Kampung Girls

Aug 28th, 2007, in Opinion, Society, by

Ross says “kampung” girls are the best.

As Spring, and all other seasons, bring rain in Scotland, so does the advent of Ramadan in Indonesia almost inevitably produce whining articles in the Jakarta Post from spoilt lazy women who can’t look after their own families.

Ignoring the paradox of a communist-sympathising newspaper affording a platform for the worst examples of the “exploiting classes”, I’d like to dwell on the issue of women who have plenty of money to afford cooking and cleaning classes yet go into a paroxysm of despair when their pembantus (housekeepers) escape the endless domestic drudgery for a week or two to pulang kampung (go home to their villages) and enjoy the company of their loved ones.

It is not unusual for these rich women to move their entire families into hotels for the duration of the Holy Month, or disappear out of town to some luxury resort. Not that I begrudge them a vacation, but the reason for abandoning their homes is their sheer uselessness. And when they come back they’re just as slothful as before they went, re-energised only to resume their irresponsible gallivanting while their sons and daughters are washed, dressed and nourished by employees.

Please note I’m not having a go at working wives. If a couple choose to organize their lives to benefit from two incomes, then that is their choice and they need to make arrangements for their children to be looked after, and if you work all day, it is nice to have a meal waiting for you when you’ve waded through Jakarta’s traffic.

No, my target is the idle females who never work at all. Their kiddies are left in the care of “babysisters” while these gilded creatures swan around coffee-shops and engage in endless window-shopping (or the real thing) while over-worked maids mop and dust and bake and fry so the men of the house (and the said idlers) can have a home worth coming home to. What on earth possesses Indonesian men to marry such dead-beats?

Yes, of course they may be beautiful, and charming, and since their mothers were probably as dysfunctional as themselves, they can’t be blamed for their total lack of domestic skills, but surely if they are free all day, they can take some time to learn what they missed out on as they grew up? (And the government took pride in introducing such classes for migrant workers, so don’t tell me there are none available.)

But let’s forget Ramadan and ask why so many Indonesian women are brought up to be parasites, all year round. It’s not part of their genetic structure. You only have to walk around any backstreet to see Jakarta housewives who work their fingers to the bone to ensure all is spick and span on the home front and the children go off to school in good shape. Men who want good wives, spouses just as beautiful and charming as those pampered playthings I’m criticizing, but infinitely superior in that they’re competent at housewifery, need only stroll into the poor people’s neighbourhoods and find hundreds of capable blossoms just waiting to be plucked.

When I was still quite new here, I heard a nice young Indonesian lady who worked in a bank asking another expat, “why do bules (white expats) always prefer kampung girls?” I had no answer then, for I didn’t understand the question, but after almost nine years in the Big Durian, I can begin to see why. Kampung girls usually accept responsibility for their families. If they were transplanted to distant shores, they’d not be surprised at having to break sweat in the kitchen or lift a broom.

On the other hand, if some of these glamour-pusses we see waltzing around Senayan City or Taman Anggrek all day returned to live with their foreign husbands in those foreign lands, how could they adjust to what Western women take for granted – that if you have kids, you have to look after them, that if you aren’t obliged by employment to be out of doors all day, you should devote some of the time spent indoors to carrying out some basic housework. Yes, I know many Western women do go out to work, and good luck to them – I’m talking about the ones who don’t. And I’m not being “sexist” -whatever that means. I’d apply the same critique to house-husbands who shirk their chores too.

Being at home with young ones you love is not a burden but a joy. But many of Jakarta’s rich women as a rule don’t seem to think so. It’s more fun to sip cappuccino in Kemang cafes than change a nappy (diaper, for American readers), I agree, but parental duty should take precedence over the social whirl, benar?

So what is the explanation? For the rich women’s lack of shame at their indolence, and for the men’s utter lack of discrimination when they marry them?

