Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Paying respects

In an effort to improve my Indonesian, and in part because I miss fussing with an actual newspaper everyday, I'm now "reading" the national daily Kompas. I skim the stories for words or phrases or even simple sentences I can understand, and I try to make sense of the cutlines and kickers. I look for items I've seen reported in the English-language press, where I'm sure to understand at least something, and I check out the sports pages, which are filled with stories about volleyball (?!), Formula One racing, and European soccer. I also linger over the photo essays, many of which celebrate new toll roads and high-speed interchanges in this country of two-lane roads.

So paging through the business section today, I was struck by several half- and quarter-page ads all memorializing the recently deceased Brigjen Pol (P) Dr. H. KRH Chanrda Suharto, MBA, SpJp. A former national police official, General Dr. Suharto went on to head the very large and very dominant Blue Bird Group taxi company. He died recently in a hospital bed in Holland. Gen'l Dr. Suharto appears in no less than five ads--paid for by Mercedes-Benz, a couple large Toyota dealerships, and one big bank--in his police uniform, sometimes with a baubled-and-banded-and-eagle-crested hat and sometimes not. All of these big and powerful players wish to honor the late police official/Ph.D./MBA/cab company boss and to thank him for his contributions to Indonesian life. They compete for the most honorific offering, the biggest ad, the wordiest ad, the ad with two-tone color!

No doubt this is good form and very good business. I'm sure Pak Suharto (any relation to the late strongman is unknown to me) was a decent fellow and a regular customer, and I'm sure his family and former business associates and underlings will appreciate the encomiums.

But two things:

1. I have seen nothing like these ads in the English-language papers, and I can't help but thinking they represent some kind of window into How Things Work here. Fealty is paid, relations maintained, and it's kept among the Indonesians.

2. How 'bout the absurd laundry list of supposed academic accomplishments? MBA and Ph.D. on top of full-time work as a police bureau "general," and as the boss of bosses in the largest and most profitable cab company in Indonesia? Of course. Why not? I mean, everyone in higher office here has a Ph.D. as far as I can tell. I'd like to read, or maybe just skim, their dissertations. Wonder where I could find them.

There's a lot of noise in the English-language press here about the almost tragicomic abuse of courts and the law by well-connected movers and shakers. Justice can and is clearly bought, so why not some sheepskins? Just pile 'em on! The wordier the paid memorial ad--the wider and stemwindinger the tombstone inscription--the better.

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