Monday, December 05, 2005

Penguin Pinheads

OK, the weekend did not start off well. Basically, half my day on Saturday was wasted and the students got dicked (pardon my French) out of a class because of the stupendous stupidity of one Penguin Tour & Travels and Ferry Services as well as an incredibly irresponsible individual - I will just call the latter, Farida.

Because I can be a bit of a ditz sometimes, I was extremely careful to write out the instructions from the organisers of the workshop. I even memorised it. 9.50am ferry. Check. Go to Penguin Ferry counter. Check. Get ticket. Check. Get to Batam. Check. Look for a man called Johnny who will have your name on a large piece of paper. Check. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? What could go wrong?

Penguin bloody Ferry Services and a female named Farida, that's for one.

I was at the Harbourfront at 9.15am and headed straight for the Penguin Ferry Services counter. Whereupon, the girl at the counter told me there was no ticket under my name. Or under the organisers' name. Or the woman who invited me to teach ... let's just called her Y. I had to force the girl at the counter to take my passport and check her computer system while I made frantic calls and sms messaged Y. There was no response from Y and I was getting worried. After being told by the diffident Penguin Ferry counter girl that there was no booking under my name, I demanded to speak to the woman in charge of package tours and bookings. She told me the same thing.

Worse, she told me they did not have a 9.50am ferry with their company. So I went to all the other ferry companies and checked. No one had my ticket.

By this point, I was a vengeful Durga ready to smite the stupid with my bare hands. I had made almost 10 calls and sent 20 sms messages to Y but received no response. By now, it was 9.45am. I was a very irate woman. To those who know me, this is very bad news. I contemplated buying a ticket to the island myself and getting the reimbursement later so that I could at least get there in time for my class at 11am Indonesian time. However, I was really pissed off that Y had not even bothered to give me a call or check that the arrangements were in order. To me, a seasoned events organiser, this was unforgiveable. And extremely rude and unprofessional.

By 10am, any goodwill I might have felt had disappeared. I had been sitting at that blasted ferry area for almost an hour without the courtesy of a response from Y. I had had enough. Striding purposefully to the Penguin counter (to the palpable panic and dismay of the counter girls), I told them I was cancelling my tentative arrangements to book the next ferry. I left a final voice message and a sms message with Y that I expected to be paid for the entire weekend by Monday and I was disappointed by their poor idea of a joke. And I left the scene of a wasted morning.

By the time I arrived home, I was beyond furious. Coincidentally, just at that moment, another dancer, who happens to be a lawyer, called me. At my outburst about how Y has treated me, she happily agreed to sue the woman's pants off on my behalf. How fortuitous.

I was so furious at being completely shafted and annoyed that my morning had been wasted that I immediately sent a particularly biting email to Y. Note: Y had still not responded.

The call finally came in at 11.15am. Probably when Johnny realised I was not on the ferry. And then a flurry of panicked sms messages came in.

"Oh, I can't understand what could have happened? Everyone else had no problems getting here! Don't go!"

Yes, that makes me feel a lot better. You were so concerned about getting the students there that the plans were made properly but for the teacher, you decided she could get shafted. Right, well done.

"Are you sure you went to the right counter? And you went to the harbourfront, right?"

Look, I am not a complete idiot, you know. This was Farida, Y's PA apparently. I pretty much told her that she should not tar me with the brush she was slapped with.

"But the Penguin people said you never went to the counter!"

Right, piss off the teacher some more. Believe a bunch of twats who name themselves after penguins. How the hell could I know what the uniforms look like then (pale blue with royal blue collars and sleeves bands) and manage to get an order form for the ferry then? I teleported those, did I?

"I made all the arrangements for everyone and there has been no problems. By the way, would you happened to have Penguin's number?"

Absolutely classic, Farida. Yes, you made the arrangements. So how is it you now need the number from me? I am the teacher who was informed of all this in a pithy email the day before. You expect me to sort out your mess now???

