16 October 2008

The Bule Factor

Kind of like fear factor but only funnier. I had been tossing up whether to post this recent experience of last Monday. Not for any particular reason other than perhaps some people will not see the "funny" in this one.

Besides there has been a little bit of bule bashing going on in the Indonesian blogosphere of late. Hold on, it goes on all the time. It won't be long and there will be three certainties in life; death, taxes, and bule bashing in the Indonesian blogosphere.

Most people I think make to big of a deal of the whole bule thing. If people don't like what I blog about or my opinions of things, then that is their right. The want to verbally bash me through their blog or on mine, so be it!

Nah, back to the bule factor story.

The wife and I are now onto a fortnightly check-up routine for the pregnancy. So, every two weeks we make the trip to the hospital. Generally, we do the check which is a USG then go to the pharmacy to get whatever the doctor prescribes. After that it is off to do some shopping, proper or window, doesn't matter. We have lunch and then head home and I head off to work.

Anyways, we were sitting in the waiting room, funnily enough waiting for the doctor to arrive. We were sitting across from a woman and her pregnant daughter. The woman engages the wife in some conversation. I am translating stuff so I am tapping away on the laptop.

It is always fun for me to sit back and watch Indonesians assume that I do not speak Indonesian. It is also a good way to avoid having to talk to people as I can just whack on the blank stare look and then they give up.

The conversation was all pretty much small talk until this pearler came bubbling forth, " dapat bule dimana?" Essentially, "so, where did you get the white guy?" I almost fell out of my seat and had to do everything that I could to control myself. I was not angry, upset, or offended, rather I was doing everything that I could to not burst out laughing. I am sure the wife knew what was going on and the question is probably more tiresome for her than it is funny for me.

I was sitting there like an attentive school kid ready to put his hand up in order to answer this super question.

Some of the possible answers that crossed my mind were, "Bu, there was this competition that I entered and the first prize was a bule" or "Wah, it was a little difficult but I ordered him through an online catalogue but they wouldn't courier him so I had to go to Australia and pick him up. He looks a little different in real life than he did in the catalogue!" or "he was just wondering around lost on the street so I took him home and fed him and then he would not leave".

I think the question was generic and harmless and nothing sinister was meant by it. It is just funny to hear it and then think about the possible answers I could have used.

It did make my day though! Perhaps it is a case of small things amusing small minds.


Anonymous said...


The Indonesians' general attitude toward bule is still as amusing as always.

This is also one of the reason I haven't got the courage yet to drag my boyfriend all the way to Indonesia to meet my parents. Maybe they'll pop me the same question

"Dapat bule dimana?"

Rob Baiton said...


You live in a place that is full of them, bules that is, right? :D

So, where did you get your bule?

Just kidding ;)

Amitz Sekali said...

So... what did your wife answer? I'm curious :-)

Elyani said...

I have the best answer for this question..."my brother couriered him by Fedex".

Anonymous said...

I've never got such question. Not in Jakarta, not in any other cities we ever visited. Maybe from my face expression they know if they dare to ask then they'll receive some very harsh answer!

pemerasjaksa said...

Pardon me for asking this in the comment page. For me, bule factor is always a different perspective, that usually "fit" to other part of the world, since bule's culture is on the swung there, "unfortunately".

Q: Is it ethical or legal, to tap a telephone talks, and keep it as a record document, as just happened in Gorontalo:

The problem is, it leaks out to public.

reader said...

saya baru tahu kalau istrinya Pak Rob itu orang Indonesia :)


Rob Baiton said...


There you go!

It is important to learn new things everyday! :D

It is the "jodoh" thing. You do not get to choose your jodoh but your jodoh chooses you! (almost JFK-ish).

invisible said...

well its a lot easier for a bule who marries a local to live here than it would be for the wife to live in the bule's home country, thats for sure.

you may have to deal with the occaisional insenstive comment here, but as you correctly assumed, they are usually not of a sinister nature.

however, if you moved back home with your lovely indonesian wife, you'd get a lot more stares and whispers, mostly of the sinister kind!

it would also be extremely difficult for the woman as i'm sure not every single member of your family and friends would be as open minded. (especially in australia! i cant get over how racist this country is. to them an indonesian wife is nothing more than a maid with benefits!)

now just imagine if your wife wore a head scarf!

