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Corralling Bali's "Kuta Cowboys".
April 29, 2010 4:55 AM   Subscribe

Bali's "Kuta Cowboys" get unwanted attention. Bali draws plenty of older women seeking romance (see: Elizabeth Gilbert), and more often than not, they end up in the arms of "Kuta Cowboys" - tanned, muscled, swaggering local men who offer no-strings-attached intimacy to female tourists.

A recent documentary, Cowboys in Paradise, recently put a spotlight on the "Kuta cowboy" phenomenon... but Balinese authorities aren't pleased with the publicity. Police have rounded up suspected cowboys, and are considering legal action against the film's director Amit Virmani, who has no idea where the vitriol is coming from.

"I’m surprised by the current outrage, with so many people denying that this happens in Bali," said Virmani in a recent interview. "Even guide books talk about it. And if you’ve ever been to Bali but don’t know that this happens there, then you probably never got off the tour bus."
posted by micketymoc (42 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Really? He's surprised at the outrage? He does recall that Indonesia has a somewhat large Muslim population, does he not?
posted by antifuse at 5:45 AM on April 29, 2010


He probably didn't expect that kind of backlash in Bali, which is mostly Hindu and famously laid-back about such things.
posted by micketymoc at 5:47 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know several of them that live in Australia. They are okay guys. Not so different.
posted by tellurian at 5:47 AM on April 29, 2010


It sucks that they are getting arrested. The whole romance tourism thing, with young buff guys available (at a very reasonable price) for older North American and European women, is becoming really universal. I've seen it in a bunch of places, and it's been the subject of a number of films and books (I'm particularly fond of Heading South). It functions really differently than the more "traditional" sex work for male clients, and part of that is how public it is, in your face in the middle of the day, front and center on the main beaches.

So you have something that is demand-driven, that pays better than the other options available, and that resolves the problem that a lot of older women have finding uncomplicated romance at home. There are plenty of other problems that you can have with it, but a lot of it comes down to aesthetics -- not liking seeing your attractive young men going around in undignified ways in public with not very attractive older foreign women, for example.

And like in the one moment of interview in the film clip, where the dude's wife was talking about how she sleeps in another room when he brings home foreign women, there's some complicated spill-overs into local communities -- romance tourism doesn't happen in a sexual free-trade zone, no matter how it feels to the women.

Having watched it up close, I find romance tourism more sad than anything else, given what it says about the women's lives and expectations back at home. It's a symptom of a deeper set of problems, rather than something on its own.
posted by Forktine at 6:01 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's prostitution. Same as in town. It's fine with me. But let's not pretend this is somehow different from male sex tourism (presuming all involved are consenting adults).

No community wants to be known for its prostitution, even if it's known for its prostitution.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:06 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I misread this as "Kurta Cowboys" and expected more hot mechanical calculator action.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:10 AM on April 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


One link further from one of the linked articles has more details, including:

Bali Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Gede Sugianyar Dwi Putra said summonses would be issued for all those who appeared in the film so they could serve as witnesses in the case being prepared against Virmani.

“The results of the questioning will be used to identify the violations that took place in the making of the film,” Sugianyar said.

He said that Virmani did not have the proper shooting permits and could face up to one year in jail and fines reaching Rp 40 million ($4,440) for violating the country’s 1992 Law on Films.

“We are also coordinating with the immigration office to know what are the immigration violations that were made during the shooting of the film,” Sugianyar said, adding that at the very least, Virmani did not have a proper permit to work in the country.


Now what really happened, we can only speculate. My gut reaction is that the only thing Virmani is really "guilty" of is being naive. That, and maybe not greasing enough palms.

Or, maybe he thinks being banned from entering Indonesia (a probably outcome of all this) is worth the trade-off for the publicity. Who knows.

Something that jumps out at me here--the official quoting a 1992 law. Indonesian media is more open than it was 15 or so years ago, but it's not "anything goes" by any means, and it looks like people in charge have no problem citing laws that were passed under Suharto.

"If you’ve ever been to Bali but don’t know that this happens there, then you probably never got off the tour bus."

One of the bits in the YouTube clip shows a local women saying she knows what her husband does and she doesn't care. From my U.S. perspective, not shocking, maybe a little amusing or thought-provoking. People in small traditional towns in Java don't think the way I do, though. Now even there, most people who hear about this (they're not going to see the whole movie) and who are 'outraged' will probably shrug it off later or forget about it. But it only takes one hothead to ruin your life. I hope she's okay.
posted by gimonca at 6:15 AM on April 29, 2010


Kurta ?
posted by infini at 6:16 AM on April 29, 2010


Java and Bali are entirely different islands... and there was none of this in Jakarta afaik when I was there for a conference, at a hotel, alone, in early march.
posted by infini at 6:17 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


But let's not pretend this is somehow different from male sex tourism (presuming all involved are consenting adults).

