Post about Indonesian women and expat men has reached 221 comments

This post from nearly 5 years ago has certainly received a lot of feedback – currently at 221 comments. And there were many more comments not approved or moderated for various reasons (and I’m very lenient). It appears the nature of relationships between Asian women and foreigners is a hot topic. Unfortunately, the discussion also seems to breed hate, blatant racism, extreme generalizations, and the other crap that comes with the telling of peoples’ personal history.

Each of these delicately composed comments comes streaming (and sometimes shouting) into my inbox, at times more frequently than bathroom breaks. I’m so often tempted to respond, to speak my own mind, and share my experiences having been with an amazing, loving, and caring Indonesian woman for so many years – experiences so very opposite from the majority of those sharp words expressed in the comments. But then again, whose mind am I going to change? If someone has had a horrible experience with love or has witnessed a partner using them only as a means to an end, who am I to say that they’re wrong to lash out?

Despite the fact that this blog is centered around photography, travel, culture, and my own life experiences as an expatriate living in Asia, I’ll continue to allow the comments to flow. I simply ask that before you contribute to the discussion, you ask yourself if you’d say the same thing if you were face-to-face with others, that you consider the flip side to your beliefs and statements, and that you strive to maintain some semblance of respect – especially in terms of religion. Don’t confuse the disparity of wealth and blatant naivety with a particular religion.

Having said that, perhaps it’s time for me to share my own perspectives on this matter from many years of personal experience.

7 years of blogging: The Java Jive turns 7.

This month marks the seventh year of this blog.

A tremendous amount has changed in these seven years, and through it all, I’ve kept this old thing running – something I never envisioned in 2002 as a naive, fresh-off-the-plane expat. In many ways I supposed I’ve “grown up” in front of anyone who has followed this blog; writing styles have changed, perspectives altered, and life experiences have dramatically morphed my views of the world.

The archives aren’t functioning ideally at the moment (only displaying about two years worth of posts), so you’re better off doing a search if there’s something you’re looking for.

Taking a look back, there have been some vibrant times. Through the good and the bad, here are a few interesting posts I dug up:

The beginning of Novita and I.

Earning supplemental income: How to make money in your spare time?

Earning supplemental income: Part 2 – Ideas and brainstorming

Quarter Life Crisis: Part One (Life as an Expat)

Western Men, Indonesian Women.

Earthquake and Devastation (Asian Tsunami 2004)

Jakarta Floods 2007

Floods in Jakarta

Solar eclipse as seen from Jakarta

Expat experiences: making new friends, approaching foreigners

When friends leave

Muara Karang – A Glimpse of the Past

Bule Behavior Defined.

You Can’t Title a Post Like This

Instructions for the Tourist

What is your best photo of 2008?

Multiple exposures – the best of both worlds

Moving to Manila, Philippines

Expat experiences: making new friends, approaching foreigners

The other day at the gym, a Chinese/Indonesian woman I know comes up to me and says, “Why don’t you ever talk to anyone at the gym?”, “And you always wear headphones, so no one can talk to you. And when you workout you don’t smile.”

Those of you reading this from the States or similar countries will agree with me that this isn’t exactly something a gym-friend would normally ask you in America. (gym-friend is a term I coined 10 seconds ago, referring to people you only see/know/talk to at the gym).

My answer to her was, “I guess because when I’m at the gym, I’m here to workout and not socialize. I don’t mean to be ‘sombong’ (stuck-up).” She said, “Then how will you make new friends?” Her question got me thinking.

All too often we expats, living and working in a radius of familiarity, tend to become a bit isolated and stuck in a habit of hanging out with the same people, but to an Indonesian, we may come across as being unfriendly or perhaps even a bit stuck-up. I can only speak for myself, but this isn’t the case at all. I’m always up for meeting new people, practicing my lame Bahasa Indonesia, and think of myself as pretty open to talking with Indonesians as much as possible. And yet, despite this view of myself, I was observed as being otherwise.

It makes you wonder, after 6 years of living and working around here, do others feel the same? Is this a reputation that many expats earn and perhaps deserve?

To quickly address her comments: In regards to the gym atmosphere, I’ll admit, I’m there to get a good workout in, not hang out and talk. However, I’m in the vast minority – most of the members spend about half (or more) of their time socializing and the other half doing some form of exercise. If I don’t smile, it’s because I train pretty hard and am often working my ass off in doing so; weight-lifting and smiling just don’t mesh where I’m from. The headphones are a way of blocking out the R&B-love-song techno thing they have pumping at times, and allows me to focus. Furthermore, how would you feel if some sweaty white guy out of breath walked up and started chatting with you out of the blue?

