Society

My Close Encounter With A 'Tinder-Surfer'

A Bogota lawyer's foray into the world of online dating opened her eyes to 'Tinder-surfing' — couch-surfing with benefits — as practiced by a semi-celebrity Belgian named 'Zebotta.'

Careful how you're swiping
Erika Rodríguez Gómez

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ A few months back I decided to carry out a little experiment on male conduct on Tinder. That's the dating website that allows you, if you "like" someone's profile and they reciprocate, to meet up with the person and then take if from there, depending on what you're up for. For some, it's a way to play the field. Others use Tinder to find the love of their life.

My motivation for opening an account was that my (former) boyfriend was cheating on me. What I needed, I decided, was to pick up some casual partners the way I might pick up a few items at the drugstore. But contrary to popular belief, I discovered that the people you find on Tinder aren't libertines in search of super-open, polyamorous relationships. Instead, they're regular people who are just into online dating.

I found that the most experienced members (and let's be clear, they are men), start the interaction with a useful question like "What are you looking for?" Focused on my research/recovery, I would answer with an equally useful "Going with the flow," which opened the door to all manner of conversations, dates, and men.

Paradoxically, the person with whom I did not have a real date — the notorious Anthony Botta, or Zebotta, the Belgian who has used Tinder to get free travel lodgings and coined the slogan "Every day is a date" — turned out to be the climax of my ethnographic inquiry.

Obtaining a match, he sent me three heart emoticons and the message, "you're my first match in Colombia." His looked like a winning profile from the start, with a specially designed sequence that includes an arrow penetrating a paper that says "your heart," and concludes with a computerized picture of himself. Perhaps a little overdone, I thought, but interesting. So I replied, "mmm, don't believe you because your profile's a bit flashy, anyway, glad about the match."

His reply was terse, "Do you know Tinder Surfer?" I searched it quickly on Google and found he had invented something called "Tinder-surfing." Sexist, was the first thing I thought about a guy teaching people to travel without spending money in hotels, while turning into a local Casanova. Just the idea of a man choosing women as if he were picking from a herd of animals, and letting her become his next hostess and more, sounds pathetic. He'd done it in Europe and had now chosen Colombia as his first Latin American destination.

After exchanging a couple of messages on WhatsApp, we arranged two dates for which he never showed. He must have sensed I might meet him with friends who would ask him why he wasn't just couch-surfing — using the application for people who simply host each other on a spare bed or couch — or question how he has the gall to say that he usually spends just one night with most women, but would stay a week in their homes "if there was chemistry."

Come on, traveling the world with free lodgings and added sex, booze and food is something only men could think of. Or does one imagine girls on Tinder daring to embark on the same adventure in a world where women are raped and murdered every day? Zebotta himself advises it's not for us women, as it could be "a little dangerous."

A woman's goal shouldn't be to seek male approval, either in the real or digital worlds.

And let us not fall into the facile argument of, "nobody is forcing you to lodge him," for it distracts from the inherent, conceptual problem with Tinder-surfing. The "pretty foreign celebrity's' attitude was no surprise. Just a few words, a skyrocketing Don Juan ego and some bland, ineffective insinuations about what Tinder can, admittedly, give you: a bit of fun, no strings attached, provided you know what men want.

Anthony is not honest for telling you from the start what Tinder-surfing is. He does not really give you the option of deciding whether or not to host him, but informs you he is a "famous' traveler and you're lucky to have been chosen. It is an opportunity to appear for three seconds on one of his networking sites. Seriously: are there women lodging and paying to entertain a YouTube traveler who depicts their lives as comical?

Zebotta is turning into a brand, and firms are making all sorts of offers so he will promote their products. He is on the verge of no longer needing to strive, seduce and walk into a range of filmed situations to get a bed, and likely breakfast the next day, even though his ally, our sexist culture, applauded his conquests while he did.

Like all settings where power relationships are established, Tinder is an application steeped in gender, class and racial discriminations, because it gives status to those who fit best into hegemonic beauty conceptions and who best expose their "interesting and successful" lives.

A woman's goal shouldn't be to please men or seek male approval, either in the real or digital worlds. While liquid modernity allows us to enjoy a casual night with one, two or even three men and throw them out the house the next day, it should also allow us to have egalitarian and fair relationships wherein we are not just a handy tool for "brilliant adventurers."

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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