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. David says:

    It’s still there for me ET, very good quality picture.


  2. ET says:

    Thanks Patung. The openingsliner

    Where are you from?

    already made my toes curl.

  3. Nay says:

    The guy who didn’t understand the attraction … geez. Isn’t it obvious?

    Women on holiday can get to do something out of their own society’s prying eye without tarnishing their “reputation” back home. It’s the reason they’re on holiday in the first place… and look! There’s a different type of man to try out too!
    There’s no need for a soul-crushing relationship (it will be over as soon as they’re back on the plane). Nobody is going to judge her for being a “slut”… and women are much like men in the sex department, especially your emancipated western woman…. What’s not to like for them? They’re just female sex tourists…. no different to the fat roly-poly beer belly white male type…. except, being women, you have to blame the Kuta cowboys for “seducing” them or some nonsense, and no women will openly admit the sex… like men often like to do.
    I mean no disrespect to the women at all. If they’re happy getting their needs met, more power to them.

    But yeah, the fact that the kuta cowboy can just rattle out all the important sweet words in different languages means that these guys have rote learnt how to whore themselves out like male escorts. It’s very obvious. The girls are on the look out for a fling, and the cowboys provide. It’s that simple.

  4. venna says:

    It’s still there for me ET, very good quality picture.


    Ugh, it’s disgusting and degrading. Now I can feel what Justme feels everytime she goes to Bali with her husband.

  5. REAL[b]IST says:

    Bule->maid = damsel in distress complex

  6. syonan says:

    “Wildrosewood” is out of hands and should be careful in what he/she says……it seems that you are full of anger from the tone you have written.

  7. Temur says:

    Nay (PM) Says:

    The guy who didn’t understand the attraction … geez. Isn’t it obvious?

    Women on holiday can get to do something out of their own society’s prying eye without tarnishing their “reputation” back home.”

    Sure, and did you have a good look at those bule-girls? Somebody, I mean, somebody’s gotta do’em. Go Bali Boys! Go!

    justme Says:

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


    Again, just look at the girls they go with.

  8. ET says:

    Temur said

    Again, just look at the girls they go with.

    These Kuta Cowboys provide a useful service. After dark they clean the beach from jelly and blubber. Like pemulung with an attitude.

  9. justme says:

    @ ET hahaha pmsl

  10. justme says:

    well well look at this! Found this article in the news today
    Indonesia has detained 28 “beach boys” accused of selling sex to female tourists on Bali after a documentary on the resort’s “gigolos” hit the Internet, an official said today.

    The round-up of Bali’s so-called “cowboys” began as tourism officials fretted over the impact of the film on the holiday island’s image as a family destination.

    “We’ve rounded up 28 men we suspect might be gigolos. They’re young, fit-looking and tanned, mostly surfer beach boys,” I Gusti Ngurah Tresna, the chief of security on Bali’s main Kuta beach, said.

    “We’re still questioning them. If we have good reason to suspect they may be involved in shady activities we’ll hand them over to the police,” he said, adding that the raids were ongoing.

    The documentary, Cowboys in Paradise by Singapore-based writer and director Amit Virmani, was released at a film festival in South Korea last week.

    Segments of the film, which contains candid interviews with “beach boys” and the foreign women who fall for them, have gone viral on the Internet after appearing on YouTube.

    Bali Tourism Board chief Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya said the “cowboys” had been fixtures on Bali’s tourist beaches for some time but had not attracted much attention until now.

    “The film is over the top and only focuses on this group of people on the beach, but that’s not what Bali is about. If the film is shown to the world, Bali’s image will be tarnished,” he said.

    “I hope the authorities will get rid of these cowboys because they’re of no benefit to us.”

    Tresna said the documentary ran counter to the authorities’ preferred image of Bali as a world-class destination combining unique Hindu culture and history with famous beaches and surfing spots.

    “All this while we’ve been selling our beautiful waves, sunsets, turtles, culture and nature conservation, and suddenly now we’re seen to be selling gigolos? Such films are really harmful to our image,” he said.

    The beach police chief could not explain what charges the “beach boys” could face and admitted it would be hard to prove they were selling sex.

    “We’re always on the beach so we can guess which beach boy may be taking advantage of foreign women,” he said.

    Similar arrests had been made in the past but the suspects had been released “with a stern warning”, he added.

