Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Just When You Think You've Seen Everything...

Anyone who has spent as little as one day in Indonesia can see that safety is not really a priority. The best example of this is the way people drive. It is complete chaos. I've lost count of how many times I've seen people narrowly avoid death or injury. Many seem oblivious. The hazards can go way beyond the road but the road is always nearby.

It is amazing to see people walking beside (or sometimes in the middle of) a road. They barely blink when a motorbike narrowly misses them as it zooms by. It is also not uncommon to see someone (especially a child) run into the street without looking or to run into the street and then look to see if there is a vehicle approaching. News Flash: There is ALWAYS a vehicle approaching!

Years of observing and asking questions have led me to a few conclusions.....

First of all, there are so many vehicles and so few sidewalks that people are used to vehicles driving dangerously close to them as they walk down the street. I guess it's kind of like getting used to garbage smell if you live next to a dump.

Secondly, there seems to be more of a reactive than preventative approach when it comes to safety. This means that nothing is really considered unsafe until someone actually gets hurt. I've had a quite a few of these instances where I've tried to warn someone of impending danger only to be told that it isn't dangerous since they've never seen THAT happen before. My favorite instance of this was a toddler left unattended in a kitchen with a pot of boiling water directly above where he was playing. I made a fuss and the parent considered me to be a little bit strange.

Third: motorbike helmets are NOT for protecting your head. They are worn to avoid being pulled over by the police for not wearing a helmet. This leads having to pay a "fine". I've seen people turn onto a small road where there aren't any police and immediately pull over to take off their helmet. Ironically, I've seen way more accidents on small roads than on big ones. Sending an SMS while driving a motorbike also isn't dangerous.

Fourth: hard hats and shoes of any kind are not necessary at construction sites. One of my favorite memories is sitting in a taxi in front of a construction site. A guy from the 5th floor threw a bucket to the ground without even looking. Another guy, barefoot, was walking by on the ground. The bucket fell right in front of him. He stopped, looked up, smiled and waved at the guy on the 5th floor and carried on with his day.

Fast forward to this afternoon. I was sitting in a food stall enjoying an afternoon coffee. The woman who runs the food stall was in the corner cutting some vegetables. Her daughter, who was around 3 years old, was sitting next to her and had a knife of her own. It was a small but very sharp knife. At first, she was poking at a small onion in her other hand. How she avoided cutting herself is beyond me. Then, with her mother watching, she got up and started running around with the knife. Then she started swinging wildly at a cat in front of her. She was swinging so wildly that she almost cut herself a few times. Eventually, she swang too close to the cat's tail and it ran away. Then, she started throwing the knife on the ground and then picking it up by the blade.

I couldn't stand the thought of this little girl cutting herself so I left. The alternative would have been watching or having a very confusing conversation with her mother about the safety of knives. It would've been like the "Who's on first?" conversation......."That is dangerous, she could hurt herself!" "What do you mean, she plays with the knife all the time." "But she could cut herself very badly." "But she has never cut herself before?" "The knife is sharp, if she cuts herself, it could kill her." "But she didn't cut herself!"....... and on and on and on.

One more observation...

Knives, scissors, jagged metal or any other sharp metal object you can think of is NOT dangerous and no care is needed when handling them. This is especially true when walking with one of these items in your hand.

Just when I thought I've seen it all: A toddler playing stabby-stabby with a knife while mom proudly watches. As I'm writing this, it occurs to me that I have no idea what the Indonesian word for dangerous is. First thing I'm doing after finishing this blog is looking it up and memorizing it. Not that it will do me much good.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Army of One

