Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bali...and gentle people with gentle manners...

The  Balinese temple of Tahna Lot (Photo L Percy November 2010)

From the time I was a child, my late father, a retired Royal Australian Navy Commodore, instilled in me a respect for people . I didn’t ever see anyone as being “different”.

In the early ‘60s my father was at an officer training college for the member countries of the Commonwealth. He was joined at the college by officers  from countries as diverse as India and Pakistan, Colombo (Sri Lanka)  Malaysia, Singapore and England. My parents were great hosts and so our home became a “drop in centre” on Friday nights for many of these officers who were unable to bring their spouses with them to Australia during their training. These same gentlemen taught me to eat curry, even for breakfast, taught me to play the piano and immediately after lessons learn to correctly and politely eat rice in my fingers in banana leaves. And to never be judgemental.

These same men went on through the later ‘60s to fight against each other in wars, and for some of them to be killed. A life lesson for my sister and I from an early age.

A couple of weeks ago I was exploring the north coast of Bali – unknown to many fellow Australians who choose to stay in the southern areas of Legian and Kuta.I was delighted to find that those sharing our resort and fascination at the coral reconstruction project off the nearby beach were mainly French and German tourists. It took a few days for my "cultural compass" to centre on the European languages being spoken, as opposed to the Aussie accents I had expected to hear.  No complaints though!

Taman Sari, Pemuteran (Photo L Percy November 2010)
And I had the chance to learn more about Balinese culture, again away from the tourist areas. After learning about the centuries old Indian influence history of the Balinese people, the remaining inherent caste system, the enduringly central role of the family and the worship at the home temples, I was even more respectful of the gentle pride I encountered in those I met in Pemuteran.

Pemuteran is a much poorer region than the tourist area of southern Bali.  The streets are often unpaved, the drains open, the stalls saddened by dying fresh produce.  But actually that is to my untrained eye.  There is no sadness in the people, only in the dried fish and wilting vegetables. The local Balinese are full of enthusiasm, about the reef restoration project, the weather, their fish...their lives. 

It has long been said that the people of Bali are gentle and peace loving. But for me it was the smiles, the gentle gestures, the encouragement after a few days of my attempts at the language…the inherent kindness of a people who on the face values of the Westerner have so much less than me, but as I learnt, in so many ways, they have so much more.

Tahna Lot (Photo L Percy Novenmber 2010)

My visit to northern Bali was a reminder of the lessons I was taught before the age of 10 by among others Colonel Sherry Singh, the turban wearing Indian,  and Colonel Saewo Edhie of Indonesia who I clearly remember gave me a lovely gift for  Christmas in 1965.

I was to learn even more when I visited Labuan Bajo on Flores Island a few days later.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Singapore….a city of change…and new manners

Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino
I started my recent sojourn in South East Asia in Singapore with my companion from Switzerland.

 A few years ago I had a full time office of The Percy Institute of International Protocol based there. The Singapore of the early 21st century was a very different place to the vibrant hub that it is today. While it was “busy” Singapore was also subdued. There were regular “Good Manners Weeks ”... in all fairness, it was fairly dull.

The Percy Institute Singapore staff
Today the “vibe” is different. The most marked change for me was in the superb customer service which was on full display not only in the shops but also at the Ritz Carlton Millenia Singapore hotel.  Previously I had instructed on corporate and front of house manners for the Raffles Hotel group and their standards were, and remain, high. So it was really enjoyable to have great service at another hotel group.

Not only was our room upgraded to a Marina Bay view without request but the personal service offered by one of the front desk assistants when we wanted to rebook at the end of our Indonesian sojourn included a hand written note of welcome in our upgraded room, with a beautiful bowl of fruit.

And the food in Singapore was wonderful. Near the hotel, right on the water, was a hawkers food market with the ambience of large, communal tables, filled with chattering people from all walks of life and continents enjoying simple, hastily cooked kway teow, chilli crab, and Tiger beer.

Chilli Crab

 It was great to enjoy Singapore before our time in Bali and Flores. However,  my cultural compass was to become confused by the contradictions of bustling city life….and the humble, and simple fishing villages I was soon to encounter.