Sunday, November 13, 2011

By the way ... The wonder of walking in another man’s shoes

By the way ... The wonder of walking in another man’s shoes
The Jakarta Post | Sun, 11/13/2011 9:44 AM
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We are constantly reminded to stay humble, and to keep looking down at the lives of those less fortunate than us.

On a recent morning, I was certainly looking down but my alarmed gaze was upon my feet. Or make that my dress shoes, which, perhaps because they had not been worn for a very long time, were unraveling before my eyes faster than Kim Kardashian’s marriage.

How could I possibly put my best foot forward as an unwitting and unwilling “Cinderfella”? I had a breakfast meeting at 9, followed almost immediately by an important brunch gathering, and I did not think my hobbled self could get home in time to change my shoes.

By the time I stepped out of the elevator at my floor, my right shoe was a complete goner and the left was beginning to crumple. My mind raced with the nightmare scenario of me falling flat on my face in a freakish footwear fiasco.

“That way to the restaurant,” said a man in a T-shirt outside the elevator, directing me through the entranceway.

I pointed to my shoes, mumbling something about not being able to walk and having a meeting shortly at the restaurant.

“Oh,” the man said, giving my tattered offering to the world of deconstructed fashion the once over. “I’m a security guard at the restaurant. I just finished work.

What size are you?”

“42,” I replied.

Off he went through the entrance, promptly returning with a pair of well-polished black shoes.

“I’m a size 42, too,” he said, identifying himself as Eddy. “You can borrow these, but get them back to me before I start my shift this evening.”

He had come to my rescue, and I wanted to assure him that I would come back. I handed him some cash, equivalent to what we would later spend on a breakfast for two at the restaurant, as my guarantee that I would return them.

“That’s too much,” said Eddy, surprised. “You keep the shoes then if I take this money.”

“You don’t meet too many people like that anymore,” my breakfast companion said. “Just say you are wearing ‘Eddy’s Collection’.”

Finished with breakfast, I went off to the brunch marking 20 years of Dewi lifestyle magazine. I was honored to be seated across from Ibu Pia Alisjahbana, the founder of the Femina Group. She has such a rich collection of stories to tell from her life and her family’s remarkable contribution to Indonesia.

The weighty anniversary issue celebrates the creations of local fashion designers, which are photographed at locations from Sabang to Merauke. Inevitably, the table conversation turned to the recent controversy over the campaign for Komodo to be selected one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

Komodo-schmodo: Indonesia’s archipelago is full of amazing sites, including Komodo, but we just have to get the word out about them, one diner said. That is true, but for me, one of this nation’s greatest assets remains the warmth, goodness and resourcefulness of people. They may be rare qualities among the powers that be, and especially the would-be powers, but honesty and sincerity are still to be found across the country, including in jaded Jakarta.

Take Pak Eddy. He got on with the job of helping me out; he did not dither, or ask why, or even how much, but he just did. One of my most memorable travel experiences is a visit to Sumbawa. I don’t remember much about the hoity-toity resort I stayed at, except the obscene Rp 250,000 (US$28) cost of a plate of chicken curry, but I will always remember the woman who, a day after selling me a bag in the Sumbawa Besar market, flagged me down in a becak. “I overcharged you, and I apologize,” she said, handing me back Rp 50,000.

The true wonder may be that, with the frustrations of life that everybody faces, there is still that kind concern for others. Hopefully, walking in Pak Eddy’s shoes will help keep me grounded about what really matters, and the special qualities of Indonesian people.

— Bruce Emond

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