Rob Baiton said...


Not sure that I agree with you. I am not doubting your personal experiences of racism in Australia.

In saying that there was nothing sinister in this particular question is in the context of the situation of where the question was asked and who was asking it.

There are plenty of examples that I can list where the sinister nature of the question is there. But, I would rather not dwell on the bad.

The relating of the experience was to highlight the "funny" perhaps of the cultural differences of questions that matter.

It has more to do with tolerance than just being open-minded. Most people are open-minded enough to accept that cross-cultural, inter-racial marriages / relationships occur. Not everyone is tolerant enough though to accept those relationships.

I do not think that this is an issue that is exclusively an Australian one. Having lived in Indonesia as long as I have it is worth noting that these are issues that are also discussed and debated here.

I am not into getting into a contest of which country is better or which one is worse when it comes to racism and other things.

For no other reason than this post was about something I found to be funny.

GJ said...

What about "he was part of a BCA credit card promo"


"What bule? I'm colour blind, I thought he was Papuan" then a "bugger" in english.

Rob Baiton said...


I like both of these suggestions. I especially like the colour blind one.

and the "bugger" is always a nice touch on the end of just about any sentence.

Anonymous said...

I’m in Australia, I have had relationships with 134 Asian girls since my divorce, maybe one quarter were Indonesians (the rest predominantly Japanese, Korean and Chinese), and the only stares and comments I have ever had were from males of the same nationality of the girl that I happened to be with at the time.

In Japan it was endemic. Japanese men always ask Western men what they think of Japanese girls.

I DID get a lot questions from other girls: “Where did you two meet”. It’s the same as “nice handbag, where did you get it from?”

I’m just a Western status symbol, like the Channel handbag, the BMW and the passport.

GJ: the question most asked of a girl accompanying you would be “how was your trip to the zoo”


invisible said...


134 blind and deaf asian girls dated you?
holy cow!


i'm not implying that your post was about racism in any which way, it was humorous.
however, it does shed light on the issue of inter-racial relationships and their acceptance in society.
i have to disagree with you when you say the situation would be the same here, as it is in australia.
i'm not saying that most australians are openly racist, but from my experience, there is always a limit for tolerance. interracial marriage and relationships really hits those limits.

Rob Baiton said...


I am not surprised you keep count. I am also not surprised that you mentioned the number.

The question posed was not what do you think of western men. So, in that sense I think that analogy is moot.

The "where did you meet" question is the one I believe that the Ibu in the hospital was actually asking but for me the construction of the sentence and the words used amused me. That was all.

In terms of being a status symbol with the BMW and the passport. My wife has lucked out on two of those as I am neither a status symbol and nor do I own a Beamer. I do have a passport though.


Feel free to disagree. However, as a foreigner married to a local and living in Indonesia I can speak with a degree of authority from a personal experience perspective.

Racism happens in Australia. As a matter of fact it happens everywhere. It must be noted that Indonesia is not immune from the ugliness of racism.

I find it interesting that you seem to think there is greater tolerance for inter-racial marriage in Indonesia as compared to other places.