By the 3rd call, I had enough and very succintly told Y that I did not care what the excuses were. I deserved an apology and full payment plus compensation for my time wasted and for being insulted by Farida. I told her whether they wanted me on the island to teach or otherwise was up to them. But I was not going to be making the arrangements for them. They were not to call me till they got their shit together.

At noon, Y called me and told me they had booked a ferry ticket for me for the 2.50pm ferry. Ah huh. I was sceptical but decided to give Y the benefit of a doubt.

At 2pm, there I was again. The nemesis of Penguins this side of Singapore. I swear a few of the females paled at the sight of me. And rightfully so. Because when the counter girl handed me the ticket, she tried to charge me for it. I was livid. Just as I was getting ready to tar and feather these non-flying twits, a girl appeared beside me. She told me she was was one of Y's students who was going to the island too. She had obviously been told to look out for the psychotic bitch probably giving the Penguin people what for. She handled it and pretty much told them not to talk to me anymore as they were annoying the hell out of me.

So, drama sorted, we finally got on the ferry to the island. I decided to be put aside my ire and play nice. So I struck up a conversation with this girl. She was young and fairly pretty and she told me that she was a dancer for Y's group. Ah, I see. I had never seen her perform before. She proudly told me she had been dancing for 2 years for Y. When I asked her how long she had been learning, she informed me that it has been 2 years. I see.

She then told me she recognised me from the latest master workshop by Yousry Sharif. Oh, I thought she looked vaguely familiar but since I was always extremely focused during workshops, I never really look at anyone else. Anyway, I asked her what she thought of the master workshop since it was her first. And I got this answer:

"Oh, I did not really learn much from it. It was just choreography. There was really nothing new to learn."

Wow, that's great. After two years, you managed to learn all you can learn such that a world famous choreographer and dance teacher, to whom world famous dancers for decades have gone down on their knees to learn from, has nothing to teach you ... that's just so amazing. I was hugely impressed. Such virtuosity! Such talent! My, my ...

She asked me how long I had been dancing and I told her pretty much all my life but that I was only really able to dance professionally when I was 15 even after learning for more than a decade. Gee, I am so slow. Because to this day, I am still embarrassed to even walk in front of Yousry during private classes. And I am too shy to even ask if he can choreograph a dance for me as I do not think I am good enough to do his choreography justice. And I have been learning from him for neigh on 4 years now.

This young dancer then asked me why I was so low profiled. I could see she was very puzzled as to why I would deliberately choose to fly under the radar. I rather to be a cult favourite than a commercial sell-out. And I am choosy about who I hang out with and for whom I perform. When she found out the identity of the other dancers I spent more time with, she said, "Wow, all the old ones .. I mean the veterans." Nice.

I could not quite decide if this ingenue was truly as precocious as she appeared but it certainly reinforced all my decisions to keep to myself and a few core people in the industry.

By the time I arrived at the hotel, it was time to begin the class. To be honest, I felt sorry for the students. They should not have to suffer for Penguin's and Farida's incompetence and irresponsibility. I say irresponsibility because Young Ingenue inadvertently revealed during the ferry ride that Farida had not responded to all my calls and sms messages because she was getting a massage. Yes, get a massage when you are in the midst of organising a weekend event. Excellent decision.

So I offered to make up for the missed lesson that evening or first thing the next morning. Y seemed reluctant which I later figured was because she rather take the students shopping. It appeared the entire workshop was focused on shopping. In Batam. Yes, Batam - the shopping mecca. They had gone shopping on Friday. And they were going shopping that evening after dinner till midnight. And they were going shopping on Sun afternoon after the morning class. How the hell do women do so much shopping? And in Batam? There's nothing to buy in Batam! Sometimes I think I was born the wrong sex. I declined the invitation to shop. I rather watch telly, swim, read a book, pluck my eyebrows, play Scrabble .. in Norwegian ...

