Yin & Yang: Bules & Pembantus

Feb 18th, 2010, in Opinion, Society, by

Expat men in Indonesia and their love affairs with lower class women, opposites attract.

The Friend,

Late one night as my Kampung friends and I were guarding our neighbourhood, the age-old question came up: why does the Bule Man (Bulman), like the Pembantu (maid) face ? We contemplate many such questions as I tap on my Bongo drums and my friends sip their Kratingdaeng, staring out from our little pos jaga (guard post) at the corner of the street under the Jambu tree.

Yin YangIndeed, it is like Yin and Yang: white (or pink), tall, educated, from the city, versus dark, short, from the village.  For me, the Bulman’s taste is his own business; that is how our Indonesian system of Bhinekka Tunggal Ika, or Unity in Diversity works.  But many big-haired society Matrons, funky university hipsters, and ordinary Indonesian people alike wonder about the strange attraction of the White Man for his maid.

At our guard post, we try to help the country, so for you, my Indonesia Matters friends, I return to this burning question.

Thang D. NguyenMany writers ever addressed the Bule-Pembantu phenomenon before.  The prominent columnist and thinker Thang D. Nguyen ever wrote about Westerners and maids, putting the attraction down to the law of relativity. Mr. Thang defines Pembantu characteristics as,

a dark complexion, buck teeth, and a high forehead typically found among remote mountain villagers in Java

adding that his Indonesian friend finds such features,

not beautiful.

But, Mr. Thang says:

Beauty, like many things in life, is bound by the rule of relativity.  In other words, what one man considers beautiful is ugly in the eyes of another.

Elsewhere in the Blogosphere and Chatosphere, Java Jive, and Unspun, and Detik, have all discussed the Yin and Yang syndrome.

The Detik chat is an online version of thoughts going through the minds of many Indonesians as they see a fifty-ish Om-Om, or even a debonair well-dressed Bulman mas mas (young man), with someone who looks like a rejected audition from the 1970s classic film Si Inem Pelayan Seksi (“Inem the Seksi Server”). Si Inem was like an Indonesian Cinderella, or the 1990s Julia Roberts film ‘Pretty Woman’, where the poor girl gets the prince.  (Personally I want to see Julia Perez do a Dangdut version of Pretty Woman – Astaga and Aduhai !)

Here are the thoughts of my neighborhood watch group and hang-out friends.

The Bule cannot find it in his own country.

bossyEver since Bule Belanda (Bulbel) came to the Spice Islands to trade nutmeg, Bule has ever come to my country to find something he doesn’t have.  In his country, the woman is tall, White, likes to argue and not follow what he says.  She threaten him with divorce and instead of being allowed to perform manly night-guard duties, like us, he must do housework while she watches “Desperate Housewives”.  Maybe for Bule with his maid it is different.

Opposites Attract

memperbaiki keturunanI ever read that primates seek to make up for shortcomings in their genetic makeup by finding a mate with different DNA characteristics: thus opposites attract.  Maybe the maid wants to improve her bloodline (memperbaiki keturunan).  Bule subconsciously does likewise.  Just like Bhinekka Tunggal Ika teaches us, there is unity in diversity.

Beer Goggles (Alcohol Induced Judgement Lapse)

Friend, we Betawi warriors don’t drink much more than the occasional shot of Arak in our Kratingdaeng, so we are not experts in beer drinking.  But for hundreds of years, Bule has soaked himself in gin, rum, or recently beer. In fact, friend according to Mike Dash, author of the history ‘Batavia’s Graveyard‘, there was one tavern for every seven Dutchmen in Batavia in the 1770s.  Drunken opponents – as well as Silat – was one reason the Betawi hero Si Pitoeng was so easily able to defeat Tuan Scott (see clip below).

At the popular Bule meeting places like Jl. Felatehan Blok M, Bule crashes into everything – the walls, the Preman, and, yes, the one who looks like Maid.  Sometimes true love can blossom and he will marry her.  Then the relationship becomes more like one and two above.

A Call For Discussion

Remember, that not all Bule are alike.  There are short, tall, and even vagrant and poor – known locally as ‘Bule Jaksa’. In turn, some Bule marry the Cinetron star, big-hair high society matron, or local aristocrat, be it from Bali or Java or whereever.  Friend, that is the beauty of Bhinekka Tunggal Ika.

There are many mystery in Indonesia.  Why wasn’t a single member of Dono, Kasino Indro given a cabinet post ?  Does Wiranto, Hanura chairman and retired general, wear a toupe ?  Why is Ulfa so annoying ?

Friend, our late-night guard post Bongo session was an open discussion.  I now call on You, Indonesia Matters reader to share your own insights and thoughts on the Yin-Yang phenomena.

161 Comments on “Yin & Yang: Bules & Pembantus”

  1. wildrosewood says:

    @ Oigal: Ha ha ha ha….poppy, grand pa..isn’t life tough too as ex army in OZ, thts why u stick ur bloody arse here….kasiiiiaaaaannn deh lu opa….ha ha ha. I’m not flipped out of what u said to me..Ha ha ha. Giddy up grandpa!! Lol my ass off.

