Of Kuta Cowboys, bush pigs and the exchange rate of romance in Bali
By Jacqueline Zhang
It was after dinner. The sun had gone under a while back, casting us all into darkness save the glow from the candles on our table, which was now messy with empty plates. We cleaned them good. We were hungry and the food lived up to the recommendation from friends.
Thus sated, we Nigel, Ngoc, Mai and I were laughing at one thing or other when he, our waiter, came up to us smiling. He was undoubtedly cute curly locks, twinkling eyes, wide, smiling mouth; a picture of virility. "Everything OK? The food good?" he asked. We nodded our approval. Then, he turned to me.
"Are you married?"
I saw Nigel smirk.
When I answered no again, he raised his eyebrows exaggeratedly as if disbelieving.
"No? Not possible! You sure? Oh my god! I am very surprise! How can a girl like you not have boyfriend? You not joking?"
When he began to ask me for my name and my number, I asked for his card instead, hoping that he would go away after.
He gave me a card, and I dropped it into my bag without looking. But our good-looking waiter was either very determined or deaf to hints, for, instead of bidding us adieu, he pulled a chair to next to mine and sat down.
Not too far away, a bunch of Taiwanese tourists were, in company to the band we had earlier shooed away from our table, belching out Chinese ballads with alcohol-inspired zest. A few tables from them, another band many bands ply the strip of restaurants that line the beach was crooning Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting."
Bali, we discovered to our satisfaction, is in the day true to its reputation of exotic island charm. A land of warm and graceful Balinese women. A paradise of swaying palms reflected in the thousands of squares of mirroring pools of water, each grafted onto earth for rice cultivation. But after dark, as it turns out, Bali at Jimbalan Beach turns into Wedding Singer Paradiso or Inferno.
A light breeze brought to my nose the sweetish scent of barbecued fish and some distant wallowing of Phil Collins' "Take a Look at me now."
Apropos, I thought. Our waiter was still contemplating us when we got up to leave.
It occurred to only later that I've had a Kuta Cowboy encounter. Kuta Cowboys, defined by the Lonely Planet and read to me earlier by old friend Nigel with obvious glee, are "young men who are keen to spend time with visiting women. ... Commonly called Kuta Cowboys, beach boys, bad boys, guides, or gigolos, these guys think they're super cool, with their long hair, lean bodies, tight jeans, and lots of tattoos. While they don't usually work a straight sex-for-money deal, the visiting woman pays for the meals, drinks and accommodation, and commonly buys the guy presents.
I checked the card. It said Spanky. Spanky at Sharkey's at Jimbalan Beach.
"Hey, you can get yourself a Kuta Cowboy," said Nigel encouragingly. Nigel, being perfectly conservative, loves a scandal.
"Thanks," I countered, "but why would I pay for what I can get free?"
"Because it would be a true Balinese experience. A banana massage!"
I related my meeting with Spanky Spank Me to Chris, who works at the place we stayed at and whom I thought was a good person to press for information. An Aussie who has lived in Bali for some 20 years, he would, even if he claimed he doesn't go to any of "those" place, be knowledgeable of it.
"He was a Kuta Cowboy wasn't he?" I asked, seeking confirmation. After all, Spanky might well have been but a friendly waiter taking a break after a busy night. After all, I was dealing with a different culture here. Perhaps marital status and telephone numbers are common conversation currency in Bali, as gardens and the weather are to the Brits, as bowel movements are to a Chinese dinner conversation.
What if Spanky was simply an unfortunate choice for a name? People in China are known for picking odd-sounding English names. Tales of astonished Western businessmen being introduced to Happy, Apple and even Constipation abound.
Chris smiled at my innocence. As it turns out, "Where are you from?" "Where are you going?" "Are you married?" "How old are you? all mean, in Kuta-Cowboy lingo, "Let's have sex."
"You can go to any of those clubs here, just near by, they will be by your side within minutes. You won't be left alone for the night."
"Who uses them?"
"You see a lot of Japanese women with them. The Japanese girls come for their holiday, they stay for two months, pick up a guy. Then, when they go home, they send her guy money to buy a car, a house. It's cheap for them. The guys are happy."
"But why? Why would women pay for something they can get for free?" I asked.
"You see a lot of fat Aussie women here with these young guys. We call them bush pigs back home. They can't get a guy at home and so they come here. These boys will have them," he added.
I looked at him. He sure did not mince his words into politically correct patties. It might be an Aussie trait, or a Balinese trait.
"See Sophia here?" he bounced his large eye cherub in his arms, "they call her a tourist baby. I've lived here 20 years, married her mother, and still they call her tourist baby."
Whatever Chris have to say about the girls who hook up with the Kuta Cowboys, they were no bush pigs. Well, at least the ones I spotted or assumed were, which was every local boy-foreign girl couple I saw.
(Fairly or unfairly, I assumed as much after the driver we hired, a Mr. Nyoman, told us that the minivan he drove us around in was in fact a gift from a Japanese friend. He who has three teenage sons and "many good Japanese friends" nevertheless insisted that "she is just a good friend" and no more. "She wanted to sleep with me. But I said no," he stressed. "I'm married," he said glumly. "I want to separate. But she won't divorce me.")
As it happens, the Japanese woman who sat behind us during one lunch had looks enough to be a Japanese porn star.
"The couple behind us, do you think they are?" whispered Nigel. "He's not good looking at all." I hissed back, "Stop it! I don't see you spying on ugly white men with beautiful young Asian girls."
But I know why of course. It is obvious. Rare it is to see women hire gigolos, and rarer it is to see them do it so openly. But then, that's part of traveling to exotic countries. The usual rules don't apply.