A Taste of Indonesia in Malaysia

Today the guys in charge of the microfilm at the library really bothered me (TP).  I guess it’s just the consequences of bureaucracy, but it was worse than normal today, in fact, Indonesia-style.  I have made something of a friend with Shahril (not his real name) who works at the microfilm counter.  I go tell him what I want, he gets it for me.  It’s his job.  His job is to get up, walk to the shelves of microfilm, pick out the one I need, and bring it to me.  Sounds like a terrible job to me, but not one that should be hard.  It’s clear that not many people stop by the microfilm department, so I am probably tripling his daily work load.

I should have known I was in for an adventure when he asked me the other day why I wanted to read these newspapers. "Because they are important to my research."  Why don’t I read them at another library?  "Because this is the closest one to my house."  Really, asking why I don’t go do my research somewhere else where I don’t bother him is a little much.

Well, today, I learned that Shahril is not going to make it easy for me.  I learned my first day that 1:00 to 2:00 is "lunch hour", even though the entire office just sits there and acts the same anyway, when I tried to exchange a microfilm roll at 1:37.  Had to come back later.  So, when I finished my two rolls at 12:45, I thought I’d be OK.  I made downstairs by 12:46, and was in the office by 12:47.  I asked Shahril if he could get me two more rolls.  (This is all in Malay.)

Shahril: "No, it’s lunch time, you come back at 2, maybe after 2 sometime."
Me: "Sorry?"
Shahril: "You know, lunch time, time for eating in the middle of the day".  He makes an eating motion with is hand.
Me: (Confused, but not by the concept of lunch; I have that down.)
Shahril: "Lunch here is from 1:00 to 2:00".  He then points at the wall clock behind him, which says 12:47, just like my watch and his computer screen.
Me: (Stares longingly at the racks of microfilm.  I can do his job, all I have to do is grab them.  It would take 2.5 seconds.)
Shahril: "So yes, you come back after 2:00."
Me: "So lunch is over at 2:00, right?  I should come back at 2:00?"
Shahril: "Maybe, well, 2:15."
Me: "OK."

Notice how I did not strangle Shahril, which I attribute to my peaceful and mild-mannered temperament.  Notice also how I did not argue with Shahril.  Just like in any bureaucracy, you should never burn your bridges with the one person who stands between you and what you need to accomplish.

You can probably find examples of bureaucracies like this in the US.  OK, you would be hard-pressed to find someone so purposefully unhelpful–did you notice how he said "no" to my request, he didn’t just not do something because he wanted his lunch to start 15 minutes early?  Plus, his bosses and coworkers were all right there listening, and they didn’t say anything, or even seem to notice.  But you could potentially find one of those in the US.  Still, Indonesia is the place where such bureaucratic unhelpfulness like this is the norm.  Sometimes you get a little taste of Indonesia in her little northern cousin.  Today was one of those days.