I guess how an Indonesian experiences tolerance and how a foreigner experiences tolerance may be different.

invisible said...


i am a person of indian descent, i have lived in australia and am currently residing in indonesia.
i was born here and hold an indonesian passport, i also speak the language fluently.
i can tell you from my experience i find the indonesian people far more tolerant than the average australian.
i'm not talking about blatant open racism. i have many australian friends and we got along quite fine.
however, when the topic of interracial relationships is discussed, then the situation gets blurry.
i'm sure there are a lot of people in america who like obama but are not ready for a black president, now i feel that is some kind of racism. what should the color of his skin matter if he is the best person for the job.

these are the same people who have black friends but would never want their daughter to marry a black person. they use "cultural differences" to mask their racism, even if they dont realise it.

also i feel, for an indonesian woman to marry a bule, is considered marrying up.
whereas in the west, marrying an asian, is somewhat construed as marrying down. (ie mail order bride)

so, yes, i think that western countries, and australia in particular, are more racist.

whats the most racist experience you've ever suffered? i'm not trying to undermine your suffering, if any, but i'm sure whatever you've been through pales in comparison to the experiences of Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela and countless others.

Rob Baiton said...


I do not think that I was comparing myself to either Gandhi or to Nelson Mandela.

I also do not think that I need to when discussing racism.

I am not here to start a competition on who has had the worst racist experience.

You're talking generalizations and when we talk generalizations we can make whatever case we want to make.

Racism is as real in Indonesia as it is in Australia and anywhere else for that matter.

On the marrying up and down theory, to each their own. I would reckon that there would be plenty of Indonesians that would also consider marrying a white person or a foreigner not necessarily marrying up.

But as I said, it is not really a competition to determine which is the more racist country.

It is a little too simplistic if I was to argue that I experienced little or no racism in Australia while having witnessed a little, but in contrast having experienced more racism personally in Indonesia therefore conclude that Indonesia is a more racist place than Australia.

Yet, this is the reason I thought about not posting the experience. Simply, the point was not to enter a debate on racism but rather point out the humor in language.

Anonymous said...

Rob, the issue raised by Anon was racism in Australia, so surely it doesnt matter male of female?

Anon - you may make fun, but I learned more from those girls than I ever learned in the classroom. And I thank every one of them for it.

And I could fill a book about the stories. The little things. Maybe I will write it.


Rob Baiton said...


The post was not and is not about racism. No, it does not matter whether you are female or male, racism is racism.

I am also not getting into the argument of which country is more racist and why. It does not serve any purpose. If we agree that racism is bad then it does not matter where it happens it is bad.

You could always start another blog to relay your stories to the masses. Or you could write a book and publish it either in the traditional way or as an e-book.

rima fauzi said...

It is very funny but sad at the same time. Why sad? Because for most Indonesians (esp the less educated), that question is regarding as something that is somewhat normal, while for those who are familiar with western or international manners, that is a definite faux pas.

Rob Baiton said...


I don't know about a faux pas. To me it was funny. I probably should be used to it by now but it is still funny to hear it.

It is not a faux pas because it happened in Indonesia, and if it is true that this is normal for Indonesia then this is par for the course. So, no faux pas, right?

Truth be told I was not looking at this from a racist, or manners, or Indonesia is a sad place perspective.

The post is also not designed to provide commentary on the pros and cons of Indonesia, rather I was merely relaying a personal experience that I thought was really funny.

The funny was that the question sounded like there was some place you can go to get bules and for me what made it funny was my interpretation of the question more than the question itself, particularly as I pondered how I might have answered if the question was posed to me.

I see that the girls are still going for it over at IM.

Anonymous said...

Wooops - have I offended you Rob??

If so it wasnt intended.

Anon made a comment about Australia that I thought was unfair and would leave people with an incorrect impression of a very good country that comprises a wide mix of migrants.


Rob Baiton said...


Definitely not offended and you are free to comment as you please here.

Invisible's perception of Australia is undoubtedly based on personal experience. However, I was pointing out that the original post was not about racism. It was as I also point out in my response to Rima not an opportunity for he to rail on manners or anything else.

It is but one question among many. I just found it really funny that it was asked in the way that it was.

As I have said, I really was not looking to start a "your country is more racist than mine" debate.

santi d said...

Ah ... my people with their bule fever LOL. My eurasian kids are now bule. My eldest speaks Indonesian, and they consider him as: anak bule yang lancar bahasa Indonesia. LOL.

