The Economy of the Night
The Economy of the Night
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter focuses on Ozon, the largest disco on Batam, and what it can reveal about processes that shape the lives of Indonesian migrants and, more generally, a particular form of transnational economy. In Ozon women consume Ecstasy in order to deal with feelings of malu—particularly in relation to Islamic prohibitions and the fear that family members will find out they work as prostitutes—and thus more easily engage in prostitution with Singaporean clients. Outside of Ozon relationships with boyfriends, children, and other family members are transformed, as women become the main breadwinners and men are increasingly marginalized. Through this process both female prostitutes and their male Indonesian partners come to recognize themselves as liar, outside the promises of the Indonesian nation and part of the underclass.
If you merantau to Batam you need to have some kind of skill or education. If not, then you will end up like me, working as a prostitute or not working at all. But compared to the kampung at least I can make a bit of money, and they don’t have to know what I do here.
Lidya, twenty-year-old prostitute
It is nearly midnight as I reach the bottom of the hill leading up to Ozon, the largest disco on Batam. Along the busy road a series of small stalls sells everything from noodle soup to cigarettes and condoms. At the top of the hill outside the club the road is packed with taxis and ojek (motorcycle taxis) waiting for passengers who will pay exorbitant fares as they come out of the club. As usual, Aryo is leaning against the side of his taxi waiting for his Singaporean clients who are inside. He is one of the lucky ones who has a tamu (client or guest) who comes every weekend. Creating these stable patron-client relationships is crucial in order to maintain a steady income in the face of intense competition.
Passing the bouncer and the admissions booth, one is hit by a wall of sound upon entering the club. The air smells of clove cigarettes and air conditioning. On a good night, Ozon is nearly filled to its capacity of two thousand people by 11:00 p.m., and tonight this is certainly the case. To the right, at the back of the disco, the disc jockey is playing techno versions of Indonesian and Western songs, but only a few people are on the small dance floor in the middle of the club. In contrast, the high tables and barstools that surround the dance floor are packed with people who can afford to buy drinks. The majority are conspicuously moving their heads back and forth to the beat of the music—in most cases, such people are tripping on (p.72) Ecstasy, the popular term for MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine). Behind the disc jockey, and at the entrance to the toilets, young men are selling drugs, mainly Ecstasy or marijuana, offering their goods to anyone who looks their way. Drugs can also be ordered directly from the waiters for a slightly higher price. At the other end of the club, at the bar, waiters are busy picking up drinks for customers. One floor up, booths with a view of the dance floor and a number of private karaoke rooms are available for hourly rental.
Since the mid-1990s Ecstasy has become the drug of choice in nightclubs throughout Indonesia.1 John, a Singaporean man who frequents Ozon, has his own theory about the composition of people at the disco and how Ecstasy circulates there: “You can take nine people. Three will be Singaporeans looking for women. They book2 three women who are given Ecstasy; two of them take the drug and the third hands it over to a preman [a thug or gangster], who sells it to another person who just wants to be by himself. The final person is lost because he thinks he is at a regular disco.”
John’s comment suggests that we can understand the social organization of the disco in relation to the circulation of Ecstasy. It suggests that there is an economy at work. Ecstasy is a key element of this economy, yet differently situated actors engage with the drug in alternative ways: in Ozon the drug is bought, given away, consumed, hidden, passed on, sold, and, for that “final person” on John’s list, perhaps invisible. This economy stretches far beyond the nightclubs of Nagoya, generating revenue for government officials, hotels, taxis, restaurants, stores, and middlemen (calo) who act as escorts, guards, or touts.
In the dark area in the corner next to the bar, Kartika and her friend Yasmin, both in their early twenties from West Java, are sitting, obviously bored, with a group of other women. An older woman, their madam (mami), comes and goes, occasionally speaking into the ear of one of the women, who then goes off with a waiting man. Kartika has yet to be dibooking (booked) by a tamu (client or guest), and Yasmin is waiting for her tamu tetap (regular client or guest), who comes from Singapore every Saturday night. To pass the time, they chain-smoke menthol clove cigarettes.
Dewi, a thirty-two-year-old woman from the city of Palembang in South Sumatra, dressed in blue jeans and a white T-shirt, stands alone, obviously uncomfortable, at the front of the bar near a group of Western men. She is hoping that one of them will approach her. Lidya, a twenty-year-old Javanese woman, and her friends have specific areas where they usually (p.73)
(p.74) stand and search for clients. All of them are nervously looking around, trying to find a client who will give them their initial goal, Ecstasy. These women are all liar prostitutes, freelance without pimps. Finding a tamu, usually a Singaporean, and being booked guarantees money and, usually, Ecstasy. One can either be booked at an hourly rate to sit down (booking duduk) together in a public space in the disco or leave the premises with the client (booking keluar), though this is generally not decided beforehand. For Kartika, Yasmin, and other women who have a mami, prices are fixed and the women receive only a percentage afterward, often in conjunction with a tip directly from the client. Liar prostitutes, however, must themselves initiate contact and negotiate prices, which may therefore fluctuate considerably. Furthermore, if a woman is booked out it can be for the whole night or short-time; prices vary accordingly.3
Unraveling the Economy of the Night
The ethnographic starting point for this chapter is a space that is generally understood as a global type, namely the “disco.” As in my earlier discussion of the “development enclave,” I am not primarily interested in how local manifestations of this type might be used to critique overly general claims about the nature of globalization. I am, rather, concerned with what a particular disco, Ozon, can reveal about processes that shape the lives of Indonesian migrants and, more generally, a particular form of transnational economy. As I have already suggested, this perspective shows that the economy of the night stretches far beyond Ozon, illuminating processes that are by no means local.
Although I am consciously juxtaposing what I call the economy of the “night” with the “day,” it is once again important to point out that both depend primarily on the labor of young women. Despite their differences, in this book I want to highlight common themes.4 In particular, migrants involved in the economy of the day and the night are related through a common emotional economy of merantau. While the female factory worker wearing the jilbab was a key figure in the previous chapter, in this chapter the female liar prostitute and the bronces, the man who lives off the earnings of women, personify the cultural anxieties of prostitution, the feminization of labor, and the reversal of gender roles on Batam. Since liar prostitutes work outside of closed institutions (such as brothels or karaoke bars) and (p.75) are not controlled by pimps, these women are unlicensed and interstitial figures in relation to the Indonesian state, thereby appearing as threats to the regulation of prostitution.5
In this chapter I am interested in how this form of ambiguity becomes evident and is negotiated in a number of ways beyond the direct regulation of the state. In Ozon women consume Ecstasy in order to deal with feelings of malu—particularly in relation to Islamic prohibitions and the fear that family members will find out they work as prostitutes—and thus more easily engage in prostitution with Singaporean clients. Outside of Ozon relationships with boyfriends, children, and other family members are transformed, as women become the main breadwinners and men are increasingly marginalized. Through this process both female prostitutes and their male Indonesian partners come to recognize themselves as liar, outside the promises of the Indonesian nation and part of the underclass.