It's exactly the same, in that money is being exchanged for sex. In how it functions, though, it's totally different. Or rather, it's the same as a very small strand of male-client prostitution -- there are certainly both straight and gay men who are looking for romance tourism just like what's depicted in this documentary. But by and large, prostitution aimed at men looks and functions different than romance tourism aimed at women.

There's a difference in how public it is, how much non-sexual trappings are added, how the people involved speak about it, etc. I'd assume those differences have a lot to do with both the host country's culture (in that young men are less stigmatized when they openly solicit business in the middle of the beach in the middle of the day) and the culture in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia, where older women are socialized to want a lot of "romance" and other services with their paid sex.

Maybe it's an evolutionary male / female difference, I don't know. I'm willing to blame it all on culture, but if someone wants to make an evolutionary argument I'm ok with that, too. The key point is that, with a few very unusual exceptions, you don't commonly find streetwalkers, brothels, or similar explicitly sex-only prostitution aimed at women -- the demand for sex work by women in resort areas seems to be almost exclusively for romance tourism, though with a lot of differences in how it plays out individually.
posted by Forktine at 6:22 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


as for the pricing of 600,000 to 800,000 rupiah for a night, just for context a "cheap" chinese dual sim phone cost 500,000 rupiah. Its about 9,000 rupiah to a USD right now
posted by infini at 6:23 AM on April 29, 2010


Compare with Rent a Rasta (sound on arrival)
or Kenya's sex tourism for women of a certain age.
Supply meets Demand and its home to "normality" in two weeks.
posted by adamvasco at 6:23 AM on April 29, 2010


But let's not pretend this is somehow different from male sex tourism (presuming all involved are consenting adults).

I don't think you can presume that.
posted by empath at 6:24 AM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I suppose this says something about equality, but sex workers usually get screwed, and it's just icky. If I were to go to beautiful Bali, and was hit on by handsome men, I'd be happier not realizing they were soliciting.
posted by theora55 at 6:28 AM on April 29, 2010


Waaah? Guide books have been mentioning this since the 80s. They're a well-known phenomenon. Strange that a documentary would change official attitudes toward them.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:36 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Java and Bali are entirely different islands

True, also worth keeping in mind that they're not a very long ferry/bus ride from each other.

posted by gimonca at 6:43 AM on April 29, 2010


I hung out with one guy for an extended time when I lived in Bondi. Let's call him J. J was short, shaved bald, dressed well, played a mean guitar and sung reasonably well and boy, could he talk. When we went out together he would engage in conversation with every woman we ever came into contact with (guys too, but mostly women). When I challenged him on his behaviour he said "Look at it this way Mik, if the guy has nothing to worry about in his relationship, why should he be worried about me stealing his woman from him?
posted by tellurian at 6:52 AM on April 29, 2010


Kuta is where all the assholes go anyway.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:13 AM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's an evolutionary male / female difference, I don't know. I'm willing to blame it all on culture, but if someone wants to make an evolutionary argument I'm ok with that, too. The key point is that, with a few very unusual exceptions, you don't commonly find streetwalkers, brothels, or similar explicitly sex-only prostitution aimed at women -- the demand for sex work by women in resort areas seems to be almost exclusively for romance tourism, though with a lot of differences in how it plays out individually.

I think you can look at the differing status for men v. women, the differing penalties for open sexuality, (not to mention pregnancy), and the ways that all women, even those in powerful positions vs. some men, have never been taught to see sex as something to be purchased, for an explanation.

You don't have to delve into evo-bio hypotheses, you just have to remember how rare it is for a woman to hire a male prostitute in the West (though perhaps becoming less rare?). Women are taught that sex is something they provide, not something they purchase, and having the money and freedom to change that is still very new.

I think part of the appeal of hiring prostitutes while far away from home for men and women is that it promises more anonymity and can be mentally filed away as "vacation indulgence." Also much less likely your hired lover will ever track you down again.

Still kind of makes me queasy, personally, no matter how much "romance" you put in, and I don' t think the fact that women are the johns really makes a difference in the ick factor.
posted by emjaybee at 7:20 AM on April 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


But do people see these male prostitutes as victims the way people frequently see female prostitutes as victims? Do you feel sorry for these "tanned, muscled, swaggering local men" who humor and fuck relatively wealthy foreign women for a living?
posted by pracowity at 7:52 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


But do people see these male prostitutes as victims the way people frequently see female prostitutes as victims?

