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Fake It till You Break It: Soul Searching in Bali

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

I’m writing this column on a cliff in Uluwatu where the ocean breeze is cool, the sunrise is stunning, and with the noise of waves crashing into the cliffs.

It’s always been a source of inspiration to me. I grew up in the countryside and I was always in touch with nature; on my scale, this is about as good of a wake-up call there is. I know there are a lot of like-minded expats in Bali who are after the same – not nature on its own, but a raw and real experience.

Many people come to Bali when they are at a crossroads in their lives; to find what actually matters. I came to Bali to continue practicing law and challenge myself in a new environment. Living in Bali has pushed me to develop myself in many ways, and to think about what actually matters. It has made me question some of the principles and beliefs that I had always considered to be my core values.

One of these values is the truth. When I was living back home, I noticed that I was one of many people living in a culture where it was all too easy to take shortcuts with truth in personal relationships, and in our relationships with ourselves. My thoughts of picture-perfect happiness with a career and an apartment, marriage, and family, was a complex picture that perhaps I created more in the image of others, than finding some deeper idea of who I was and creating my dreams spanning out from that source.

Moving to Indonesia became a vehicle for learning in my personal life, and the people, environment, and culture here in Bali have provided endless inspiration to do so. You might imagine, then, how caught off-guard I felt when I realised the paradox of so many people coming to live this truth here on a personal level, while not fulfilling this promise on a business level.

I never once experienced at home the fakeness or fabrication in my professional relationships, and certainly not in my work between a lawyer and a client. I could never imagine faking a client or supervisor’s signature on a document, let alone editing the official text on a work permit.

In Bali, I’ve come to realise that while people are working hard to stay true to themselves, they often let go of that authenticity and integrity when it comes to their business and legal matters.

The most common “edits” are to flight tickets for visa runs, paying donations to “skip” a mandatory company licence, or photoshopping a bachelor’s degree for a KITAS application. These may seem relatively innocent.

And yet, I’ve seen much worse.

One of our clients had originally hired an agent to get the work and stay permit (KITAS) as a freelance photographer – he had been working in a photography position for a couple of years. When he was finally checked by the authorities, it turned out that he actually did not have the right visa for a photographer position, but that of a technical manager. The agent had “edited” the official position on his work permit to that of a photographer.

On closer inspection, you could even spot the different font in the altered text of the certificate. This little “edit” could have ended with deportation and other serious consequences, even though the person had no idea that the documents were faked.

In another common case, business agents in Bali may “help you” with shortcuts when registering a company, such as skipping the company domicile (SKTU) when applying for a company licence to avoid having to deal with basic, required building permits for the company’s location.

It’s a short-term pain to deal with fees to local village heads and get building permits approved, but it provides long-term security to the company, ensuring the domicile registration is done correctly and legally. Failing to do this can result in problems later, such as when using the new online KITAS extension processing – where having “connections” is no longer a way to avoid the rules. These improper registrations then become an obstacle for many to get their stay permit extended on time.

We all love a shortcut every now and then, and sometimes the legal environment and bureaucracy are not very supportive, nor encouraging, to stick to truth and transparency. I believe, however, that cheating and faking these kinds of things creates “a new normal” that we all live by.

The border between big and little lies is surprisingly thin.

In a place that is otherwise so authentic and full of truth, let’s not encourage this. I believe Bali should be a place of integrity and discovery in all its forms.

We always have a choice to differentiate between wrong and right, and doing so on one level should mean doing so in all areas of our lives, or else what is the meaning of it in the first place? Together, as foreign visitors and local residents, let’s build a community that maintains the sacred feeling that this island has always been known for.

Triin Tigane

Triin Tigane is the Branch Manager of Emerhub Bali. She has been assisting people with starting their business in Bali for nearly 3 years. Having a legal background in M&A, commercial and corporate law, restructuring and insolvency as a lawyer, Triin has experience working with companies all around the world. She knows which challenges starting and expanding companies face, and which standard of communication and services are expected by international clients expanding to emerging markets. Triin Tigane holds a masters degree from the University of Tartu, Estonia, and has studied law also in France and Austria. Feel free to drop her an email: [email protected]

We’d love to hear back from you – please do not hesitate to reach out to Triin Tigane via email [email protected]

See: Purchasing Land in Bali? Know What You Are Buying

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