Controlling Contagion, Regulating Transactions
Prostitution on Batam and surrounding islands is diverse and often changing, but it can be divided into several categories. There are two quasi-official lokalisasi, or brothel areas, and as many as five other unsanctioned brothel villages catering almost exclusively to Indonesian migrant workers.6 Both female and transvestite streetwalkers can be found in various places around the island, while male prostitutes catering to men are less common, but they often nongkrong (hang out) in particular spots such as bus stops around Nagoya. To add to the complexity, a large number of female and transvestite prostitutes frequently move between Batam and Singapore or Malaysia (see chap. 5). The most conspicuous spaces for prostitution, however, are the handful of discos and the dozens of karaoke bars concentrated in Nagoya.
On Batam the Department of Social Affairs—the government agency that deals most directly with prostitution—distinguishes between different types of prostitutes. As in the rest of Indonesia, women in lokalisasi are identified as WTS (wanita tuna sila), or literally “woman without morals,” while those working in karaoke bars are called pramuria, more akin to “entertainers.” Prostitutes not controlled by pimps are, as I already have noted, considered liar. These women are identified as the main problem by officials in the creation of an “ordered” (teratur) environment.7
(p.76) Raids, or operasi, are the most common instruments for localizing prostitutes on Batam.8 Jones and his colleagues (1995, 13) write that in Indonesia the “pressure on streetwalkers … drives lower-class women workers into brothel complexes, where they are controlled by pimps, procurers and the local government and police, but generally tolerated by society.”9 This follows Kusno’s (2000) argument (see chap. 1) that “the street” emerged as a site of disorder and menace during the New Order, in relation to the “ordered,” privileged space of the nation, namely “the family.” In the regulationist tradition of the colonial state (Abalahin 2003) prostitution is tolerated and confined to particular places in an attempt to organize debauchery and, more generally, the “street” and the underclass that inhabits this space.10
But the localization of prostitutes in the name of public order, or increasingly in the name of Islam, not only aims to control disease and keep prostitution out of sight, but also creates spaces for economic transactions. In other words, logics of governance and economics converge when prostitutes are confined to a particular space. This is certainly the case on Batam, where not only managers of low-charge brothels but also of discos and karaoke bars make payments to various groups within the government, especially the police. In response to this, as we shall see, many women work as liar prostitutes so that they can control economic transactions themselves.
Entering the Rantau
From my experience I can tell you that most of the women who tell you that they were tricked into prostitution are lying. They are just malu to admit that they knew from the beginning.
Government official at a regional HIV prevention meeting on Batam, May 2000
I knew that Batam was famous for prostitution and that I couldn’t really make as much as they promised me. But would it have been better to stay in the kampung and marry another man who can’t take care of me and my children?
Twenty-five-year-old woman working as a prostitute on Batam
Dewi was born in the city of Palembang in South Sumatra, the second of six children. She married her boyfriend after graduating from high (p.77) school, and a year later they had their first child. Her husband had difficulty finding steady work, however, and when one of his cousins returned from Batam for Idul Fitri, the celebration that breaks the fast after Ramadan, he was invited to join them on the trip back. He quickly agreed, and Dewi and their baby remained in the village. “We had all heard about Batam,” she told me. “I had my doubts about him going away, but I thought that if he worked there for a few years we would have enough money to build our own house.”
After only a few months, she heard rumors from migrants returning from Batam that her husband was not working, but spending what little money he made on women and alcohol. She decided to go see for herself and found him unemployed and living in a liar settlement near one of the main ports. Dewi stayed on while their child remained in Palembang with her parents, and she quickly found work in one of the electronics factories nearby. For three years she assembled television sets and telephones while her husband found only odd jobs. “On Batam,” she explained, “there are lots of companies that need female labor. For men it is much more difficult.”
Through a friend her husband was finally hired as a driver at a factory in a nearby industrial park. By that time Dewi had given birth to a second son and quit her job to take care of the children. They moved away from the liar settlement to one of the company houses, but when she caught her husband having an affair with another woman she finally left him. She returned with her children to Palembang and began trading: buying electronic goods on Batam and selling them in Palembang, and returning with garlic to sell on Batam.
It seemed promising at first, but after six months or so it was obvious that there was too much competition. I couldn’t return home because there was nothing for me to do there, and I was too old to work in a factory again,11 so I took a job as a hostess in one of the gambling halls. I met a Singaporean guy there who was a manager in one of the factories, and we started having a relationship, and finally he asked me to live with him. He was good to me even though we couldn’t really speak the same language with each other, and I had enough money to send home. When his contract ended six months later, I knew where to go to meet men. That’s how it started. But I only go out to look for clients when I really need the money. Sometimes I don’t even go to a bar for two months or so.
(p.78) Most of the time Dewi sells pempek, South Sumatran fish cake, on the street outside the house where she lives. Too old to continue working in an electronics factory, she has turned to prostitution when her other business fails her. More recently, especially since the economic crisis, this has become her predominant source of income, part of a broader “advancement strategy” (Brennan 2004, 23–24) when other moneymaking opportunities do not bear fruit.
I didn’t want to work in a way that was immoral (tidak betul), but I kept thinking that I had two children who I am responsible for. So it is better that I sacrifice myself rather than knowing that they are suffering. But I refuse to call myself a prostitute (anak malam). If someone asks me I tell them that I am factory worker just trying to make some extra money.
Dewi’s story suggests that her path toward Batam began with a series of constraints and choices that cannot be disconnected from one another, and any attempt to identify her as a “prostitute” is problematic, in large part because she avoids this form of self-presentation herself. Dewi therefore remains liar, outside the control of pimps or any kind of formal sector.
Lidya, whom I will introduce in the next section, is twenty years old. She worked as a prostitute in the city of Medan in North Sumatra before she came to Batam. She ran away from home with a cousin at age fifteen when her mother died suddenly and she was left with an abusive and alcoholic father. In a matter-of-fact-manner, she summarized her route into prostitution in just a few sentences: “There wasn’t really much else I could do in Medan, and when I ended up at the bus station, this guy took me to a brothel area where I lost my virginity on the first day. I stayed there for about a year, and when one of my friends there told me about Batam I decided right away to join her. That’s how I got here.” Together with her boyfriend and their daughter, Lidya lives in a rented room in the heart of Nagoya.
A Kind of Home
As Efran, Umar, Fikri, and I sit on the floor in the hallway, Diana is putting her baby to sleep, while Lidya is burning incense and reading a prayer so that she will be certain to get a client that evening. The women (p.79) have already showered, dressed, and put on their makeup and are ready to go. It is 11:00 p.m. on Thursday, Ladies Night at all the discos in town, which guarantees free entrance for all women. Diana still looks pale from the close call she had that morning when she came home and breastfed her one-month-old baby boy despite having taken Ecstasy the night before. Umar, her boyfriend and the father of the child, describes the incident in a mix of excitement and horror: the baby’s body started trembling and small black spots appeared on his skin. Shaking his head, he is in awe that the baby survived and seems to be doing fine. Lidya comments loudly from inside her room that she took Ecstasy every other day when she was pregnant, and her two-year-old daughter, Tika, is doing fine. Efran, her boyfriend, smiles at me as he tries to keep Tika from grabbing the ashtray on the floor between us. As Diana and Lidya step past us, Rosa, who is five months pregnant, comes out of her room and follows them down the hall. We all turn our heads and watch as they disappear down the steps. Soon we hear Lidya outside calling for an ojek that will take her to Ozon, less than a kilometer away.
