The Basiometer: ‘Stale’ Bules

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

How basi are you? Measuring signs for basi-ness in expats in Indonesia.


We ever much talk about Bule (White Person) here. And just like Belanda (Holland) divide Indonesia into European, Asiatic and Pribumi, we must have way of classifying the Bule for when we rule his country.  We must also be able to rate his level of ‘Basiness’, or staleness.

I propose to you, IM friends, that to be scientific we must develop a ‘Basiometer’.  Similar to a hubometer, tachometer, speedometer, thermometer, the Basiometer will allow us to gauge the level of expiration in a given Bule.

What is Basi ? We Asians are infinitely more subtle than our Occidental counterparts, a quality reflected in the hidden and symbolic messages in epics such as the Mahabharata. Thus does Basi elude precise definition as did Diponegoro slip away from the forces of Belanda. defines rancid as “rotten, strong-smelling”, and…

bad, carious, contaminated, curdled, decomposing, disagreeable, disgusting, evil-smelling, feculent, fetid, foul, frowzy, fusty, gamy, high, impure, loathsome, malodorous, moldy, musty, nasty, nidorous, noisome,noxious, off, offensive, olid, polluted, putrefactive, putrefied, putrescent, putrid, rank, reeky, repulsive, sharp, smelly, sour, soured,stale, stinking, strong, tainted, turned,unhealthy, whiffy

Friend, some of that is ever too harsh. The Bule can be everyone from naive and well-meaning English teacher to the most wretched Blok M derelict.

I ever think stale is a better translation:

antiquated, banal, bent, cliché, cliché-ridden, clichéd, common, commonplace, corny, dead, drab, dull, dusty, effete, flat, fusty, hackneyed, insipid, like a dinosaur, mawkish, moth-eaten, out, passé, past, platitudinous, repetitious, shopworn, stereotyped, threadbare, timeworn,tired, trite, unoriginal, well-worn, worn-out, yesterday’s, zestless

What about semi-Bules such as the psychic Mama Lauren? How can she be Basi when she ever help so much? (Better to just let her be Finance Minister and set interest rates, no need for fancy Bule degree).

Ashlee BetteridgeIn short, Basiness is that kind of icky feeling you get when you meet a Bule and you know and they know they’ve been in Indonesia too long. Ashlee Betteridge, a leading Australian journalist and commentator on Indonesia recently noted,

Jakarta Bar

I have no regard for what the boozed-up washed-up Blok M bule barflies of Jakarta think of me and I haven’t given a damn since… oh… right around the minute I stepped off the plane.

Now the Basiometer takes out all the guesswork.

At first, I think Basiometer should be from 1-10, but I think it needs full percentage. We’ll skip 0-50% on the Basiometer, which means ‘still fresh’, and go straight to the fermentation.

1. Proto-Basi Warning Signs: (Men and Women) (50%-80% depending on severity)

  • Extending a first contract at the Jakarta Post or for teaching at an English school (50%+)

Friend, you’re in danger. You’ve hit your comfort zone. The post-apocalyptic skies of Jakarta no longer make you crave a Xanax. You’re blase and bored with the Singapore visa run. You start to think the job prospects or lifestyle is worth the macet.

  • Earnest opinions about corruption and Indonesia’s problems, vaguely implying if you were in power you could fix them (50%+)

The confusing headlines and daily challenges are coalescing into a world view. Bule starts to get deathly dull now. If Sri Mulyani Indrawati fell afoul of the status quo after a successful five-year run, what chance would a washed-up stock broker or 30-something arts graduate from Scunthorpe have? (We’ll cut uni students some slack).  Most Indonesians without their noses in the trough have been dealing with these problems their whole lives and don’t have a passport escape route.

  • Complaining about ‘inefficiency’, ‘jam karet’, or poor job performance of service staff (50%+)

Speaks for itself.

2. Full Basi: 80-100 %

  • Been in Indonesia more than 10 years (100%)

Basiness reaches a zenith in those two wooden plaques in one of the Blok M bars, “they’ve done their time”, either 10 or 20 years. It’s hard to stay fresh if you’ve been in Indonesia since the 1990s or before. Such Bules usually have a predictable life cycle, starting from their 20s or 30s, when they first arrived to the onset of middle age, starting with enthusiasm and ending in bitterness and resignation.

David Jardine is a freelance writer who by his own admission landed here in 1987, and has been writing for the Jakarta Post, and defunct publications such as the Indonesian Observer ever since. Jardine is also a denizen of Jalan Jaksa and has been spotted carrying plastic bags full of beer from the nearest Circle K (24-hour mart) nearby. How Basi is Jardine? You decide.