Watching the numerous sinetron suggests that parents here often interfere intolerably with their offspring’s marital choice, coercing their young to marry within their own ‘social level’ regardless of their wishes. Admittedly, such soap operas are melo-dramatised, but perhaps they do reflect realities. While people mostly marry others from within their own milieu, there should be no parental sticky-beaking into such an important matter. A lot of young men would surely be far better off marrying a cute pembantu with a kind heart and culinary skills rather than being directed into the would-be “social wedding of the year” with a fatuous ding-a-ling who can’t boil an egg.

There is too much snobbery here, reflected on a political level by the indifference of the ruling class to the sufferings of the rest, whether it’s in mud-flow situations, or brutal evictions, or just life’s everyday injustice. The upper strata of society seem to regard the others as a race apart – or beneath.

As readers of my previous posts will be aware, I loathe communism but I can see why Marxist irrationality and class hatred can fester and grow in such circumstances. So my topic has ramifications far beyond the four walls of any household.

I await enlightenment from Indonesians of any class.

76 Comments on “Kampung Girls”

  1. Dimp says:

    Straight to the point, even though it is easy to blame the parents or society, it should be the responsibility of the individual who should be mature enough to choose their path of life. If they choose not to ‘dust, bake, fry’ then it is their choice and they should be the ones to be blamed.

    I agree that some girls (I refuse to call them women) are just too spoilt to begin with, and they only know how to shop, go to cafes, and nothing else. I only have two words for these girls: GROW UP.

  2. nenek sihir says:

    Stupid rich lazy Indonesians, male and female, (not to mention their stupid rich lazy [and increasingly obese] children) are essentially no different and no less revolting than stupid rich lazy people anywhere else on the planet…they just stand out more in the developing world! I worked with the rich kids of Jakarta and Bandung for years, and it ain’t just the girls who have major problems. I still have dealings with them in Australia: one young (and very rich) male, or ‘boy’ should I say, (I refuse to call them men) who I work with at present doesn’t even know how to get on a bus or what to do when he has a stomache ache…oh but that must of course be his rich stupid mother’s fault, mustn’t it?

    ‘They are the ones to be blamed…if they choose not to bake dust and fry.’ To be blamed for what??? Not being good little housewives? I despise stupid rich lazy people regardless of origins or gender-but why bring such sexist archaic stereotypes into it?

  3. Dimp says:

    Hi nenek sihir,

    To be blamed for what???

    They are to be blamed because they have no intention of giving it a go. I know a few boys/girls who were spoilt rotten, but then they tried to live independently and they manage to do that and became men/women.

    But then again I know a girl who refuses to hail a bus and just wait at the bus stop hoping someone else will hail the bus or someone is stoping at that stop.

    Maybe I should be a bit clearer, regardless of gender they should grow up.

  4. Janma says:

    All my sister in laws are like that. I never said anything except one day my mother in law told me off about how to bring up my children (I have four children already grown from a previous marriage) I should do this and that and blah blah blah…. and she bought up six children like that and that is why now they are so independent (mandiri she said) I almost choked on my own tongue! Out of 6 children only one of them works and he stays in the family home with daddy.
    My kids are more independent than them by the age of 12!

  5. Dimp says:

    Hi Janma,

    You are not alone, some of my friends are getting really pissed to be told how to raise their children by their in laws, I and my wife have already make agreement that in laws (my mom and her mom) will not be allowed to meddle in how we raise our kids. They are allowed to give advise, but it is still up to our discretion how we raise our kids.

    We also do not want the grandparents to spoil our kids by showering them with gifts. It is unfortunate that some Indonesian parents / grandparents interpret love = money.

  6. Koko says:

    Nicely written. Let’s blame it to sinetron-sinetron that always depicts this kind of behaviour.

  7. Oigal says:

    Some of the kids are the worst, ordering around the pembantu like they are personal slave or something. Had some relative kids stay over recently, all sitting on the floor watching TV, demanding the pembantu get them drinks and something to eat, no please, no thank you.