Efran rarely goes out these days. He spends most of his time in a room that he rents with Lidya and their daughter, or sitting out in the hallway smoking clove cigarettes and playing cards. Born in 1977 in a village about an hour’s drive from the West Sumatran city of Padang, he came to Batam when he was seventeen years old. He has never held a steady job but used to drive an ojek, and occasionally he makes some money as a tattoo artist. However, since the economic crisis it has become difficult to rent a motorcycle for a reasonable price, and no one has asked for a tattoo for over a month. Most often he and Umar, who lives in the next room over with Diana and their baby, try to concoct schemes to make money. Usually, these involve acting as middlemen (calo) in sales of cell phones, television sets, motorcycles, cars, marijuana, and anything else on the market, but usually the plans fail and they merely spend money and energy looking for buyers and sellers.
James Siegel writes that the “ability to make connections” (2002, 213) is crucial in order to “enter the so called economy of development and to take a full part in Indonesian life” (218; see also Hugo 1985, 75). For most unskilled male migrants who come to Batam, however, this ability is often beyond reach. Ethnic or kinship networks provide one possibility and education another, but they are far from being guarantees. None of the male migrants I discuss in this chapter have graduated from high school or are (p.80) part of any kind of useful social network. This means that they are not even able to apply for factory work. Instead they tend to find odd jobs, and becoming a calo appears to be the only form of connection within reach. There are, however, always too many calo, too many people seeking connections in this way. One is often ditipu (tricked) by people who are more powerful and who are impossible to touch, or by people who simply disappear. On Batam, it is said, one cannot trust people.
Umar comes from the North Sumatran city of Medan. He claims that he used to work on an oil tanker and says he has traveled to Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, and other countries throughout Asia, but no one actually believes him. He is well known for borrowing money that he never repays, and few people trust him. A few weeks before his son was born, he disappeared for two weeks, suddenly returning without explanation just days before Diana gave birth. During that time she had frantically looked for him all over town, and most people living on the floor speculated that he had run off because he could not deal with the pressure of becoming a father.
Fikri has been on Batam for only a few months and listens intently as Efran and Umar tell him about life on the island. Fikri is sharing a room with his girlfriend Rosa, who came with him from Medan. Efran and Lidya say that the baby she is carrying in her stomach is giving her luck and that she has been getting clients every night. Umar tells Fikri that he needs to get an identity card (KTP: kartu tanda penduduk) in order to find a job, but to get one from corrupt government authorities, who are said to be doing a thriving business,12 one must pay several hundred thousand rupiah. Efran adds that since neither he nor Lidya have gotten around to getting identity cards, Tika doesn’t even have a birth certificate. The identity card system forms a boundary between the warga, the citizen, and those who are liar, outside of the national community (Strassler 2003, 207). As in the case of squatter housing, the liar follows from processes of formalization, thereby naming the marginal. Tika was thus not only born outside of a legitimate family form, but is, in fact, not even an Indonesian citizen.
They live in a three-story building, a ruko (rumah toko, literally “store building”), the most typical style of building found throughout the town of Nagoya. Located behind a large hotel, the building is owned by a Chinese family who also runs the restaurant on the ground floor. After passing through the restaurant and the rat-infested kitchen, the stairs lead up to the second and then the third floor, where Efran and Lidya have lived for (p.81) two years. The floor has been subdivided by gypsum board into eight small cubicles that are approximately eight square meters each. Green mosquito nets continue where the walls end and reach up to the roof, creating an environment where sound travels easily. At the far end of the linoleum-covered, concrete hallway there is one bathroom that all occupants share, but as the plumbing rarely works, water has to be brought up in buckets from the kitchen two floors down. At the other end of the hallway is a large window from which one can gaze down onto the street. In the house across the street is a hair salon that appears to be nothing more than a front for a brothel, and next door is a karaoke bar that does not seem to be doing very well.
The turnover rate for these cubicles is very high, and during the three-year period that I visited this building, between 1998 and 2001, every one of them had been emptied at least once. Efran and Lidya lived there the longest, but few others remained for more than six months. Unlike kost rooms that are rented in residential areas, these rooms are rarely home to factory workers. A young junior high school teacher lived in one of the rooms for a month or so, but quickly moved once he realized that most of the women on the floor worked as prostitutes. Many people stay in ruko because of the freedom it offers and its location in the middle of the city. The rent for such cubicles ranges from 150,000 to 300,000 rupiah (between 17 and 33 U.S. dollars) per month, about the same one would pay for a room in a residential house, but much more than the 50,000 rupiah that it generally costs to rent a room in a squatter area. Renting a room alone would be far too expensive for most.
Just down the street, Dewi shares a room in another ruko, similar to the building where Lidya and Efran live, together with another woman from Palembang. The room is sparsely furnished with two mattresses on the floor, a wooden wardrobe in the corner, and a portable gas burner next to a transparent plastic box with kitchen utensils. Dewi and her roommate used to share a television set, but they sold it one month when they were short on rent. A pencil drawing of a mosque hangs next to a mirror, above a BCA Bank calendar from the year before. Underneath the drawing she has written: “Plan: in two more years I will return home.”
Dewi prefers to spend time with people from her own kampung who speak her own language. All of them are, however, involved in some form of prostitution, and outside this group she is unwilling to admit that she is from Palembang. Her worst fear is that she will meet someone from her home village and that her parents will find out what she is doing on Batam. (p.82) “If I am face to face (berhadapan) with someone from my kampung I feel malu at once. That’s why I don’t want people to know what I do or where I am from. It’s not because I am a hypocrite, I am just malu.” Dewi’s statement captures the complexity of malu not only as a negative, but also as a positive emotion. To be seen as a “prostitute” by someone to whom one is related or with whom one shares a kampung is to recognize oneself as a person who has crossed a moral boundary. But this also means that Dewi’s concern with this boundary is explicitly moral since she aims to protect the reputation of her family and community so that they do not have to experience the malu that she does. The reason Dewi is liar is thus precisely to be able to retain an ambiguous position that allows her to be able to say: “I am not a prostitute.”
The Economy of Pleasure
James Farrer has argued that—as a global sociological form—the disco should be described as a superculture rather than a subculture. In Shanghai, he claims, the disco is primarily a site for youth wishing to engage with global culture (Farrer 1999, 149). At first sight this would appear to be the case at Ozon as well. The name of the disco, the recognizable beat of the music, the availability of foreign beers and cocktails all suggest a relationship with the “global” and with the various forms of pleasure that organize contemporary forms of consumerism. Much of the vocabulary associated with Ecstasy on Batam is in English. Words like tripping, on, enjoy, happy, and refreshing are commonly used and are understood even by Indonesians who do not use Ecstasy or frequent discos on the island.13 Titanic, Superman, Mickey Mouse, Honda, and Butterfly are among the most popular kinds of Ecstasy. Ozon, therefore, appears to offer at least a fleeting engagement with the promises of global capitalism.