Expat men already have a bad rep as it is in Asia. If I start conversing with the cute girls at the gym, won’t that simply reinforce everyone’s opinion and get them thinking, “See, I told he was just like the rest…” Unfortunately, there’s often an automatic assumption that if a bule (foreigner) is speaking with a young woman, he’s really just trying to get in her pants. This theory is further reinforced by the wandering eyes I notice whenever the aforementioned skimpy-outfit-wearing gym-friend is talking to me. The eyes of those around us tell a lot.

Should I make more of an effort to get to know those I’ve regularly seen at the gym and the same locations all these years? Probably. Should I make an attempt at smiling more often, and lighten up a bit? Definitely.

But you know what? This goes both ways; it’d be great for all you Indos out there to also take a chance and approach us as well. Most expats that I know are quite friendly and always up for speaking with new people, and making new friends. After all, isn’t that why we’re here, transplanted from our homes? To forge new relationships, be it business, friendship, or love?

{insert predictable words of advice}

Take a chance. You just might learn something new.

Bule Gila atau Bule Bodoh

I believe I’ve captured the Bule Gila (or Bodoh?) award for the week.

Tonight, after working 4 hours straight at a cafe on reports (after 9 hours at work), I picked up Novita and the maid from the front of the mall. After the maid finished loading some items into the car, we drove off. We were well down the street, when Novita turns to me, “Where’s Sri?!!??”. I exclaim, “Where IS Sri?!?”.

I hit the brakes and pulled over. In the rear view mirror I caught a glimpse of our maid running frantically down the street towards us. Apparently, I thought the car door slamming shut signaled Sri’s entrance to the car. I was wrong.

At least we were all able to laugh it off. But yes, I was “that guy” tonight.

Vacation in My Mind

If you’ve noticed, I’ve strayed from the world of prose lately, posting only photos. Reason: We had a 9 day break for the Muslim holiday, Idul Fitri. Only, um, I didn’t go a.n.y.w.h.e.r.e. ADUH!

I did manage to really concentrate on ways to improve my photography. Am I a geek? Probably. I lived on the ‘net self-educating as much as I could. More about that later (tomorrow maybe).

A few days I went around taking pics in the kampung (village) area of Tanah Merah near Kelapa Gading. It’s an area in extreme poverty, built on a landfill. The stench of rotting garbage and burning tires is pervasive. That’s where I managed to get those photos on this page – the power line photos and “warhol” shots were taken there, and more are on the way.

It’s always interesting to see the reaction to some bule walking around with a camera in an area which I highly doubt has seen a foreigner in a decade. “Halo Mister” is, of course, the most creative and varied announcement shouted from the guys my age. But, I suppose they weren’t aware that the other dude 10 meters away just said it, so they thought they were the first.

I’d much rather talk with the elders. Many older men will approach me and simply speak to me as another human, not with surprise or with hesitation, but more with curiosity at why I would want to photograph their environment. What do I find interesting in this landfill? At this point, it’s tough not to feel condescending, but to resolve this, I simply show them the LCD on my camera and explain that the colors are so much more vibrant than the guarded complex I live in. I go on to tell them that I’ve lived here for over four years and think it’s a shame that so many of my friends will work here for years and never see this side of life. Jakarta is the kind of place where an expat can be sheltered from the poverty. The 5 star hotels, flights to Bali, maids, drivers, fitness clubs, bars, restaurants; they all cater to that facade.

I explain that in their area, people are out doing all sorts of interesting things. Encountering children in these kampungs is always a delight. Many will run up to me, uninhibited, and ask me to take their photo. As expected, they can barely stand still long enough for me to snap away before pouncing on my back to see the photo on the LCD. Walking down the street, it’s not long before an army of a dozen children snakes behind me announcing the arrival of a bule to the rest of the street. Hard to remain inconspicuous, even after half a decade.

In my affluent neighborhood, people lock themselves indoors and rarely even take a stroll in the evenings. They live in air conditioning with maids and drivers to cater to their every whim. The people of Tanah Merah and most other kampung dwellers, welcome their home to visitors. They have the doors opened, the chairs are out in front of the house, kids are playing in the street (there aren’t really any yards unfortunately), and overall it seems as if most people are more friendly than the Benz crowd. No, I shouldn’t generalize like that, as I’m sure most of my wealthy neighbors are as kind once you get to know them – but that’s just it – they don’t offer that chance when barred in their homes. Me? I hang out in the park across the street from my home almost on a daily basis. No joke. I string up a hammock between two trees and either take a nap in the setting sun or read a book in the last minutes of daylight. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen my next door neighbor’s 16 year old kid step foot in the park. Not once in 4 years. Damn shame.

I won’t go on to say that money can’t buy happiness, or pretend to think that these smiling kampung children are living a better life than those locked in their air conditioning with a playstation glued to their hands, scarfing down McD’s. Why bother. The truth is that there’s so much disparity here, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

I won’t bother trying to be poetic about all this; I’m just trying to convey what I observe while on my walks through this fascinating land.

