Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

Managing Staff In Indonesia

"Cathedra Toiletus Encephalopathy"

A scream rent the air.
Wayan quietly carried on clipping some hibiscus in the nether regions of the garden hoping against hope that the sound was only some cerebral aberration that had intruded itself into the serenity of his afternoon.
"Wayan" the voice came again "where are you you useless piece of bile laiden nasal excretia from the left nostril of a castrated camel?"
"An interesting phrase," thought Wayan abstractedly "why the left nostril?". Suddenly he was brought back once again to the reality of working for a woman who is a trifle difficult at times "she's obviously a little stressed again."
His mind wandered back to the time he had left the toilet seat up, the event that finally convinced him that this crazy woman had a somewhat tenuous grip on this earthly realm. She had turned purple and shaken with rage, he'd seen a dog dying with rabies which was nothing compared to cathedra toiletus encephalopathy (or mad seat disease). "I don't know about toilet seats" he thought "I've never even had one".
I suppose I'd better go and see what she wants".
"Coming Bu" he shouted back."

She spun around wildly.
"Don't creep up on me like that" she screamed.
"Wayan I told you to clip that hedge so it was level."
"It looks level to me Bu."
"Can't you understand even the simplest instruction I give you? Are you totally stupid? Do I have to do everything myself?"
'Which question would you like me to answer first?" he wanted to say but instead Wayan thought better of it and just smiled.
The unflappable nature of this man drove her totally bananas.
"That's not level with the top of the wall."
"Yes but you didn't say level with the top of the wall, the top of the wall slopes, you asked me to make it level and it is level."
"I meant level with the top of the wall but even so you didn't cut it level, it's curved down at the ends."
"It looks level to me Bu."
"You need to get your eyes tested if you think that's level."
"Perhaps it's your glasses Bu" he replied quietly "they make things look curved."
"Don't you start getting clever with me you intellectually challenged pile of……. she took off her glasses and looked at the hedge, then at the lenses of her glasses, a mumble escaped her lips, a pause……..
She regained her composure just enough to get her hysteria properly organised again i her brain so she could change the subject and frame some more words appropriate for the occasion.

"I give you a simple instruction and all you do is put on that gormless smile." She was not going to be deprived of her daily release and was starting to work herself up into a frenzy again.
"What is it about you people, why can't you understand simple English? Why is it that you take everything I say literally? Can't you read my mind?
- and will you stop smiling you stupid, stupid, stupid man"
"Yes Bu" he said quietly.
"Yes what?" she roared. "I've got high blood pressure and it's all your fault."
Wayan smiled back and a thought drifted aimlessly through his consciousness to have pity, after all this poor woman has to wake up with herself every single morning.

Wayan no longer works there, he quietly picked up his clippers and walked out one day never to return. The garden looks unkempt these days, an endless trail of gardeners has been to try to tender the plants but few have lasted long. The grass is kept short, however, with the constant stampings of a somewhat deranged woman. And as she storms about in her mumblings and rantings a dog barks, a couple of cocks crow and the birds whistle on in some far off corner of paradise….

This is the 100th Fixed Abode, a bit of a landmark I suppose, and over the past four years I have covered quite a number of topics everything from custard marble and furry water to the extinction of the Greater Spotted Bali Blue. I have even included some smatterings of technical information slipped in between the more meaningful stuff for those who wish to know really interesting things such as how to repair a leaking swimming pool with a piece of bakso.

On a number of occasions over the years I have come across a number of people who get themselves into all sorts of difficulty simply because of their approach.

The Bu above is, of course, a bit of a control freak and the idea, buried deep in her brain, that something in her world would not go according to a predetermined plan sets off the belief that the whole world is going to fall apart around her and chaos will take over.

For a control freak brought up in the predicable world of a western country the vagaries, unpredictability and daily adventure of living in Indonesia can be rather like getting caught in a glue trap.

But when a control freak, or indeed anyone with sufficient mind baggage sets about trying to maintain, renovate or even build a house the troubles really begin. Such projects can be very stressful at the best of times and many of us know some pretty laid back people who have found themselves in a living nightmare when things have started to go wrong.

The more serious cases can often be put down to some sort of confidence trick or even fraud which goes back to making sure the legal issues are properly tied up and monitored throughout the project. Contracts need to be well constructed and full specifications need to be clearly stated before work starts. This is a very full subject in itself.

On a more day to day basis, however, there are many reasons why ordinary people can become very frustrated. We have all seen this haven't we? We've also seen how people can react in the wrong way and make things worse for themselves.