However, all is not as it seems. On Batam a Long Island iced tea is half iced tea, half vodka, while the Ecstasy is often of uncertain quality.14 Overdoses are common, as it is often difficult to judge the quality of the drug beforehand. The price of entering the disco and of buying Ecstasy makes Ozon, and the cosmopolitan culture it mimics, a site of social distinction. Ladies Night allows women to enter free of charge two nights a week, but most Indonesian men must pay the cover charge, which is twenty thousand (p.83) rupiah (more than two U.S. dollars), an average salary for a day’s work on Batam. Foreign men usually do not pay; once inside, they are at the center of an economy that will generate more value for the owners of the disco. In other words, the gate-keeping principles of Ozon are tied to gendered and national distinctions. Singaporean women and Indonesian men do not fit into this world as easily.
Although Ozon must be considered in transnational terms, understanding the disco as a “global form” or “superculture” prioritizes choice and pleasure. In contrast, Ozon should be understood as a postmodern example of what Pratt calls a “contact zone”: “a space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict” (1992,6). But while Pratt’s concern with “coercion,” “inequality,” and “conflict” highlights both the historical origins and economic dimensions of Ozon, she draws our attention away from the role that pleasure plays in situations of inequality and how “feeling good” is put to work within the political economy of the disco. Pleasure and coercion should thus be considered as emerging in tandem, taking specific forms in particular places.
Researchers who have studied sex tourism from Western countries to Southeast Asia have pointed out that the condition of inequality inherent in the relationship between client and prostitute should ideally (from the client’s perspective, in particular) be denied by both parties in the context of their interaction, so it can be presented as primarily a source of pleasure (Bishop and Robinson 1998, 164–165; Kruhse-Mount Burton 1995; Oppermann 1998). This denial is necessary because many men are looking not only for sexual satisfaction, but also for “romance” or, most generally, companionship, particularly in “open-ended” (Cohen 1993) or, in this context, liar prostitution. Outside closed institutions such as brothels, the monetary transaction involved in “booking” can more easily be transformed so that neither party presents it as the primary reason for engaging in the relationship. As will become evident in the next chapter, one of the main reasons that Singaporean men buy sex on Batam is that in Singapore prostitution is both spatially and temporally regulated, making it difficult to deny the monetary nature of the transaction.15 On Batam, however, open-ended prostitution is common and presents the possibility of transforming strictly sexual interactions into more extensive relationships. The client (p.84) is called a tamu, which also means guest. These connotations suggest the potential for the inscription of other, more domestic forms of inequality in the relationship.16
In Ozon and other discos, the drug Ecstasy is crucial in forming a space where people may, at least temporarily, transform their subjectivities so that relationships of inequality may be presented as relationships of pleasure. Ecstasy allows women to transgress culturally powerful modes of bodily control and instead perform as prostitutes. Unlike drugs like marijuana, Ecstasy use is restricted to those who can either pay one hundred thousand rupiah (eleven U.S. dollars) or do not have to pay (for instance, drug dealers and prostitutes who are given the drug).17 Disc jockeys in the main discos in Nagoya play the kinds of songs that they know work well with Ecstasy, while taxi drivers who shuttle people between discos and hotels do the same, as clients are shielded from the un-happy outside world.
Arjun Appadurai has argued that pleasure is the organizing principle and driving force in modern forms of consumerism. More specifically, he claims an aesthetic of ephemerality drives this process (1996, 83–84). Few objects are as ephemeral and as concerned with the production of pleasure as Ecstasy. One clinical study claims that Ecstasy produces “an affective state of enhanced mood, well-being, and increased emotional sensitiveness, little anxiety, but no hallucinations or panic reactions” (Vollenweider et al. 1998, 241). Conversations with men and women who frequently take the drug suggest that this is generally accurate. Furthermore, while opium is considered “primitive” and heroin is an isolationist drug, throughout contemporary Southeast Asia amphetamine-type stimulants such as Ecstasy are generally associated with mobility, modernity, and an entrepreneurial spirit (Lyttleton 2004).
In the Ozon disco—a place that constitutes itself as a global cultural form—Ecstasy produces not only pleasure, but also subjects who more readily engage in other types of economic transactions, most notably prostitution. In this way, the circulation of Ecstasy lubricates an emergent transnational economy.18 This is in contrast to Philippe Bourgois’ influential study, In Search of Respect (1995), in which he maps the economy of crack cocaine in New York’s Spanish Harlem. Drugs per se are not, however, Bourgois’ primary interest. Instead, he claims that drug use is “the epiphenomenal expression of deeper, structural dilemmas” (1995, 319), most notably the racial and class divides that plague the United States. Here, (p.85) I modify Bourgois’ position, asking how drugs might be understood as a productive starting point for analysis, rather than merely epiphenomenal and a symptom of other social forces.
Lidya’s initial goal when she enters Ozon is to get Ecstasy. Because of the high price she rarely buys it herself, but instead attempts to find a potential client who will give her a pill. Most of the prostitutes who work in discos use Ecstasy on a regular basis, many of them nearly every day. Lidya tells me, “I like taking Ecstasy because I am not as scared to approach a potential client. If I don’t take Ecstasy, I feel inferior (minder) and malu towards the clients. Ecstasy makes me feel brave.”
Cindi, another liar prostitute who frequents Ozon, feels the same way: “If I have not taken Ecstasy I feel malu if I try to pick up (merayu) a client. I don’t know what to say or how to act. It feels strange to touch a client if I am not on.” To be successful, women must violate Islamic (or Christian) prohibitions against alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity and learn behaviors that are the opposite of those they were taught in childhood and adolescence. Rather than avoid speaking to men they do not know, they must be aggressive and talkative. They must act as though they do not know malu.
Most women claim that the use of Ecstasy makes the actual sexual encounter easier and more pleasurable. This is something that both clients and the mami recognize. For instance, Kartika first tried Ecstasy because her mami forced her to. The Singaporean client wanted to book a woman who was on so that she would be sexually excited. Though Kartika had promised herself that she would not try Ecstasy, after that first time she could not do without it. “Now if I am at the disco and I don’t take it I feel confused and I can’t stand the music. I just keep asking myself why I am here. It is easier to act (main) in a seksi way.”
For Lidya, Cindi, and Kartika, Ecstasy has become necessary for them to perform as prostitutes through “distancing emotion” (Scheff 1977), thus creating the very possibility for transgressing religious prohibitions and commodifying their own bodies. It allows them to become the kind of woman that a client will desire—or at least to engage in that mode of interpretation—a transformative potential that, as Kartika’s story suggests, (p.86) Singaporean men play into. Ecstasy allows for the production of an ephemeral subject that, for a time, clarifies a particular form of identity within an economy.
In this context women learn a whole repertoire of actions through practical mimesis: to dance in a manner that is seksi, or be flirtatious without appearing overly aggressive, or change attitudes depending on the client. The most successful liar prostitutes are not necessarily those who are considered most beautiful, but rather those who have mastered this repertoire. For instance, Cindi, who rarely had problems finding a client, argued that her success was based on her ability to make clients feel comfortable, “like we were boyfriend and girlfriend.” More generally, impersonation becomes the key to distinction (Appadurai 1996, 84).
