Last year the world was shocked and amazed by a video of a 3 or 4 year old Indonesian gendut boy smoking a cigarette while his parents sat beside him laughing. While this held the people’s fascination for as long as a youtube video can, and instilled a new false stereotype in a world gone wrong about Indonesian parenting practices, what can’t be denied is that Indonesia may be the last bastion for smokers.
While the rest of the world’s smokers are banished outdoors, hovering together shamefully in the rain sucking down their fumes before they can re-enter their homes, bars, offices and malls and lighting up as soon as they get off the train, where they can no longer smoke in their cars and are at risk of strangers yelling at them to butt out, or looking at them like they just committed a murder most foul, Indonesia is a place where smokers rule.
Here there is no shame at all in smoking and you can light up on the bus, on your bike, in the cafes and malls. Of course with the rest of the world quitting, there are times when you hear that Indonesia is attempting to ban smoking in public places, but then despair when those trying to make those changes go into the government offices and everyone is sitting inside them enjoying another cigarette. It is one of those places where there are ‘no smoking’ signs everywhere, but beside the sign, is a group of men enjoying a cigarette.
Sometimes you go into a mall and are told that it is now a non-smoking venue, but the next time you go back, there are ashtrays on the table. I couldn’t imagine a poorly paid staff member at a Star Bucks in Grand Indonesia telling one of the grand dames of Jakarta with her Chanel bags spread out all around her, to put out her cigarette.
Here, you are not at risk of getting in trouble for smoking or for a person telling you that you are poisoning them. In fact, it is very safe to enter any person’s house smoking a cigarette and ash on any plate you can find. And you can throw your still lit butts out the window. The idea of smoking being a health risk, or a dangerous practice, or the risks of second hand smoking or keeping children away from the poisonous smoke, has seemingly not yet entered into the subconscious of Indonesia.
In Indonesia, if you are a man, you should smoke. If you are a middle class woman who wants to look sophisticated, you should smoke too. It’s not for poor women, but they will certainly light their husband’s and father’s cigarettes for them and sit uncomplaining while the smoke blows over them.
Cigarettes are cheap and the Indonesian ones contain cloves which crackle when they are lit and blow sparks so that your clothes are covered in little burn holes. My friend thinks they put an extra dose of addiction in them cause when she came and light her first Sampoerna cigarette (which means perfect) she instantly feels the need to light another. Whether this is true or not, will remain a mystery as the cigarette companies shake hands with the government and put up another billboard across the city and sponsor every concert, sporting event and family fair throughout the country.
So in Jakarta, where 20 million people squeeze into this heaving city which cracks and falls apart, where the air is thick with diesel fumes and pollution, where the majority of people are disempowered and poor, one of their only rights may be the right to smoke. So suck it up non-smokers. Come to Jakarta and enjoy another Sampoerna day. No basa basi.