Indonesia days: second-hand smoke

The part about Indonesia is coming up, but first a little intro:

As a devout Mormon all my life, just being around second-hand cigaret smoke has always literally been somewhat sickening to me…and for those of you too young to remember when smoking was allowed on commercial airlines, you can’t imagine:

  • How hard it was to hold your breath for a five-hour flight from the U.S. west coast to Hawaii, for example. Once on a Western [now defunct] flight from LAX to Honolulu, the plane was delayed at the gate for over two hours, so they let all the smokers light up. Finally, enough non-smokers begged hard enough that the flight attendants actually opened the cabin door to let a little fresh air in.
  • How many meals in restaurants were ruined for me when somebody would light up at the next table.
  • How many professors and classmates at the University of Hawaii/Manoa disregarded the “no smoking” signs and policies in campus classrooms in those days (in fact, when it came time to take my two-day eight-hours master’s written comprehensive exams, I made a special request for a true non-smoking room…and was surprised when the majority of my classmates joined me in there).
  • …or how I would come home from work in Waikiki with my hair, clothes and exposed skin reeking of second-hand smoke — and quite often a big headache as well — after sitting in smoke-filled rooms.

As anti-smoking campaigns gained ground over the years, airlines and restaurants instituted “no-smoking” sections: But what a joke, as if we weren’t all breathing the same air. I’ve been fortunate to live and breathe for quite a few years in places where there’s very little tobacco smoke; and Hawaii — like many other places in the U.S. — now has strong anti-smoking-in-public laws. Things are much better, but that is only recent modern history.

So, on to the Indonesia part: Like most non-smokers in those days, I just endured all the times I had to breathe second-hand smoke. There was no alternative; and as bad as it was in the U.S., second-hand smoke conditions overseas were even worse. They still are: Public smoking was rampant during my recent travels in Japan, Korea and China, for example.

Certainly that was the case when I went to live in Bandung, Indonesia — located in West Java about 120 miles southeast of Jakarta — as a U.S. Fulbright lecturer in English language during the 1975-76 school year. The majority of people (including quite a few little kids — always a surprising sight to me) smoked in Indonesia, as did some of my American compatriots in the USIS section of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta (the United States Information Agency, USIA, was called the U.S. Information Service (USIS) overseas; and Fulbright lecturers — at least those of us in Indonesia — were attached to that agency as part of a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and their government).

My main teaching assignment was at IKIP Bandung (although I soon made my own arrangements to also teach at ITB and Universitas Padjajaran).  Just a note: Indonesians loved acronyms, possibly because many of the words were relatively long, and newspapers had so many they looked like today’s modern text messages. Anyhow, I’ve forgotten exactly what IKIP stood for, but translated it was something like the Institute for Pedagogy and Instruction in Bandung —  and is now called, I believe, Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (UPI: Indonesia University of Education) that is billed as the country’s “oldest educational and teacher training university.” Modern UPI is nothing like the campus I taught at…but that’s another story.

So, the stage is almost set: You know my feelings about second-hand smoke (Kashihan dan mari minta ma’af  kepada orang-orang yang masih rokok), and I’m about to start my first English language faculty meeting. There were about 10 of us in a moderate-sized room, and our department chair — Pak Jusuf [‘j’ in those days was pronounced as a ‘y’, after the manner of Dutch; in modern Indonesian orthography ‘j’ is like an English ‘j’, which used to be spelled ‘dj’ in my day] — provided my first experience with kretek second-hand smoke:

Kretek are Indonesian cigarets made primarily with a combination of local tobacco and cloves, plus some other ingredients. That’s right, cloves — those little dark, woody spice things that are sometimes shoved into ham and other meats to impart extra piquant flavor. For centuries Indonesia has been famous for exporting all kinds spices (as in the Spice Islands, or the Maluku group, that are part of the archipelago), such as the extra-rich cinnamon that goes into Cinnabons.

One of the things that made second-hand smoke as bearable as it gets for a non-smoker in an enclosed space is the fact that most U.S. cigarets don’t last very long — a few minutes. So, imagine my surprise to discover that a single kretek left burning in an ash tray, as Pak Jusuf would often do as we sat in faculty meetings, lasted about 20 minutes. It had to have been the cloves inside…and he would chain-smoke them, at least whenever I saw him.

Thankfully, our meetings rarely ran more than an hour, and there must have been a djangan rokok — “no smoking” — policy in the classroom, because I don’t remember the college students smoking until they got outside. But faculty meetings, from the first to the last one I attended, were always filled with potent, sickly clove-scented smoke.

One other recollection about cigarets in Indonesia: There was a sub-class of street kids — I mean they were dirty, dressed in ragged clothes and quite a few of them must have been homeless because they literally slept on the streets at night — sometimes in doorways but as often as not right on the sidewalk up against a wall, wrapped in their kain or sarongs (just like a big lavalava) — and very poor people in Bandung whose “job” was to go around collecting cigaret butts, which they would recycle. Really. Now there’s an appetizing thought . . . even for smokers.

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