For those women who know enough about the particular effects of drugs, it is also possible to transform the relationship with the client and create certain forms of advantages. Reni explained that “if I find the client unattractive and he wants me to buy Ecstasy for him, then I always try to get a drug that will not let him get an erection. Of course, this doesn’t work on the clients who have been around for a while. But if I really like the guy [starts laughing] then I get one that will give him one all night.” In other words, Ecstasy has different uses within Ozon’s economy, and pills have various values depending on who uses them, both in terms of consumption and distribution. There is a local science of drug use, as different pills affect the body in particular ways.19 The primary point, however, is that Ecstasy distances emotions of malu, thereby facilitating economic transactions for freelance prostitutes. Unlike brothel areas, which are “closed institutions” (Cohen 1993), Lidya and other liar prostitutes must, to a greater degree, enter a less structured space and perform.
Ecstasy is thus a technology that is located at the very center of a transnational economy of pleasure. In an important sense, this is reminiscent of the young women I described in the previous chapter who veil in order to protect themselves from the liar. Though the performance of prostitution may appear as an inversion of the performance of piety, in fact they are both crystallizations of particular gendered styles.20 While women who wear the veil aim to “develop” (maju) themselves through religion, or at least present an identity of themselves as such, prostitutes can sometimes experience a similar passage by entering the liar before exiting with economic capital.
Although there are certainly varying degrees of reflexivity involved in these acts, in all situations the primary problem is not self-identity, (p.87) but rather avoiding being identified as someone who does not belong. It is important, however, to highlight the reflexive nature of this process; Batam is a place that not only produces new kinds of power relations, but also offers new forms of freedom and agency for migrants, many of whom are away from the kampung for the first time. As I showed in the previous chapter, in the context of merantau, malu is an emotion that leads women to engage with, rather than withdraw from, a new kind of world and its contradictions; it is a process that does not, however, necessarily guarantee success. For both the factory worker and the prostitute, it is the avoidance of malu upon returning to the kampung that is at the heart of the emotional economy of migration. In this context, economic success and religious insight are two different models of “development” (kemajuan) that can be presented upon return, as various forms of an aesthetic of display is employed by returning migrants.
Learning to Labor
As night turns to morning it becomes increasingly difficult to find a client. If Ozon is quiet, Lidya may try her luck at other discos in Nagoya, but there is no guarantee of success. Some women who have been on Batam for a decade or more remember the early 1990s as the “golden days”: there were clients for everyone, and Singapore dollars were the standard of payment. “Now,” one woman complained, “the Singaporeans know the value of the rupiah. They are not stupid anymore. There is increasing competition among women and you have to fight for your clients.” Among prostitutes and others who depend on the presence of Singaporean, the ebb and flow of tourists is an endless source of discussion. If there is a holiday in Singapore, everyone knows and the nightclubs are packed.
If Lidya gets a booking out of Ozon she can earn anywhere from 200,000 to 500,000 rupiah (22 to 56 U.S. dollars) for a night. In comparison, the basic salary of a factory worker hovers around 500,000 rupiah per month; with overtime and housing benefits it rarely exceeds one million rupiah.21 Lidya has been working as a prostitute for three years on Batam, and she recalls how she learned to negotiate.
Before I would just sit and wait until someone came up to me. He would ask, “Do you have a tamu,” and I would say, “No.” Then he would ask me (p.88) to come and sit with him and I would. Usually he would ask if I wanted to be booked, and I would ask, “How much?” My friend taught me that I should always ask the price and then ask where we would be sleeping. He would say 150,000, and I would say, “Add a little, make it 200,” and he would say, “Okay.”
However, after a few years of experience she has learned to be more active and perform in relation to the client whom she approaches.
Now when I look for a client I try and figure out what kind of person he is, and how he wants me to be. Some men like it if you touch them at once while others don’t. Some like you to be aggressive and others that you just sit politely. Often it is difficult to figure out.
Although Lidya is still young, only twenty years old, and is generally considered attractive, the number of clients she gets and the amount of money she earns during a month can fluctuate dramatically.22 Sometimes she will have several a week, while during other periods she will get only a few per month—hardly enough to support her boyfriend and daughter.23
Many of the prostitutes I knew had already built houses in their home villages with the money they had made, all of them planning to return in some distant future. Dewi sent most of the money she made to her mother in Palembang, while she remained in a constant state of poverty. Kartika showed me her savings from two years on Batam, which amounted to nearly five thousand Singapore dollars (approximately three thousand U.S. dollars), neatly stacked in a shoebox that she kept hidden in her closet, since she does not trust banks. Others, however, had little sense of how much money they made and had great difficulty saving. Lidya, for instance, was drawn into shopping sprees as soon as she had the chance.
Women who have Singaporean or Western clients tend to be better off than those who mainly have Indonesian clients. Lidya, for instance, claims that about 90 percent of her clients are Singaporean, most of whom speak some form of Indonesian. She tries to avoid Indonesians, since she doesn’t trust them to pay her, and Westerners, since she doesn’t speak English. Dewi, on the other hand, prefers Westerners, whom she claims treat her better, pay her more, and are romantis. They also allow her to use a far from universal asset: a fair command of English. Her relationship to prostitution is, however, as I have noted, extremely ambivalent. This can be seen in her (p.89) style; she refuses to dress “like a prostitute” and does not let men kiss her in public. She is passive in bars and discos and waits until she is approached. “If you look at prostitutes (anak malam), they usually wear high-heeled shoes, short skirts, and tight shirts that show their breasts. But I don’t like wearing clothing that is too seksi, so usually I wear regular clothing: pants and shoes with no heels.”
Dewi is far less successful in finding clients than Lidya and other women, largely because of her refusal to perform. She is primarily interested in finding a tamu tetap, a regular client. Indeed, most women say having a tamu tetap is far superior to having to look for a new tamu each night since, at least for a time, he guarantees a steady source of income. Along with this comes the added benefit of, as one woman put it, “knowing what you get” and, for Dewi at least, not having to deal with the malu of being seen in a public space associated with prostitution.
Most women who work as prostitutes have had a tamu tetap in one form or another. Throughout the two years that I have known her, Lidya has had several, on occasion two at once. This usually entails meeting regularly whenever the client comes to Batam from Singapore, sometimes once a month and at other times up to twice a week. Another way of organizing the relationship is by becoming a piaraan, or mistress. This usually means living in a room or house that the client rents and receiving a monthly allowance. Many of my informants had at least for a time lived in such a relationship, usually with a Singaporean, claiming that the domesticity of the situation often displaced experiences of sin, retaining a feeling of propriety, thus keeping malu in balance. In fact, in an Islamic society that allows for male polygamy, this allows many women to consider themselves “second wives.”
Kartika, on the other hand, has a mami who acts as an initial mediator. The structure of the situation means that neither performance nor having a regular client is as important as they are for Lidya. However, she also has less control over the economic transaction and the choice of clients than does Lidya. Kartika told me that she broke down crying several times when she was booked to a client she found unattractive or threatening. Similar forms of control by the mami are obvious in everyday life, since women living in her house are not allowed to go out by themselves for fear that they will visit their own clients.