    “They will approach foreign female tourists, especially Japanese, on the beach, befriend them and the women will pay for their company and food during their stay here. Sex may be involved.

    “It’s like prostitution which is hard to prove because the foreign women may be willing partners, too.”

    Filmmaker Virmani told the twitchfilm.net website that the men “have no reason to be ashamed and they know it”.

    “They’re proud of their ‘conquests’, of being desired by so many. They’re always game for a little kiss’n’tell once they know you,” he said.

    He said they were part of a “male sex trade” on Bali but could not be considered male prostitutes in the usual sense.

    “They’ve blurred the lines that might invite shame or discourage women from being with them. They do without the cold transactional elements, for example,” he said.

    “A lot of people scoff at the need to distinguish between cowboys and gigolos, but I see the distinction. It’s a very fine line, but it’s there.

    “The cowboys are the most visible face of Bali’s male sex trade but they’re not sex workers. How’s that for a blurry line?”

  11. ET says:

    “I hope the authorities will get rid of these cowboys because they’re of no benefit to us.”

    What ? No benefit? If they don’t then who is going to take care of all those horny eyesores on the beach? Certainly not me. Isn’t it about time the feminists come to the cowboys rescue? After all it’s a sheila’s bloody right to get laid by those hunky sweethearts I would say. They keep selling Bali as Paradise but what would Paradise be without a little hanky-panky? A firdaus without virgins, an Australian hotel without Foster. Hiduplah Kuta Koboi!

    But if the tourist officials want to get rid of real nuisance let them start with the pedagang acung (hawkers), especially those who try to scam mostly older visitors into ‘buying’ property which they will never really own.

  12. venna says:

    Isn’t it about time the feminists come to the cowboys rescue?

    Hahah, I actually was happy when reading this news yesterday. Finally, finally they targeted the males. Usually they always chasing the female prostitutes. Isn’t it good to see this? Females are no more the main source of sins, male too. Yayy…..!

  13. I am ever agree with the ET.

    Bulwom Pantai need service of the Kuta Cowboy. Otherwise Bulwom will complain, complain, complain. With Cowboy, BulWomPan go home with a smile on her face even if her wallet is a little lighter. Kuta Cowboy can give money to his wife and Banjar and ever have a warung.

    Maybe IM need to have a ratings system on the KC for the BulWomPan. Only problem is the Balinese names.

    Made – 9, Made 8.5 Made 6 Made 9, Made 5

    See what I mean ? Better BulWomPan diversify and branch out to become BulWomKot for some Betawi lovin’ ! Astaga dan Aduhai !

  14. deta says:

    😀 As long as there is demand there will be supply. Maybe they will just change the term “cowboy” to something else, but they are still there.
    “Jockeys in paradise”……. How does that sound?

  15. ET says:

    “Jockeys in paradise”……. How does that sound?

    Sounds good. Ride that mare, bli ! Tagadum… tagadum… tagedum…

  16. venna says:

    As long as it doesn’t invite the same interpretation, deta. They refuse to consider it as prostitution. Male sex trade is not the same as male prostitution, and cowboys is not the same as gigolos. So, it is a completely new species.

  17. cheeky cherry says:

    HAHAHAHAHAHA i like this blog about “ying & yang: bule & pembantu” because it’s honest. I’m not saying I agree with the idea or the analogy, but I appreciate the honesty n I think everybody has right to have his/her opinion about something. After all, there is no such things as right and wrong, it’s about from which point of view you see it. I’m Indonesian n I have western boyfriend, but I don’t feel offended by this writing because I think the writer just telling his/honest opinion about it. I’m not going to say it’s wrong or right, but maybe I can tell from my side of view n also my experience, so you can have different side of view about this topic. I think there are things you should know about western:
    1. just because many western like indo woman, doesn’t mean ALL western like indo woman.
    2. just because some western like indo woman who look like maid (dark skin, black hair, flat nose, big lips, not well educated) doesn’t mean ALL western like that kind of indo woman. anyway, if western like indo woman who look like maid, so what??? it’s not your business to judge it. it’s their business, not yours. indo woman who look like maid is people too, n they deserve love.
    3. some western also like sundanese white skin indo woman, or chinese indo woman.
    4. western who likes indo woman that look like maid (dark skin, flat nose, black hair) is because they don’t see many woman like that in their country, n dark skin is so sexy for them, n black hair is so exotic for them, n traditional indonesian face (flat nose, big lips, maid face) are beautiful for them, n so what if they think like that??? definition of beauty is depends on eyes who see it.
    5. western are not stupid, they can tell which woman who is a slut or educated.