Hey, I do love your blog. Let me link it to mine.

Rob Baiton said...


I am guessing my Kid will be the same in a good few years.

Feel free to link.

mei said...

interesting post and comments too :)

i got quite much of the same questions mostly from indonesians friends/acquaintances.

something like "ketemu dimana?", "dapet bule dimana?", and even one of my friends asked me "lo hamil ya?" because i got married without giving any NOTICE to them. of course my closest friends know better about the things im going through and all.

now im staying in Finland and i can say that the people are fair enough. some people who dont know about our "story" asked politely "how did you two meet?".

somehow i feel that the way/tone is different between indonesians and finnish. finnish are curious and excited about the story, while indonesians are more like cynical and sometimes i feel that they judge me by asking that question.

i feel that indonesians are waiting for "juicy stories" as we realize that quite much indonesians marry westerns because of their money and all (but im not generalizing). and i have to disappoint them by telling that we met when we were studying in Kuala Lumpur.

ps: i think living in finland is much better for me than in indo, because finnish people treat me equally and they dont stare US like we are some kind of aliens or "manusia akar/manusia kawat". maybe im lucky because finnish are at least not racist :)

Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for dropping by and sharing your experiences and thoughts on the subject.

I have never been to Finland. I hope one day to go.

The "ketemu dimana" question is fair enough. And, I agree. People are generally looking for some really juicy and detailed story. If they do not get it then they get pretty bored with the whole thing very quickly.

I am glad that you are liking Finland. The weather might take some getting used to in winter I suppose.

rima fauzi said...

When I said faux pas, it was for those who are familiar with western/international manners.

But even in Indonesia, I think asking "dapet bule dimana" is a faux pas. Like you said, if the question was "kenal dimana?" that would be something totally different.

It's a good thing you were not looking at this from a racist or other perspectives and you just wanted to share an experiences, a funny one at that, which is why I mentioned this article in my blog because I also found it funny.

And yeah, there are some people still going for it in IM. I just choose to not get into it anymore, I got better things to do, like studying.. Ok, it's not better, i lied, but it's something i gotta do. lol

Rob Baiton said...


This is the beauty of a little life experience and having learned the ability to agree to disagree :D

Thanks for the mention in your blog. The suggestions for answers were very funny.

Some things ya just gotta do, and in your case studying is one of them. I am guessing IM will still be around later on and so will those that troll places like IM itching for a verbal slap-down knock-em out fest. So take your time!

Anonymous said...

I am sad to contradict Invisible, but Australians being more racist than Indonesians? That is funny...Australians may be kind of racist toward Chinese and Indonesians (I am both - I am Chinese born and raised in Indonesia), but Indonesians are by far moreee racist than Australians..Growing up looking a lot like Chinese was very, very hard..Native Indonesian mocked me directly to my face, and worst of all, the sexual harassment itu lo!!! I am so glad I live in USA now..gosh..

Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment and sharing your experiences.

On the anonymous thing. I generally encourage my readers to adopt a pen name. It makes it easier for me to distinguish commentators (or you just whack in some initials or something similar do I can tell you apart from the others).

Polar Bear said...

And as I pointed out Rob its not exclusive to Indonesians.

In Japan with a Japanese GF it was the first question we were asked.

As I pointed out I felt like a commodity.

Polar Bear said...

PS Rob I mentioned numbers of Asian girls to avoid someone asking me "how would you know" and doubting my experience in the subject. No more and no less.

Rob Baiton said...


Where did you meet does not equate to nice handbag where did you get it, not for me at least.

The point of the post was the language and the construction of the sentence. I found it to be funny. I was not offended by it.

You and invisible, on the other hand, want to turn this into some kind of sociology study on racism in Indonesia and Australia and which country is the most racist.

That was not the point of the post!

If you felt like a commodity in Japan because someone asked you where you met the girl you were with or they asked you what you think of Japanese girls, then that is an issue for you. Both of these questions to me are innocuous and not commoditizing you.