It's a wider spectrum answer than binary yes/no. A person without a high school degree slapping shingles on roofs is a wage slave as much as a guy coding in an office, but there's a big subjective difference beyond the fact of their wage slavery...bad analogy not withstanding. But I see these particular male prostitutes as victims of economics in general, rather than how I might see a street walker in the US as a victim of his/her own personal life circumstances. Every case is unique, though, and it's easy to fall into error when generalizing.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:58 AM on April 29, 2010


If they outlaw this type of thing, how in the world are Stellas supposed to get their groove back?
posted by beelzbubba at 8:01 AM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Those of you who think it's sad or icky, do you feel the same way about prostitution aimed at men? It seems like there is a double standard here. If there is no deception (but it sounds that in many cases, there is) what's the problem?
posted by desjardins at 8:03 AM on April 29, 2010



Those of you who think it's sad or icky, do you feel the same way about prostitution aimed at men? It seems like there is a double standard here.

And I would assume that, more often, female prostitution comes with pimps, forced servitude, violence and all other forms of oppression, imaginable and not.

So we are ahead on that score.
posted by Danf at 8:50 AM on April 29, 2010


Those of you who think it's sad or icky, do you feel the same way about prostitution aimed at men?

Yep. Add a little dash of colonial/Western exploitation (would these men do other work if they could? Aren't most "tourist" countries those that have been colonized and continue to struggle economically? Isn't there a whole lotta racist othering of brown people by white Westerners looking for "exotic" experiences when it comes to these situations?) that just makes it that much more iffy.
posted by emjaybee at 9:18 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Isn't there a whole lotta racist othering of brown people by white Westerners looking for "exotic" experiences when it comes to these situations?) that just makes it that much more iffy.

Well, it's not so cut-and-dried Westerners vs. exotic brown people. Plenty of Japanese and Korean women are buying cowboy time.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:19 AM on April 29, 2010


Bali, which is mostly Hindu

More animist than straight-up Hindu. I remember these little scale-model houses put on perches outside the main residences; they look like tacky mailboxes. But their real purpose is for housing Spirits. See, if you don't build the Spirits their own place, they'll just stay in your place. And it's not that they're malevolent per se (good & evil aren't so clearly delineated), but like any creature have their good days and bad days. So it's best just to give them their own pad. And just about every day, the owners would put out these little offerings: flowers or fruit in a little woven basket. Over the course of the day with all the foot traffic these offerings would inevitably get trampled and became street garbage, but that was understood and accepted as part of the process.

Pictures or it didn't happen.

Here you go.

I saw plenty of these "gigolos" in Bali and Lombok, but none on Java or Aceh (which both feature large Muslim populations).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:25 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lombok? But Lombok itself is predominantly Muslim. I've spent more time elsewhere in Indo (Sumatra, Java, Bali, Flores), so I'm not saying I doubt your statement, but it would surprise me that this practice finds much acceptance there. Strange.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:38 AM on April 29, 2010


Lombok? But Lombok itself is predominantly Muslim.

But it's also a touristy beach spot for foreigners like Bali. Javanese tourism is pretty much centered around the temples in Jogyakarta and the volcanoes, not so much sexy beaches. Sumatra is mainly adventure/safari type tourism. Flores has lovely beaches but only a handful of luxury resorts and it's kind of off the beaten path.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:03 AM on April 29, 2010


Java and Bali are entirely different islands

True, also worth keeping in mind that they're not a very long ferry/bus ride from each other.


That short ferry might as well be a trans-oceanic flight. Going east to Java from Bali lands you in Surabaya, which is pretty staunchly conservative Islamic and not much tourism other than the Bromo volcano.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:05 AM on April 29, 2010


It's been awhile since I've been on Lombok (chiefly to cross to the Gilis) so I'm surprised to see updates (just looking now) that Lombok has had such a huge upswing in tourism. It used to be very conservative. So much so, that I have trouble thinking of it in Bali-like terms (though I suspect it can't be anything like Kuta just yet).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:06 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


There may not be a lot of streetwalking-type prostitution aimed at female clients, but there's definitely a bunch of this type of "romantic fling plus money changing hands" style prostitution aimed at male clients. It's the standard type of prostitution in lots of touristy places outside of the US. Examples that spring to mind are Cuba and several Polynesian islands.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:14 AM on April 29, 2010