Western Men, Indonesian Women.

Thang D. Nguyen has written an interesting post and subsequent discussion in regards to Western men and Indonesian women. I’ll leave my own thoughts out of this one, but would be interested in hearing how Indonesian women feel after reading this.
Here’s an excerpt from his post:

As my friend and I sipped our coffees last Sunday afternoon at Plaza Indonesia, he asked, “Don’t you think that many of the Indonesian women that white foreigners (buleh) go out with or marry are so unattractive?”

“They look like maids, don’t they” he continued.

“Not necessarily so,” I replied.

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.

Being an Indonesian himself, my friend’s view of a beautiful woman is that of a fair-skinned one, who has the look of a financially independent, educated, and classy lady.

Thus, in his eyes, an Indonesian woman with a dark complexion, buck teeth, and a high forehead typically found among remote mountain villagers in Java, is not beautiful.

Continue reading

Doctors Diggin for Gold

Acupuncture is only $5 here, so I’ve gone a few times recently just for kicks…

As I took a seat in the waiting room, I picked up a magazine to pass the time. There were only a few other people around, and most were absorbed in the Indonesian Soap Opera on the waiting room’s television. Glancing up, I noticed that the guy in jeans sitting across from me was eagerly engaged in some serious nose-picking. I’m not talking about the “bat in a cave” type of deal, or the “waiting-at-a-stoplight-and-no-one-is-looking” type of thing. I’m talking full on, brain tickling with the forefinger action.

I tried to bury myself in my magazine to conceal the grin spreading like wildfire across my face. Unfortunately, my curiosity got the best of me – I had to check on him. Yep. A good two minutes later the man was still massaging his sinuses.

My turn is up, I walk into the room, take off my shirt and prepare to be jabbed. While laying face down the doctor begins inserting the needles into my back. As he comes around to the side, he bumps into a needle that was stuck in my forearm. Wincing in pain, I look up in wonder at how a doctor could possibly be that careless?!

Who do I see? Mr. Blue Jeans. The gold digger was my doctor.

Quarter Life Crisis: Part One (Life as an Expat)

So begins a new phase in my life. My Quarter Life Crisis has officially commenced. I suppose a good way to deal with this is with some introspection, reflection, and a good round of bullsh*ting about whatever spills out of this confused mind. Without further ado, let the rambling begin.

Life as an expat moves through a number of phases. There’s the initial, “Wow, it’s so different and interesting!” first few months of bliss with our newfound relationship with a place. This is the phase when we write home to say how guilty we feel having a maid in our home, washing our boxers and cooking for us while making such a small salary. Or how fascinating the bajaj are, and how much we love sambal and sate. This is when all quirks of the culture are met with an upbeat attitude. This is when it’s so much fun to be infused in a culture where no one speaks your language – where you’re an object of interest. This is when we go jogging around the neighborhood at night and smile and say “malam” to everyone we see, and wonder why we don’t receive a response. “Oh well, it must be their culture!” we tell ourselves. This is when we become a bit condescending without meaning to be.

This flows into a time where we begin missing bits of home, “You know, in America ________ “(fill in with inappropriate comparison, yet say it with a smile). By now we’ve settled into appreciating having a maid, and understand that in many ways she has a pretty decent job in respect to the local economy. We’ve become accustomed to the traffic and are learning to be patient with the realization of Indonesia’s “rubber time”. By now we’ve been hit by numerous stomach bugs and no longer eat from the 50 cent street vendors. We’ve started making friends and maybe have even branched out of our cocoon of hanging out with co-workers and expats only.

Which leads into a minor depression of realizing that those things that were ‘interesting’ now are downright annoying. The abundant stares and comments that were so flattering in the beginning are now irritating. In your mind, you’re silently saying, “What the hell are you looking at?!” but then quickly feel guilty realizing that you do in fact look a bit different and those staring at you are simply passing the time while they duduk dan merokok. You’ve let your temper get the best of you more than occasionally when driving / walking / waiting in line. You’ve grown tired of nasi, nasi, nasi, anything that’s been fried, and even sambal has lost its charm. Perhaps you’ve put on a few pounds from this diet and are wondering, “How do they stay so thin here?” This is make-or-break time. You’ll most likely either decide to leave as the shine of your experience has now worn off, or stay and find that things will indeed get better.

I decided to stay. Much, much, longer.