    They were kind of surprised when I picked everything up and threw it all in the bin. Since when do children get to order around adults. Although its one of the reasons, the country has such leaders, they are all precious, little spoiled brats, I want, I want, I want!!!

  8. Falcon says:

    Some like to marry Kampung Girls (by the way there are plenty of Kampungs in the Metro city Jakarta), simply because they are good in house keepers, cook food and excellent sex partner. Jokingly, a friend of mine commented that kampung girls are inexpensive to maintain especially for those single foreign workers in Indonesia. Try to marry a good looking educated one with money, your disposable income quickly depleted and monthly bills go through the roof.

    Some kampung girls got spoiled, guess what happened, eventually they emulate the life style of those Senayan City ladys, Leave caring of the children to the other kampung girls. Life goes through a cycle

    However not all compound girls can be stereotyped. Its sad that being poor and less educated automatically placed them as a kampung girls but the beauty is that they still maintain old family tradition but be aware that tradition will could also mean that the sisters and brothers, aunties and uncles may piggy-back later when family relationship is comfortable.

  9. Pena Budaya says:

    I can not agree more with Ross’ view related to middle-upper class Indonesian ladies who went to university, graduated, then marrying rich husbands and ended as housewives with plenty of maids to help them. I found it as amusing, and annoying. I had some friends with that background in Jakarta and it breaks my heart when they choose to become housewives as they were married, throwing away their good career and graduate degrees. There are some reasons behind it and most popular reasons as it seems are: (1) “continous advice” from parents and extended family that women should spend more times with their kids and (2) to fulfill their duties as wives as obliged in religions.

    I think social construction exists in Indonesia and Asian countries in general is contributing to the overall situation as well – when domestic matters are still under responsibilties of women. Saddly that at the same time the enourmous labour supply that could help these women were not being used to improve women’s position in the societies. Perhaps it would be a different case as if women were socially constructed to contribute the economy of household. Especially those the lucky ones who were enjoying good education.

    I read a news two or three years ago when a baby was accidently drown under the supervision of a housemaid in Jakarta. The first question during the discussion raised was “where is the mother?” and unfortunately the mother was a career woman. After that case, I remember that I received plenty e-mails from my friends in Indonesia about motherhood and women’s responsibilties. Well, it appears that nowadays, people appreciate a woman as a housewife (who in the end get helps from plenty maids and able to enjoy the hangouts at the malls) more than a career woman..

  10. Rambutan says:

    You all forget to mention the dear husbands who very often do not allow their wives to hold a job. So it is not as simple as you all might think.

  11. Arema says:

    Well written Ross, it’s one of your rare topic which touches on not-so-heavy-political-things. I agree with you. It’s a bit complex.

    I find it more and more difficult to find wanita yang keibuan (someone help me translate this please… feminine woman?) these days. I guess it’s down to one determining factor: maid is affordable, or to the extreme: having lots of maids are very affordable, especially in Indonesia.

    With the widening rich and poor gap, more and more people can afford to employ maid(s) in their household, which makes life much easier for the employer. With a simple command, their house is cleaned, their cooking ingredients is prepared, their pets are taken care of, their clothes are washed, etc. All that for a mere Rp300.000 to Rp500.000 a month per maid. Not cheap for average Indonesians, but I know countless families are able to employ at least one. For comparison, it is only about 1/6 of the cost to employ a maid in Singapore. Other developed countries should be *much* more expensive.

    With maid(s) at home, the employers live like mini king and queen, well served in their own house, and they can use their free time to do things they enjoy rather than doing chores. The problem start when they also leave their kids in the hand of their maid. These kids, with money on their hand, will most likely get almost everything they want with a simple shout. Their parents are most likely career-oriented and allergic to diapers. They think they can start to educate the kids later when they are bigger. Well, it’s a big mistake.

