Saturday, July 17, 2004

My Retirement Place

My Retirement Place

Another bomb exploded the other day in Bandung, on Jalan Braga. I'm quite familiar with the Jalan Braga area because it is near the old part of Bandung town center where I had spent many happy weekends wandering around. Jalan Braga used to be the upmarket shopping area for the Dutch during Bandung's golden years of the 1920s.

These days, it has become more of a red light district at night--with karaokes and pubs that are swarmed with Sundanese hookers. But during the day, Jalan Braga looks quite pleasant: one can still see haunted remnants of the old Dutch shops--spacious, ornate and echoey with history. One of my favourite is a bakery and ice-cream parlour where I could sit quietly for hours in a corner, sipping my coffee, reading my book and writing in my journal.

Walk down south along Jalan Braga, you will reach Jalan Asia Afrika. This road used to be called the Grote Postweg--the Great Postal Road--a thousand kilometer long highway constructed by the Dutch, stretching across the Java island from West to East. There are also at least three historical buildings in the area--Gedung Merdeka, Hotel Savoy-Homann and Grand Preanger Hotel. The two hotels are the grand dames of Bandung--Art Deco architectural masterpieces that hark back to grander times.

I wrote about all these places in my Sukarno article for a local publication last year. The thought of my nights in Hotel Preanger, typing out the piece fills me with a bit of sadness and nostalgia. It is a pity that Bandung has become a den these days for terrorists like Azhari.

Even though Bandung is a paradise lost with worsening pollution and gridlocked traffic during the weekends, I still like to think of it as my retirement place. I dream of that day when I could finally disappear from civilization--like Azhari--to retreat into some hidden abode somewhere in the cool highlands of Parahyangan...

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Techie Salesman

The Techie Salesman

After spending the last couple days burying my head deep in work, I finally have a chance to come up for a bit of air. I'm happy that my presentation went down well with the customer, but I still have a week of tough work ahead writing up my report.

I've written in a previous posting that a presentation is like a music video. People get bored very easily if they stare at a slide filled with words for more than 5 minutes. So I tend use lots of diagrams in my presentations, using animation to help me build my points. One must however not try to overdo the fancy stuff do, especially if it is a technical presentation. There are way too many cheap IT salesmen presenting "marketecture" diagrams (and they tend to all look the same, with a few vertical blocks sitting on top of a horizontal one).

On of the mistakes that technical folks do make when they are presenting to high-level management is that they tend to overload their presentation slides with too many details. They take great pains to point out the caveats and exceptions. Those things only water down your message. They belong to the appendix of your proposal. Always put yourself in your customer's shoes--what concerns them most? They have a problem--you provide the solution. The products you are trying to sell is purely incidental.

When you want to sell, you must always be aware of the key messages that you want to convey; and concentrate on delivering those key messages well. People go away from a presentation remembering only a few key points. There must be a climax in a presentation where the key messages are delivered. The beginning slides are for you to build your case and to heighten the interest of the audience (priming them for the kill) so that your messages come at the point of maximum impact.

One must also be careful not to be overtly flashy and polished. No one believes a slick salesman. The customer has to be won over by your sincerity and your desire to help him solve his problem. Pick your battles well: if you have 3 products to sell, don't try to force everything down their throats at once. Win their confidence over by telling them that they don't need product 1 and 2 (because they are untested and maybe the competitor has better products); what they need is product 3 because it is perfect for their environment (actually that's the expensive one which you want the customer to buy).

You must of course do your homework--understand the customer's environment well. You must know their environment equally well, if not better than an employee working in the company. You must show empathy for the customer's plight. Give specific examples. Find out what are the important buttons to push.

Never underestimate the customer's knowledge and intelligence. The customer is bombarded by so many vendors coming to preach them on the new world of computing, the convergence of entertainment, telecommunications and IT. People get terribly sick listening to those same things over and over again. Differentiate yourself by showing a willingness to empathise, rather than to preach.

You are there to help them and to handhold them and to make them do their job better so that they look good to their bosses. That's all the customer cares about. The rest is conversation.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

A Bit of Rica-Rica

A Bit of Rica-Rica

After two weeks in Jakarta, I still haven't gone to Kota yet--my usual meeting place with Gunawan. But I did meet up with my old friend the other day at the hotel lounge where we had a couple of beers.