As mentioned previously, I recently added a dog to my home. Choosing the breed of dog, among other things, took a lot of thought and planning. Having a dog in Jakarta (in my mind) can be somewhat unfair to the canine. Dogs can't really run freely, it is hard to take them for a walk unless you live in a complex. Humans can barely walk down the street without risking death. Parks or open areas are more of a concept than reality in Jakarta. It is often very hot, not good for the health of certain dogs. All of these factors made me decide on a Beagle. It is a medium sized dog who is adaptable to climate and will be healthy with moderate exercise. I've seen people have dogs such as golden labs who live in a small confined area or a husky living in the tropical heat. To me, this makes about as much sense as having a pet dolphin living in your backyard swimming pool.
The biggest implication of having a dog in Indonesia is the Muslim factor. Dogs are considered to be dirty and dangerous animals who are to be avoided at all cost in the Muslim religion. If any part of a dog touches a Muslim's body, they are supposed to immediately wash themselves thoroughly. Generations of this belief (and cautionary tales) have also led to many Indonesian Muslims believing that dogs are extremely dangerous animals who will attack and bite without provocation. The term anjing galak (vicious dog) is often the first thing that many Muslims say when a dog is present. Actually, calling somebody an anjing is a very big insult in Indonesia. The only worse insult (to the best of my knowledge) is to call someone a pig.

The irony of this is that Jakarta street dogs are the most docile creatures you've ever seen. They seem to care less if you approach them. They never really bark or show any signs of aggression. Most of their lives are spent quietly foraging through garbage bins. Where I come from, a wild dog is a VERY dangerous (often rabid) animal who is not to be approached under any circumstances.

The other thing I find odd is the diligence that Muslims show when it comes to not having contact with dogs. Like any other religion, some rules are adhered to more than others. I've known people who will openly break Muslim laws such as drinking alcohol, never praying, having pre-marital relations or showing a lot of skin in public. These same people will NEVER touch a dog or eat pork. I always envision these people dying and facing Muslim judgement day (very similar to the Catholic version) at the gates of heaven. The angel would be there checking the sins of one's life. The record would show that they never prayed, lied to others, stole and cheated, often took mind altering substances, cheated on their partners but never once touched a dog or ate even a single morsel of pig. Would that get them into heaven?
The only time I never get much attention in public is when I have my dog with me. People will point and shout "eeee anjing", cross the street to avoid contact and generally panic. I went jogging earlier this week and decided to take my puppy along for the first time. I had him on a leash and kept him very close to me when we passed by people. We came across a trio of very muscular Indonesian military guys who were jogging towards us in the opposite direction. They were wearing camouflage pants and tight shirts that highlighted their physique. They looked like guys you would not want to mess with. As we got close to crossing paths, 2 of them saw the dog, jumped and did a ballerina like tippy toe dance to avoid the dog. After I stopped laughing, I wondered what was going through their minds. Anybody who has ever seen a Beagle before would never describe them as scary. Did they think that this friendly cute looking dog was going to break his leash and mercilessly rip their faces apart for no reason? I honestly have no idea. The same person would not even blink if a gigantic rat ran in front of them.

The upside of this mindset is that no uninvited guest will ever come inside your house if there is a dog present. This is good as some simple minded people think that if you are an expat that you must be a millionaire and have a house filled with riches. I sometimes have to put the dog in his cage when certain friends or family members of my girl come over. They will stand outside and wait until the dog is securely in his cage. Then they will sheepishly enter and make sure to stay clear of the cage. I sometimes lose my patience after a couple of hours and tell them that they have to accept that this is the dog's house too and that it isn't fair to lock him in a cage all day long. Some agree and sit with their legs up on the couch and scream if the dog gets too close. Others leave and never come back.

You could fortify your house with razor wire on the gate and guards holding rifles but it wouldn't come close to invoking the kind of fear that a dog would. Hopefully, nobody will catch on to how harmless my puppy really is. Be careful, he might slobber on you a little or chew your shoe. In the meantime, I feel much more secure knowing I have my army of one on my side at all times.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

How Many Million Days?

Being the responsible adult that I am, I forgot to pay my internet bill last month. In Indonesia, if you miss a bill, they usually cut you off. If you don't pay your electricity bill by the 20th of the month they shut your power off by the 25th. This is exactly what happened to my Indosat M2 internet connection. In all fairness, I did pay it before the end of the month but I was still too late. My lame excuse is that they didn't send me an invoice last month. They emailed me invoices every month for over a year and then they suddenly stopped. Paying the bill is the easy part, the hard part is trying to get them to turn the internet back on.

