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Published: February 11th 2012
The last few days were spent in Bogor, a city about an hour outside of Jakarta that was the first to implement a policy banning smoking in public spaces. In 3 days we had meetings with the City Health Department, walked through a local clinic (where many people had TB—good thing I get tested for it after each trip), talked with the chief of the civil police, visited an anti-tobacco NGO, and met with the local media. We were at the NGO when the media came for our meeting We just wanted to ask them a few questions about their coverage of the policy and enforcement and community reactions, but they ended up photographing and video recording us, furiously taking notes when we were the ones looking for information.
The journalist from an online news source showed up in a T-shirt advertising a cigarette company, and was quickly embarrassed when he realized what the meeting was about. Someone handed him a sweatshirt to put over it.
After the meeting, everyone wanted their photo taken with me—the NGO staff, my research staff, the young media guys with trendy haircuts and clothes. The director of the NGO pinned a no smoking
pin on me as everyone stood around taking photos. Then the 2 women working for the NGO wanted a photo with just us women. I felt very welcomed, but the attention made me a bit uncomfortable. They served us bottled water and Dunkin Donuts.
The other thing we did while in Bogor was to take photos of people smoking. Men smoking in front of women (including a pregnant woman), in front of children, and very young teens puffing away. When we went to the police station, all of the officers were outside smoking in front of no-smoking signs. I was not sly enough to get a photo. But a white woman walking around taking photos of smokers drew a lot of attention. Some people waved me down to take photos of them; others were too embarrassed.
Bogor is a much smaller city than Jakarta, and while very compact and crowded, it is rather nice with a presidential palace in the middle and a botanical garden. The Dutch hotel I stayed in needed a major makeover, and my AC was not functioning properly the first night, which made it a bit uncomfortable. There were automatic air fresheners in the
elevator and hallway that had a scent that made me gag every time they went off. There are some restaurants suitable to international standards, but the food is disappointing compared to Jakarta. My driver took me to a mall food court the one day for lunch, but all of the menus were in Bahasa and the food itself was unidentifiable. People watched as I tried to figure out what to eat, finally settling on fried chicken and fries. One of the restaurants (Salak Sunset Café) has a beautiful view of Mount Salak and the city, but it was cloudy the night I went so the sunset was nothing special. A young Indonesian guy sat down next to me and lit a cigarette, looking very jumpy. He asked the usual questions—where are you from? What are you doing here? And when he found out I was studying no-smoking policies, he told me I should give him my number so I could give him advice later on how to quit smoking. Smooth.
Today we arrived in Palembang, a city in South Sumatra with a population of 1.5 million. It is not as scenic as Bogor, nor is it as compact. But
my hotel is nicer, and there is a lounge singer in the lobby tonight who keeps pronouncing her y’s like j’s. So every time she says “you” I think she is saying “Jew.” “I will always love Jew.” “Would Jew know my name if I saw Jew in heaven?” Some guys hanging out in the lobby caught me snickering to myself.
The food here sucks though. My research assistant doesn’t know of anywhere safe for me to eat, other than McDonald’s, KFC, or Pizza Hut. Everything else is what they call “traditional restaurants”, meaning a cook stands over one gas burner frying up something while everyone sits on plastic furniture under open air rooms. So we had dinner at Pizza Hut tonight. The servers were young people dressed in uniform with modern hair and accessories. Every time they served us food they would bow their heads and hold their hands in the prayer gesture.
My research assistant and I discussed government corruption, housing prices, and societal expectations for marriage over dinner. He was shocked to find out that Obama makes around $300,000 per year. I was shocked to find out some Indonesians own 5 cars, including Hummers and
Ferraris. But these conversations about cultural differences are what I love most about my travels.
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