I spent some time catching up on his latest love affairs. He told me he has been going out with a Manado girl lately. Gunawan's taste in women does not surprise me. Manado girls are supposed to be blessed with fair-skin and a good complexion; and they are also reputed to have a talent for dancing. If you go to any karaoke in Kota, it is very likely that you will find their striptease dancers to be from Manado.

Another friend of mind who married a Manado girl (a ballet dancer!) tells me that Manado people are very clannish. Kind of reminds me of the Filipinos. Families and extended families like to get together in huge gatherings. The graceful communal poco-poco dance, which was quite a craze in Indonesia a couple of years back, also originated from Manado. If you go to any of their weddings, you can see the young and old sportingly participating in the poco-poco.

It is not surprising that the Manado people are more like the Filipinos than the Javanese--being located on the northern end of Sulawesi, they are also probably geographically closer to the Philippines islands. And unlike the reclusive and mystically-inclined Javanese, the Manadonese know how to have a good party.

Lately all work and no play is making me a very dull boy indeed. Maybe like my friend Gunawan, I should also start looking for a Manado girlfriend to put back some rica-rica in my life :-)

Monday, July 12, 2004

Talking Movies

Talking Movies

Read in Kompas today that the actress Rachel Maryam is tying the knot soon. This Bandung lass first shot into prominence in Riri Riza's experimental movie, Eliana, Eliana. I loved the movie so much that I watched it three times in the cinema two years ago. Am a bit disappointed that it is not released on DVD or VCD; looks like it's never going to be.

The picture and sound quality of the movie is poor because it was shot with a digital video camera. But this simple story of a mother and daughter's reconciliation over 24 hours in Jakarta enthralled me with its Wong Kar Wai-esque touches.

Certain movies touch you so much that they stay with you throughout your life. I can list all the Wong Kar Wai movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Bounty (the one starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins), Blade Runner, Wall Street, Dangerous Liaisons, Casablanca, The English Patient and Out of Africa as among my personal favourites. I try to watch them at least once a year. Is there a common theme across all these movies? I can think of only one: they all have very good soundtrack music.

I must also mention The Year of Living Dangerously. It is not exactly a masterpiece but it is also one of my favourites for obvious reasons. Not forgetting the Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige movies and those wonderful movies by Iranian directors.

I have missed many of the hottest movies for the past year or so. Maybe I'm a bit tired of the standard Hollywood fare with big special effects. Used to like horror movies too but now I seem to avoid them like a plague.

Most of my friends in Jakarta watch more movies than I do because of the abundance of cheap bootleg DVDs. I always prefer the big screen if I can help it. Watching a movie on TV kind of ruins the experience. Usually people are only interested in the storyline of a movie--I am not. I like to bask in their cinematography and soundtrack.

Movies are not stories to me--they are just rivers of emotion, expressed in sound and images. Some seem to have the effect of haunting me all my life.

The Solitary Life

The Solitary (and Selfish) Life

Another quiet weekend in Jakarta spent working from my hotel room. When I was living in Singapore, I used to look forward to weekends as being time where real work could finally be done--without the distractions of meetings and conference calls. Thank God I am free from all that now.

In Jakarta, I look forward to weekends because I get a chance to be alone to indulge in my wide-ranging interests. I actually keep a long list in my PDA of possible activities that I could pursue--something which I only need to refer to whenever I feel like I have "nothing to do". Everytime I look at the list, I feel like I have wasted way too much time.

I suppose one can accuse me of being over-fond of living the solitary life, but I'm not at all bothered. You see, a solitary life doesn't mean a narrow life. Without the burden of having to spend "quality time" with your spouse or family, you get to diversify your interactions with the world--you get to meet a lot more people in the process. There's no "favouritism": the entire world becomes your family.

Isn't the solitary life a very selfish one? Perhaps. It depends on how you look at it. But then again--unless one has the soul of a Gandhi--tell me who isn't selfish? To quote Vivekananda, "In the end, even the love between husbands and wives is selfish".