The first ever Conversare outside of Hong Kong

December 4, 2010 |  by  |  Uncategorized

This took place in last week in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia.

It happened through my being invited to there to participate in a series of workshops and seminars together with my friend and former student, Prof Elfindri (He only has one name). These were on my expertise to do with Open Space Technology (OST), his with Positive Deviance (PD) and our joint perspectives on wholesome people skills (Soft skills). These presentations were well received and very productive, with the prospect of follow up in areas to do with policy and practice concerning health care and education in different parts of Indonesia.

Joining us in the enterprise as a ‘gofer’ ie logistics person was Dania Pratiwi from Jakarta. Dania has recently graduated in Communications from the University of Indonesia. In May of this year I was a keynote speaker on “The Health Care Revolution in Indonesia’ in a place near Padang. Dania heard of this through the Open Space listserv and offered her help. Her assistance with translation turned out to be very useful for my slide presentation to be shown in Bahasa Indonesia and for my follow-up papers also.

Recognising how skillful –and enthusiastic – Dania was about this work we invited her to come to Padang this time to be the link person with our audiences.  Not least as she is a similar age (mid 20s) to many of those who attended and has well developed IT skills. She did this remarkably well.

Coming to the point of this post …

I had suggested to Elfindri that we make the opportunity to offer a Conversare event in Padang. Dania was aware of this and had been following developments with this adventure on the blog.

Here are her reflections on the gathering.

“There’s a chance you will meet the Dean of Faculty of Medicine from Andalas University tonight”.

I remember you said those words to me before we headed to the Conversare venue in Padang, West Sumatra, last Tuesday (23 Nov 2010). The Dean would join the Conversare! Wow, it would be one awesome experience for me if I could sit with the Dean, I said to myself. I was excited. And the fact that it was the first Conversare ever being held in Indonesia made my excitement grow. I had been reading the Conversare blog for months, and I always wondered how it felt like to be there, to join the Conversare, to turn or to dance together with other people :) And now, I’m going to be part of it. This is exciting!

We arrived at the venue with Pak Elfindri and his wife, Ibu Firti. After we ordered the food and put up some notes on the wall, two gentlemen, Pak Denas and Pak Masrul, showed up to join us. There were six of us (other invitees had called in with their apologies).  At one point, I thought you were going to cancel the Conversare because there were only the four of us and the two gentlemen. You did surprise me when you told us that we were going to do Conversare anyway. You told me that no matter how many people showed up, they would be the right people, we could and we would make a Conversare event. Yay us! 😀

Then you invited us to consider that, instead of  have dinner together, what about having three tables for two and have dinner with someone that we chose from our group? You asked us to look around between the six of us, find someone that we didn’t know at all, or we knew less about that person, then asked him or her to be our dinner partner. Pak Denas quickly chose Ibu Firti to be his dinner partner. They moved to another table, leaving the four of us on the table: Pak Elfindri, Pak Masrul, you, and me. Then you asked me to choose one person to be my dinner partner. I looked around and felt hesitated. I really, really wanted to have my dinner with you, but then I thought, we were going to have dinner together for the rest of the week. In fact, we were going to have all meals together, three times a day, for the rest of the week! There would be plenty of time to do our own ‘Conversare’ :) Same goes to Pak Elfindri, because we are the Three Amigos, wandering around Sumatra together that week hehehehe…

So I chose someone that I felt like I wouldn’t have any chance to meet again, Pak Masrul, to be my dinner partner. Off we went to our table, leaving you with Pak Elfindri. I have to admit, Alan, that it was a bit intimidating to sit with someone who’s a complete stranger to you. As soon as I moved to our table with Pak Masrul, I remember telling myself, what are you doing with this guy? You don’t know him at all! You should’ve chosen Alan or Pak Elfindri! But the choice had been made, and I knew I had to sit with him anyway.

Now if you didn’t notice it during our time in Sumatra, let me tell you something… I’m actually a shy person. I’m still learning how to get out of my shell and be an outgoing person (and boy, did I learn a lot when I was with you and Pak Elfindri! :D). And I somehow sensed that Pak Masrul was a shy person, too. We spent our first 20 seconds in silent, occupied with our own food, while you and Pak Elfindri, and Pak Denas and Bu Firti, had engaged in cheery conversations. I had to break the silence somehow, I thought. So I did. I asked him, “How’s the food? You like it?”. He smiled and nodded. And we talked about the grilled chicken. How’s that for a start? :)

One question always lead to another. Within minutes, we had an enjoyable conversation. Pak Masrul is really a nice man! I’m so glad I had my dinner with him. We chuckled, we giggled, we laughed. Then at one point, I asked him, “so what do you do, Sir?”. To which he replied with, “Oh, I’m the Dean of Faculty of Medicine from Andalas University”. I was stunned. Oh. My. God. I totally forgot that The Dean was going to join us tonight! I was so excited and enjoying the moment, that I forgot about the Dean! The Dean! And I had dinner with him! What an honor! He was surprised to see my reaction and asked why. I said, “I was expecting you, Sir. But I didn’t know it was you”. We had a good laugh.

After we finished our dinner, we all sat together and reflected what we had experienced in Conversare, what we learned about our partner that night. I remember Pak Denas quickly took the opportunity to share a huge part what he had discovered about himself. He told us that after conversing with Ibu Firti, he realized that he spent most of his time at home watching TV instead of having a conversation with his family. Ibu Firti suggested him to turn the TV off and spend some time with his family. I think Pak Denas learned a lot about himself that night, rather than learned something about Ibu Firti hehehehe…

Then you asked me to share about what I learned from Pak Masrul. I said that I learned that Pak Masrul is The Dean :) Not just an ordinary Dean, but he is a great Dean. He started a program where each medical student in his school has to ‘adopt’ a poor family in their neighborhood to increase their quality of life: how to prevent disease, how to provide nutritional meal, etc. His goal is not only to provide medical knowledge for his students, but also to help his students developing interpersonal skills. What a vision. What a great person he is!

That night, no doubt, I went to bed with a huge smile. Like Ibu Firti said, it was a simple thing, to start a conversation with a stranger. But you get a deep meaning from it. You get to learn about how other people see the world, and also about yourself. Conversare is a truly great way to dance with others.

As for me, I was dancing with The Dean that night.

The pioneers of Conversare in Indonesia

1 Comment

  1. Just as you told the story to us :-) in Bukit Lawang. I’ll send you the pics off Orang Oetangs.

    Kind regards,


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