Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Four Things I Noticed Recently

1. Asking about something is the same as asking for something. This is more a problem for Lori, and it may be language mis-communication, but we have encountered on a number of occasions a problem with asking questions. For example, in a restaurant, Lori will ask about the vegetables in a particular dish, whether there are a lot of vegetables, how much garlic is used, and the waitress will promptly write down the order. Lori will contact a hotel to find out their rates for a date in the future and we will get a response confirming a room for that date. Lori continues to insist that she should be able to get information without having to make a commitment. I, on the other hand, have responded by only asking about things I already want. Which means that I rarely try, for example, food that I haven't already tried. Which makes sense to me since it seems irrational to try a new dish and risk not liking it when I can get a dish I know I like.

2. Businesses here are not customer oriented. We lost our internet connection recently and I knew what the problem was. We repeatedly called the company and were told that a technician would come. At one point we had a technician call us to say that he was coming the next day, but a week later, nothing. This went on for over two weeks, a delay that was very frustrating for Lori since she needs the internet for her work. Finally, an Indonesian woman who works on our compound had pity on us and took up our cause. After a few days of calling she managed to get someone to come to our house, and shortly thereafter, the problem was fixed. This is typical of most medium to large businesses here in Indonesia, which focus on the system rather than outcomes. The people we were calling insisted we would get someone to help us because they had made the necessary note to the necessary department. The fact that no one came for over two weeks was irrelevant. The proper procedures had been followed and so everything was working properly. Unfortunately, we are clueless when it comes to working the system so we don't have much luck with outcomes. This focus on the system is also true for the educational system, but that is a different post.

3. Electronics can be priced in either rupiah or US dollars. To get our internet working again, I had to buy a modem. When I went to the computer store, I had a choice between a variety of modems, some of which were priced in rupiah, some in dollars. The cheaper models were in rupiah, but the better models could be in either. But it wasn't simply a matter of price. Certainly the most expensive computers and gear were in dollars, but in the mid-range, a laptop, for example, could be priced in either. For the last few years, the rupiah has been relatively stable and yet there still would be goods priced in dollars. I can understand this given current conditions where the rupiah has weakened, but then it isn't consistent since not all the products are priced in dollars. And the rupiah price tag will change according to how the rupiah is trading. Most, perhaps all, of these goods are coming from outside Indonesia and yet only some of them have their costs pegged to the dollar. I don't understand this.

4. Javanese are very superstitious. A girl who eats in a doorway will have a hard time finding a man to marry her. It is okay to shower under rain pouring off a roof, but if you stand under the rain falling directly, you will get sick. Drinking the rain from the second rainfall of the rainy season will make you very healthy. Until recently, rice farmers would perform a ritual for the fertility goddess before planting and before harvesting. I also find it interesting how Islam in Java has lived comfortably alongside what often appears to be incompatible traditional beliefs. In my opinion, what we are encountering here is what we also saw in West Africa where religion is only a surface expression of much deeper traditional and cultural beliefs. Javanese Islam is, therefore, very different from Islam in the Arabian peninsula. This difference isn't a matter of one being corrupt and the other pure, but rather that Islamic beliefs and practices have taken on the character of the culture in which it is found. The same is, of course, true of Christianity.

Phil Enns

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