What is this impossible mission, you ask? I wanted a salad for dinner.
Now, I know you’re doubting me and my definition of impossible, but I really wanted a salad and I wanted it to be really good. That meant I needed good cheese and salad dressing, both of which are endangered, if not extinct, in this country.
That’s more background than anything though. This post is really about the idea of efficiency. And my trip to the grocery store.
The priority put on efficiency here is … different. I was just laughing to myself about this the other day in the elevator (mind you, the only working elevator servicing our 43-story building). When we stopped to pick up or drop off passengers, the pleasant, computerized voice would apologize, “Sorry to keep you waiting.” In English. Remember, I live in Indonesia, in the midst of a highly Chinese population. The lady doesn’t ever speak in Bahasa or Mandarin though, but instead in English. Apparently, they think that we English-speaking, impatient people are the ones that need calming if the elevator meanders more than runs.
ANYWAY, this is my story of the grocery store. I honestly don’t have much to complain about. First of all, I don’t have to shop very often, as my house helper will usually do that for me (more on her later, she’s awesome). Secondly, the only thing I was going back to was dinner and the Olympics. Nothing too important.
Now, let me help you to picture this. Keep in mind that the average walking pace here, outside or indoor, is as though one is studying everything on a grocery shelf. Or walking a plank into an ocean full of sharks. So you can imagine what the pace would be when one is actually browsing the shelves. After wading through a rather stagnant sea of people, I picked up a couple of things I needed and ventured off to try to find dressing. Luckily, I passed a misplaced bottle of bleu cheese and took it to play sign language with a worker.
There is a bountiful supply of workers here. The Indonesian idea of a healthy economy is one in which everyone is employed, more than one in which companies are making a lot of money. So there are literally people that stand at every aisle corner, others that follow you as you shop. Unfortunately, that also means that each aisle-guard is not familiar with much more than her specific aisle. I started counting how many employees I was passed onto before finding my salad dressing: seven. SEVEN.
But I found it.
I then stood in the vegetable line to get a price tag for my cucumbers. Mind you, I wasn’t paying for the cucumbers, just getting a price tag so I could wait in another line to pay for them. If I had wanted anything large or expensive, I would’ve had to wait in line to receive a tag. I would’ve had to stand at the cashier with that tag, and then go back to track down the guy with that item.
Finally, I stood in line at the front cashier. For 20 minutes. The lady in front of me sent her daughter to get something she forgot, the cashier left to run a credit card elsewhere, etc.
I got my really good salad, no worries. A tip for making the best salad ever: seek out the ingredients for two hours.
Now, I’ve always liked efficiency. Those of you who know me are probably laughing at the gross understatement in the previous sentence. There are many words that could replace the “liked” in that sentence… loved, encouraged, complimented, sought-out-above-all-else. My past life was only possible because of a high level of efficiency.
Now let’s be clear here, I’m far from convinced that efficiency isn’t a great thing and a valuable priority. The devil’s advocate in me is just thinking out loud here. Why did I care about having a quick trip to the grocery store? I really had nothing pressing to return to. What if, in the States, we’re too focused on being efficient? Is prioritizing efficiency so highly just asking for a more stressful life? Will we miss out on the little things if we are so zeroed in on getting the big things done?
Just a few philosophical questions for the day. Also, enjoy your salads.