Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Sleaze

From Bangkok to Manila to Singapore to Phnom Penh, the cult of the Asian bar girl and the Western gentleman sleazer is renowned the world over. Expat businessmen can be found cavorting drunkenly with girls half their age (or less) in mutually symbiotic relationships all across the region. For the man, there's the chance to dangle a gorgeous, trophy girlfriend from his golf atrophied arm and the chance to feel young and sexy again. For the girls, there's the opportunity to make the average monthly wage in a single night (if they get lucky), enjoy a hedonistic excess of booze, drugs and sex with the remote possibility of one-day being able to leave their country behind and start a new life abroad.

Jakarta, too, has its fleshy share of expat sleaze but the scene here enjoys a somewhat lower profile than either the ping-pong ball cabarets of Bangkok, the dodgy paedophilia of Cambodia or the GI shagging excesses of the Philippines. Thus Jakarta is often mooted as a bit of a well kept secret among Caucasian cads. The bule/bar girl scene in our green and pleasant city is, in fact, totally out- sleazed by the uptown karaoke joints frequented by Indonesian businessmen, if we are to believe the outrageous stories contained in Indonesia's number one selling book, Jakarta Undercover. The hapless bule has no chance of reaching the Caligula-esque heights of Kota's karaoke rooms in which shady gangster types run drug fuelled orgies to a background of some of the most inappropriately jaunty music ever heard.

Tanamur discotheque in Tanah Abang was the original Mecca for horny expats. In what is supposedly the oldest disco in Southeast Asia, people of all races and sexual preferences would cavort every night, year in year out. However, now the scene has moved on due to security concerns and the proliferation of swanky hotel bars and clubs. The main venues of choice for a spot of chicken hunting now seen to be CJs, Tiga Puluh, BATS and Retro which are all located in opulent five-star hotels in the centre of town. These places mostly feature bombastic live music of an MTV nature (except Retro , which is a slightly trendier disco) and contain, of course, loads and loads of our feathered friends. The drinks aren't cheap in these places but a careful selection should yield results. The Long Island Iced Tea in Tiga Puluh, for example, costs Rp.75,000 but has spurred many a be-suited Western businessman into frighteningly uncoordinated losses of inhibition.

Moving downmarket, you're sexually frustrated expat can also be found in the Blok M area of town. Bars such as LM, Oscars and D's Place offset the multitude of expensive Japanese karaoke joints in the area with a good old-fashioned dose of bule spit and sawdust. The beer is cheaper, and so are the "ancillaries". However, it's worth pointing out that the girls in all these bars are exactly the same and move freely between the higher and lower class venues. One does not necessarily find a higher class of lady at BATS than one does at D's Place. They all wear the same Wonder Woman style enormous, shiny metallic belts, they all talk on the same mobile phones and they all chomp on the same Baso. This doesn't seem to apply to the lowest venue for the ladies, however, namely Jakarta's backpacker street of broken dreams, Jl. Jaksa. Despite this, you might just find a cutey in amongst the toothless transvestites and over made-up sea monsters that trawl the Jaksa strip.

So what are these ladies like then? The girls you will find in expat clubs and bars can be divided into a few prominent sub species:

Type1 : Miss Whisky Cola
Age: 18 to 28
Modus Operandi: Miss Whisky Cola is so-called because this is how she will introduce herself to you. Consider the following exchange-
"Hi, what's your name?"
"Whisky Cola please"
"That's an interesting name, however did you come by it Miss Cola, or can I call you Whisky?"
Basically, she is a good time party girl out for whatever she can get. However, she has known a lot of men before and this sometimes causes her to forget her manners (see above). Miss Whisky Cola is no shy and retiring, Javanese wallflower type and enjoys hearty laughter and bawdy humour although her eyes are able to assess a bule’s earning potential, living situation and marital status within about 3 nanoseconds of him ordering that first beverage for her. Try and match her drink for drink and you'll be assured of a good time (or blood poisoning).
Hemline: As high as possible.
Units of alcohol consumed per week: 100 plus.
Background: Betawi, Sundanese, Javanese, Menadonese. Miss Whisky Cola is usually to be found living in a rented kost (boarding house) with others of her kind, living on a diet of boiled noodles, Sampoerna Menthol cigarettes and Baso. However, she may have got her hooks into a wealthy businessman and be staying at his luxury apartment, caning the room service and giving the concierge heart palpitations every time she comes in at six o'clock in the morning dressed in less than Christine Aguilera.