    I have dark skin, i have long black curly hair, i have traditional javanese face, BUT i have university degree, i have good career as creative team AND im very independent, rebellious, brave, n FEMINIST. my boyfriend, who is western, loves me for being like that, n i can tell you, i never serve man like maid, because i’m not a maid.

    n here’s my last message:
    for all of you who thinks that dark skin, black curly hair, n traditional indonesian face are ugly, so why do you have to make a big deal of western who love that kind of indo woman?

  18. romantictease says:

    I have to put a western opinion on this blog… because of what I see is soooo strange when it comes to the color of one’s skin. In the USA, “white skin” people actually prefer darker or tan asian and in most cases “white” women…its why so many tanning booths are doing a good business. I know in most asian culture, the whiter the skin, the most attractive..but not true in america. unless of course…your racist…ha.

  19. scared bule woman says:

    apparently according to this i’m already going to be stereotyped as a pathetic woman on the dating scene i guess, but i was really looking forward to going to indonesia as a young (22) year old to spend some time abroad and teach as well. i don’t care if a guy has a ton of money, trust me, i just don’t want him to ask me for money. are my prospects really this low? i’m not even interested in getting into a relationship but i keep reading this theme on every blog that bule women are miserable or something and… well i’m not but i can’t speak for everybody. should i prepare myself for the worst? and also i am getting the impression that indonesian women are incredibly smart. maybe i’ll become a lesbian. lol

    so i’m leaving for jakarta next month, what are my prospects? should i maybe just completely focus on work. it kind of sounds like a lot of the bule men in here just like to trash on western women.
    i do notice something that indonesian women do seem very very smart, i’m sorry that so many 40+ year old men failures here showed up in indonesia and expected to be treated like kings by you ladies. i think the women deserve better. and before you judge me, i’m 22 and just want to travel and work and have fun + i do not give a crap about money right now.

  20. deta says:

    Scared bule woman,

    My humble advice : Pay no attention to these bulmen and their incredibly smart (cough!) Indonesian girl friends. Making as many friends as possible will help to find your own niche market over here 🙂

  21. Oigal says:

    Well SBW if you are a reasonable, personal human being you will have no problems. If you think are something special and enjoy stringing the guys along in hope of the honey pot think again as way too many other options for guys here.

    If you have never been here and you are already carrying a chip on your shoulder about 40
    Year old guys you have never even met, you are off to a bad start..

    Oh and no one is judging you …what’s to judge, a kid whose sole life experience is gee what can I do for fun now. Enjoy and look in the countryside at 22 year old Indonesian girls and see how different life can be by sheer luck of birth location.

  22. ET says:

    @ scared bule woman

    it kind of sounds like a lot of the bule men in here just like to trash on western women.

    Many bule men are fed up with the fact that feminism – some even call it feminazism – has turned a lot of Western women into aggressive bitches, trying to prove themselves at any cost. This is a general phenomenon and has nothing to do with the quality or character of the men involved. For many western men the softer attitude and less belligerent nature of Indonesian and Asian women in general comes like a refreshment. Their so-called materialism – which in fact seems only more pronounced because of the cultural dependency on their male partners as providers – is certainly no worse than that of their western counterparts.

  23. @ Scared Bule Woman,

    Don’t worry. There are plenty of * seksi * specimens of Melayu manhood like me who use secret pencak silat techniques to develop our mojo to give woman – Western or Asian the sexual experience of a lifetime !

    Va Va Voom !

  24. Burst says:

    Don’t worry. There are plenty of * seksi * specimens of Melayu manhood like me who use secret pencak silat techniques to develop our mojo to give woman – Western or Asian the sexual experience of a lifetime !

    Va Va Voom !

    Haha…brilliant comment! Eh, the original article, while being admittedly a bit narrow, is rather amusing. If it’s your opinion then by all means share. However, I think this comes down to sheer jealousy. When a foreigner comes to another country and takes up with the women, the men get jealous. While it can be racist, I find it to be more jealousy. I have a phenomenally beautiful girl from Sulawesi and when I’m with her, people (read: men) just stare. I don’t get offendned. Personally, I find it complementing. She’s gorgeous and when I first saw her, I stared as well.

