05 January 2011

A Review of "How to Catch Mr. Bule"

This is a simple "cut & paste" of a post made back in April 2008. I noticed that there has been renewed discussion of the merits of this book. The links have been updated, a picture added, and a postscript discussion.

As promised!

I scurried out this morning with the missus for an appointment with a doctor to confirm what a home pregnancy test had revealed on Friday! I know you are all wishing her well :)

Anyways, back to the book! After the appointment it was off for a wander in Metropolitan Mall and a swing by Gramedia. It did not take long to find the book and there were two great big piles of them. They were not flying off the shelf apparently but perhaps this is not a reflection of the quality of the book but rather that perhaps there are not as many Indonesian women in Bekasi looking to catch Mr. Bule. Long story short bought me a copy and then headed off to Hoka Hoka Bento for lunch.

As a side point, the missus did not believe such a book would ever be written. I said perhaps it might have been a good thing if it was written 12 or so years ago so she could have had the tools at her disposal to choose Mr. Right! Smiles all round...

So, how does the book hold up in comparison to other guide books like Lonely Planet's Indonesia on a Shoestring? Perhaps Lonely Planet is not such a good example now that it has been revealed that at least one of their authors did not even visit one of the countries he wrote a guide book on -- a total fraud! A travel guide might not be a fair comparison you say, but alas it is, and you will have to read the book to see why.

Nah, you won't! The book contains sections on living in foreign lands with Mr. Bule once you have caught him. So, it is a sort of Culture Shock (as advertised on Jakartass) meets Lonely Planet.

The book taps into all of the stereotypes that abound about inter-racial relationships between Indonesian women and bule men. But, it seems to be a genuine attempt at being informative about how to make the best of these relationships with a view to making them long-lasting. The 'empirical' evidence that the book is based on is word of mouth and personal experience. The author is married to a bule, Duncan Graham, and the author and Mr. Bule are currently residing in New Zealand (hence the culture shock meets lonely planet reference).

For all you out there who are offended by the word bule and the racist undertones that it has, will be pleased that the book offers up two other alternatives:

BULE = Beautiful Unlike Lots Elsewhere

or my personal favourite

BULE = Bald Ugly Lazy Easy (money)

For me, I could not help but have a little chuckle to myself when I read the advice that the author offers to Indonesian men who might be reading this little tome, which goes along the lines of if you, Indonesian men, want to get the attention of Indonesian women and stop them from preferring and finding bules then you, Indonesian men, need to treat Indonesian women better. This is a generalization and before you all jump on my head and beat the crap out of me in a figurative sense, these are the words of an Indonesian woman!

The chuckle however related to the idea that perhaps any Indonesian men reading this book were more interested in how they might be able to catch Mr. Bule as well rather than any interest in finding an Indonesian woman.

In the spirit of guide books there are chapters covering all the issues, at least as the author sees them, relating to the inter-racial relationships envisaged. These include chapters on communication, sex, gossip, extended family relationships.

The book is targeted at Indonesian women who are perhaps educated and professional but not so much to Indonesian women who might be looking to "escape" from the kampung. The book, at least for me, presupposes an equality between the prospective couple which you might not find with Indonesian women who have not had access to educational or work opportunities. However, some of the best advice relates to the idea that all bules are great. The author goes to some pains to point out that this is not the case and that bules are like everyone else; some good, some bad - avoid the bad!

Some of the other classic bits of advice relate to cultural issues like: don't be surprised if he (Mr. Bule) is not happy when you hit him up for cash to support your extended family like he is an ATM machine, don't be offended if on arrival home from a hard days work he greets his dog before he greets you (just the bule way apparently), don't worry that bule culture relies on alcohol but alcohol consumption is not always bad because sometimes in bule country it gets so cold that alcohol is drunk to warm up your body, and don't worry if your husband is watching a comedy show on TV and then all of a sudden breaks out in laughter and starts pissing himself laughing until he falls out of his chair and you just do not get the joke you should not feel alienated by this or become homesick, among many others.

Unfortunately, the book is only in Indonesian at the moment, but this is hardly surprising seeing that the target market is Indonesian women. So, if any of you bules out there want to know what it says precisely then you will have to read it yourself, or learn Indonesian, or get someone to read and translate it to you! Or you will just have to believe what I and others write about it!

For me it was in fact worth the 25,000 Rupes that I paid for it! I don't know that I learned anything but I did have fun reading through it! There were plenty of those WTF or are you kidding me moments. Yet, on reflection this was probably more so because of my personal experiences that are so different from those of the author than anything else, as well as the different ways that people view other cultures and their own...

Have a nice day!

Postscript to the original post...
I have discussed the racial connotations of the word bule in previous posts and how some "white" expatriates are offended by the term and others seem to want to co-opt it as a form of empowerment. In essence, there are some similarities between this debate and the debate that surrounds the word "nigger". However, seeing it is a debate happening in Indonesia and is far-removed from American pop culture, it simply is not a debate on the same scale. Although, as I recall from my travels through cyber-space, there have been many a heated discussion on the topic of bule. A good source for discussion, pros and cons, on the bule issue is Indonesia Matters.

However, as the title of the book suggests, the use of "bule" is common amongst Indonesians and most are unawares of the racial connotations. This is evidenced by the fact that Indonesian televisions programming includes shows like "Bule Gila" or "Crazy White People" among myriad of others.

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