    I was spoiled when I was a kid, but through good education and good example by my parents, I didn’t become a spoiled brat. My mom works part-time, so she still have plenty of time to be spent with me. She put so much attention to me, until when my little brother was born. By then the attention is split, and a maid pretty much handle what my mom usually do. But I’ve never felt like my parents leaving me. They also put up a good example by treating the maids in our house as part of the family, so I automatically follow too. My parents emphasized and lead by example to respect everyone regardless of who they are. It works. One of the reason why the maids at my house lasts for more than 10 years on average. Some of them cried when they have to quit the job and get married… which I find amusing. Others would be jumping in joy.

    But yeah, because I was spoiled, I’m very weak at household chores last time. I never mop the floor until I was “banished” from home to study overseas. I learned all kind of “survival skills” after this luxury called maid are taken away from me. Cooking, ironing, mopping, sweeping, cleaning, all of them. It was a painful process, but I’m glad it happens to me sooner than later.

    But for a guy like me, the expectation is different from that of a girl. Guys are most of the time the family’s breadwinner, expected to work hard, and have a good rest at home after work, enjoying time with family. Ladies are expected to take care of the house and kids well, and not so much on making money. This expectation shifts lately, because husband’s income alone is most of the time not enough to sustain the family. In the end, the wife must also work, and they hire… a maid! yay!

    I don’t blame maid, I don’t blame rich families for hiring maids, I don’t blame career spouses who are forced to work because husband’s income alone is not enough or “not enough” (depends on lifestyle) who opted to hire maid. The true problem lies in the lack of attention given by parents to their children. Children without proper attention from their parents will most likely grow into something bad… and one of them is lazy, spoiled woman. And for them, hiring maid will clear a lot of the unwanted to-do things from their list, at a very cheap price too, for their standard. So…. why not?

  12. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Right on, Pena Budaya. Ross is just trying to “skirt” or rather, “sarung” around the real issue of why the Bule’s like pembantu-types: they’re the first things they run into on drunken binges at the Block or B.A.T.S.

  13. Sputjam says:

    Parents are responsible for their children.
    Some fathers neglect their children by spending more time with their friends in pubs and golf courses then with their families. How come only mothers are held responsible and blamed for “nasty children”?

  14. Peter says:

    Very interesting post, Ross. Not so much focused on radical Islam like so many of the others..

    Here in America only rich people can afford to have maids, so we don’t have such a problem as this. But we do have the same phenomenon of more and more mothers choosing to work full time.

    It seems that many of you yearn for the “good old days” when housewives truly were housewives. I don’t blame you. Kampung girls sound nice.

    Hey there could be a pop single about them:

    Aku mau gadis kampung…
    Dari Yogya atau Bandung…
    Dia harus sering masak…
    Untuk suami dan anak…

  15. Ihaknt says:

    Ross, what about kampungan girls? The ones as class as Aluang’s? They wouldn’t be as nice and probably end up malu-maluin you.

  16. Falcon says:

    “Aku mau gadis kampung”¦
    Dari Yogya atau Bandung”¦
    Dia harus sering masak”¦
    Untuk suami dan anak”

    How about some additions, concert quality lyrics

    Kampung Girl cost only 5 dollars a day
    including cooking and cleaning
    also sex come along
    that’s why I like kampung girls

    City girls are not kampung girls
    They need branded materials
    Love the Cafes at shopping malls
    Where there are no kampung girls

    My home is empty
    I don’t like to sleep alone
    One night stand
    Dangerous, expensive, expensive

    I long for kampung girls
    Oh kampungs girls dari yogya atau bandung
    Where are you, where are you
    Come quickly

    My house is in disarray
    Please do the cleaning
    Don’t forget cook good food
    Rub me, shower me

    Ok kampung girls,
    Bandung atau Jogya
    Take the bus or train
    I will be waiting for you

  17. Janma says:

    My husbands niece apparently beats up her pembantu’s…. gave her driver a black eye! when my husband picks on my kids…. (who are more western and a bit in your face and independent..) I said, “oh really, so how is that worse than your 10 year old niece beating up the help?” his answer? “they deserved it cause they are so lazy!”