    It’s the same in the states. I grew up there (sadly) and when a black guy would shag a white girl, it was just jealousy. Sure, every racist and derogatory term you can think of would get thrown around, but the bottom line was jealousy. He was fcking her and the other guys weren’t. Plain and simple.

    Speaking of the maids, I used to live in front of a house that had two. One of them was absolutely beautiful. Sure, she might not have been educated and have much money, but that changes nothing. I’m sure that one day she will make someone a fantastic wife and whomever he is (Indonesian or foreigner) will be extremely pleased with his choice and won’t give a damn about her background.

  25. @ Burst with Achmad’s Sekrets of Seksiness ™, any man can have any woman if he masters the material. Two past students include Ariel and a certain minister who won the attentions of a porn star in America. Va Va Voom ! Burst, you can too. I am but a Javanese ukulele player with googly spectacles and a funny moustache but I constantly have women begging me for Achmad-lovin’, with these secret pencak silat techniques. Soon I will release my DVD and mail-order seksiness course.

  26. scared bule woman says:

    thank you all for the responses! trust me ET i’m really not judging the women, i know they’re just trying to make better lives for themselves. and i shouldn’t have been so snappy with the way i worded the thing about older western men. some totally have valid reasons and make meaningful relationships. but there’s a balance between liking a woman for her feminine qualities and liking a girl because you can boss her around.
    and what you’re saying about feminism is true, i live in the US, i know lots of couples where the wife nags and bullies the husband all day and that’s not healthy either i know. i do believe in feminism when
    i was just concerned that there’s a dead dating scene for white women. seems that there’s not. terima kasih 🙂 back to my indonesian lessons i go…

  27. scared bule woman says:

    i do believe in feminism in the sense that men and women should be as equal as they want to be.

  28. agan says:

    @A. Sudarsono

    Ahh….finally the player’s school I always wonders how to maintain that excess mojo
    once awakened by bir bintang , jamu or pijat refleksi plus.

    But Dorce and Ivan Gunawan both took your course too and look how they turned out to be?

    Pak Achmad you are armed and dangerous!

  29. @ Pak Agan,

    I am ever follow the way of Bruce Lee: the way of no way and expressing the human body. If Mbak Dorce chooses to trade in her love wand or a tunnel of joy, after following ancient teachings, then may enlightenment be upon her. I am only ‘conduit’ (one of the seksiest X-file episodes).

  30. timdog says:

    scaredbulewoman, if you are real and not the projection of some crop circle-making extra terrestrials, I suggest you fear not, and listen to no one on this thread (except for Achmad, who is the fount of all knowledge and keseksian)…

    You’ll be just fine; amongst the embittered old sexual refugees who shipped out to Indonesia having convinced themselves that “feminism” (which seems to be not far off dead amongst your generation anyway) rather than their own personality defects and social ineptitude were to blame for their inability to get a woman back home, you will still find a good few normal bule men (who came to Indonesia for reasons much like yours)…

    And here’s a hot tip for the boys – the sexual refugees might come to Indonesia looking to marry a pembantu, but for a bulman without the hangups, without the bitterness, and with a half-decent line in conversation skills, there are very rich pickings indeed amongst – believe it or not – bule women in Indonesia. If your teeth are clean, you don’t smell of beer and prostitutes, and you don’t have a tendency to rant about “feminism” you’ll find 22-year-old English-teaching bule girls flocking to you as if you were… well, as if you were Achmad Sudarsono, or something…

    And if, scaredbulewoman, it happens to be a bit of local flavour that you’re after, then fear not on that account too. As Achmad has demonstrated, Indonesian men can be proper charmers; they will genuinely believe you are beautiful (no matter what you look like), and anywhere other than Kuta Beach they will likely be interested in one thing only, but it won’t be money. This puts players of the bulwom variety on a much stronger footing than their counterparts with the bad teeth and the hangups (many of who, after the kid-in-a-sweetshop phase end up even more bitter and twisted than when they first arrived, and most of who, deep, deep beneath the layers of denial, would love to get with a bison-sized white woman, if only they thought they could…)

    Gosh, I’m in a positively horrible frame of thinking today, aren’t I!

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