A difference of opinion


I had an interesting conversation with two business leaders Friday that is illustrative of how difference cultures perceive others. The occasion was an interview at a local business that sells and repairs generators and pumps, and provides other related services. Also took some photos for an article in the Happynings newsletter.

There were two separate interviews, actually, one with the owner of the company, a short, stocky Singaporean Chinese man of about 60, who I’ll call KK here; the second with his operations manager, a tall, balding man, also of about 60, who comes from northern Italy, who I’ll call MB.

The business has been in KK’s family hands for three generations and was moved to Batam about 10 years ago because of the much lower cost of doing business than in Singapore. Salaries are much lower, real estate much cheaper, taxes and overhead much less in Batam. This is why there are so many Singaporean-owned businesses on Batam.

But that’s not to say the Singaporean Chinese like Batam. In fact, to talk to KK, one gets the distinct impression he wishes he was elsewhere. He doesn’t like the Indonesians, thinks they are inferior to the Chinese, hates the bureaucratic corruption and especially the police, who he’s had more than one bad experience with. I suspect, given his attitude, he probably made those experiences even worse. If I’ve learned anything on the road, you should leave your hometown arrogance at home; it’s not appreciated in other countries.

Anyway, the view of these two individuals about doing business in Indonesia was markedly different. KK has a low opinion of Indonesians, calls them unproductive, corrupt and generally seems to think of them as inferior.

MB, however, had a completely different view (and take into account that his primary responsibilities involved supervising most of the 120-person staff of the company). He recognizes that there are challenges to doing business in something of a Third World environment, although Batam is less so than most of the country. He understands that things need to be done differently here. He knows there is corruption, low education and skills, but he seems willing to address those difficulties as part of the process. As he said to me, it’s not perfect but it is getting better.

A subsequent discussion I had with a long-time expat Batam resident, and a person with significant knowledge about doing business in Indonesia, revealed that KK’s attitude was typical of Singaporean Chinese, in particular, and even among the Indonesian Chinese living in Batam.

Sort of reminds me of how some Americans feel about Hispanics.

In all fairness, however, such bigotry is not limited to the Chinese. Indonesians themselves, who are brown skinned much like Hispanics, don’t seem to like blacks very much. So, the whites don’t think much of the browns, and the browns don’t think much of the blacks. Human nature? Cultural education? Fear? Stupidity? Far better than me have sought the answers. I’m just making an observation.

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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4 Responses to A difference of opinion

  1. 2bagsandapack says:

    Actually, they do have to press 1 for English

  2. Anthony Flagiello says:

    maybe it goes back further in their history just like in the USA i’ll bet they don’t have to press one for English.

  3. 2bagsandapack says:

    “Frown upon the sea” – great visual. Yes, I see the problem everywhere I go. It was interesting, though, that the white man in this case was the benevolent one, while the Asian dislikes the Asians. The Singaporean Chinese are very arrogant to just about everyone. Customer service in Singapore does not come with a smile, I’ve found.

  4. I’m struck by a couple of points in your piece. I remember learning the wisdom of keeping hometown arrogance quiet a few decades ago. It’s one thing to complain about where you are when you are where you are from — a whole other story when you ain’t. Not a good way to win friends and influence people. I’ve also witnessed the rolling rock of racism everywhere I’ve been. There are people in every American state and every country I’ve seen that are prejudiced/racist/snooty toward some other group — no matter how much it may seem to me they have in common. I have often wondered if you followed that chain around the world, does it ever reach a last person who has no one left to discriminate against? Like it’s just one man next to the edge of the ocean. I supposed he’d frown upon the sea.

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