That said, I was not there and I can only take what you say at face value. If that is how you felt about the questions, so be it. I would have had a different reaction. That's just me.

If you read my comments, I also make the point that it is not exclusive to Indonesians. However, once again, this was not the point of the post. It was not intended to be a critique of Indonesian culture or society or a comparison between Indonesia and Australia or any other place for that matter.

It was merely a personal experience that I relayed because I found it funny.

Whether your experience with Asian women is 3, 4, 34, or 134, it does not matter. It is still unverifiable in the big scheme of things unless you are going to supply names, current addresses and current phone numbers.

You could have also made your point without mentioning the number and then giving us a national breakdown. Nevertheless, if you think that the number gives your comments more gravitas then so be it.

This is what makes us different.

Ecky said...

Rob, what did you wife answer? Really curious here.

I once used the albino answer in Bali when I was trying to negotiate for water sport, told the guy that my boyfriend is albino so we should get local price not "bule" price and bf proved it by making conversation in bahasa Indonesia, didn't work though LOL.

If I were your wife, I probably will say that I just met you outside and drag you along to pay for the doctor LOL

Rob Baiton said...


Work :D

The story is much longer and much more convoluted, but it is true in the most basic of senses.

Mei said...

Dear Rob,

Yes winter is tough in Finland. It's only autumn and the temperature lately is only 10 degrees max in daytime.

My friend from Siberia told me that it can hit -60 degrees there in winter but somehow she can say that Finland feels colder because of the wind.

Do come to Finland, I'm sure you're gonna like the place and the people. The first time I came here last year, his grandmother told me: "Finland is a cold country, but the people are not cold!" :)

ps: let me know if you are coming :)

Anonymous said...

Rob, you are getting confused.
Anon made it an issue about racism not me.

I simply defended Australia, a country which I find far less Racist than Indonesia (we don’t drag Chinese girls off the bus etc etc). To demonstrate why I found it far less racist it was necessary to demonstrate my involvement with ethnic communities. Nothing more, nothing less. If I had not have done someone would have jumped up with “what would you know about Asians in Sydney?” Well quite a lot as it happens….

The number of Asian girls simply demonstrates a wide experience in the subject area – rather than a one off. consider it as evidence of expertise in an area.

If you really want phone numbers and names (or even photographs) I could supply them. Some may be out of date now….


Rob Baiton said...


Will do!


I am not confused. You do not need to defend Australia here. You want to defend Australia open your own blog and do it there!

Mate, it is like talking to a brick! Seriously! How many times do I have to say that the post is not about racism?

Yes, invisible brought it up. I addressed it in a manner where I highlighted that it was not a competition to see who was more or less racist.

You, on the other hand, want to pick up the mantle that does not need picking up. You, on the other hand, want to introduce your experience of how many women of Asian ancestry you have dated or slept with or both as a means of providing gravitas to your arguments.

I think you introduced it gratuitously as a means of trying to garner respect as a man who can pull the women in.

A definition of an internet troll, as I understand it, is someone who invades the blog of another and takes the posts off topic.

Racism is not the topic of this particular post. It does not matter whether Invisible says something about racism, it is still not the topic!

Neither is this the topic for you to be giving us the gratuitous numbers of your conquests.

This was a post about an experience that I witnessed in a hospital waiting room relating to a question my wife was asked and which I found funny.

To save you the trouble of asking, no I am not offended. I am just bored, bored shitless as a matter of fact. I cannot fathom why I have to write the same thing over and over again and you still not get it!

Seriously, if you cannot keep on topic then go back to bothering and whinging about the treespotter. He is more up to the challenge than I am.

invisible said...

Really not trying to be a troll here, but by using the very term 'bule', you are opening up a can of racist worms.

from transwiki:
Bule is a commonly used word in Indonesia to describe a white person or person of European descent. It is also used for calling light-colored persons. Even though several dictionaries point out the definition as albino, most native Indonesian do not consider the term as derogatory. Even so some foreigners find it offensive for different reasons. Some consider the word as a racial slur, since they previously lived in a homogeneous society.