On Tuesday, I tried calling the hotline number they have on their website. After playing trial and error with the "press 1 if you are a customer" "press 3 if you are wearing shoes", I finally found a way to get directly connected with an operator. Not so much, I was put on hold while waiting for an operator and after 5 minutes of soft rock and the voice telling me to continue to wait, the voice told me that they were too busy to help me and disconnected me. I tried 4 more times with the same result. Later in the day, I tried again. Finally, I got through. The operator was very friendly, a little too pleasant and polite since all of these pleasantries were costing me money as my cell phone credit was slowly depleting. After a few minutes of confusion, she told me that she was going to put me on hold to go check my file. She repeatedly requested that I don't hang up. Why would I hang up? It took me 5 tries just to get the operator on the line. 2 minutes later, the soft rock was interrupted by the dreaded beep beep beep telling me that my phone had run out of credit. Seconds later, against my will, my phone hung up.

Later that night, I decided to try to call them again on my house phone. The alternative was a very far drive to one of their outlets followed by a 1 hour wait in line. I tried the same path I had memorized to get through to an operator. This time, when I "pressed 3 for network coverage", there was the following message "IM2 is experiencing technical difficulties in.....DKI.......Jakarta and......................Bali........This problem should be fixed in..................twenty-one......million.....six hundred.....thirty-four......thousand and.....seventy.....five.....................days.......thank you for your patience." I laughed so hard that I had to hang up and listen again to make sure I wasn't crazy. Same message. I called again and made my better half listen since I knew she wouldn't believe me. Perfect, all I had to do was wait 59 271 years and my internet connection would be restored.

After I stopped laughing, I tried again, this time successfully getting through to an operator. We went through the same scenario as last time. After putting me on hold twice for more than 5 minutes each time, he told me what I already knew; my account had been blocked since I hadn't paid my bill. I explained to him that I had indeed paid my bill on the previous Friday (4 days earlier) and that the reason I was late in paying was that they had forgotten to send me an invoice. He asked me if I had provided them with evidence that I had paid my bill. Evidence? "Yes, you must fax evidence you pay bill, mister" he replied. I told him that I didn't have a fax machine in my house (who does?) and asked if I could instead email the e-banking transaction. He told me that this was not possible and that it must be a fax. I asked him how many days it took to process payments from the bank and he said 2 days. I told him that it had been 4 days since I paid the bill. He once again asked me for evidence. I decided to turn it back on him. I explained that they didn't send me an invoice and I still managed to pay my bill (3 days late) and despite that, they needed evidence that I had paid my bill. I started thinking like Seinfeld and asked him if he could fax me evidence to prove that they had sent me an invoice. He took me seriously and said that they couldn't since I didn't have a fax machine. I kept persisting that in this day and age, it was absolutely ridiculous that I was going to have to go an internet cafe, get my bill printed and then fax it to their accounts department and then call another 5 time to get an operator to go through a pile of papers trying to find my "evidence". He told me to wait and not to hang up when he put me on hold. So I waited and waited and waited.

More than 10 minutes later, he had a solution. They were going to un-block my account for 2 hours so that I could go online and email them the evidence that would prove that I had paid my bill. I agreed and went online to email them my evidence. An hour later, another guy from Indosat called me to inform me that they had unblocked my account. He asked when I planned to send my evidence. I informed him that I had sent the evidence via email 45 minutes ago. This really confused him. He put me on hold for a couple of minutes. Finally, he came back and asked me if I was sure that I had emailed the evidence. I insisted that I had. He said that my internet should be back on by the next morning even though, at that moment, he had no evidence. He asked if there was anything else that he could do for me. I requested 2 things 1) Please send me evidence to confirm that you have received my evidence that I have paid my bill 2) Please send me an invoice every month. He asked why I hadn't received my invoice. I replied that I didn't know. He asked if I had changed my email address. I hadn't. He said that I must have done something wrong in order to not receive my invoice. At this point, I was tired of talking on the phone. I agreed that I must have done something wrong and apologized (for hacking into their billing system perhaps?) and told him that I didn't require any further assistance.

The only good thing to come out of this is that i found out that the monthly price for my internet package had dropped by almost Rp. 20 000. I'm hoping that they provide me with evidence to show that I overpaid on my last bill and that they owe me Rp. 20 000. If they don't, I'll survive I guess. After all, paying an extra Rp. 20 000 is worth not having to wait nearly 60 000 years to get my connection restored.