  • Ayams (hookers) recognise you at malls (100%)

We can’t blame the Bule for succumbing, now and then, to the temptations of Indonesia’s sultry tropical nights. But when every second Ayam-made-good at the malls knows you by name, the Basiometer hits at least a 10: full Basi.

  • For men and women: Gleeful appearance on dumb TV programs (90%)

Dale Andrew Collins-SmithIt’s one thing when JakTV news accidentally catches the Bule, say, at the airport. Appearing on shows like ‘Bule Gila’, or even worse – having your own show like that annoying ‘Wahyu’ guy, (formerly Dale Andrew Collins-Smith), launches you into hard core Basi territory. Wahyu, reports the SMH, had an ‘unsatisfying’ career as a flight attendant, moved to Indonesia 15 years ago, and starred as a cross dresser in the soap opera ‘Toyib Minta Kawin’ before becoming ‘close’ to a Satpam at his house.

Wahyu Suparno Putro in “Rahasia Sunnah”

  • Too much inside knowledge

Bust out too much gaul (hip) slang? Bahasa Indonesia too good? Know too many short cuts on an ojek? Sorry, pal: time for the compost heap. (That goes for long-term regulars on Indonesia Matters too). In China or France, you’d be applauded, even expected, to master the local language. Here, we tend to assume you learned it from bar girls. If you know the best way to get from your nearest CBD home through numerous back streets and kampungs, maaf. You’ve met too many taxi drivers for your own good.

Here are some other signs of Basiness, but feel free to add your own ideas:

  • collection of old batik shirts
  • Iwan Fals tapes
  • appearing in Indonesian Tattler/Jakarta Java Kini
  • Writing letters to the Jakarta Post
  • Still have a first-generation internet address you got here
  • Correct locals on history or politics
  • Get invited to a Kemchicks checkout chick’s wedding/marry a Kemchicks checkout chick

58 Comments on “The Basiometer: ‘Stale’ Bules”

  1. Oigal says:

    I think its a well known fact that amongst my many failings (which so many have been so kind to point out here) lack of attention to spelling is a biggie. Although some would say inter-species sex is not all bad, although the products of such unions can have undesired consequences as Dikki’s parents discovered.

  2. timdog says:

    Odinius, Oigal et al:

    Don’t think we ever got a clear explanation for this one.

    Dissapointed am I that no one realised that the wine reference was simply a quote from the best British movie of all time ever. On the other thread Dikkiman gave me a link to it after I outed PeterMarwood as him.
    It is not just the best British movie of all time; it’s also one of the most quoteable movies ever…
    A shame none of you knew it…

    That said, you can actually get a drinkable bottle of plonk for, like, £3.50 from a UK supermarket that would cost about Rp300,000 here, but that’s by the by. The cake is genuinely good though…

  3. timdog says:

    I’m currently sitting in a Jl Jaksa cafe (drinking a coffee, not a beer), and watching a monumental specimen of basi-ness. He wandered in about 20 minutes ago. He’s large, and has that odd complexion that Jaksa bules so often have. He’s got a moustache too. And he’s drinking a beer, at lunchtime on a weekday.

    As soon as he sat down he started braying VERY loudly about some hassles he just had on his Singapore visa run to anyone who would listen (me, in the corner, buried in my computer, frantically struggling with an ftp image transfer and needing to go to the airport, like, now, managed not to make eye contact).
    Midway through this very dull rant a woman who, not wishing to be prejudiced, was evidently of a certain kind not unusual on Jaksa, wandered by outside, and without breaking the flow of his tale they exchanged a friendly wave…
    At this point I struggled to hold back a fit of the giggles.

    Shortly afterwards he became aware that the handful of backpackers in the cafe were studiously ignoring him with the kind of embarrased determination normal in such situations. Without missing a beat he turned his attention to the cafe staff and switched to excruciatingly awful Indonesian with an intense American accent, but with that enormous, misguided confidence in his own ability with the language that such people usually have…

    Me, I had to start typing this to stop myself collapsing into hysterical laughter.
    He’s talking about the CIA now… And now he’s talking about how he’s banned from Pappa Cafe! Shit, this guy is BASI!

  4. BrotherMouzone says:

    @ Pak Dikkiman

    The picture of the sleazy Blok M creature chatting up the bar girl should appear next to the dictionary entry for “Basi”. Perfect choice.


