We had heard before leaving the US that Jakarta is known throughout Asia as the “big durian”. After some online searching, we found out that a durian is a fruit with a smell that evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine and gym socks. With a nickname that ferocious, we didn’t know what to expect. Our flight touched down on Tuesday and our senses were immediately assaulted with the sights, smells and sounds that only belong to the developing world. We had just taken our first bite of the big stinky porcupine fruit.
That night we had dinner with our client, Arjowiggins Security. The Managing Director of Asia and his Sales Manager laid out our in country plan at a high level. They also told us that a reporter who was investigating the same topic as us, Indonesian subsidized fuel misuse, had recently been killed and that we shouldn’t press contacts too hard.
We also found out that there was an unexpected two day holiday that week. Hello four day weekend. The only obvious choice was to jump on the first flight Friday morning to Penang, Malaysia.
The state of Penang has the third largest economy in Malaysia. It was once part of the mighty British Empire. Today, people visit for four reasons: the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, the beaches and resorts on the north side of the island, to wander the narrow streets of the old town and to eat the BEST street meat in the world. We were able to take in everything that Penang had to offer.
We returned to Jakarta excited to dig deeper into our project. Our client arranged for us to meet oil industry contacts and government officials who could help us. As our lunch meeting commenced at a swanky Jakarta eatery we launched into a string of questions. The people sitting on the other side of the table looked uncomfortable. Finally, one said “no questions today”. The meeting was simply meant to build relationships. This was our first lesson about doing business in Indonesia: you must establish personal relationships before conducting business.
The next day we met the special advisor to the head of BPH Migas, the downstream oil regulator. Mr. Baddaruddin and Mr. Luluk were both very helpful in answering our questions. However, neither spoke English. This was our second lesson about business in Indonesia: always have good translators by your side.
The rest of the week we diligently poured over hundreds of pages of documents to prepare our client deliverable. During breaks, we made sure to take the opportunity to try traditional Indonesian delicacies such as oxtail boledo and kopi luwak, coffee that is made from the excrement of Asian palm civets.
Having accomplished a tremendous amount of work during the week, we took the opportunity to make a short yet eventful weekend trip to Bali, where we took in the beaches, clubs, shopping and even a traditional dance performance before heading back to Jakarta.
We wrapped up our time in Jakarta by sampling some of its nightlife before we headed to Hong Kong to present to our client. Back in Hong Kong we fully absorbed ourselves in our work and gave a successful presentation to our client on our last full day in country.
Team AWS had a great time in SE Asia and we’re all looking forward to our next trip to the region!