In his discussion of social relations in complex societies, Eric Wolf (2001) makes ideal-type distinctions between emotional friendship, instrumental (p.90) friendship, and patron-client relations. In instrumental friendships, access to resources is vital to the relationship, and each member may be linked to other people outside of the relationship, unlike emotional friendship, which is dyadic in nature. However, in the context of instrumental friendship, a “minimal element of affect” (2001, 177) remains crucial to the relationship, and if “it is not present, it must be feigned” (177). Patron-client relationships, on the other hand, are examples of “lopsided friendship” (Pitt-Rivers, in Wolf 2001, 179), where the relations of power are clear.
Open-ended prostitution works along a similar continuum; it tends to begin in the context of instrumental friendship.24 Again, both parties ideally deny the economic nature of the transaction and primarily identify it in terms of mutual sexual attraction, in a sense parading as emotional friendship. As will become clear in the next chapter, this appears to break down most frequently with the emergence of a domestic sphere in relationships in which the tamu rents a house or room and pays the woman an allowance. If the initial encounter is transformed into a more sustained relationship, tensions often arise when the “lopsidedness” of the relationship cannot be displaced, or when it becomes clear that the man and the woman have different expectations from the relationship.
Turning Gender on its Head
While they would all deny it, Umar, Efran, Fikri, and Tirta, who live on the same floor, could readily be described as bronces, men who live on the income of women. The stereotypical image of the bronces is an attractive young man whose girlfriend is a prostitute. While the woman searches for customers by night, the lazy and irresponsible man uses her as a source of money and sex without meeting any kind of obligation to her. In many other parts of Indonesia, the preman, more akin to a thug, would be a more common figure (Ryter 1998). On Batam, however, these men are transformed into sexual predators, reflecting the cultural anxieties that I elaborated upon earlier.
For these men connections are made to women, who in turn make connections to a bapak (man or father), be he Indonesian or Singaporean. While Efran would agree that Lidya makes all of their money, he does not consider himself irresponsible, since he claims there is nothing else they can do to survive. “Of course,” he says, “I feel heartbroken (sakit hati) and malu when (p.91) I know that Lidya is going out to sleep with men while I sit here. But what else can I do? I am sick of looking for work, and no one will hire me. We have to think of our daughter, and someone has to take care of her.” Efran first came to Batam when his older sister enticed him with stories of high salaries on an island of twenty-four-hour activity and constant entertainment. This form of communication creates anticipation, desire, and hope. Without a high school diploma, however, it proved difficult to find work, and he was turned away at Batamindo and other factory estates since he lacked the proper connections. After four months he gave up and decided to return home, where he knew he could find work. However, upon arrival he learned the meaning of malu when his older brother, who had never been in the rantau, teased him about coming back so quickly with nothing to show for his time away. After only a week in the kampung Efran decided to return to Batam.
This situation exemplifies the feelings of entrapment that merantau generates: the malu that keeps Efran from returning to his home in West Sumatra is stronger than the malu that he feels with regard to Lidya working as a prostitute. Malu and the thoughts of home become the force that drives the rantau. Despite this, Efran has hopes for the future: “Once we are married it won’t be possible for Lidya to do this kind of work. I will definitely be the one who works. Once we have enough money (modal), maybe we will return to Padang, get married, and never come back here again.” Efran reveals his desire to make things right again so that he, the man, will be the breadwinner, while Lidya is at home with the children. Once they are married, once they become a “family”—thereby part of the Indonesian nation and ready to engage directly with Islam—Lidya cannot continue to be a prostitute. But more important, there is the recognition that they are not a “family,” that they are still liar, since the money that supports them is from prostitution and the man has not yet become a bapak.
In the matrilineal West Sumatran Minangkabau heartland, men are guests in the homes of their wives. Historically, the rantau thus became a space where the father gained more power than he could in the matrilineal heartland (Mrázek 1994, 10–11). For Efran this possibility has been closed, and a strange reversal has taken place. He is malu here and malu there. There is no space for him, except the hallway where he sits and smokes. This is the plight of the Indonesian migrant underclass.
Lidya claims that she wants the same things in life as Efran, but she is more pessimistic. “I don’t know what to do about my situation. I feel all (p.92) this stres but I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t want to work like this any longer, but how are we going to get enough money so that we can move to Efran’s kampung? I really want a house, kitchen, and a garden where our daughter can play.” Lidya’s desires are reminiscent of the representations of an ideal middle-class life so evident in Indonesian popular culture (Sears 1996; Brenner 1999; C. Jones 2004). The house she imagines is not drawn from the reality of the village where she grew up. It is an image that might be found in women’s magazines such as Femina or in descriptions of middle-class life on Indonesian television, the same image that is consumed by factory workers like Wati in the previous chapter. Lidya’s own relationship with Efran is an aberration from this form. That they live so far from the ideal is clearly a source of anxiety for both of them.
In this context it is critical to ask not what the “family” fails to do, but what it actually does (Ferguson 1999, chap. 5). In the Zambian Copperbelt, Ferguson claims that constant reference to “the fiction of the modern family” (1999, 205) effectively obscures more basic political struggles between men and women and between generations. In Indonesia, however, the family ideal produces a gap between the underclass and middle class. Siegel has pointed out that in Indonesia the family is no longer a source of legitimacy.
At one time law inhered in the construction of the family. When the nation declared itself to be the source of law, the family became mere custom. The traditional family is now merely customary while the Indonesian family is an effect of the nation, deriving its legitimacy and its form from outside itself. From that perspective, the household is no longer the place one goes to find someone who knows how the family should operate. That knowledge rests with the enlightened nationalists. The family is a site of potential disruption. (1998, 87)
Efran and Lidya both see their current situation—as a disrupted family—as their own fault. The hegemonic force of the Indonesian nation becomes most evident through the individualization of malu, as many blame themselves for not living up to the ideals associated with the middle class. In fact, however, they are not only hindered by their own malu, but also by the economic transactions that the state demands for identity cards and marriage certificates, and an ideology that positions women in (p.93) the household and men as workers. On Batam these gender positions are turned on their heads in a context where women can make money far more easily than men.
These gendered tensions can also take more violent forms. Efran is relatively quiet compared to Lidya, who is loud and often considered obnoxious by others living on their floor; however, Fikri, Umar, and Tirta more often engage in open conflict with their girlfriends. For instance, one day when I came over to visit, Reni had a black eye; Tirta had once again hit her when she came home from Ozon on without any money with her. At the time Reni complained to me that Tirta “always gets mad if I come back without any money even though it sometimes is difficult to get a client.”
If he had any sense of responsibility (bertangungjawab), I wouldn’t have to work like this, but he always says that it is difficult for men to find work on Batam. What I really want is to be a housewife and have children, but if he keeps hitting me I will leave him since I am the only one making any money.
Tirta, of course, had a slightly different story; he had become increasingly angry at Reni since she frequently came home tripping on Ecstasy but without any money. However, he claimed that the first time he hit her was when she had actually brought a client back. Everyone else on the floor was shocked at this, and it made Tirta furious.
It’s bad enough that she has to work as a prostitute for us to survive, but she doesn’t have to make me even more malu by bringing this guy back. Now she also seems more interested in taking drugs than she is in making money. All I do is sit here and wait for her all night, and when she returns she is tripping and has no money! I wish that I had never come to Batam. I had a good job before in Medan [North Sumatra], but I just wanted too much and now I am stuck here. I would rather die than return home malu without any money.