  2. emmfabulash says:

    Come on ladies and gentleman…

  3. sobhana says:

    ok BS. because for a minute there i thought you were implying that the US is not as advanced as some would like to think because we have affluent minorities. actually my father is an american of dutch descent, but yea it has nothing to do with my typos =)

  4. Oigal says:

    Yawn…Wrong and boring….moving on..

  5. deta says:

    I find the way some posters associating the word pembantu with ayam a little bit disturbing (unless it was ayam as the real animal they were talking about). Pembantu and Ayam are two totally different jobs as far as moral dignity and genital diseases concern. While some women choose the quickest way to earn money by serving random men on bed, the rest of them, who are as beautiful outside and more beautiful inside, would rather being pembantu who cook ayam instead of being one of them.

  6. ET says:

    You are right deta. I also prefer a cooked (or bakar or goreng) ayam to a raw one. Much healthier and tastier and it doesn’t need to be plucked and stripped before being consumed.

  7. deta says:

    Seems that you’re familiar with ayam in any shape and kind.. 😉

  8. Weren’t u2 supposed to get a room over the weekend ?

  9. deta says:

    Weren’t u2 supposed to get a room over the weekend ?

    As you can see from my gravatar, I prefer outdoor activities, thank you.

  10. ET says:

    As you can see from my gravatar, I prefer outdoor activities, thank you

    If you prefer the outdoors we can always consume the ayam at midnight, in the dunes of the cape.

  11. deta says:

    ET, I knew you could read my mind.

  12. Philippe says:

    Hummm .. How can you call a dark skin short Indonesian woman a “pembantu” and no ones seems to react to that.? You are judging someone negatively to say, just by the way she looks and assume wrongfully that she is somewhat of a lower category woman.

    I think its somewhat a primitive approach not to say racist to your own race, only the tall, white and long nosed woman deserve respect? If that was the case all foreign women would be beautiful, and that’s far from being true.

    I think something is missing in your analysis of the problem, I do not think that you have any experience with foreign women, if you did you would appreciate what you have at home a little bit more.

    The so called primitive low class uneducated pembantu most often have qualities and values that are very respectable and they highly qualify as a human beings, as much if not more than their foreign counterparts.

    Judging a book by its cover will take you nowhere, as the article indicates it, and finishes with a big question mark, as would an unresolved and misunderstood enigma.

    Philippe Jgja.

  13. rima says:

    Of all the comments, the one that I read without cringing was those of Rob, Unspun and Philippe.

    Dikkiman Sujengkol aka Ahmad is obviously having fun in reading the other responses despite his valid questions at the end of the article.

    I find it unbelievable how some people can judge another’s class or worth based on their looks. Seriously, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and to me personally, someone can look as lovely as angelina jolie and hangs out with the most happening of crowd but when she is a foul mouthed arrogant woman who calls other women pembantu, ayam etc, she will instantly become the ugliest woman in my eyes, with no class whatsoever.

    I think that all women are attractive, tall or short, dark or light skinned, thin or thick lipped, long or short haired, wavy/curly or straight, big or small. There is always at least one person who think that you are attractive, that’s just how it is.

    It’s the same with those so-called bules. What’s wrong with foreigners coming to Indonesia and falling in love with the country, food and women? What’s wrong with them wanting to live in a tropical paradise with an exotic brown skinned woman who thinks the world of them? Nothing. Just as there is nothing wrong for Asians/Africans/Martians who go to western countries and fall in love with the locals and their way of life.

    The attraction white foreigners feel towards the brown skinned Indonesian women is probably because of the ‘mysterious’ aura that surrounds us, the difference in culture, the fact that Indonesian women (the ‘real’ ones, not the westernized ones you can find in big cities) appear to be more submissive than their western counterparts (although that is not necessarily the case, the key word here being ‘appear’) , the pleasure we take in serving our men (to a certain degree, of course) and so on.

    Maybe these white foreigners aren’t accustomed to this kind of treatment in their home country and upon meeting the dark skinned and dark haired Indonesian beauty who treat them differently than their fair skinned, golden hair lovelies back home they instantly fall for her, and who can blame them?

    You know, if you look closely, Oprah winfrey, lauryn hill, angela basset, maggie gyllenhall, america ferrera, renee zellweger etc might have feature some can recognize in your typical ‘pembantu’ face (btw, I once had a pembantu who looks like SADE, she was hawt!) but nonetheless they are still all beautiful and accomplished women.

    So get a grip people, beauty is relative, attraction between two people can sometimes seem to be puzzling and strange but when you get to know them, it can become as clear as day why one fell for the other (the julia roberts attraction to lyle lovett, anyone?), and only those without class call others names and judge them as people without class/lower class (probably because they instantly recognize it, being classless themselves).

    Stop judging, and look at yourselves in the mirror first before you get the urge to.

  14. Halo Mbak Rima Yth.,

    Like Sukarno, I appreciate the Indonesian Woman in all her variety and incarnations. She is beautiful as Draupadi, wife of the Pandawa Brothers, and I would say Helen of Troy, but she was a bule and hairy greek, so I think the Pembantu is more beautiful.

