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You know you’re in Indonesia when….


In case anybody’s noticed, I haven’t posted a piece here in a while. The reason for my neglect is that I’ve been going through the most bizarre bureaucratic nightmare that I could imagine.

It all stems from the adoption of my son, JJ Guntensperger. At this moment the adoption, for the legal purposes of my home country of Canada, is complete; Yolanda and I have a notarised Certificate of Adoption that meets the requirements of my government to apply for Canadian citizenship on behalf of my son. It also suffices, for most purposes, to formalise the adoption within Indonesia. But in Indonesia nothing is either that clear or that simple.

The paper chase, which continues to drag on, exemplifies the Indonesian bureaucrat’s motto: “Why make it easy when you can make it hard?” Although JJ, as the son of a Canadian citizen and an Indonesian citizen, is entitled to dual citizenship until his eighteenth birthday, at which time he will have to choose which citizenship he wishes to maintain, the Indonesian government has determined that we need a judicial order, above and beyond his legal Certificate of Adoption, to permit him to be given his Indonesian documentation. That documentation includes his KTP (national identity card) and an Indonesian passport. All this despite the fact that he is an Indonesian citizen, born of an Indonesian citizen on Indonesian soil and adopted by parents, one of whom is an Indonesian citizen.

So off we go to court to formalise an already legally sanctioned adoption. The experience of going through civil court proceedings in Indonesia is somewhat reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland with an overlay of a Marx Brothers farce.

The court clerk assures us that what we need is simply a registered birth certificate with the two of us (Yolanda and me) named as JJ’s parents. When asked if that makes any sense – a document that states that we are the child’s natural parents when he is already registered as our adopted son – she assures us that that is the way it is done here in Indonesia. Okay; if you say so.

We’re further told that the document will take months if not years to produce, but that she could accelerate the process for a small consideration. The first few million Rupiah bribe is paid and she hits a key on the keyboard and from her printer there emerges a birth certificate for my son, with us named as the natural parents. She steps into the judge’s office and comes back with the judge’s stamp, seal, and signature on what is, I later discover, a legally registered but utterly fraudulent and therefore worthless document obtained through bribery.

Next step, obtain a court date to have a judge sign a judicial order confirming the adoption. Hmmm, we’re told. That could take months or perhaps years to get on the docket; nevertheless, she can help for the right consideration. Furthermore, she can guarantee that the judge will sign the order and we can be all done. But all three of us must personally attend the formal signing of the order. Terrific. We fly back to Ambon to pay a few more million in bribes to attend court.

Although the courtroom is completely empty and the lights and air conditioning not functioning, we sit for hours waiting for His Honour to appear. From my seat I can see a group of what I think are ojek drivers sitting around a warung drinking coffee and gossiping. After a while, one detaches himself from the group, disappears into the courthouse, and re-emerges a few moments later in a ratty red robe and judicial collar. He walks into the courtroom and all rise.

He looks at all the documentation we produce including the Certificate of Adoption and the bullshit birth certificate. He nods wisely and picks up his judicial seal as though he is about to confirm his official sanction; he pauses, looks up and replaces the seal on his desk. For about ten minutes, with great gravitas and ponderous scrutiny he shuffles through the reams of documents the file contains.

He looks at certified true copies of the Certificate of Adoption, birth certificates from both of us, our civil marriage certificate, our religious marriage certificate, our passports, our police cards, my KITAS, my blue immigration control book, Yolanda’s KTP, my library card from high school, my membership card for the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club, Yolanda’s Matahari discount card, my income statements from two universities, countless consulting clients, and a dozen publishing outlets, various frequent flyer cards, my Canadian Social Insurance Number card, Yolanda’s university diploma, my university diplomas, letters of recommendation, sworn affidavits from everybody from the village chief who asked us to adopt JJ to the RT of the Jakarta neighbourhood in which we live, my preferred customer card for the Cork and Screw, and some documents that one might consider irrelevant.

He decides not to sign the order as he doesn’t feel there is enough paperwork to justify such a heavy judicial decision. He says that we are to appear before him tomorrow at the same time at which time he would have given the matter due consideration and will be in a better position to ad his personal Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval to the Certificate of Adoption.

I cancel our return flight, rebook the hotel, and try to comfort a very fussy eight month old baby who has just spent about five hours in a stifling courtroom for no discernible reason.

As we leave, his clerk buttonholes us and she asks us to join her in an anteroom to discuss the proceedings today and tomorrow. It’s all a formality, she tells us; tomorrow she can absolutely assure us that the judge will give his approval. We are to get another couple of million Rupiah together to ensure a place on the docket for the quick rubber stamp approval. I tell her (I’m a quick learner) that we’ll bring that money and hand it over when we get our order tomorrow.

The next day is a repeat of the first. Several hours of sitting in the broiling, empty courtroom watching the judge smoke, drink coffee, and gossip with his friends, before he deigns to don his robes of office and ponderously enter the courtroom as we stand in respect. Fifteen minutes of sifting through the papers. Finally he looks up and asks me what citizenship I hold. This while holding a copy of my passport. I tell him. He asks Yolanda why she had renounced her Indonesian citizenship. She explains that she hasn’t done any such thing and remains Indonesian. This while he holds a copy of her KTP and her Indonesian passport.

He nods wisely. Then he tells us that he is prepared to confirm the already legal adoption. We sigh with relief that ordeal is coming to an end.