  18. Dimp says:

    For crying out loud, the helps are there because they were too lazy to do their own chores to begin with, yet they are saying that the helps are lazy.

  19. Ihaknt says:

    Janma that’s awesome. Violence fixes everything approach. Great. And I am sure your in laws condone such behaviour too right? Cos it’s ‘normal’ to be violent. Sad.

  20. Senja says:

    Nggg, hi Ross, household I believe is not only Woman responsibility and as well taking care of kids, I quite surprise the comment coming from you I assume as expatriate who suppose to be more open minded about gender, rights of people and such things and, Indonesian woman? Sorry as Indonesian woman I disagree with this, have you ever watch “How clean is your House” program if you did, then you see what I mean. If you attacking for those who are uncaring woman as a person than I agree.

  21. Lady says:

    I think bule likes kampung girls simply because they would do anything to get their status up. So that they can have their own maids and live the life of wealthy city girls, and send money to the rest of their family member in the kampung.
    Look at those kampung girls after several years… they act like they are queens, although most of them still don’t act like they are well educated (well.. they’re not).
    I don’t think this is wrong, though. The bule get the service, the kampung girls get the money and better status. Everybody’s happy.
    With those rich city girls, many of them were educated overseas, many of them can cook and do chores, they just don’t prefer to do it. And I don’t think this is wrong as well. I think it is the matter of preference.

    I believe everybody should look after their children, but I don’t believe that kampung girls can do this better than those rich girls, especially in educating them.

  22. Janma says:

    my mother in law was horrified about her granddaughter giving the supir a black eye. She told her off big time! I was surprised at my husbands take on that situation…. but I think that could just be him protecting her from my critique, more than anything. My husband has never ever said a rude word to our maid, much less hit her! So I was a bit surprised about that.
    He was practically brought up by their families maid, Mbok Lah… who now, 40 years later is retired but still lives with them. She bought up my husband and his five brothers and sisters and then the four children of his sister. She hits my sister in laws kids when they are out of line and no one would dare cross her… they know when the kids deserve it and she bought up their mother, as well as my husband and they have enourmous respect for her… my husband sends her money every month in her old age now and they built her a house in the kampung…. so there are some contradictions in that logic…. Maybe I’ll never get it?

  23. Chris says:

    Hi Ross,

    Generally 100% agree.

    I’d like to add two comments:

    1. I teach English each afternoon/evening, and it is always the kids with nannies who forget to bring their books, pencils, etc. to class. It is almost always the mothers with maids who look like ghosts (because they overdose on skin-whitening cream), collect their children with drivers hours after their child’s class finished, etc.

    2. I wonder what proportion of the students are coming to my English school just because their parents don’t want them at home. Only about 10% of parents show up for parent/teacher interviews, suggesting many of them aren’t overly concerned about their child’s academic progress. Another teacher I know (from a day-time school) has to run a school holiday program every June/July just because parents demand it; they wouldn’t know what to do with their children otherwise.

  24. pj_bali says:

    Clever post. Did Ross actually manage to tar the JP, rich working women, male bule preference for kampung girls, unbridled capitalism and communism all with one brush? I never thought I would find myself defendind the rich and spoiled but but what the heck there is a first time for everything.

    Actually i can’t see too much difference between rich spoiled Indonesians and rich spoiled americans europeans, asians, africans etc…Maybe the reasons that these so called glamour pusses are out shopping every day is that they feel that this is what is expected of them. I mean just imagine if you are one of the super rich elite businessman in jakarta. Do you want your wife to show up at a rich charity fundraiser wearing a cheap kebaya or white smock? You would expect her to dress appropriately for the occasion. You would expect her to be able to discuss the issues of the day intelligently with your business associates not how she plans to set up a warung ayam in your front yard. Perhaps part of the the reason that parents influence their kids to marry within their class is that they feel that the new couple will have more in common this way and not be subject to the stresses of different academic background, social outlook etc…

    If you want a wife to just cook and clean and look after babies then by all means marry your pembantu. But if you want a lifetime partner who can stimulate you, grow with you, challenge you, be the voice of encouragement when you need it and the voice of reason when you are being stupid, then you may have to forsake the kampung and head towards plaza senayan.