The next phase of being an expat is like settling into a comfortable relationship with a girl. You’ve made it. You are now allowed to show your true colors. She’s accepted you, and you’ve accepted her, even with that annoying habit of (______). You’ve altered your diet to suit your taste and health. Perhaps you’ve joined a nice fitness club, have a few favorite hangouts, manage not to let work consume your life, and even have a nice group of friends both local and expat. You may even have found a love interest. (the complications / experiences / misunderstandings / quirks / amazement of which would take an entire book to write about)

Your life has become rather complete. You don’t really miss ‘home’, and maybe begin to realize some of the disadvantages of living in a Western culture of consumption, chasing the dollar, and from a distance, realize your home country has a rather superficial pop-culture. You have no idea what a Ti-Vo is or how to use one. You’ve never used Crackberry. You’ve never seen a Hummer 3, a Chrysler Crossfire, or a Pontiac Solstice. You don’t have any idea what the latest blockbuster is. The last you heard about Britney Spears was something about having a baby. You don’t watch Lost – you just buy the DVDs a few months later. You hang out in malls and cafés to relax. You wear jeans outside even though it’s 92 degrees and 99% humidity. The heat that was so overwhelming in the beginning is now biasa saja. You get the latest music from pirated CD shops, not a real CD shop. You’ve stopped complaining about paying $100 to the government every time you leave this country. You know you could pay $60 to the guy in the corner but couldn’t be bothered. You’ve tinted the windows and windshield on your car to Mafia tones. You forgot what a speed limit was. Police have become simply an annoyance, not really any kind of deterrent, knowing that $5 will make most of your troubles vanish. You forgot that the shoulder isn’t really for passing on the highway. You feel that a Kijang is a pretty decent car. You feel it’s normal to expect to take an hour and a half to get 5 miles for dinner. You debate about what to do for the Idul Fitri break and realize you’re actually bored with going to Bali. You no longer care if people stare at you, cause you’ve become immune to it. You can go to the bar and carry on a conversation with a kupu-kupu malam, knowing with 100% reassurance you’d never take her home. The hostess at the local bar invited you to her wedding in Sulawesi. You can sms faster than a 13 year old. You have that handphone with you at all times. You don’t even blink an eye at the fact that 6 year olds have them as well. You call it a “handphone”, not a “cellphone”. You begin to finish emails with “cheers”. You say “university” and not “college”. You simply can’t get into reality shows. You think it’s expensive to pay $30 for a doctor visit – with drugs. You’ve never seen a car with GPS navigation. You feel as if you should go indoors as soon as the call to prayer begins at 6pm. You haven’t seen the sunset more than a handful of times, and never after 6:30pm. You think it’s normal to see the dude spraying DDT on your front lawn every Saturday morning at 6am – without wearing a mask. You think $60 a month for 128kbps broadband at home is reasonable and even exciting. Your Honda Jazz is actually considered cool to some of those you work with. You think a 200cc motorcycle is a big bike. You consider a V6 or anything over 2.0 liters to be a powerhouse. You give about as much thought to an Embassy bombing as you do to bird flu. You laugh at “Bule Gila”. You only find Asian women attractive. You no longer consider, “Halo Mister” annoying. You think $3 for going to the theater is a bit expensive. You’re completely used to subtitles on those movies and having the volume played at full force. Many pieces of your wardrobe have tags that say “Armani, D&G, Bvlgari”, but you know damn well none of them are real, and you couldn’t care less. Rats don’t faze you. Seeing a monkey chained to the security guard’s post is no longer unsettling. Getting your driver’s license has become a yearly tradition. Going to immigration still sucks – bad. You don’t remember snow. It’s no longer weird to go a couple of years without seeing family. Your friends back home haven’t forgotten about you, but still truly have no idea where you’re living. “Isn’t Bali a country?” “Do they have good coffee on ‘Java’?” “Do they have Internet over there?” “I always wanted to see Thailand!” You’ve had an amoeba. At least once – and you’ve resumed eating off the street cause, well, sh*t happens.

And finally you begin to realize that, yes; you could in fact remain here for much, much longer and probably be reasonably content. But the fact of the matter is that you’re becoming so embedded in life here that if you don’t bring about a change soon, you may miss a window of opportunity to once again do something different with your life. You realize that a huge disadvantage of being here is seeing friends come and go. You spend a couple years hanging out with these great people, and then suddenly they’re gone, having returned to the land of McDonalds and Britney. You feel a craving. Perhaps you’ve seen all there is to see. Done all there is to do. Experienced all that your adopted country has to offer at this point in your life. What is it? What is that nagging sensation? Is it time to pack it up? Is it time to move to another country and therefore resume the cycle of expatism? Find that which is shiny and new yet again? Or is it time to head home? To realize that, hey, maybe it’s not so bad there. Maybe you could live somewhere in your home country that is completely new – an entirely new adventure? Would you regret leaving? Would you miss all that you’ve come to love about this place?

These are the questions which keep many expats up at night. These are the questions which I suppose I’ve been dealing with for a few years; coming in as tides and receding when I’ve made the decision to stay. It’s about that time of year when the tide is coming in, and I’m not sure about how this one will play out. This is the most uncertain I’ve been of my future since I was 22 and facing university graduation.

Welcome to my Quarter Life Crisis.