Exercising Empathy

What I continually find perplexing is understanding what forms the habitual behaviours of smokers. Why do people choose to smoke? What causes someone to light up a cigarette at a given specific time? Why do some days consist of far more or less cigarettes than others? What auditory and ocular inputs create an urge for nicotine? Is it something more than this? What’s evident in plain sight and what isn’t.

This exercise is a two part process, firstly I wanted to utilise the opportunity to walk around the crowded and beautiful streets in Surabaya’s varying districts and look inward to attempt to identify when I felt like smoking and what form that took. After identifying the ‘triggers’ within myself I am interested to compare them to others. Other Australians, people in different age groups and people from the Indonesian culture as I am sure there are many significant cultural triggers, assumptions, interpretations of situations and rationals behind smoking. None the less here are my initial reflections from my group walk around Surabaya. 

The map below displays the general area of Surabaya and its three main regions. The line shows the route we took and also depicts the time of day. The orange areas indicate spaces or contexts in which I wanted to smoke, and purple areas show areas I particularly did not want to smoke. All other areas are neutral. 

Figure a. Representative map of the walking tour and internal emotions towards smoking.

Main observations:

  • Religious and Respected Areas: Out of all the areas I definitely did not want to smoke in any religious areas. They felt sacred and it felt a place that smoking didn’t belong, perhaps being something that I find very light hearted – I think the ‘energy’ of both of these activities would of clashed. The same went for when we were inside the Arabic clothing markets, I felt smoking here would of been disrespectful even though I saw other people doing so.

    Figure b. Chinese Temple in Chinese Quarter


  • Smoking Socially: In new social situations like all of the cafes, or when we stopped together to eat I definitely felt inclined to smoke but it would of had to been with people. The time I most felt like this was in the cafe where we stopped for coffee with a large group of locals. Not being able to speak the language, I think it would of been something to establish a line of communication through something shared.

    Figure c. Social Cafe “Warkop Sarkam” where we sat with locals and drank coffee. (Nelson, 2018)


  • Being amongst the workers: Surprisingly despite all the unfamiliar smells, high temperature and physical exertion of walking I felt like smoking in all of the labour intensive market areas. I think if I was actually working that urge would be much more intense. I believe that there is a shared sense of camaraderie in smoking in a labour intensive workplace. There are shared struggles and triumphs but I feel these are rarely verbally communicated. I feel as if smoking here is a unified way of sharing something tangible – as if it enables acknowledgement of ‘the grind’.

    Figure d. One of the workers in the street communicating non-verbally. (Goodridge, 2018)


There is much to write about and reflect on with this experience, but this is a starting point to sparking new conversations about whats beneath smoking and what it stands for and symbolises. I very much look forward to conversing with people who smoke in Indonesian culture and finding the similarities and differences between people to gain deeper insights on the “Why” around all this. 



Resource Maps:

Sylvia, A 2016, Europe Quater of Surabaya, Pamphlet, Pertigaan Map

Sylvia, A 2016, Chinese Quater of Surabaya, Pamphlet, Pertigaan Map

Sylvia, A 2016, Arabic Quater of Surabaya, Pamphlet, Pertigaan Map


Golik, S., 2017. Mapping the reality of the world – Mapfit - Moving maps forward – Medium. medium.com. Available at: https://medium.com/mapfit/mapping-the-reality-of-the-world-df7ad81ccb54 [Accessed December 6, 2018].

Ferguson, P.P. 1994, The flâneur on and off the streets of Paris. In Tester, K. (ed) The flãneur. London: Routledge, pp.23-42.

Elkin, L., (2016). A tribute to female flâneurs: the women who reclaimed our streets – The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jul/29/female-flaneur-women-reclaim-streets [Accessed December 6, 2018].

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