Q&A On the Hunt for Bules

Q&A On the Hunt for Bules by Sara Schonhardt  of The Wall Street Journal [2014]

Q&A On the Hunt for Bules by Sara Schonhardt of The Wall Street Journal [2014]

Elisabeth Oktofani has rustled plenty of feathers in Indonesia since she released her first novel “The Bule Hunter” last month. The book explores why Indonesian women enter relationships with foreigners, or bules. And it’s as unconventional as Ms. Oktofani, a petite 27-year-old with close cropped hair and a flare for saying exactly what she’s thinking. A former journalist cum business consultant, Ms. Oktafani interviewed 15 women while writing her book – though only 11 made it in. Some of her sources are married to unsavory characters, some admit that they’re with their partners for money. All have had their names changed for publication.

Ms. Oktofani has brushed off criticism that the book is overtly sexual or has a moral message. She says she is just trying to raise awareness. And much of the response has been positive. She says she often gets emails from women interested in the book but who want to buy it covertly. Many ask that she mail it to them in plain brown packaging; some even come to her apartment to pick it up. The Wall Street Journal talked to Ms. Oktofani about the book and how she has responded to the feedback. Edited excerpts.

WSJ: You said you wrote the book because you found from your experience dating Western men that you were being judged and it made you uncomfortable. But there is more to this book than that. 
Ms. Oktofani: The book is divided into three parts: money, sex and love. [With] money, I’m trying to show that those Indonesian women who date foreigners are most of the time being judged for being after money. And then people think they must be sleeping together, so [they think] she’s an easy girl. Meanwhile, the other side of those two things is that those two people fell in love and just want to be together.

WSJ: How did you find your sources?
Ms. Oktofani: Some are people around me. Some I purposely looked for at nightclubs, to really understand what they’re looking for. Some I also found on the Internet, through bloggers and friends.

WSJ: Your husband is a Canadian. How did you meet him?
Ms. Oktofani: I met him in Bali in a beach bar. [But] I had the idea for this book for a long time, even before I met my husband. The majority of books are written by Western men when it comes to cross-cultural relationships or Westerners and Asian women. So I wanted to write it from a woman’s perspective, the way I see it.

WSJ: Did any of the women’s responses surprise you?
Ms. Oktofani: No, because everyone has a motivation, even if they’re openly saying I want to be with this Westerner because I want to improve my life financially. For me it’s not really surprising. Sometimes it’s not just Western men, but young Indonesian women married to older wealthy Indonesian men.

WSJ: Why did you choose the title?
Ms. Oktofani: The first time I heard the term bule hunter it made me think. I was sure people would be interested in reading about it. I was prepared for the controversy.

WSJ: You also talk about sex.
Ms. Oktofani: It’s necessary to talk about it. Many young girls are talking about (sex) but they’re not asking, ‘Have you gotten yourself tested?’ Are you using a condom? It’s important for me to say this because I found many people have sex, but they don’t care about safe sex and it has to be stopped.

WSJ: There’s been a lot of criticism of the book online. How have you responded?
Ms. Oktofani: At the beginning I didn’t really care. Instead, all those criticisms just encouraged me to write a second book.

WSJ: So what’s the next book about?
Ms. Oktofani: It’s more about the problems that happen in cross-cultural relationships, especially when it comes to religion.


Q&A On the Hunt for Bules is published by The Wall Street Journal on Oct 6, 2014.

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