Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Parking Spot

No system is foolproof as fools are ingenious
- Corollary to Murphy’s Law

This is a longish post. Better get a coffee.

Oh for the good old days of the Tukang Parkir. Back in the day the man with a whistle had an almost arcane power over all vehicles in his domain. It was always interesting to me how he could guide cars reversing back to the left, right, or straight with the exact same series of gestures. Maybe the cars could understand him? The Tukang Parkir lived on the tips of his clients and seemed to recognize whether you had paid him or not from memory. Nowadays the tukang parkir is slowly being phased out in the name of automated billing systems and toll booth attendants. This trend away from the human element may make sense from the business standpoint but there are some rather glaring disadvantages which occurred to me while using one of these newfangled parking systems.

A while ago I had occasion to head down to Tuban where there was a shop in a well known mall that carried exactly what I was looking for. Heading into Tuban is always a challenge. It’s a maze of one way streets that serve no particular purpose that I can fathom (probably deserves a post of its own). The mall is located on a single lane road that is shared with taxis, buses, motorbikes, horse drawn buggies and pull carts. The buses and taxis are forever stopping to pickup passengers and nothing moves faster than the horse carts. The motorbikes weave from side to side opportunistically looking for that momentary gap between 2 vehicles to slide in and past. All part of the fun in blistering heat.

Having finally reached the mall the next thing is to get a place to park. Now at this point some explanation to the byzantine parking process is required. First you get your parking ticket. The ticket has to be paid inside the mall where the clerk validates the ticket. The gate attendant then takes the ticket at the parkade exit gate. Having received my parking card dutifully time stamped by the gate attendant I made my way cautiously into the dark recesses of the parking lot - the space reserved exclusively for motorbikes. Nosing in I was shocked to see the degree of disorganization and chaos. There was not a space to be had. There were bikes everywhere! Bikes were even parked on the access ways, constricting the path to the point where I to edge my way around the corners as I desperately searched for a spot to park. Damm there is absolutely nothing here. With nowhere to park I headed towards the exit. My plan now was to park a few blocks away and hoof it back to the mall.

This cunning plan began to go pear shaped when I tried to get past the parking attendant.  Just between us I'm not sure what sort of qualifications is required to to be a parking attendant. From the outsiders view they appear very much like a failed immigration officer - someone with a tiny bit of power combined with narrow view of their own duties. They are not persuaded by commonsense arguments such as why should I pay for parking if there is none available nor possess the comprehension that to pay one's ticket, one needs to park - the cashier is inside remember? What they are capable of understanding is two things: first to take the ticket and open the gate and second; let security deal that those miscreants and shit disturbers (namely moi) who refuse to pay for the privilege of driving through a dark stuffy underground parkade. So when faced with my complaint you can surmise what happenned next.

It’s surprising how quickly security can turn up. Even more surprising is how many. Within a few moments of my discussion with the parking attendant a sea of blue uniforms surrounded me and my bike. I wondered if this was how General Custer felt riding over the hill to find all those Indians waiting for him. Where did these guys come from? Two goons put a firm grip on my bike, (to keep me from getting away I suppose) and the rest did their best tough guy imitation. You know the look: arms crossed, unsmiling, shoulders back - they must practice that in a mirror -waiting for me to make the next move. I had a brief hilarious vision of going all Chuck Norris on their assses but I simply repeated my claim to the senior security fellow that if I was sold a non-parking spot then I shouldn't have to pay. By now there were people lining up behind me patiently honking their horns and trying to drive over us to get to the gate. The head guard thought furiously for a few moments then hit on a solution.

"It’s useless to complain to us Pak" he intimated to me. "We are just the staff. The management office is just upstairs so why don't you head on up to complain to them. We will look after your bike for you." As there was no other real option a parking spot was allocated to me (next to the booth actually- sweet!) and off I went in search of the admin office. At this point I really had what I wanted in the first place but I decided to find out for myself how the complaint process was handled.

If this mall is anything to go by I strongly recommend that all customers in all malls complain as much as possible. The reason being that the PR staff at the mall is extremely well spoken and easy on the eyes. You might even get a free cup of tea out of the process - I did. The complaint form itself was pretty small – mayhap they couldn’t imagine that anyone could find something to complain about. There was however a space for name, telephone number and email address which I dutifully filled in. The PR girl assured me with her 1000 ship smile that I would be contacted soon by the senior management who would deal with my complaint.

Yeah Right....

Several months later I am still waiting.........hello....i'm here....anybody there?????

In the good old days the tukang parkir who would have had this sort of issue sorted out in no time. Using the modern method and filling out all that paperwork I have yet to receive even the acknowledgment from the mall management that a problem exists. Don't even get me started on the whole empowerment issue that there is not a single manager in a major shopping centre who has enough fiduciary authority to comp a 1000 Rp parking ticket . Apparently this can only be done in Jakarta. Some progress!

I want my tukang parkir back.

1000 Rp – about 10 cents. Its not about the money

Tukang Parkir – Parking can be a chore in Indonesia. The tukang parking is a guy that helps people get parked and unparked. Armed with a whistle and a 3 word vocabulary they are uniquely skilled and getting you in and out with a minimum of fuss.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The free lunch

You know it has to be the oldest line ever. "You can't get something for nothing". And yet in spite of this sage advice the human spirit still can't resist the mirage of getting something for free. Whether it’s a marketing gimmick or a 419 scam the appeal for the free lunch pulls us as relentlessly as gravity. We fall for it every time. I was reminded of this human failing by two recent events. The first was a stampede at the City Hall in Jakarta. The Governor was having an open house to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Visitors were to receive a free gift of food and a small amount of cash. Although he probably meant well the governor chose to have this open house in spite of a similar gathering causing a stampede in Surabaya a year ago that resulted in the deaths of 21 people. Leaders should know better - why engage in such risky behaviour? The other little event was a potato giveaway in Canada that caused massive traffic jam and 8 km queues. The spectacle of affluent people lining up (in their SUVs) for free potatoes beggars belief.
The frenzy for the free lunch is not a new phenomenon by any means. I can recall back in my college/bartending days some bright light manager had the idea of giving away free chilli con queso (it was a Mexican theme cafe and bar) and tortilla chips during happy hour. Once word reached the street we were deluged with clients of the worst possible description jostling over who was first in line at 5:00 when the con queso pans hit the floor. They were lining up outside the building for their free snack and most became indignant when I mentioned that they really needed to order a drink if they wanted to stay there. I had a similar experience with an all-you-can-eat spaghetti night at another establishment. Within a few weeks of the promotion the largest, hungriest people imaginable converged on our little cafe like ravenous piranhas. It was almost like they were trying to outdo each other in their gluttonous frenzy. After a few more weeks we finally had to cancel the promotion as it was simply too painful to watch grown men (and women) eat 4 large plates of spaghetti every Thursday evening.

Now in no way am I discouraging charity, charitable acts, or charitable people. These people should be commended. Charitable action though, should be done carefully or even anonymously. It seems to do no good to the giver or the receiver when the act of giving results in pandemonium. Likewise any political message given though free potatoes is lost in the circus that followed. Overt displays of largesse do tend to bring out the worst in people. In spite of all our philosophies, moralizing, laws and ethics we are still quite literally willing to walk over our neighbour for a free lunch.