He proceeds. He will sign the order as soon as we present the following documents, he tells us. He then gives us a list of seventeen separate letters and documents he will require. All are from various agencies and bureaucracies in Jakarta, and even Canada.

They include more police letters, health certificates, more letters of reference, a death certificate of JJ’s mother, a letter from the hospital where JJ was born (he was born in a house in the village, and the judge knows this), a letter of approval from the orphanage that processed the adoption (there was no orphanage involved and the judge knows this), letters from Ottawa, and some other paperwork that the cynical might consider excessive, or even irrelevant. He then gives us two weeks to arrange all these things and appear before him again.

When I stand and humbly point out that first of all, some of the documents (the hospital and orphanage letters) are impossible to acquire, and that, secondly, bureaucrats in Jakarta take more than two weeks for a firm bowel movement, he simply responds, “You heard my order”, lowers his gavel on the matter and strides out.

Stunned and hopeless Yolanda and I stare at each other. I’m consumed with rage and she is close to tears. JJ is laughing; he has just woken up and thinks pretty much everything is well with the world because Mummy and Daddy are holding him.

The clerk buttonholes us again and asks us for the money. Yolanda holds me back as I clearly demonstrate the body language that presages a physical assault.

Back to the hotel, book a flight, check out, head to the airport.

In another post I’ll talk about how some prick stole the bag containing my laptop and all our originals of the documents in court, was caught, bribed the police, and ended up on the same flight as us, one row behind me all the way to Jakarta.

This week I’ve been less than diligent in posting to this blog simply because of the pressures of rounding up the paperwork in what we know to be a wild goose chase, but which we have promised ourselves we will do anyway. And just to give an idea of the absurdity of the situation, here’s only one small example of the sheer, blind stupidity of the requirements.

The police require photographs of me, in two different formats and sizes, in front of a red backdrop. They also require my fingerprints. Again. Only problem is I’m giving a seminar out of town so Yolanda is doing this on her own. No problem, say the cops, since they were well bribed; here’s the fingerprint card, buy an ink pad and have Pak Patrick apply his prints when he has a moment and bring it all back when you have his photos and he’s taken his own fingerprints.

We will continue with this farce for no other reason than to be certain that we have complied with every absurd demand of the corrupt officials who are at the centre of the rot that characterises Indonesian bureaucracy.

Wish us luck.

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  1. It is a real mess and an excuse to try and extract cash.

    Our son has an Indonesian birth certificate that states that he is Indonesian. That according to immigration was not sufficient for a passport. He had to get his Australian passport first. So, he did.

    The young fella still does not have an Indonesian passport. We will probably try and organize one now that we are back in Australia through the local consulate or embassy.

    Good luck (and a good looking kid as well).

  2. Thanks Rob!

    Fortunately I love my son more than those bastards hate us.

    We'll keep on truckin'; do what it takes and one day my son will look back from a civilised country and thank us from getting him out of this black hole of lies, deceit, and corruption.

    My main focus these days is to take him out of here; I want him brought up in a society where lying is not the preferred response to an uncomfortable question or situation; where integrity and truth actually have value; where there exists a concept called accountabity.

    I want my son to be a person for whom I would have respect, even if we weren't related. That won't happen in Indonesia.

    Once again, wish me luck.

    Go get 'em!

  3. Thanks for your extended and very authentic diary of events. I wish more bloggers would take the trouble that you have to record their experiences, especially regarding matters that count. I have lived here many years but I have not yet experienced the travesties that you note.

    I was looking at your article and wondering if it would be any easier, or even better for you to obtain the Canadian passport first, a la Rob, and allow your son to decide if he wants to seek Indonesian citizenship at age 18. I guess I am asking if this option is included under the new law when it says the one is 'entitled' to dual citizenship – in other words does one have to take the dual option or can one choose one nationality until one might wish to swing to the other sometime before the age of 18, irrespective of where the child is actually raised??

  4. Good luck buddy. This is an evil place.

  5. John:

    Yes…we are pursuing both avenues at once. The Canadian process is simple one, but there is about an 8 month period from application for citizenship of an adopted child to the receipt of a citizenship certificate. That process is underway. The problem is that if he gets his Canadian citizenship first, and let him make the call at 18, there's every likelihood that the Indonesian government will recognise him as Canadian citezen…full stop. Then, for as long as we're in the country, he'll need god only knows what kind of visas and stay permits. As well, he'll enjoy all the special treatment usually accorded to foreigners, and we have had sufficient xenophobic special treatment.


    Sign at the arrivals gate of Soekarno-Hatta :



  6. 2 of my mates have got dual citizenship for their sprogs with a minimum of fuss since the law was changed. Here in Jakarta though. Give up with those Ambonese hound dogs. Just claim it's yours I guess (the nipper's adopted?) and get it all done in Jakarta if you can.

  7. Sign at the gate ….

    "enter at your own risk"

    that's the way they see it.

  8. Indeed. "And we'll make you suffer. We promise."

    Oddly, that would be the only promise ever kept in Indonesia as far as I'm aware.

  9. Excellent site – thank you for providing such a great resource. I will definitely link to your site from my home page.

  10. Thank you; you are very kind.

  11. Patrick

    I hope you don't mind if I linked to this post. A friend of mine is facing a somewhat similar bureaucratic nightmare.

    Peter Johnston

  12. Very happy to share and commiserate!

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