Half way through a seminar on communication, I wondered what the speaker’s main argument was about communication between parents with their children and teachers with their students given their diversities in terms of religion, social classes, political beliefs etc. She mentioned, at one point, that teachers were in control in the classroom but that what goes beyond the classroom was beyond their control – something like force majeure. Then she went on to explain that parents, on the other hand, when they communicate with their children only remember their slips and blunders, but never, say, their good scholastic achievements. Meanwhile, the second speaker spoke on the power of negative language, which, I think, typing up the loose threads of the thesis statement of the seminar, invokes certain responses from people. Picking up snatches of her lecture with the help of the first speaker who translated bits and pieces of it in English, speaker number two gave five situations where the power of negativity spurred students to follow teachers. They are

• Conforming through the reward-punishment system

• Conforming through fear

• Conforming by thinking that teachers know better than they do

• Conforming because of a feeling of hopelessness

• Consistency

Like the first speaker, I wondered what her main argument was. Are the five situations good responses from the students? Or are they to be deconstructed? I never found out because the English translation of that part of her lecture never ensued. I – actually all of the teachers – found out her marital status. She’s single. [Aside: It’s an Indonesian thing to ask and announce one’s marital status. I talked about that in my earlier blog post “It’s a Cultural Thing”.]

I’ve always looked forward to seminars and conferences, encouraged by the thought I’d be walking away with new nuggets of wisdom, a widening of knowledge of the world from another viewpoint. It’s exasperating when I’m besieged by thoughts of reading, going for a foot reflexology and what to have for lunch and dinner almost halfway through the talk. I could have gotten up and left, but I didn’t want to be impolite.


Politeness is a strong trait of the Indonesians, which I’ve observed and have been told countless of times by people. So it’s truly a very disconcerting dilemma when I’m confronted by insolence. Shall I put that inconsequential person in her shoes and give her an earful? Or do I follow the dictates of being a guest of Indonesia? My friend made the decision for me and filliped her verbally a wee bit, which, thankfully, silenced her moronic babbling.

It happened one late afternoon at our regular DVD store at CyberPark shopping center. I was looking for a DVD of Troy; the owner of the store told me to come back after a week when the stocks would have come in by then. After handing me the DVD, she started talking in Bahasa Indonesia, which my scanty knowledge of the language couldn’t decipher. Sadly for her, my friend understood every word. Apparently, as translated to me, she was asking why we three were there; why we didn’t speak in Bahasa Indonesia; why were we always buying DVDs and why was I wanting to buy a DVD of Troy, which she pointed out condescendingly, couldn’t be understood by my students since it was in English.

“We are not Indonesians,” said my friend in an uncharacteristic low and serious tone. “We buy DVDs because we like to buy them. She’s an English teacher and her students will understand Troy because they understand English and they’re smart kids.”

She was quiet but her face belied a look of irritation. Petulant child was what came to mind and petulance and impudence in my book negate the ethics of being a guest in a foreign country. The next time I come I know better than to be polite.


Walking barefoot is something I’ve never been comfortable with unless I’m on some beach in Bali. After all, the sand is as closest as one can get to natural exfoliation. The other one is when I’m practicing yoga. Naturally, I wear boots and heels to work; flats, trainers or sneakers on the weekends; and slippers inside the house. The practice of removing shoes when visiting friends and relatives is not widely observed in the Philippines unlike in Singapore. We simply wipe our shoes on the mat outside the house before entering. In Singapore, you literally leave your shoes at the entrance and walk around the house barefoot, a custom never grew on me because the floors are cold but, out of politeness, I followed the rules.

In Indonesia, shoes are left at the open shoe cabinet when you’re entering the library and when you’re entering the meeting room. However, shoes are worn at all times in all other places of the school. I learnt that it’s less a custom than the library and the meeting room being carpeted. Still, out of politeness, I follow the rules.

However, it’s the reverse with students when they enter my classroom (am not sure if they do it in other classes and are allowed to do it). My reactions have vacillated between annoyance and astonishment and back, but never tolerance of such coarse behavior. Some don’t wear their shoes properly, slipping them on like regular flip flops even though they’re trainers. They proceed to take them off in class, cooling their socked feet under their deskswith the air conditioner.  They seem annoyed at being told to wear their shoes; they slip them on for show and then take them off again when they think I’m not looking.

In my book of civility, your shoes remain on your feet unless you’re in your own home.


Wet markets are not lacking in Bekasi, Indonesia. The first one I normally frequented is as fragrant as any wet market, smelling of fish and brine. In this “new” market I explored one time, the air was redolent with putrid garbage yet no one was covering their noses. The vendors were not bothered by the smell and looked completely inured to the smell wafting through the night air. Luckily, it’s an outdoor night market and so the smell was dissipated with the occasional night breeze. Still, unlike the vendors, I was not far from pinching my nose to stay the disgusting odor. But, guided by the dictates of civility, I bore it until it was time to leave.

Being polite is really difficult work.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Hey, I found your blog in a new directory of blogs. I dont know how your blog came up, must have been a typo, anyway cool blog, I bookmarked you. 🙂


  2. I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean


  3. Awesome blog!

    I thought about starting my own blog too but I’m just too lazy so, I guess Ill just have to keep checking yours out.


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