Elisabeth Oktofani: Exploring the world of ‘bule’ hunters
by: Novia D. Rulistia, The Jakarta Post
After dating many Caucasian guys, locally known as bule, since she was a teenager, 27-year-old writer Elisabeth Oktofani settled down when she married a Canadian three years ago.
“I had many relationships with bule and reached a point when I couldn’t care less if I dated a bule or not. But then I finally found a peace of mind with my husband, who turned out to be bule,” Fani said.
Her story dated to high school in Yogyakarta, when many of her girlfriends got invitations to connect on Friendster, the once-popular social media outlet, in the early 2000s.
Fani, however, stayed out of the fray. Initially.
“My hair was curly, I had a dark complexion and I had no boyfriend — I felt ugly. But then I got a friend request on Friendster from a bule who then asked to meet me in person,” Fani said. “So I thought if it was difficult to find local boyfriends, I would just try dating bule because they liked girls like me.”
After going out with a lot of Western men, she realized that many would appreciate her more if they could talk about many things with her.
“At first, I didn’t feel much appreciated — maybe because as a teenager, I had a lack of confidence and knowledge,” she said. “That’s why I easily ended up relationship with someone and find another one until I eventually realized that I also needed to be knowledgeable to hang out with them.”
She was often judged by the people around her about her relationships with the Westerners. They told her that she went out with them only because they were rich, and bule liked her because she was ugly.
“That annoyed me, because not all relationships between Indonesian girls and bule are like that. There are other things the society should know behind the relationship between Indonesian woman and bule,” Fani said.
She then decided to make a book which was based on her experience and her friends. The book, Bule Hunter: Kisah Wanita Pemburu Bule (Bule Hunter: Stories of Women who Pursue Westerners), aims to get rid of stigma attached to Indonesian women who date bule only for their money.
“We want to let people know that there are also relationships with bule that are based on love,” she said.
Fani said the idea to make the book popped up in 2007 when she first heard the phrase “bule hunter”.
“It was a funny word I thought. I started to find out more about this, listened to my friends who shared their experiences with bule, then the idea to write a book crossed my mind,” she said.
It was not until 2011 she really started working on it, spending almost two years to do the research for the book.
She interviewed friends, prostitutes and random women in Jakarta and Bali.
“I went to night clubs and hotels to find out about how women made their deals with bule. I also found out that there were many women who married to bule to be able to leave Indonesia or to improve their lives in Indonesia,” she said.
However, she said, after they left many were often surprised to know the fact that their bule partners were not as wealthy as they were in Indonesia.
“Many women that I interviewed also like to hang out with bule because sometimes they are more open-minded than Indonesian guys when it comes to sex and safe sex,” Fani said.
She then went to Bali to focus on finishing the project. By the end of 2013, Fani had completed a book that was blunt and a bit vulgar.
It was not too hard for her to find a publisher. Rejected by one of the nation’s largest publishers, who thought the work too much, Fani offered it to Rene Book, which agreed to print it after some editing.
“The publisher says this 311-page book is different, as it brings out the silent phenomenon in the society as well as becoming the voice of certain groups,” she said.
She added that she already had a plan to make the sequel.
Fani has always been into writing.
She started blogging since high school and her blog received responses from readers in many countries. She studied journalism at Atma Jaya University in Yogyakarta.
She become a freelance writer for a newspaper in Indonesia, took an internship in a lifestyle magazine in Bali, worked for one-and-a-half years for a newspaper in Jakarta, and became a freelance contributor for an American media outlet.
Recalling her life from the past through present day, Fani said she was so proud of being an Indonesian despite the fact that she enjoyed hang out with Westerners.
“We have several values that are always instilled in us, like honoring older people by not calling them only by name and other polite gesture in Indonesian tradition,” Fani said.
Fani is also busy with her current job as an assistant editor and a contributor for a growing media outlet in Jakarta.
“I covered social issues, human rights and also terrorism. And the book’s writing style has been highly influenced by my investigative journalism experience,” Fani said.
Bule Hunter: Kisah Wanita Pemburu Bule (Rene Book, 312 pages, paperback) will be launched at the Reading Room in Kemang, Jakarta, on Wednesday. Visit bulehunter.com for more information.
This article is published by The Jakarta Post on Sept 8, 2014