    That Wahyu guy gets on my tits as well… can’t put my finger on exactly why…

  5. Jake says:


    The “basi” bule that you describe is the legendary Mark T.Rex! Ask anyone who frequents Jakasa; and they all know the dreaded “T.Rex”; you describe him to a “T”; LOL.

  6. Oigal says:

    best British movie of all time ever

    Is that not a contradiction in terms? So sorry to disappoint tho, guess ever since Reg Varney disappeared lost interest :-). I would however like to point out I do NOT have a moustache.

  7. deta says:

    But we all know who likes to talk about CIA……

  8. Jake says:

    It’s Mark T.Rex…he’s an English teacher who’s in Jaksa 24/7. He claims to have been recruited by the CIA in the early 90s by a CIA agent in memories cafe, jalan jaksa…he may still be with agency; reporting on communist revolutions being planned by david jardine and jimmy the drunk in pappa cafe.

  9. shawty says:

    and local girls should use basiometer in assessing her potential bule partner

  10. Oigal says:

    Ah but a pocket full of personality will trump a basimeter everytime

  11. madrotter says:

    mie baso, you jane…

  12. Ross says:

    Ya, soon as I read the description, I knew who it was. He’s a nice bloke, most of the time.

  13. Dirk says:

    I arrived over here in 1983. I’ve lived in Jakarta, Bandung, pulau Sumba, and Putussibau (Kalimantan), and also on the island of Flores and since the year 1997 I live on the island of Bali.

    It seems that everybody talks about Jakarta and the island of Java.

    There is another world out there : Kalimantan, Flores, Sumba, etc

    Few bule are familiar with the “other Indonesia”. Most people only know Java.

    When I first arrived on the island of Sumba I was offered some slaves. Indeed, on the island of Sumba, one can buy slaves !

    I am flabbergasted by the lack of knowledge of Indonesians about their own country. Their knowledge is limited to Java and parts of Sumatra and Maluku.

    In Irian Jaya, now called Papua, one can buy ten women who will stay with you for the rest of their lives, if you pay 10 pigs per woman, about two thousand dollars.

    In Putussibau (North West Kalimantan) the Iban, Embaloh and Kenya tribes are very much disappointed with the Jakarta based Indonesian government.

    In the year 1989, a minister arrived by helicopter in Putussibau and he announced the arrival of direct phone lines to Jakarta.

    A member of the Iban tribe told him that under the Dutch goverment this direct land based phone line already existed !

    Indonesia is colonised by the Javanese.

    The non-Java residents are frustrated and angry !

    The Dayaks are angry because their jungle is turned into palm oil plantations by the rich conglomerates of Jakarta.

    Luckily, an Indonesian friend of mine buys any available land with the money he receives from foreign donations in order to protect the jungle.

    He has bought many hectares.

    Don’t focus on bule living on the island of Java !

  14. madrotter says:

    i’ve read that somewhere, that story about the telephone lines…

  15. Dirk says:

    The point is, all the other residents of Indonesia, particularly the non-islam population living on islands in NTT are left behind, because Jakarta doesn’t care. Only Javanese are important.

  16. madrotter says:

    most javanese are poor too…. they’re also getting tortured in police stations and evicted.. as was so beautifully said at jakartass this week: “The political classes have been directly elected, but in no way do they represent the people who elected them or meet their aspirations”…

    think i read the telephone story in one of those books by kerry b. collison…

  17. Oigal says:

    think i read the telephone story in one of those books by kerry b. collison

    🙂 So what are you saying MR???

    As a matter of interest, Kerry’s book (Kalimantan Gold?) was pretty close to truth from what I can gather around the traps (with due license, for the mystic girlfriend etc)

  18. madrotter says:

    not saying anything i just recognized that story precisely as it’s told here, not 100% sure it was from one of kerry’s books but i have read it… i enjoy his books, surprises me that they sell them here as he goes pretty deep in the corruption here and the destruction of kalimantan and other places, naming names and stuff, i guess cause they’re in english….

    and i do agree with what dirk is saying by the way….

  19. Odinius says:

    Oigal said:

    As a matter of interest, Kerry’s book (Kalimantan Gold?) was pretty close to truth from what I can gather around the traps (with due license, for the mystic girlfriend etc

    Yes and no.

    Certainly the military-multinationals axis under the New Order plundered the island’s natural wealth, and this has continued after 1998 (though now it’s less military and western companies, and more big industrialists and Chinese/Malaysian conglomerates). And certainly Dayaks living a traditional lifestyle were among the biggest losers. I have a lot of sympathy for these Dayaks, and the activists who are fighting to preserve the island’s forests from the encroachment of mining and palm oil plantation developments.