[A few comments removed. It'd be great if we could skip reflexive "pix please" type comments. If you want to talk about it, Metatalk is the place to go.]
posted by cortex at 11:18 AM on April 29, 2010


I don't its anything to do with religion. Its the combination of the particular beach/village/resort and most likely you'll find that locals and vacationing families not seeking such 'delights' simply avoid these "wellknown" places. Others that come to mind are Anjuna and now Baga beach in Goa as well as sections of Kovalam in Kerala which offer ayurvedic massages in a variety of ..um..flavours.
posted by infini at 11:40 AM on April 29, 2010


adamvasco's link to Kenyan Sex Tourism has an odd bit of clip art, which I somehow imagine could also be used with the tagline "inter-racial relationships" in another article. Paired with the wacky writing style that seems unfit for a legitimate journalism (example: The figures may not be accurate, but it is believed that on an average 1 out of every 5 woman touring Kenya is a sex tourist! What prompts these women to travel to Kenya in search of steamy passion? Surely, it cannot be the infamous English weather!), the article seems like a fluff piece (pardon the pun) rather than serious journalism, but it brings up some interesting points. It sets the image of sex tourism for men being that of pedophiles seeking children (the article says these men have the motto ‘catch them young’), where the older ladies are "walked along the Indian Ocean Coast, hand in hand, with powerfully built 20-somethings." There seems to be more romance, and the notion of a temporary relationship, instead of the conquest of children. Both are relying on impoverished nations to facilitate these activities to take place, but the case of the women sounds like consenting adults with the exchange of money.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:44 AM on April 29, 2010


Bali is absolutely not Muslim - it's about 95% Hindu, and I'll bet most of the Muslims live in Denpasar, the only "city" there (by US standards). The fact that Indonesia is 85% Muslim is basically irrelevant to your average Balinese.

It's not that people outside the city are intolerant - quite the reverse! - but that the residents all are either "family" or Western ex-pats.

Indonesia was originally all Hindu, but Islam spread roughly from Northeast to Southwest, more or less stopping in Bali.

There's a peculiar double standard in Bali, where women are by custom modest and chaste and the men can more or less do as they please. This has been described to me as characteristic of Hinduism but Bali's the only Hindu culture I have much direct experience of.

The custom described in this article has been going on for a long time - the term, at least in Ubud, is "kopi dan susu" (coffee and milk, referring to the respective skin colours). I don't know Kuta so well, but in Ubud it was apparently very discrete and not what I'd refer to as prostitution at all, where an older Western woman has a Balinese boyfriend and always picks up the check and buys him presents - but I'd say your average American who can afford to travel to Bali is at least 10 times wealthier than your average Balinese, so why not?

(On the other hand, a second-hand complaint has it that the influx of nasty pornography on the Internet has rendered some of these guys much creepier than they were before...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:46 AM on April 29, 2010


Lombok? But Lombok itself is predominantly Muslim.

Well, I included Lombok because the only person I met in my travels throughout Indonesia who had a CowBoyFriend was a nice 50+ year-old lady from Australia who had spent the past few years in Indonesia. The man-friend was from Lombok; I met her on the ship from Padengbai, Bali. This was a decade ago, before "cougars" were all mainstream. So you're probably right, except for the few touristy areas (the Gilis, for instance).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:13 PM on April 29, 2010


This is nothing new. If you're American you can go to vacation spots much closer to home; Vegas, Hawaii, Cancun, etc., and find these same types of guys.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:14 PM on April 29, 2010


Evidently Senegal also has rent-a-dreads for the ladies on vacation.

I've seen videos of guys in Indonesia digging sulfur out of a steaming mountainside using a shovel and with no more than a bandanna around their face. I'll bet more than a few of them, given the option, wouldn't mind playing man-toy to wealthy ladies from abroad at the beach.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:48 PM on April 29, 2010


I've seen videos of guys in Indonesia digging sulfur out of a steaming mountainside using a shovel and with no more than a bandanna around their face.

Heh. I've seen them do that in person. They climb down the crater in their flip-flops.

posted by Burhanistan at 1:52 PM on April 29, 2010


That short ferry might as well be a trans-oceanic flight. Going east to Java from Bali lands you in Surabaya, which is pretty staunchly conservative Islamic and not much tourism other than the Bromo volcano.

That's what, an eight-hour bus ride? I never made it further east than Solo, although I have hair-raising tales of riding a minibus from Bandung to Cirebon through the mountains.
posted by gimonca at 7:44 PM on April 29, 2010


Kurta

Curta.

my brain is weak in the early morning
posted by b1tr0t at 7:50 PM on April 29, 2010


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