Both Fikri and Efran accept that their partners are selling sex. But Efran makes it clear that he sees a difference between looking for “clients” (tamu) and “guys” (cowok), the latter carrying the connotation of a boyfriend or romantic relationship in which pleasure is more important than the economic (p.94) transaction. This distinction may be one that makes life bearable: the commodification of the body, and the spaces where this is allowed, are distinguished from personal relationships and the space of home.25
Occasionally, Lidya will bring some Ecstasy home to Efran. Whenever he takes it he feels happy and forgets how bored he is. “When I take Ecstasy in the house I feel good (sehat). All the thoughts in my head disappear, and my affection (sayang) toward my daughter increases. She wears me down (pusing) if I am not taking the drug.” Fikri, across the hall, also likes to take Ecstasy; he enjoys cleaning his room whenever he is on, and this helps him get rid of his stres.
The bronces is a stereotype that reveals the basic contradictions in Batam’s cultural economy. While the bronces is identified as an aberration, as an Other, the figure is located at the very center of a series of tensions and paradoxes that are played out in everyday life on Batam. Interestingly, a similar kind of female figure, the perek (perempuan eksperimentel), or “experimental girl,” who had sex “just for fun,” was widely discussed in the Jakarta media during the late 1980s (Murray 1991, 119–120). On Batam, however, I was frequently told that there are no perek since everyone is there to make money.
It is informative to compare the different forms of exchange that the perek and the bronces are engaged in since they illuminate the different contexts of Jakarta and Batam. Perek are typically understood as well-off girls or women who are just looking for fun, while bronces are poor men in search of money. While the perek represents the anxieties of a world where cultural values are threatened—exchanging her body for fun, thereby challenging the ideal of sexual relations within the context of marriage—the bronces emerges in a political economy where the transformation of gender roles is the primary anxiety, with the man using or selling his body to the female breadwinner.26
These representations are of men who are socioeconomically at the bottom of society and cannot live up to the official representations of masculinity that identify them as reasonable (akal) (cf. Peletz 1996). What is crucial to grasp is that gender representations are connected with political economy, with blame ultimately being placed on those who are most marginalized. The failures of Efran and the others in this chapter to live up to the ideal of men as breadwinners should be understood within a similar framework. None of the men that I have discussed graduated from high school, and few have held steady jobs. They often grow long hair and make tattoos (p.95) that they understand as signs of resistance to societal norms. However, for most other observers these signs merely suggest that they are bronces, and thus their resistance reinforces their marginalization (cf. Willis 1977).
Conclusion: Spheres of Transaction
All forms of economic systems, Bloch and Parry have argued, “make—indeed have to make—some ideological space within which individual acquisition is a legitimate and even laudable goal; but … such activities are consigned to a separate sphere which is ideologically articulated with, and subordinated to, a sphere of activity concerned with the cycle of longterm reproduction” (Bloch and Parry 1989, 26; italics in original). In other words, reproducing the long-term order depends on individual short-term endeavors; more important for our purposes, the short-term order is often morally undetermined, in contrast to the explicit morality of the long-term social order. While this model can be used to understand merantau, more generally it is particularly obvious in the context of prostitution, in which becoming liar and engaging in labor that is explicitly immoral is a way of transgressing experiences of malu in order to reproduce a long-term moral order.
Throughout this chapter, however, I have shown that it is precisely the distinction between the short-term and long-term that is constantly threatened. Many prostitutes become liar not only as a more efficient means to live up to the monetary demands of merantau, but also as a way of negotiating other forms of moral boundaries. The drug Ecstasy is, I have argued, a critical technology in this regard.
Most of the female prostitutes I met on Batam would agree that extramarital sex is sinful, but they frequently justified their actions in terms of responsibilities toward children and family members, often in the context of an absent or divorced husband. In fact, most women I talked with claimed that they were divorced and had children and family members to whom they were sending money. To a certain degree having a child thus legitimates the practice of prostitution. For instance, when I first met Mega, a woman in her mid-twenties who mainly worked in the discos in Nagoya, she told me that she was divorced and had a child who was living with her mother on the island of Bangka. However, after I had known her for almost a year it became clear after a conversation with her sister that (p.96) she neither had a child nor had ever been married. She was noticeably malu as she admitted that she had lied, because she now lacked any acceptable moral reason for being a prostitute.
There are also clear spatial distinctions between the short term and the long term, which corresponds to the distinction between the developed and the liar. For instance, Sri, who has worked as a liar prostitute on Batam since the early 1990s and lives in a squatter community with her two children, was extremely embarrassed when I came to visit her once when she was wearing only shorts and a T-shirt. “Don’t come in! I am hardly dressed!” she shrieked. But I had seen her wearing a short mini-skirt and a revealing top many other nights; later she explained, “If you see me like that in the bar it’s fine, but in my own house I feel malu.” A similar point can be made about the fight between Tirta and Reni described above. Reni brought home a client, efficiently disturbing the spatial distinction between the long term and the short term.
This spatial distinction is dependent on what each person identifies as “home” and, thus, the threshold where the long-term moral order begins. This effectively disturbs the distinction between kampung as the space of long-term moral order and rantau as that of the morally undecided short-term order. For Sri home was, in an important sense, defined by the place where she lived with her children. Similarly, Tirta sensed that the place where he lived with Reni should not be part of the short-term sphere. These cases make it particularly evident that people who are engaged in what the state identifies as liar marriages are most certainly concerned with moral order.
For many women, their greatest fear is that rumors of their work as prostitutes will spread back to the kampung. In the rantau the kampung potentially reappears; this is, for instance, a source of Dewi’s malu. What haunts her is not primarily the violation of religious norms—“Whatever work I do,” she tells me, “the Lord will be just”—but rather being recognized by members of her own community as abnormal, thereby destroying her family’s reputation. Dewi says that for her father, “malu is worse then death,” making explicit an emotional and moral economy that she must constantly respect. This is why she has become liar and refuses to localize herself as a prostitute. This is also why she sells fish cake on the street; it gives her an identity that she can present to people who do not know that she works as a prostitute.
Like most other migrants on Batam, Dewi claims that when she has (p.97) saved enough money she will stop being a prostitute and return home in order to open a small shop or business. Twenty million rupiah (about twenty-two hundred U.S. dollars), she suggested, seemed like a reasonable amount. But when I last saw her in 2005 this goal appeared to be far off, and she still did not have a bank account after more than a decade on Batam. What little she can save each month she sends to her parents, who care for her children. Without this money she cannot return home, since she has to prove to her parents and to people in her village that she can succeed in the rantau. This malu, she tells me, is more powerful than the malu she experiences as a prostitute. This is the emotional double-bind that places Dewi and many other migrants on Batam in a perpetual state of liminality—a liminality that positions them in the underclass, outside the promises of development.
(1.) Reports state that shabu-shabu (crystal methamphetamine) and putauw (heroin) may be the new drugs of distinction throughout Indonesia (e.g., Jakarta Post, October 1, 2000). On Batam, however, through 2005, Ecstasy remained the key drug in Batam’s nightclubs.
