This is a real story about balance, of both looking up and down, of both plotting for life and being grateful for life.
On Saturday April 3rd 2010, I went to a part of Jakarta famous for it’s Chinese food. The place becomes totally alive at night, it takes a special kind of balls and patience to drive there if you go at night. But I went about lunch time so traffic, and business, was light.
After making 2 rounds at the streets around there, I decide I want to try that Kwetiau (somekind of a wide sticky noodle made from rice flour) Joint across the road. It’s a simple looking joint, just like most everything else in the area.
I make my turn and try to park, as I park, I saw this Ain’t She A Beauty BMW Z4 parked next to me. I saw this car in auto blogs, it was beautiful then; then I saw it in a show room, blazing red with the top opened, even more beautiful. The shark jaw like front fenders, the long sloping hood, the curvaceous side and ass, the luxurious looking leather seat, the beautiful dash, the low wide profile with the top opened. Ain’t She A Beauty. In Indonesia, the car is price at around IDR 2 billion, which is about US$ 220,000. And in a country where the average income per annum (proxied by GDP per capita) is US$ 3,000, you wonder, how many of this beauties are out there roaming the roads.
I’ve seen Ferraris in Jakarta, I’ve seen Maseratis, I’ve seen Porsches, I’ve seen Hummer, I’ve seen the customary S350 sedans, but very rarely I’ve seen a BMW Z4. It seem to fill a in-between space in Jakarta car market segment. The guys who wants to be ostentatious would just go for A Ferrari or a Maserati, the guy who like a reliable and highly capable sport car (but don’t care much about Italian sport captivating looks) would take a Porsche, the guy who has small dicks but big bank accounts would compensate with the Hummer, and the businessman would take the S350. (the guys who can afford Aston Martin and Rolls Royce are not seen much)
So who, on earth, would take the all balance between beauty and performance, of a Z4? at this price segment, people are looking for extremes, since they’re paying extreme price, so who would buy a jack of all trade Z4?
So you don’t see much of them in Jakarta, so when I saw one, top down, in a Chinese food district in North Jakarta, parked in front of a humble Kwetiau joint, I was elated. And I was making quick guess about the profile of the owner since I want to be an owner too.
I then I saw the owner, or the guy I believe to be the owner, and he was talking business, loudly, on the phone. And as we (me and my partner) sat there eating our meal, I was thinking about what business I should take, tradings seem like a pretty good way, you’re not bogged down with manufacturing and all it’s capital and labor issues, you act as a good middleman, provided that you deal with good counterparties. But in what exactly? And so my mind was deeply engrossed on exploring the business opportunities I could try to pursue. My partner was not happy with me being so engrossed in my own thoughts, but she know me enough to know the precursor and what state would I be then (mind all with business). Then I was plotting the how and when.
Now my mind is focused on ‘how do I become a guy so loaded I can afford that Z4’, it’s stupid ambition, but pursuing that kind of stupid ambition had brought me places I could not go to if I didn’t have that stupid ambitions, so I let my mind pursue this path.
But there’s a danger to this pattern of mind, the danger are: a. I become displeased with the things my parents can provide me (oh, if only they can provide me the capital; or, oh, I wish they had become so rich I could just buy the damn car), b. I become displeased with where I am, disregarding how far I’ve been brought and how much I have been blessed (oh, if only I have more; oh, I wish I had a Z4 instead; oh, I wish had had a business; oh, if only I had the balls to really start a business; oh, if only I had better education, network, etc)
This danger can be mitigated by gratefulness, and gratefulness can very easily grow when there’s situation that shows you, so in your face, of how lucky I am to be where I am and to have what I have.
It seem God was so aware that i’m descending to a strong state of un-gratefullness, so He sent something so contrast to my trigger (this young guy who can afford a Z4) it seem like it was sent by Him.
As I was discussing on the best way to deploy the when and how of a business, a middle age man appears, he’s peddling rice crackers.
and I was, “Oh God….”
You see, when you’re peddling some goods from food stalls to food stalls you are being treated somewhat like a beggar. People feel so sorry for you that they don’t really have the heart to look at you in the eye and say “no, thank you”. And what you’re selling is generally can be bought somewhere else for a cheaper price, which adds to the “the only reason I buy is because I feel sorry for you” factor and adds up to the embarrassment of the situation, which make people even more thinking “why, just why is the world so cruel, that these poor people has to resort to doing this kind of thing” , and in turn, make them even more reluctant to look at you in the eye.
I’ve seen an old lady peddling home made snacks, generally not of high quality, but since they are about the same age of my mom, I thought “really Sendy, are you gonna say no? What if the place is reverse?” but also “Somebody need to make a systematic solution to this, this woman doesn’t belong in the streets peddling snacks roaming Jakarta’s treacherous roads with her bike till dark”.
I saw a skinny young woman peddling tissues, and I thought “you know what, no matter how many cecengan (US$ 11 cents) I gave her, it won’t really change her life, she needs a job, so she doesn’t endanger her self every day and stuck with this stupid work till God knows when”
But the middle age man peddling rice crackers, he’s not old, he’s even actually well built. He’s not a salesman, because if he is making a decent living from rice crackers, he would be selling them to the storeowners. So he’s selling these US$ 2 crackers to us, and his profit margin would be, my guess, around US$ 5o cents per package sold. That’s a tough way to make a living. But since he is well built, my guess is that he has only peddling rice crackers recently and maybe the times fall hard on him.
Which is why I say “Oh God…..” when I saw him, because, really, He could’ve been my dad. I imagine my Dad at his 40s, damn tough economy, just paying his dues to the company, never really thought about ensuring that he stays save from workplace politics, never really thought much about career and capability enhancement because he’s a simple guy, and one day the company decide he’s redundant, what would he do? Life could just snap one man’s livelihood and now he’s out in the job market, not young enough, but no high level enough to be considered experienced in something.
And so I am face with this middle age man peddling crackers, and huge dose of gratefulness is forced through my nose “You had a good education, You Had and Have a good job, You Have a good pay, You have a quite smart brain, You have ambition, You have fortitude, You have awareness on the need of awareness, You Are So Lucky; You Own all the goods on your ‘to buy in 2009’ list, You Have a house, You Have a car, You Can eat here you damn fuck, that guy would need to sell 10 crackers to afford what you’re eating and you gonna dwell in ‘I wish I Have’ mindset?”
I was immediately yanked back to earth.
And after I sit there, thinking about how lucky I am, really, I then thought that it’s about balance. It’s not about never plotting to become more prosperous, not about having no ambition.
It’s this kind of thing, of having both dreaming about what I want to be and have and looking at how much has been given to me.
And so I sit there silently praying, “thank You God, for taking the time to teach me, despite all my sins. May You remind me again and again, to be both ambitious and grateful”. It’s about looking both up and down, about plotting for life and being grateful for life.