Looking for a no-smoking zone in Indonesia

A website sent in by a reader seems to be a compilation of pictures of Indonesian men smoking in shops. It happens all the time and there’s nothing non-smokers can do except leave the shop. You’d have more luck asking the pope to dance the can-can than getting one of these guys to stub out their cigarettes or take it outside.

Check it out – http://itcroxymasjakarta.wordpress.com

I recently took a friend to Cork and Screw (Kuningan), an up-market wine bar and restaurant in Jakarta, and asked if they had a non-smoking area. The waiter, all dressed up like he was on the Champs Elysees, looked bemused and had to think about what we meant. Finally he told us that if we didn’t like cigarette smoke we could eat dinner  out on the service bar near the cash register. In other words they didn’t have a non-smoking area. The waiter explained that it was a wine bar, and people like to smoke when they drink wine.

Silly me, thinking that a restaurant in the 21st century that aspires to be cosmopolitan and sophisticated would have a non-smoking area. In other countries, of course, I might have trouble finding a smoking area, because the whole restaurant would be a smoke-free, healthy breathing kind of place. But no, this is Indonesia, and it has a very, very long way to go.

It was early and not very busy so my friend and I decided to put up with the smoke and eat anyway. We ordered a hugely overpriced bottle of wine (alcohol is the drink of the devil and rich foreigners, you see, so it is subject to massive taxes in mainly Muslim Indonesia) and asked for the menus. When the wine came we tasted it and both agreed it was off. It had soured, probably because it had been exposed to varying temperatures as it was transported from Australia. The waiter didn’t know what we were talking about, and offered to give it to us in different glasses. We said no thanks. Then a more senior waiter came over and said he would have to get the restaurant’s in-house “sommelier” to taste the wine. I watched as he took the bottle over to a guy who was smoking cigarettes at the bar with a woman, who was also smoking and drinking a giant fruit cocktail with a pink umbrella. The “sommelier” swished a bit of wine around in his glass and had a couple of gulps, but seemed unable to decide if it was OK. He gave the glass to one of the bar tenders who also had a swig before passing it over to a third bar tender for yet another taste. Strange sort of sommelier, I thought to myself. Low self-esteem, perhaps? Lacking confidence? Anyway, the waiter brought the bottle back to us and told us the wine was in fact good. We said no thanks, the wine was in fact off. Then the restaurant’s manager come over and had a taste himself. He said maybe it would be better if he chilled it for us for precisely two minutes. We said no thanks that would make no difference at all. So the manager said he would talk to his number-one sommelier, the really serious expert in the house, who ended up being the woman I’d noticed smoking at the bar. She put down her fruit cocktail and cigarette and had a sip, then another, etc etc etc. Finally she came over and said the wine was good. I told her the wine was not good and we weren’t going to pay for it. By this stage my friend and I were laughing. At least they had the decency to accept our position, but it took an awful lot of rather silly posturing before they did.

My friend and I concluded that it’s a waste of time trying to buy wine with a meal in an Indonesian restaurant unless you want to pay about $80 for a $30-dollar bottle. Otherwise, you pay $40 for the cheapest plonk they have. As for trying to escape the smokers, forget it.

Meanwhile the country continues to bow to Big Tobacco and sidestep meaningful reform to its smoking regulations that would bring it in line with the rest of the world. The latest news is that regulations to limit cigarette advertising will not be brought in as planned because of “technicalities”.  As Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, told the Jakarta Globe, the government’s decision contradicted the Health Law.

The law clearly states tobacco as an addictive substance and clearly addictive substances should not be advertised. The government should ask themselves, what do they care about more, income or the future or our children?

If you go to that Jakarta Globe link, check out the comment from the religious nut regarding tobacco and the Koran. Smoking  can “stop you from the sole purpose of having been sent to the world, namely the remembrance of Allah”.

I don’t know about you, but I can think of a few other reasons to live.

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