    But there are a LOT of problems with the book. First, “indigenous” on Kalimantan does not just mean Dayak: the majority are Malay, and Muslim. Second, most Dayaks do not lead traditional lives, and many work on the big enterprises. Third, when violence occurred in West and Central Kalimantan, it wasn’t the traditional-livin’ Dayaks doing the killing, but the sedentary agricultural and urban Dayaks. Fourth, the violence neither targeted said enterprises NOR Muslims NOR all migrants, but one specific set of migrants, the Madurese. The killers actually went to extensive lengths to avoid targeting mosques, Javanese or big employers on the island. Moreover, after ethnically cleansing Madurese, a lot of Dayak leaders decided it was a good time to…demand bribes.

    All of those facts muck up Collison’s “the wave of Muslims came to destroy the pristine tribal lives of the peaceful locals, who as a result, had no recourse but to return to traditional forms of violence” narrative. It’s a novel, so it can be excused for simplistic history, but that’s just the thing…it’s not an accurate portrayal of how the island’s issues played out.

  20. Dirk says:

    Madrotter, about the telephone lines in Kalimantan Barat : I have heard this story from a Catholic missionary, Jacques Maessen, who has been living in Sintang for the past 50 years. Jacques is 73 years old now, and he still lives in Sintang.

    He knows firsthand what goes on in Kalimantan Barat, and by that I don’t mean Pontianak, but rather Sintang, Putussibau and Benua Martinus.
    His email address is
    Ask him ! He has obtained Indonesian citizenship, but he was born in The Netherlands. He speaks Indonesian, Dutch, English, German and Iban and some Embaloh.

  21. madrotter says:

    Hey Dirk! cool! I’m doing work for an organisation Bhakti Luhur which is being led by another Catholic missionary, Romo Janssen, also been here voor 50, 60 years and I’m meeting more people like this. I find these people fascinating, the stories they have are often incredible…

    I swear I read that story somewhere;)

  22. Dirk says:

    madrotter, send an email to Jacques Maessen, he is not a typical romo, and by that I mean : he is not a fanatical catholic. He doesn’t like the pope, and is not really enthusiastic about doing mass in church. He is my hero : an almost atheistic priest !

  23. madrotter says:

    you must have had an incredible time in kalimantan dirk

  24. Dirk says:

    Yes, I had a great time there in 1988.

  25. Dirk says:

    I can’t find your email address. Send me an email

  26. Oigal says:

    Actually Ody, I was referring to more the “commercial” aspects of the case and the very amusing part that the first familiy was one group that got very badly burnt.

    First, “indigenous” on Kalimantan does not just mean Dayak: the majority are Malay, and Muslim. Second, most Dayaks do not lead traditional lives, and many work on the big enterprises.

    This is pretty disputable but I acknowledge pretty much the official view. As for working on big enterprises not much choice when nothing is left of traditional home expect for the desert palm oil plantations for which they received not one cent. Critically, those very few that are employed are employed at the lowest possible level, thanks to the absolutely criminal neglect of educational facilities outside of the major (muslim controlled?) cities. History has a habit of repeating itself.

    Kalimantan is an visible condemnation of current policies and attitudes within Indonesia as a whole and makes a joke of the whole “colonials were evil” lament by some. The province generates vast wealth for the Jakartacentric overlords, yet it’s infrastructure is worse than when the Dutch were in control. No rail network and roads that would be over titled if called goat tracks. Children die every year from starvation (“oh it’s the parents fault” the govt parasitic rep says..), schools with dirt floors and no books.

    The province produces enough coal to power all of Indonesia three time over but instead just provides funds for mansions in Jakarta and the ability for evil people to determine who should be in government or not.

    Not a day goes by without seeing some excess that does not make you want to puke.
    Just to keep it topical, in was enlightening to watch this week those “Dayaks” get a fair hearing (complete with razor wire and brimob in attendance) as they attempted to protest another “interesting” court decision which surprise, surprise provided the “son of an old evil” with yet more prime land at the expense of the little people.

  27. parvita says:

    I think ‘bule basi’ was a term used by Blok M girls or working girls in popular expat bars to indicate bules that has been hanging out there forever. So it is not necessarily those who lives in Indonesia for a long time. Maybe it is just an expression used between them to indicate that, either he already know the tricks therefore cannot be fooled, or he has just became plain boring.

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