Saturday, August 28, 2010

Office Life in Cubicle Land

Vacation is over; classes have started; the fasting month is in full swing; we are back to Office Life, as usual.

Office Life is lived out in Cubicle Land, where us ordinary lecturers have small desks demarcated by short wall boards.  Since between 65-70% of lecturers are female, and Malay ones at that, Office Life revolves around issues important to Malay women.  As a male I have really no option but to live in Cubicle Land and try to observe the multitude of unwritten rules about co-existing with Malay women.

Rule #1:  Malay women are conservative.  This means that they do not want a male squeezing into a cubicle with them, i.e., a man must keep his distance.  The rule can be broken, however, if one is a man who relates only to women, kind of like a fly (lalat) who flits from desk to desk bothering the ladies.  Flies can co-exist in this manner due to the non-confrontational nature of culture in Cubicle Land.

Rule #2:  Cubicle Land is a place where recipes can be swapped; new handbags perused on internet shopping sites; and -especially- gossip can be shared.  Whatever you do, however, do not clue the white male lecturer in the cubicle behind you into the latest doings of lalat and his madu.  He will find out, after the fact, months later, prompting a response from the ladies: "What?!  You didn't know??"

Rule #3: As Malaysia has numerous pasar malam (night markets) and pasar pagi (morning markets), it has even MORE pasar pejabat (office markets) whereby colleagues can show and sell any of a variety of items: clothing material (picture above), food, plastic foodware, jewelry, Condo timeshares, houses (yes, brochures of new housing developments are passed around) and etc.  Note: the white guy is usually not interested in these things.

Rule #4:  Cubicle Land is for personal discovery and development.  No, NOT in technical or professional terms, but in personal hygiene, clothing, baby issues, and family affairs.  Copies of Wanita are passed around with great recipes highlighted along with articles on "How to Get Your Husband Prepped for Great S**" (** because this is a G-rated blog afterall).  The internet has been very useful also given the numerous shopping sites, for handbags, jewelry, and baby items.  (Don't get me started on the baby items!)

Rule #5: Get work done??   Hahahahaha....please see Rule #4.

Rule #6:  Food.  Life in Cubicle Land -except for the fasting month- revolves around food.  Many ladies keep tins of snack items at their desks and welcome others to partake.  The fasting month finds order boards at a few cubicles where one can peruse (visually only) and order tins of snacks to be paid for and delivered in the 2-3 days prior to the Ramadan vacation.  Tables where educational material might be found instead hold tins of fruit and stinky sauce (sambal) and crumbly cake and so forth.  Goodness, one can't let education get in the way of eating!

Rule #7:  Cell phone ringtones must be annoying.  Crying babies, Japanese love songs, the Wail of Pontianak: these are all examples of acceptable ringtones.

Rule #8:  Pregnancies are staggered so that there is always at least one pregnant woman in Cubicle Land.  Right now, within 20 feet of my cubicle are three pregnant women.  That is not a lot.  Last year at this time, there were five preggies within 20 feet of me.  My colleagues are mostly in their 20s and 30s, making our Cubicle Land one of the Centers for Reproductive Success in Malaysia.  The women will actually discuss and schedule their pregnancies so as to be able to cover for those out on the 60-day maternity leave.  (I even covered for an engineering colleague last year, taking one of her classes for 8 weeks until she returned from maternity leave).  This fact of the scheduling is largely unknown to men.  (I wish it were unknown to me...sigh.)

Overall, I have enjoyed my time in Cubicle Land.  Malay women are very forgiving (save for I Know), cooperative and collaborative.  Despite the chit-chat noise (and Rule #7), especially in the late afternoon, I can survive and will hold some fond memories of Office Life.


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