    So you think Oprah has Maid-Face of the Pembantu ?

  15. Odinius says:

    Rima said:

    Dikkiman Sujengkol aka Ahmad is obviously having fun in reading the other responses despite his valid questions at the end of the article.

    Yes, true. I am still waiting for discussion of this one:

    Does Wiranto, Hanura chairman and retired general, wear a toupe ?

  16. rima says:

    I think Oprah and the other beautiful ladies I mentioned above has a somewhat similar facial characteristics as these women:






    with small noses, high cheekbones, thicker lips etc, which is in no way less beautiful than today’s standard of beauty fed to us by the media, which is both misleading and really silly since maybe only 2% of the female population in the world look like heidi klum/miranda kerr/angelina jolie/insert your favorite female supermodel here.

  17. masgendut says:

    I am a bule; I am married to an Indonesian woman and I live in Jakarta with my wife & son; so based on most of the above posts, I guess that means that you look down on us??? Call me sensitive but pseudo-intellectual tripe that amounts to racism is something that I personally find offensive. You are single handedly judging not only Bules based on their skin color but also poor hard working maids that only look for the opportunity to better their lives by working ridiculously long hours for almost no money. Shame on you. Let me guess, you come from a wealthy family, are fortunate enough to be educated in one of the privately funded universities that mummy and daddy paid for you to attend and you have a chip on your shoulder because you believe that ALL bules have it better then you. Boo Hoo, WTF get a life.

  18. Hi Masgendut,

    Care to elaborate a bit further ?

    Sounds like you have something to say, maybe the place to get it out ? (That said, this place can be a bit bareknucle, but if you do, don’t take it personally).

  19. justme says:

    I just have to say

    99% of Kuta cowboys are UGLY! I don’t know what the attraction is?


  20. Justme,

    And yet many Bulwom swim in that pond, or rather polluted part of the beach. Astaga and Aduhai !

  21. justme says:

    Mr Sujengkol … yes you are correct. If you scan facebook you will find plenty of the bule women and their kuta cowboys in the photos. The bule are drunk as skunks and the kuta cowboys are high on drugs, well they’d have to be to want to even touch one of those women.

    Check out this page

    search for Cowboys in Paradise

    or view a video here


    let me know what u think

  22. Zorg says:

    @ Justme

    Lol, nice video…

    Not that all those bule girls shown on the vid are as ugly as those Indonesian ‘stallions’ usually get… but they’re still not what I’d consider as ‘attractive’ ones. See how the piggish bellies are already farming the fat… the same probably occur in the skull, inwards.

    Next post please: why Indonesian men are sooo attracted by ugly bule girls? ROFL

    Gosh, when I read and see all this, I wonder if a brain is required to qualify as a Homo sapiens.

  23. justme says:

    Why are they attracted to ugly bule girls, thats something I cannot answer. Perhaps just gold digging, just like the local women??

  24. diego says:

    Nice video!

    “I’ll just smile. No comment :)”.

  25. justme says:

    while I think about it, whenever I visit Bali with my husband who is Javanese, we usually stay somewhere in Nusa Dua. There have been several times that the SATPAM have asked my husband if he is an actual guest of the hotel. I let them know what I thought of that.

    You can always feel the eyes staring at you there, especially by other tourists that think your with a kuta cowboy for your holidays. Its my f*cking husband damn it!!

    Jakarta seems to be more accepting except that foreign women married to Indonesians are less common. There is a support group for this as well. Most of the ladies in it are much older and have been married for over 20 years. There are very few “young” couples.

  26. masgendut says:

    HI Dikkiman. Yes I have got something to say. As a foreigner who has lived in many different parts of Asia over 20 years ( I am not that old but I have been working as an expatriate since I was in my early 20’s) , it is always disappointing when people seem to just want to bring every argument back to skin color. Not only money, politics and religion but now sex! I agree that there are many older foreigners Caucasian, Asiatic and otherwise who come to countries like Indonesia & the Philippines just to shack up with a younger woman but do not stereo type us all the same. That makes you guys no better then the uneducated ignorant westerner who looks at all Indonesians and assumes that they are all poor. Or all muslims and assumes that we are all terrorist sympathizers. ( and yes I am a Muslim so don’t start on that). Or all mixed couples and assumes that it is just a local girl who is married to a foreigner for the money etc. Its offensive to those of us who are married and together because we love each other. Yeah OK a bit sappy but its the fact. And I can guarantee that there is a lot more people out there in mixed marriages that are together because of that than those that our friend wish’s to stereo type. Who cares if the girl or guy is not some one else’s ideal of beautiful. Who are they to judge me or my family. They don’t know me. But don’t get in the blogs or the press and pretend to be saying something important when it is just thinly disguised racism. If you want to make an impact in your society, start on something that is really important. Not BS like this. Your society allows for freedom of speech, a responsible citizen uses that freedom wisely.

  27. ET says:

    or view a video here


    I can’t load the video. There’s a message

    This video either has been removed from Facebook or is not visible due to privacy settings

    Censorship by the Minister of Culture and Tourism?

  28. Masgendut,

    Many thanks. Taken onboard.

    D. S.

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