Wandering through the Southeast Asian galleries at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art over Christmas, I was struck by the glory of the bronzes produced in Java more than 1,000 years ago. And of their prescience. This depiction of the Shakyamuni Buddha suggests that in 10th Century Java, the Gods were already playing with their Blackberrys.
So Indonesia is going to require expatriate lawyers to take an ethics test, in Indonesian. I think this is a splendid idea; though they are not actually allowed to practice law in Indonesia, foreigners certainly have a lot to learn from Indonesian lawyers when it comes to ethics. Here’s some essential vocab to get them started:
“Salary supplementation”. It literally means “to spoonfeed” and some cynics translate it as “bribe”, but they haven’t studied legal ethics in Indonesia.
To “wash money”. Indonesians are very concerned with personal hygiene. Many Indonesian lawyers feel they have an ethical obligation to ensure that money stays clean.
“Tax compliance” This is best understood through a recent quote from a lawyer explaining why the head of the Constitutional Court registered his Mercedes in the name of his driver. “Itu biasa, dalam satu orang namanya ada pajak progresif, dia coba untuk pakai nama orang lain. Ya itu kan biasa, Indonesia itu kan semua ini begitu kan.” A literal translation for people not familiar with Indonesian legal ethics would be: “That’s normal, if a person is subject to progressive taxes, it’s normal that they would try and use someone else’s name. In Indonesia, it’s all like that, right?”
“Bank account”. Derived from the word for “suitcase”, this word describes the mechanism through which most Indonesian lawyers get paid.
In common usage, this means foreign. To the Indonesian legal establishment, however, it means “Guilty”
A contraction for Korupsi, Kolusi, Nepotisme, this translates as “Business as Usual”
In the interests of enriching the ethical understanding of foreign lawyers in Indonesia, I offer the Golden Loophole Award for the best additions to this list.
As I struggle to pin the gloriously frustrating realities of Indonesia to the page, friends ask: wouldn’t it be easier to write the book as fiction? But as I look at the headlines that are churned out day after day: women must ride side-saddle on motorbikes, MPs will spend over half a million dollars travelling to Europe to check out witchcraft regulations, I think: “Fiction? You couldn’t make this up.”
Indeed when the witchcraft trip hit the headlines, I commented to a friend that Indonesia didn’t need to start a satirical magazine like The Onion; we could just mash together a random selection of real headlines and it would read just like satire. I think it is one of the reasons that slapstick always outguns satire or irony on the battlefield of Indonesian humour: it’s just too hard to tell the difference between reality and satire.
Check out this “news” story about Aceh banning immodest farts and ask yourself: is it any sillier than many of the other stories we see in Kompas?