  25. Rani says:

    Mind you, don’t just aim for the spoiled bitches, how about the spoiled rich brat boys? Metrosexual males, frequenting pubs and cafes, playing golf, driving fancy cars? Even from high school, life has been easy for those boys, spending nights at clubs or comparing their cars at midnite drag-race, all using their parents money. And when they grow up, they maintain this lifestyle, not knowing how to boil egg, basically hands off household chores and rearing kids. Javanese kings, they are. Please do write about them too, not only about the spoiled bitches. Is it because spoiled bitches are more visible than spoiled brats?

  26. Lao says:

    I loved it Ross, but somehow it got me thinking of Darwin’s finches…

    Anyway… here is my response…

    Darwin’s Finches and The Asian Woman



  27. Ross says:

    Some comments imply I am a chauvinist. That doesn’t bother me, for it is less of a calumny than for a woman to be called a feminist, in my book.
    But is it so bad to expect mothers to look after their kids, or if not mothers, fathers, rather than hired help?
    When I was a husband in the West, we took a conscious decision on the basis of our respective earning power that I’d spend a year as a house-husband, because I didn’t want my kids being brought up by outsiders, and I was very happy to tend to my children’s needs, nor needed any servants to alleviate my lot. I wasn’t bored. I took the kids out, joined them in the play area at the pub or walked around parks and museums (I’ve been to numerous Jakarta museums and rarely saw children escorted by either parent, though many were trooping about on school outings. What kind of parents are so dull-witted that they can only think to take their children out to shopping malls? ). Those days also had the splendid spin-off benefit that I was no longer a person whom the children saw rushing off early in the morning and wearily coming home late at night, but a friend and play-mate they knew and (hopefully) liked, somebody who cooked their food and helped them tidy their rooms. As i said before, being at home with young ones you love is not a burden but a joy.

  28. Anita McKay says:

    As much as I want to hate what you said, I can’t avoid the fact that it’s entirely true. I always find it ridiculous to see a family with 2 kids bring their 3 nannies to malls or to Singapore: one for each kid and another one for taking all the bags and nappies.

    But it’s so much generalization to say that women with enough money to afford pembantu & supir are lazy cows. I lived in Jkt by my own for 7 years with no maid and supir, even though my work demanded 12 hours time, sometimes weekends, and a lot of travelling around Asia. I cleaned up the apartment, did my own dishes and I even can cook (which, sadly, a rare skill that is mastered by Indonesian women). I’ve got a group of female friends who are like me. And it’s by choice.

    So don’t take kampung girls as comparison to what you call ‘rich women”. There are some women who are not spoilt and snob even when they have enough money to behave so. But perhaps, the percentage is so little compares to those ibu-ibu strolling around Plaza Senayan.

    Agree with you that most men are even worse, they wouldn’t survive in one minute without pembantu since they don’t even know how to boil a kettle. My cousin is a living example *sigh.

  29. Fred Floggle says:

    There is a classic line in Richard Neville’s book about Charles Sobhraj:

    Asian pride rapidly degenerates into arrogance.

    Nothing sums up the wealthy Asians more than this.

  30. Tammy Ho says:

    So I guess you’d marry a kampung girl someday? I think guys who choose to marry kampung girl suffer from oedipus complex, they want to marry their mothers who feed and nurture them, who give unconditional love without never asking it back. Or those guys are stingy, rather than pay less than a million per month for pembantu, why not make pembantu as a so-called partner, with that they will save up more than millions because they have sleeping partner (for free), pembantu (for free) and mother at the same time.

    But not to worry, usually guys who like kampung(an) girls don’t get along with well educated, successful women. Their egos are crushed from miles away and they wouldn’t dare to approach such women for date. So they choose the submissive types.

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