(2.) To book refers to hiring a prostitute. Although it is an English word, it is in italics since John uses it when he speaks English or Malay.
(3.) For women in the discos who have a mami, the going rate is thirty thousand rupiah per hour for sitting with the woman in the disco and four hundred thousand rupiah for booking out all night. For freelance prostitutes prices are more flexible and depend on the prostitute’s and client’s bargaining abilities. In general, prices appear to be lower, but the women can keep all the money they make. These prices have remained relatively stable through 2005.
(4.) Academic research concerning prostitution has been plagued by debates concerning agency and structure, which, more specifically, have revolved around representations of the prostitute as “sex worker” or “victim” (e.g., Doezema 1998). Murray (1991, 108), for instance, has argued that for many lower-class women in Jakarta, becoming a prostitute is a rational choice that affords them the possibility of making more money than they could otherwise, at the same time allowing them freedom from social restraints. In this book I avoid simplistic dichotomies between “free will” and “deterministic constraints” in the context of prostitution. Instead, (p.163) I attempt to shift the terms of debates by situating factory workers and prostitutes within a common frame of analysis through descriptions of their lives, rather than beginning with a priori assumptions. For discussions along these lines, see Law (1997, 261) on Southeast Asia and Brennan’s (2004, 22–25) study of the Dominican Republic. It is also informative to compare Muecke’s (1992) and Lyttleton’s (1994) discussions of prostitution in Thailand.
(5.) During my time on Batam I heard many different stories from women about how they became involved in prostitution. The motif of the middleman who finds and lures women into prostitution by promising a good job in a restaurant with a high salary and a modern lifestyle close to Singapore is a common one in arrival stories. I doubted the stories of some women, but many had certainly been lured to Batam under more or less false pretenses. More obviously, many women are bound to karaoke bars and brothels through systems of debt-bondage labor, which is generally tolerated, and perhaps supported, by the authorities.
(6.) Although prostitution is officially against the law, the Indonesian government policy is one of tolerance, and the act of selling sex is not subject to criminal prosecution (Sunindyo 1993, 4). Instead, the state, following the Dutch colonial tradition, has attempted to localize prostitution in brothel complexes and establish “rehabilitation centers.” The regulation of prostitution is “largely determined by health and public-order rather than moral considerations” (Jones et al. 1995, 10). Some estimates put the number of prostitutes in Indonesia ca. 1993 between 140,000 and 230,000 (1995, 10). In relation to broader socioeconomic changes in Indonesia, Jones and his colleagues argue that the diminishing importance of the agricultural sector and the feminization of the rantau, beginning in the late 1960s and 1970s, have been important forces in the expansion of prostitution throughout Indonesia. They also suggest that the high rate of divorce on Java has facilitated the entry of women into prostitution (1995, 8–9). In the 1950s West Java—the most common geographical origin of prostitutes in lokalisasi around Indonesia—had among the highest rates of divorce in the world (G. Jones 1994).
(7.) In one case it was reported in the local newspaper that a police raid had succeeded in “putting in order 87 liar prostitutes.” The women were given a choice: either enter one of the quasi-official lokalisasi or return to their place of origin (kampung) (Riau Pos, June 5, 1998).
(9.) The concern with order can also be seen in attempts to create regulations in other environments (e.g., Jones et al. 1995, 13). For instance, consider the following two regulations (from a list of ten) that government officials posted in all hotels in the town of Tanjung Balai on the nearby island of Karimun in 1999, in the wake of public protests against prostitution: 2) Pramuria [prostitutes] may not wear clothing that is impolite (tidak sopan) while in the hotel or in public spaces; and 4) Pramuria may not smoke while walking in public spaces.
(10.) In fact, Corbin’s description of the maison de tolérance in nineteenth-century France could very well characterize the official view of prostitution in contemporary Indonesia (and Singapore). “Debauchery, defined as the abusive use of sex, of money, of oneself, sometimes invaded the home and private life. Yet it could be got rid of at the brothel; such at least was the hope and intent of the apostles of regulationism, the true creators of the registered brothel—the maison de tolérance” (1990, xv).
(12.) It is a well-known joke on Batam that the only power the local government (Pemda, now Pemko) has, at least prior to the process of political decentralization in Indonesia, is to make identity cards. See the article in Bisnis Indonesia (April 21, 1994) titled “The Identity Card Business, Sex and Imported Goods: Other Sides of Life on Batam.”
(13.) The behavior associated with tripping has even become part of a cultural repertoire, as one frequently sees people moving their heads back and forth, simulating the experience of being on. In a particularly memorable episode in my living room, a young mother rocked her three-month-old baby so that the head moved back and forth and jokingly said that it looked like she was tripping. Everyone present, including the grandmother, laughed together. For another example, see Barker (1999b, 189, n. 26).
(14.) The basic recipe for Long Island iced tea is equal portions vodka, gin, triple sec, rum, tequila, and some cola.
(15.) Kruhse-Mount Burton (1995, 193) makes a similar point in relation to Southeast Asian sex tourism in Australia. There, “prostitution is often appraised by clients as deficient, in that prostitutes are criticized for being emotionally and sexually cold and for making little effort to please, or to disguise the commercial nature of the interaction. Men appear to find the latter aspect particularly demeaning since it highlights the failure to find a willing and satisfactory free partner.”
(16.) For studies that address this issue in Southeast Asia, see Anna Tsing’s chapter, “Alien Romance,” in The Realm of the Diamond Queen (1993), and Lisa Law’s chapter, “Negotiating the Bar,” in Sex Work in Southeast Asia (2000).
(17.) Ecstasy is illegal in Indonesia, and police raids on discos and small-scale production units were increasingly reported in the media as it became one of the drugs of choice in discos throughout the country. On Batam arrests are usually made outside of discos (Sijori Pos, December 1, 1999), while transactions appear to continue uninterrupted inside. The rare arrests in Ozon and other discos are usually of Singaporeans, who express surprise since “everyone else” is using it (Straits Times, November 8, 1999).
(19.) In the disco Ecstasy generates distinctions between clients and prostitutes alike by becoming a sign that one is gengsi (hip). Not being on, therefore, can also become a source of malu in relation to other prostitutes, since it can be seen as a sign that one cannot access the drug, implying that one cannot get a client or afford to buy it. Ecstasy can also function as a kind of antidepressant outside of the disco, as many women and their male partners would take it at home.
(23.) In their study of prostitution in Indonesia, Jones and his colleagues note that “it is difficult to give even a rough estimate of the economic significance of the sex industry, and the amount of money that changes hands over the course of year through its activities” (1995, 46). Still, they estimate that the average net monthly earnings for prostitutes range between 200,000 rupiah in the low-class sector, to 1.2 million rupiah in the middle-class sector, to 2 million rupiah in the high-class sector. This was, however, at a time when the exchange rate to the U.S. dollar hovered around 2,200 rather than 9,000. These figures, therefore, offer little guidance for understanding the current situation on Batam and probably Indonesia as a whole.
(24.) This logic is also obvious in the strategies of taxi drivers, such as the one I mentioned on the first page of the chapter.