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The Great Suckers

The infamous writer’s block attacks me more often than not. It’s sort of tough to get writing when one spends most of her time behind a computer. I actually have been pushing myself to expand my horizon a bit more by attending party invitations (it was hard for an anti-socialist like myself) as well as ringing current and old acquaintances.

“Hi Julie, how are you? This is Aida. Don’t you remember me? I included your name in an article I submitted to a national newspaper as the brainless two-faced female, remember?” The first effort at re-contacting an ‘old acquaintance’ failed miserably.

Then one day I wrote an email to a dear American friend of mine to ask for an advice on how to overcome this annoying blockage. She gave me a great idea.

“Regarding some ideas for writing, how about some "positive pieces" on what expatriates contribute to Indonesian society. I know one expatriate you can talk to who runs a social work program, or you can attend some of the social welfare committee meetings that the expatriate women hold to go through requests for funding - these people are awesome in what they accomplish for Indonesia. I get so tired of the common misperception that expatriates are here taking jobs from Indonesians and taking Indonesian money, when in fact the money is paid by the foreign companies (for the most part) and also the fact that these expatriates contribute jobs, money, and a large portion of their income back to the economy. Just a thought,” she wrote.

I say that it’s not so much about the jobs and the money. It’s about the knowledge, different ways of life and management and the most important thing is how expatriates analyse a problem or make a decision from a completely different perspective or angle than from how most Indonesians do.

And I believe, if most Indonesians are almost as clever as I am (duh), they can learn a lot from these imported executives. My friend refers to the phenomenon as the ‘little brown sponges’. The Indonesians (the smart ones) are like little brown sponges that are sitting in silence, but sucking everything in. The PC term for the sucking process is ‘technology or knowledge transfer’. But to me they’re simply the great suckers, and hopefully each has a state-of-the-art filtering system.

But why do some of those same expatriates also carry such a contrary image?

I was rather fresh from the University and I basically had to find a job because my father had kicked me out of his house. I knew exactly what I wanted. With my background and my passion for writing, I aimed for a public relations job working for a famous Indonesian tycoon. I was fortunate to get the job! I had no previous work experience and I didn’t have any clue as to how to write a company report properly; then suddenly I started receiving huge tasks to write all sorts of weird and wonderful company publications … you name it, company profile, press release, investor reports.

There was one expatriate consultant who was supposed to assist me in whatever I was doing. Brian was his name. A Kiwi in his mid-50s, he was badly burnt from his divorce. But oh, how he loved local girls. Wait – I have to tell you that I was already happily married at that time – as if Brian cared!

“Didn’t I tell you that she’s cute?” Brian said to his mate over lunch one day. There were three of us sitting in a hotel restaurant nearby our office. And there I was, sitting in silence in between the two gigantic blonde males, feeling like the cold piece of meat perched on the plate in front of me. My Indonesian heart told me to be patient, to bring down the boiling point of my anger and just smile sweetly. Blah!

To put it bluntly, Brian was the most sexist, chauvinist wank*r I had ever known in my entire life. I recall two specific repulsive incidents. The first was when we were the only occupants inside our office elevator. I was leaning against the wall, beside the elevator buttons, with both hands carrying a stack of documents. Suddenly he was moving toward me, and leaned his face very closely to mine. I jerked my body backward and almost gave him a deadly kick to his crotch – which was always my basic reflex.

“What the h*ll are you doing?” I asked. He just shrugged and mumbled something like that he was trying to push the elevator button or something. I already had pushed the button when we entered the elevator and we were going to the same floor. Hmmm.

The second incident was when we were sent by our company to check out a property on the island of Borneo. Of course, we had to stay in the same hotel. After dinner, we were in the same elevator (seems that an elevator move was his favoured MO), on our way up to our rooms. When I walked out from the elevator, he pretended to accidentally brush my behind. And that night when I was already in la-la land in my bedroom, he rang me at 12 o’clock and told me that he couldn’t sleep because he felt lonely! So what did he expect; something like: ‘O sure Brian, let me help you sleep. Do you think a dozen of these tiny sleeping pills will do?’

Brian was a jerk. That’s obvious. But why am I telling you this? Because, my dear readers, even though this particular white guy was a complete jerk, he possessed several positive qualities, believe it or not. He had a million times more PR experience than I did. And aren’t we talking about the positive aspects expatriates contribute to Indonesians anyway?

The little brown sponge was working on Brian. He gave me a hard time though. He threw my first report to him at my feet, full of corrections from his red marker.

“This is the crap you gave me. Do it again!” he said.

But I ended up learning so much from him. I learnt how to write almost decently, how to analyse problems from slightly different angles, how to relay the company’s policies and news to the public and other useful PR techniques. Most funny of all, the most practical knowledge I learnt from Brian was on how to manipulate situations to your own advantage and also on how to create ‘white lies’.

There are literally tens of thousands of expatriates in Indonesia. Unlike Brian, I’m sure that some of them are very nice people who are genuinely trying to help develop this country, without sexually harassing any local girls. And imagine if there is at least one brown sponge around each of those expatriates. That means millions of bits of knowledge are right now being transferred. These little brown sponges will eventually trickle the knowledge down to other Indonesians.

And if those expatriates are smart enough, they can also try to work their little white sponges on the Indonesians as they have much to learn from us too.

After all, now we live in a global world. Interactions between local workers and imported workers, whether they have positive or negative results, are required. Without these interactions or frictions, people tend to stop being creative innovative, or improving themselves. And for myself, without these interactions, I wouldn’t have ended up as a complete feminist b-tch. See how good their influences were?

Back to the annoying writer’s block! I would like to say thank you to the expatriate community. Your continuous efforts to un-block me, my writer’s obstacle that is, are much appreciated.