And then the kicker. The workshop was being taught in the hotel ballroom. Eh? Are there mirrors? No. No??? What?? A dance workshop with no mirrors. And on a new dance discipline that requires precise lines and forms???

The response was a ... "but it is the same way at the Cairo Festival when the master teachers taught." Yes, because the participants are usually all professional dancers and teachers and so mirrors, although important, are not critical. But you are talking about beginners and amateur dancers here! I refrained from expressing my full feelings but I had a feeling my expression said it all.

Yes, I am difficult. Because I have taken a lot of workshops. And I totally appreciate a student's disappointment and sense of being cheated when things are not delivered as promised or expected. How can I learn a totally new dance if I cannot see what I am doing? We missed one class and there is no make-up class? I really felt sorry for the students and told Y that if they could take the punishment, I was happy to prolong the class or make up another class the next day until eveyone got the choreography. Again, she did not seem particularly bothered. I had the impression dinner and the shopping expedition were greater priorities.

Perhaps dance is so important in my life that I would never ... NEVER, put food and shopping before a class or performance. But then I thought perhaps this was the agenda the girls had requested for - it was probably more a shopping workshop than a dance workshop. Because my definition of a dance workshop is that I dance. A lot. Or I do everything related to dance. Dance history. Costuming studies. Dance videos reviews. Dance everything.

I could only resign myself to teaching them as much as possible in the short time I had and being as accessible to them as possible after that for them to ask me any questions.

The class went well. Or at least as well as it could. I was perturbed that I was not able to spend more time on each individual student so I can help correct their positions and footwork. Instead, I could only do that in batches and had to restrain myself from cringing when I saw how many of them were doing it wrong. And it was not because they were untalented or incompetent. They just could not see their own movements. It was a pity.

Because I am a right nutter, the girls were in stitches but I think they were surprised how intense it was. It is a common comment that I am dead funny but also dead serious at the same time, which always confuses students. Yes, I am evil.

I chose a particularly flowy and semi-slow piece of music to ease their introduction into the dance form. But even then because the movements are so exacting, the poor girls were feeling the pain. I was surprised how well I managed considering I had just recovered from a lonng bout of illness. Dancing has always been my cure-all but I was still amazed that I was doing so well.

So well that 3 hours later I was still ready to go but all the girls are dying. Y called an end to the class and jokingly told the girls I was known to be able to go 10-12 hours non-stop when dancing. I think they gratefully left the room before I proved it to them. What surprised me was when Y told them not to ask me questions about what had been taught during dinner. Why? I don't mind. I am always happy to speak about dance with my students. Especially since they had already been cheated of one class.

Perhaps she thought I would be like many teachers who do not like being asked further questions as they would consider that as another class and might start charging. I would never do that. If someone truly wants to learn and has the right intentions, I will never turn them down or stonewall them. But since she was the organiser, I did not want to contradict her in front of her own students.

A nice shower later and we all departed for dinner. I am not used to being around so many females in a small room at one time and the noise level was trememdous. It was a very odd spread. The restaurant was lauded (by Y) as one that featured food traditionally served to the Batam royalty. Eh? I thought Batam was uninhabited till the 1960s?

Anyway, I was very curious to find out what kind of food was traditional among the Batam royalty. The first course came. And it was a seafood egg drop soup with tofu. Eh ... isn't that Chinese? The only other teacher at this workshop was a Classical Chinese Dance teacher. She spoke no English but with my poor Mandarin, we managed to communicate anyway. Yes, she confirmed that was a Chinese dish. O ... K ...

Next up was a drink that was a specialty of the house. Since I am allergic to pineapple, I had to question the content and was relieved to find out that it was just strawberry and carrot juice. Strawberries are native to Batam? Anyway, it was extremely sweet and although quite refreshing. I decided to let the ice melt it before I took more sips.