Rob Baiton said...


My prerogative don't you think to use the term.

The wiki definition you give says that most Indonesians do not understand the term to be derogatory or racist. Therefore, if I use it in an Indonesian context then you, as should all other Indonesians, must interpret the term as being non-racist, right?

If my white readers consider the term racist, and I know that a few of them do, then they can comment as they see fit.

Those people that know me also know that I think the term is racist in terms of its original conception. In the current context it is most often considered to mean white.

Therefore, an equally politically incorrect term must be "black". If we are advocating not being able to call white people, bule, then we must also advocate for not calling Papuans black, right?

Troll or no troll, once again, the post even using the word bule in the title does not invite comments on racism in terms of staying on topic. IF you read the original post it is looking at the language in terms of sentence construction and how it can be interpreted with regards to being won in a competition or something similar.

If people want to make something racist out of this incident, then so be it. I do not moderate comments and I do not delete them.

Each time a comment pops up here looking at this thing as racist, I will make the same response over and over again.

invisible said...


I understand what you are saying, and i definitely did not mean to create such a heated debate about racism where there shouldnt be any. its just that some of your readers may interpret the term "dapat bule dimana?" as racist and offensive.
i just wanted to defend the fact that most westerners do not find the term racist, unlike the terms used in other countries to describe a whole group of people.

I also do commend you on never deleting or moderating comments.

So anyway, lets end this on a good note and I will not comment further on this post.

ps: a little controversy, even though unintentional, is good for your blog, readership goes up! hehe

Rob Baiton said...


I actually understand why some people commented as they did. My comments were always directed at trying to turn the debate back to the point of what I was trying to say.

Controversy sometimes attracts people. I am guessing though that this particular controversy was not such a big draw :D

Feel free to comment anywhere, anytime, and on any topic.

Anonymous said...

PB,134 girls ???

either you are a Brad Pitt, you are lying or Asian girls are really cheap....

Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment on this very old post. Will has just recently celebrated nine months on the outside :D

BTW comments are always appreciated.

However, I tend to hope that my anonymous commenters choose to adopt a pen name (at least) as this makes you easier to distinguish one from another.

Unfortunately, PB has disappeared at least from this scene. I would have to disagree on the Asian girls being cheap.

As to whether what the Polar says is true or not, I really cannot say. I have never met the man.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Rob Baiton,

A very funny blog indeed.

I share the same experience but it was the other way around.

My girlfriend is Polish-German while I'm a native Indonesian.

There were several irritating moments when we were strolling at the mall with people starring at us, well especially at me like I'm I'm a Balinese surfer trying to take advantage of a single white female having vacation in Bali.

Some of my relatives were worst. Saying that "why do you have to pick European girls? aren't Indonesian girls good enough for you?" or things like "you will never fit with European girls"

Oh btw, my experience doesn't end when I'm dating my white girlfriend but it also happens when I'm dating a fellow Indonesian from different race.

I dated a Chinese-Indonesian several times and it wasn't just once that people are starring at us differently.

Hahahaha! I just laugh. Come one, she's still a woman on the inside, she just happen to be white.

To all of you who thinks most Indonesians are cynical toward interracial relationship, well, I'm very sad to say that i concur with all of your statement.

Well truth be told, Indonesians and multi-racial environment isn't exactly something often to see here.

For instance, Schools and parents are suppose to foster multi-racial relationship, but on the other hand I've seen several supporting fact that parents are not embracing their children with other children from different race, while some schools are simply put strict only for people with particular religion.

Come on, our race maybe different but deep down inside we're just human who wants to be treated equally.

Maybe its true that the world will keep on telling you who you are until the day you stand up and tell the world who you really are

Rob Baiton said...


Thanks for dropping by and sharing your story.