A lot of problems start from having too high expectations. This is Bali in the middle of a development boom, most builders are constantly looking for workers and have to take what they can get. That man installing your fancy new bathroom today might have been a very experienced vendor of high quality DVDs yesterday. Bearing this in mind many builders do remarkably well but without master plasterers on every street corner or the use of plasterboard for walls we are never going to get those walls as flat as a billiard table now are we? Having said that there are some very skilled people who can do amazing things with virtually nothing and it pays to search out the real craftsmen if you can.

Workers here also do not have the extensive range of sophisticated materials, tools and equipment you get in Melbourne available to them. Even if we could get an automatic spigot inserter that building worker could never afford one, his tools will have been made in a backyard in Karangasem from an old car spring. Typical things you may have difficulty finding are black plastic for underfloor waterproof membranes, roofing felt, linseed oil putty (for glazing), many standard fittings for plastic pies and gutters, undercoat and wood primer for enamel paint, marine grade plywood, stainless steel that doesn't rust, bullet head nails, the list goes on.

How people react when faced with these challenges can very much determine the outcome. Many people have made Bali their home and over the years have learned to adapt to its culture and the ways of its people. They have also learned to understand that this is Bali and that the assumptions they were brought up with in some affluent Western country all too often don't apply here.

Certainly most people adapt readily but some struggle, even with their sanity, as they cling on to primitive mindsets brought from faraway places, primitive mindsets that have no relevance in the unique, and some would say, advanced culture of Bali.

An early lesson that foreigners learn here is that in the face of adversity it is important to stay calm and have patience. Getting angry and shouting at Indonesians simply doesn't work does it? Confrontation is against the local culture. They have a clever way of handling it - they totally ignore you - works every time. You are left screaming and jumping up and down while their day hasn't been disturbed. They will consider you ignorant and disrespectful and you achieve - absolutely nothing.

I came across a man who had a typical next door neighbour problem with the Balinese man next door. He couldn't help himself and reacted as he would back home, he was confrontational and challenged his neighbour. He ended up with a far more serious problem - he couldn't get into his house.

In difficult situations it is usually best to find a solution by doing things the Balinese way. Find a highly respected Balinese man to negotiate with respect and humility on your behalf. A lot of tongue biting may be required.

It is well to consider the way people here think and work.

Indonesians have the ability to live in the moment, an ability many western countries have lost. Some say it is because Indonesians have never had to think ahead and prepare for winter, what ever the reason is not important but what is important is to remember that forward planning in a project is often lacking (has anybody been watching the building of the new road to Klungkung?)

A positive side of this "living in the moment" is that Indonesian workers are plodders. I never cease to be amazed at how a local worker can set up a standard pace of work and keep it up all day long. If a truck arrives and dumps 5 tons of earth people from western countries are likely to step back and say "bloody hell that's a lot, it's going to take me all day" and then have a miserable time stopping every ten minutes to complain to themselves that it doesn't seem to be getting any smaller. Indonesians, on the other hand, don't seem to see the mountain, they just see earth to be moved, they start digging without complaint and just keep going until its done.

Understanding the concept of "cause and effect" is another thing that is often lacking in projects here, you know the thought that "if I forget to connect the plastic drain before I cast 500 tons of concrete swimming pool it might be a tad difficult to fix later".

Timescales can also be somewhat relaxed. One of the delightful things about Bali is encapsulated in that well known phrase "being on Bali time", things happen when they are ready to.

Dealing with these cultural norms can set up very stressful circumstances for our control freaks and some people may find they have to take a long hard look at themselves. For some it is not easy to find the courage to simply allow things to happen.

Another type of person that doesn't cope well in Bali are those whose management style consists of shouting and bullying people, they end up trapped in a cycle of constant watching and berating.

A far better strategy is to work within the culture and build trust and respect. Establish operating parameters that embrace local culture and attitudes. Discipline is needed and parameters have to be set. Approach projects with thought, continuous monitoring and lots and lots of patience. From a Technical point of view keep things simple. Yes sure that full size swimming pool on the third floor of your mansion overlooking the sea is a nice idea but building it is not going to be a recipe for nocturnal tranquility.

If you do find you can't cope with it all do yourself a favour and book in for a long holiday in Bangli, it's nice up there at this time of the year and they have a very relaxed smiling gardener.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

8 February 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
Jl Bypass Ngurah Rai, Gg Penyu No 1, Sanur, Bali 80228, Indonesia
Telephone: +62-361-288-789, Fax:+62-361-284-180