The next dishes just made things more confusing. There was a cold dish of seafood a la Chinese restaurant style. And there was deep fried battered softshell crabs a la Japanese style. All the dishes that appeared after that with the exception of three were Chinese style. Hey, colour me confused but isn't Batam Indonesian? I concluded that this was a tourist restaurant and bore no resemblance to anything truly Indonesian. I would know. I grew up with a lot of Indonesian food and if you tried telling my grandmother this was Indonesian, she would tell you where to get off in Behasa Indonesian.

By the end of dinner, I was grateful to go back to my hotel room for some peace and quiet. I had a nice ride back to the hotel with the Classical Chinese Dance teacher and some of the girls who decided that shopping was not their thing too. However, I was disturbed to learn that a few of the girls were disappointed that they would not have the opportunity to have additional classes with me as they felt that they had more to learn. I was not sure why Y did not make this known to me or given them the option I had extended earlier. I did not like the idea that the girls might feel cheated and attribute that to me instead of the event organisation.

My feeling of unease worsened when one of the girls (who I later found out was one of the organisers) had the audacity to comment that I finally managed to find my way to the island. As if the whole cock-up was due to my incompetence. I was very annoyed but decided that I will take it up with Y at a later date. I wish now I had done that on the spot since I found out later that that particular girl was one of the organisers.

Suffice to say, I was grateful to go to bed early and wake up refreshed the next day. I even attended the Classical Chinese Dance workshop. The teacher was good but I felt sorry for the students who did not speak English. Even with my limited Chinese, I did not quite know what she was asking us to do but fortunately my old Classical Chinese Dance training kicked in and I just went with the flow.

There was an awkward moment though. The teacher told me that she would have done more with the class but she noticed all the girls were complaining of sore bodies and exhaustion after my class the previous day. Oops. I was so embarrassed and apologised profusely but she just giggled and was very gracious about it. We shared a few laughs after that ... at the students' expense. LOL.

After the workshop, the lot of women decided to go shopping. The thought was too much for me to bear so I asked to go back to Singapore. It was a relief to go home. I went to Batam to get far from the madding crowd and found a crony of noisy women instead. I think I like my mountain idea more and more.

I do not think I would be keen to do any more workshops with Y if they are going to be so badly organised. But to give her her due, this was the first time she had organised this. So perhaps I should cut her some slack. But I still think they could do a lot better in trying to rectify crisis and not pissing off people in the process who are actually instrumental to the event. Also, I think they need to review the priorities. Truly, 3 days of shopping is excessive. And to place these before a class, which is the main basis of the workshop ... well, if I were a participant, I would demand partial money back.

It was a lesson learned for me too. To those students who might read this, never give up dancing. And you can always speak to me about dance or dance steps. I have never turned down anyone who has asked me that ... even the most dishonest dancer out to steal my techniques and choreography. Because I believe you should make dance, not war.

Categories - Rambling Prose


Anonymous cal-girl said...

Wow...that was some letting off steam! I am a professional dancer and teacher myself, and I have had my share of dealing with goof-ups. I empathize with your frustration, but cannot agree with how you handled the situation. Why didn't you just pay your way and get to the class first and take up the matter later with the organizers? Where I come from, you just don't bite the hand that feeds you (both the students and the people who contracted you for the job).

7:01 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Hi Cal, fair enough I could have been more gracious and handled it better. But I did not want to get stuck on an island where I did not know anyone, did not speak the language and did not even know where the workshop was being held.

I was all ready to buy my own way there but without a call or note to even tell me where exactly the workshop was, I would have been wondering around an island for hours. Not receiving a call for 2 hours from anyone was not going to get me there. Biting the hand, leg or otherwise.

Thanks for the comment though.

7:28 pm  
Blogger 3A Gurl said...

What else is new? She probably expected you to visit her website for all the details instead of making your life a wee bit easier by providing the info as she should since she is contracting you

7:34 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Hey 3A, you think? LOL, however, on her website, the information was all about the programme and the shopping and massages with no mention of the venue of the workshop. As said, I do not think dance was the priority.

10:20 pm  

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