Type2: Miss Doe Eyed Fawn
Age: 21 or less
Modus Operandi: Miss Doe Eyed Fawn is the diffident newcomer to the whole bar scene. She will stand or sit quietly with her often more experienced friends and will probably giggle when approached by a salivating white male. She is unlikely to speak much English. She'll usually drink orange juice only and may not even smoke. The music and dancing are all she requires for a good night out. Treat her gently in order to slow her inevitable 18 month long transformation into Miss Whisky Cola.
Hemline: Below the knee.
Units of alcohol consumed per week: Half (and this was only because some dastardly bule tried to spike her orange juice with vodka).
Background: Miss Doe Eyed Faun may be new in town and from a somewhat less than cosmopolitan Kampung. She will also live in a Kost or may be with her own family. She was probably persuaded to give Jakarta a shot by one of her "hairdresser" friends.

Type3: Miss Got-A-Life
Modus Operandi: This species of disco frequenter is either a student or an office worker. Money may still be an issue though, especially if it's time to pay tuition fees. She is looking for off-campus/after office hours kicks and maybe a little romance. She will speak some English and will probably prove to be a more stimulating conversationalist of either of the previous two ladies.
Hemline: Jeans
Units of alcohol consumed per week: 7
Background: Trisakti/UI/Telkom or Pertamina receptionist. Probably lives at home, may be looking to escape the drudgery of a stifling domestic environment.

Type4: Miss Too-Long
Age: 35-95
Modus Operandi: Miss Too-Long has been trawling Jakarta's expat bars looking for Western men for ten years or more. Time has mellowed her somewhat from the dizzy heights of her Whisky-Cola persona however she may exhibit dangerous sociopathic or even psychopathic tendencies as the frustrations of spending Too-Long in these places without finding an escape route occasionally bubble to the surface and manifest themselves in criminal acts of jealousy or other flaky behaviour. Miss Too-Long will often act as a surrogate mother or auntie to the other girls, especially Miss Doe Eyed Faun, protecting them and warning them against certain guys. Miss Too-Long will occasionally find a pie-eyed beau to take her home. Despite getting on a bit she has always managed to maintain a 20-year age gap between herself and her paramours.
Hemline: Best not to look.
Background: String of failed relationships, marriages. Probably a couple of kids.

As for the boys, well the Western bar guys seem to fall into two basic categories. The first is the older expat, probably with a wife and family either here or in his home country, looking for a "bit on the side" and earning fistfuls of dollars. The second type are the young blades who are most likely to be English foreign language teachers or Jakarta Post journalists who earn about 3 percent of the first guys salary. The second group always puts the bar girl on the horns of a dilemma. Basically they are aesthetically more attracted to the younger man but ultimately know that they can't touch them for much cash. They know full well that the distance the hairline has receded and the larger the potbelly has grown are directly proportional to the amount of money that can be mined. The smart girl will try to play one of each of these guys to ensure a happy, spiritually fulfilled life.

So, is the Western man in Indonesia a lowlife vermin? An exploiter of women? A male chauvinist? Does he feel bad when he wakes up the next morning, sleep having sobered him up and removed his beer goggles, to confront what he brought home the previous night, as she fields phone calls from her other boyfriends and totters off into a taxi on her high heels? Perhaps, in his defence, he could say that sexual emancipation or loose sexual morals, whichever way you look at it, are as much a part of Indonesian society as they are Western society, the only difference being that Indonesians pretend that this isn't the case. However, maybe this "When in Rome..." line of argument smacks of a convenient moral relativism. On the other hand, our sleazing hero might say that the way these girls are treated by Westerners compares favourably with the way that they are treated by his local counterparts. This argument perhaps rings truer, after all, gender equality is more of a living, breathing, door slamming reality in the West than it is here. The Western man, emasculated by three decades of the feminist paradigm, can find Indonesian girlfriends who don't break his balls every five minutes whilst the local girl can enjoy a relationship with fewer firmly delineated gender roles. Certainly the Western women who have relationships with Indonesian men often have more "issues" to deal with.

Then again, perhaps being in a country surrounded by so much beauty brings out a bule’s worst characteristics - an intoxicating, hedonistic selfishness for the men and a certain amount of jealousy for the Western women. The fact is that Indonesia is temptation made real, made flesh. It's the ultimate test of one's moral fibre. This country is a red and white carrot perpetually dangled under one's nose; it’s a little three inch high Satan sitting on your left shoulder continually whispering into your ear, "Be bad, be really bad..." Alternatively, maybe we're just bastards. There's only one thing I know for sure and that is that, come judgment day, there'll be a Whisky Cola waiting for each and every one of us.

Simon Pitchforth