Thu, 13 Apr 2000

Benefits gained in Indonesia

I have been fortunate to have worked in Indonesia on various industrial-related projects since 1973, following in the footsteps of my late father who came out here in the early 1960s to assist in the country's industrial development. During our time we both came to love Indonesia and became entranced by its charms and mysteries.

However, regardless of the fact that others may think that an expatriate lives the life of Riley, whoever he might be, he or she is usually engaged on a contract for a specific purpose. In order to perform to the high expectations of the paymasters, the expatriate must be focused, objective oriented, keeping a strict eye on time constraints and budget limitations. A troubleshooter is expected to get to grips with his tasks and tackle problems the moment he arrives, with very little time for niceties, let alone understanding the customs and courtesies of the Indonesian people.

During my early years here I was totally absorbed by the task in hand. The drive for objectivity, maximum efficiency and meeting goals at that time was far more important than the human element. No allowance was made for the differences in my culture and work ethic and that of my Indonesian coworkers and counterparts -- the national character and "Indonesian way" of conducting business was an enigma to me.

I always take pride in the fact that I leave a client satisfied as to my input and that the staff have acquired hands- on experience to undertake future troubleshooting tasks without my support. However, in retrospect, it is I who am the beneficiary from my current four-year assignment here.

During these past four years I have gained a fraction of an insight into the Javanese way of looking at problems and their way of coming to terms with them. I have learned to be patient with others and have come to understand their feelings, sensitivity and needs and the impact on those around me of overly direct impulsive speaking. I have even partly come to terms with lost moments and opportunities caused by "rubber time".

In their haste and push and shove toward attaining more and more material gain, those in the West could learn a lot from the Javanese way of life -- by treating others as they would like to be treated; to avoid confrontation at all costs and to respect others and the space around them; hence, essential attributes on such a crowded island as this.

My advice to expatriates who have recently arrived in Indonesia is to take time to understand the local customs and mannerisms of the Indonesians -- learn from them and above all be patient. With forethought, patience, understanding and sensitivity toward others, your time out here will be most enjoyable and rewarding.

Upon leaving Indonesia I shall be taking with me the most valuable thing of all which I acquired here. It is easily transportable and nontaxable -- the lessons learned on how to live and work with others and enjoy and respect them all.