I recently went on an agency trip to Bangkok. It was organized with the intention of fostering camaraderie between the leaders,planners and to perhaps create an intentional sense of bonding. Whether this intention was successful or not, it is still open to judgement. For me, any trip that is not lined up with an agenda, is a trip of discovery. Well, actually, I was charged with the drafting up of an itinerary. But personally, seeing the nonchalance and haphazard manner by which the whole thing was organized, I did the only thing I thought was wise. Forget about it.
The trip itself, as a holiday sorta retreat, was fun. My mates, and by that I mean, the Malay half of the contingent were closely knitted. We spent most of the time there together. We shopped together. We ate together. We got lost together. Most of us slept and snored together. If there was a barometer of affinity for the Malay lot, it would have risen by a few notches that few days.
Anyway, there was an incident that occurred there that kinda inspired me to actually blog about it. As the self proclaimed leader of the Malay pack I was charged with the responsibility of locating a halal eatery outlet for the purpose of gathering the agency for a dinner session. My director, whom I felt, was considerate, insisted on having me select a good halal restaurant to have the dinner on our second night there. Well, I was able to source out a location with the help of a colleague. Unfortunately, due to the inefficiency of the outlet at getting back to me via email reservations, I had to make do with actually having to go down there, on the arranged day. Alas, that proved to be a mini disaster, as I found out to my dismay that the size and choices offered by the eatery, was not up to mark.
Fortunately, just in front of the eatery, there was a Marche type of eatery with a wide selection of halal food options. Of course, I was elated. The small problem, was that I had not informed the rest of the colleagues, who were already on their way. And I definitely had not received the verbal approval of my director, who obviously was gonna finance the costs of the dinner. I had to make a call fast, and thus I opted to reserve the seating in the Marche typed eatery. The rest of my Malay colleagues who were already there with me, were told to take their seats, whilst waiting for the rest to arrive.
Whilst I was there sweating out the possibilities of a reprimand from my director for the last minute change, along came two smart alecks of the agency. They approached me and I kinda informed them of the reason for the needed change. Their response surprised me when they said,
“Waaaaah, If you lot,(Malay agents),choose here(Marche typed eatery),we might have to spend $10,000”
I was a bit slow in comprehending those words, until one of them casually mentioned,
“Waaaah, the system of using cards to order and select the food, is open to great abuse from you lot. What if you guys ordered the big plates of tom yam. Look at the desserts. It’s so pricey.”
That took the cake. I felt personally insulted. That “you lot” card kinda slapped me.
Instead of taking it personally head on, I calmly told them, that if that was the case, it was appropriate to wait on the decision of my director. And like it was on cue, he arrived. His exasperated look, when I told him of the changes, dismayed me. Whilst he was trying to come to a decision, with the aid of his smart alecks, I took the initiative to swing the vote, when I shouted at their lot,
“Eh hello. If you all want to eat at this restaurant ( the initial one ), you better get your asses on the seats. We have 20 people, so we might have to order and eat in turns.”
My director turned to me and asked,”You got any idea how to solve this?”
“Of course, All the Malay agents are seated inside ( the Marche type eatery ), at a 20 seats table, I had reserved. If you want, I can call them out. Or we can all eat inside,” I answered with a tinge of sarcasm.
My director looked at me and sighed. “Aiyah,you should have said that. That’s so much better.”
So yeah, we all went inside, and that decision I made proved to be a good one. There was a live band playing in the eatery. The selections of food were wide and varied. Halal. Ambiance was great. My director was able to order his drafts of beer. Everyone was happy.
In the midst of all that, I decided to broach further, when I approached my director and gently told him about the exchanges I had with the smart alecks. I apologized profusely and told him how appreciative I was for his generosity.
“Encik, my apologies for choosing this place. I am keenly aware that some of your Chinese agents think that I am trying to abuse your generosity. I really don’t mean to. I promise that we (the Malay agents) will only eat a food portion of anything below $10. We do not wanna be seen as opportunists. I apologize.”
That statement from me flipped my director. He put his arms around me, and assured me that my concerns are unjustified. He chided me for taking such a fatalist stance. He was insistent that we (Malay agents) ate our fill. His closing line was just classic.
“Who’s the boss? Who’s paying? Me or them? So do not give an F about them.”
That itself was just pure satisfaction.
In the end, we (Malay agents), ate our fill. We were considerate people. We ate wisely, no food were wasted. In fact, on my silent calculation, each of us ate no more than $8 worth of food and drinks. There were 7 of us.
The point I am stating here is simple. Stand up for your rights, if you are oppressed by a biased perception. The irritating part of being judged as opportunistic and extravagant by a selected bunch of my Chinese colleagues irked me. It is in such instances, where I felt that my identity as a Muslim or Malay, for that fact, violated. The two smart alecks ate their fill and even stayed back after the dinner to continue their spread. The gluttony they displayed, belied their so called, conservative and modest approach towards being treated.
The small episode, kinda made me realize the kinda stigmas and perceptions, some quarters of the society may still have about Malays. Although isolated in its significance, it was, still alarming in my personal capacity, to realize what people really think (about us) sometimes.
Anyway, if you feel that the impressions people have about you are biased,wrong and totally off the mark, let them know. People are judgmental in nature. It makes them feel right about themselves, when they are able to point out a “fact”, which they presume to be true about you. Most times, you can do well, to walk away from those people and their perceptions. Sometimes, just on that odd, occasional moments, be assertive and let them know. Debunk their myths and blow out their egos into smithereens.
I did. And I felt darn pleased about it.