Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The World’s Worst Spouse

This was first posted on The Malaysian Insider on 11 October 2010.

If there is a competition for the world’s best spouse, I’ll be stuck at the bottom two with Ike Turner.

“Why do you say that?” my husband asked when I read this line aloud.

Sounding a bit too sorry for myself, I answered, “It has nothing to do with you. It’s me. I’m just horrible to be around.”

“Well, why is that?” He wanted to know since it wasn’t the time of the month.

“Nothing is working! I’m tired of every single thing; the bank’s incompetency, the traffic, the bloody noise outside our windows, the brainless drivers on the roads. Sometimes I get so tired of trying to deal with stupid people doing stupid things that I become this horrible monster who’s ready to tear anyone apart! It has nothing to do with you. Just let me rant, OK?”

He looked at me sympathetically and said, “OK, but don’t say you’re the world’s worst spouse ‘cause you’re not.”

I was left burning with my own thoughts as he walked out of the room quietly.

For the past few months, I’ve been experiencing what I call “being-on-an-overtime-job-and-home-for-too-long” syndrome. After working on a demanding public campaign for close to a year, I am feeling rather burnt out. In addition to this, what’s left of my energy has been spent mostly on sorting out my own personal affairs and to rectify mistakes made by service providers who are not only completely clueless of what it means by customer service, but also don’t seem to care too much for it.

Bottom line is, I have been spending most of my waking hours away from work fighting. I have fought with a waiter who told me that I could not use my credit card because the system was down and another who neglected to return my five sen worth of change simply because he unilaterally decided that I wouldn’t mind.

I have fought with a taxi driver who decided to pick up another passenger on the way without my consent. I have fought with my bank for mistakenly deleting my record on their computer system and a hospital staff for failing to call me up when I left my medical reports behind.

I also fought with the only good electrician I knew who made me wait without feeling remorse or shame for three hours. A sincere apology would have flushed away any ill feelings.

Hence, I am constantly irritated whenever my husband asks for my help to sort out some administrative matters with local service providers as he doesn’t speak the local language and still finds it difficult to understand Manglish.

The thing is, if I encounter bad service in another country, which I most certainly did during my travels, I would have been more forgiving and patient in trying to deal with them. I would shrug it off and convince myself that there is nothing I can do but to accept those flaws as part and parcel of life.

But not in Malaysia. No siree!

I keep riling myself up at the slightest mishap; whether they are being carried out intentionally or not, simply because I witness every day, in and out, how badly we’re doing in every aspect of our service sector. There is so much more room for improvement and yet not many of us have the will to push for these improvements. I hear people constantly moaning about how bad a service is but yet they do nothing about it and then wonder why the service continues to be bad.

Perhaps it is true when older people often say that we tend to be tougher on people whom we love. I am more tolerant and patient when confronted by poor customer service in other countries but not in my own. Contrary to what many people may believe or think, I love this country so much so that I’m allowing my blood pressure to rise every time I try to make Malaysians account for their mistakes.

“These carrots are bad!” I shrieked as soon as I tasted the acidity of a deceitful stick of baby carrot on its way out. “We should take it back to the store and demand for a replacement or get our money back,” I suggested to my husband.

“What? Waste fuel just to complain about a bag of carrots that cost less than three ringgit? Are you mad?” He slammed my suggestion down despite knowing how much this kind of thing usually annoys me.

“But how else would people know that they’re not supposed to sell expired goods if we don’t say something? You know this is not the first time it has happened. All you ever know is to complain but what are you going to do about it? I’m sick and tired of people thinking that they can get away with anything. I am even more tired of people who allow others to think it’s perfectly ok to give sub-standard services!” I screamed out in exasperation.

Like most spoiled brats I have encountered, their annoying habits are mostly manifested from the absence or lack of discipline and reproach from adults around them. That is my theory anyway and the same applies to how we, as Asians, rather stay mum than confront or find faults in others. We allow people to get away with bad habits and mediocrity while we complain behind closed doors.

My husband just shook his head and tossed the bag of carrots into the bin. That signalled the end of our discussion while I continued to stay irritated for the rest of the night.

Perhaps I am difficult, nasty and arrogant to many people but in all fairness, I do give credit when it’s due. I show my appreciation when I am pleased with a service. I tip generously when I’m satisfied that a waiter or waitress has made sure that all my dining needs have been attended to with a pleasant disposition.

I will salute and treat a policeman who does not take bribes respectfully. I will be generous with my compliments and encouragement when I know that the person sitting behind the counter has tried very hard to solve a problem I raised.

Recently I was hosted by a religious organisation in Kinarut, Sabah. The hospitality and courtesy extended to me were both abundant and unconditional. This was not the first time I had been given the royal treatment. It was the same in Kedah and Sarawak. My hosts had countless times humbled me when I think about how good traditional values such as kindness, generosity, selflessness and politeness are no longer practised in Kuala Lumpur.

It is not often one gets to be humbled or inspired by city folks. Whether you agree or not, I find it easy to unleash the demons in me when I’m in Kuala Lumpur. I have lost count of the number of times when I feel like taking a baseball bat and swing it at a bunch of ruthless boys speeding back and forth along the road outside my windows with their modified exhaust pipes.

I have heard comments from different people about how scary I can be when I am annoyed and upset about something. When my husband told me yesterday that I’m turning into someone we both know, who is critical of everything, I was stunned and it silenced me for a long time. I was shocked to learn that I may have turned into someone I despise and I asked myself these questions repeatedly: What and who created this ugly monster in me? And how do I get rid of it?

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