Saturday, February 21, 2004

The Security Guard, the Librarian and the Immigration Officer

The Security Guard, the Librarian and the Immigration Officer

The security guard at Masjid Istiqlal Jakarta--the largest mosque in South East Asia--was ultra-friendly to me when I was snapping pictures outside the place one weekend. I had no intention of going into the mosque as I was merely interested in taking pictures of the hawkers outside. It was a Sunday, and I knew all the tourist places were usually closed.

But he invited me in, opened the gates for me, and showed me the splendour of that magnificent place of worship. He explained the significance of its pillars and the intricacies of its carvings. As it was my first time inside a Muslim place of worship, I was enthralled.

At the end of the "tour", the security guard politely asked me for a tip. He reminded me also that he has a few other colleagues who were working that day--indicating indirectly to me that the 10K rupiah tip that I was pulling out from my wallet wasn't enough. I gave him 50K.

At the National Library, the librarians were very helpful: they offered to photocopy books for me at a cheaper rate than what the photocopy service at the library was offering. I took their offer.

Many of my customers in government departments have their own companies outside which deliver services back to their very own department. Everyone in Indonesia has some means of earning a side income.

As vendors, we are always pampering and spoiling the customers with gifts and other perks--this includes things like paying for their house renovations or upgrading the hi-fi system of their car. These are basic routine stuff that every sales rep has to fulfill. And we haven't come to the actual deal or project yet--you always have to cost in a cut for all the decision makers, and not forgetting the people in the procurement department.

On my last trip back from Jakarta, the immigration officer, knowing that I was leaving Jakarta for good, asked me for some "parting gift". I politely refused--simply because I was too embarassed to take out money from my wallet at the immigration counter (with people queueing up behind me) as if I was buying a ticket at the fun-fair. It didn't seem to bother them though.

Whether you are an immigration officer, a high-ranking government servant, a lowly security guard or a bookish librarian, everyone is entitled to earn some side-income. It is so commonplace that people feel that it is their birthright to do so. It has become part of the culture. Perhaps that is also part of the charm of Indonesia; but it is a side of Indonesia that I definitely will not miss.

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