questions than I can seem to find answers to! I read some of your other blog from when you were in Ghana and thought you might be able to help me. If you don't mind me picking your brain a little, please email me at lewis.jo@comcast.net. I would certainly appreciate it! Thank you!


Teresa said...

A substantive morsel to whet the appetite of someone who may well never leave the Eastern seaboard! I adored the wedding headdress and the ceiling artwork. Yet, in spite of your eloquent narration and enticing photos, I can’t help but ask how “WTF” would look in Indonesian! (What can I say…my brain just tip-toes to the beat of a different pan pipe!)