Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred of Years of Solitude always comes to mind whenever I’m faced with absolutely surreal events that completely defy logic. In Singapore, many years ago, I was nonplussed at the waiter’s explanation of why he couldn’t move another table to accommodate late comers to a gathering I was at. His reason was that the table we wanted moved belonged to section A, and we were in section B. There was no point in talking with him because he remained adamant in his decision. Never mind that our group was quite a big one running up a huge bill. Never mind that he missed the point of what a gathering was – how can you segregate people in a gathering when the whole point is to come together? And to make it more tragic was the smug look on his face that seemed to taunt us of his empty victory.
A friend of mine also had her share of surreal moments when she was still in the teaching field. One incident she couldn’t forget was the utter lack of common sense in this student who, otherwise, was courteous, diligent and well-mannered. She – my friend – was in the office waiting to use the photocopier when she saw the student. He was about to leave the office and his hands were full. He was holding a guitar case with his left hand and a bag with his right. What she saw next flabbergasted her. The young man proceeded to walk towards the door and just stood there for a couple of minutes, things in hand, wondering how he’d open the door while holding his things. Luckily for the young man, another person was coming in and gladly opened the door for him. To this day, she wondered what he would have done if no body, at that point, came through the door. She would, of course, have helped but would dove tail it with a dressing-down for his failure to use his head.
Recently, I went through a spate of surrealist episodes (magic realist moments in Marquez parlance) that left me wondering if what I learned in school really mattered in the real world. Somehow all the talk about rational thinking, hospitality, among others, are merely for convention’s sake, and don’t have any deeper meaning to them at all.
The first was when I was checking-in for my flight back to Indonesia from Singapore. The time of departure was delayed by about 40 minutes.
“It’s not delayed Ma’am,” said the cabin crew matter-of-factly when I asked her for the reason for the delay. “The departure time was re-timed, which is normal for AirAsia. It’s done every six months and we’re now following the winter flight schedule. You should have been informed via e-mail or SMS.”
Nice euphemism for delayed flight – re-timed flight. Luckily, she explained everything with a smile or she wouldn’t have anything to smile about after my little chat with her.
Back in Indonesia, there is much to be desired about the level of customer service (and they say customer service in Singapore is atrocious!). In a branch of Pizza Hut in Bekasi, at Metropolitan Mall, enquiring about why your order of, in my case, fish and chips is taking so long will get you an infuriating reply of “I don’t know.” To make the situation worse, your order arrives not piping hot, but cold. Moreover, they bill you wrongly and it takes forever for the mistake to be rectified.
In another restaurant, the noodle-rice place Baso Malang Karapitan, which is also at Metropolitan Mall, gives you the feeling that you’re not a trustworthy customer so you have to pay upfront after ordering. When the waitress was done taking our orders, she simply demanded – it felt like a demand – that we pay without delay. Hospitality has certainly been reworked in this restaurant – and it’s not even a fast food joint.
Ordering McFlurry at McDonald’s is another unreal experience. It seems that the McFlurry machine – that blender-like machine – is just for display. Order a McFlurry and you’ll get a chocolate sundae in a McFlurry cup topped with nuts and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The attendant seemed surprised when I pointed out that he didn’t use the machine.
“Ah, you want it blended?” he asked, quite surprised at my statement.
“Yes, that’s the whole point of a McFlurry, isn’t it?” I answered back.
He smiled sheepishly and got to work in making the proper McFlurry.
An experience in at Gokkokan Teppanyaki at Mega Bekasi Hypermark, which is parallel to Metropolitan Mall, possibly takes the cake in bizarre dining experiences. Unless the rules of eating tempura have changed, ebi tempura is usually served with tempura sauce. Apparently, it’s different in Bekasi where they’ve rewritten the rules of enjoying Japanese cuisine. Tempura sauce is unheard of! I asked the manager of the restaurant – I didn’t trust the server who looked like he hadn’t a clue about Japanese cuisine – who was equally oblivious. He just pointed to the bottles of tomato and chili sauces sitting on the table and walked away.
Weird, annoying and frustrating as the episodes might seem, they provide a sense of comic relief and equilibrium to life’s vicissitudes. They also serve to remind everyone to be a little more flexible, a little more forgiving and a little more open to differences in circumstance no matter how exasperating they maybe. Naturally, the flip side of the situation is, while one is accepting, one shouldn’t lose sight of what’s right and the rationality of a situation. After all, pardon the cliché, life is one delicate balancing act.