When walking around Jogja 2 nursing students Naila and Elma asked to interview us on HIV for their university project. In return we asked them some questions about their opinions on tobacco in Indonesia. It was great to hear a nuanced perspective which was from a young person who understood youth culture, as well as well health students who were highly educated on tobaccos’ effects on the body.
When I asked Naila what her opinion was on smoking she gave me a lengthy and well educated reply. She talked about the way that cigarette smoke makes up a large portion of the air pollution in Indonesia. It is the most important indoor air pollutant (Mangunnegoro and Sutoyo 1996). She also stated that passive smoking is more dangerous than active smoking. This shocked me and was something I hadn’t heard before. When I did some research later this checked out and I found that the smoke which hasn’t passed through the filter of the cigarette has more harmful chemicals than the smoke that the active smoker is inhaling (Cleveland Clinic 2017). Naila also said that 90% of tuberculosis cases in Indonesia are caused from smoking.
We then went on to talk about why people smoke in Indonesia. I wanted to know if people knew the risks or not. She said that they usually do, however people like her father have trouble quitting because they are already deeply addicted. Elma then told me that it took a big scare with lung disease in her family for everyone to stop smoking. None of them smoke anymore, however it is a concerning truth that it may take many smokers a brush with death to realise the reality of the health effects of tobacco.
When speaking about child smoking Naila said that the main reason kids smoke is by association. They see family and peers smoking and because they haven’t been educated about the risks yet they try it out. She called teens ‘labil’ which translates to unstable. Teen brains are much more likely to take risks, especially when around peers (Bessant, 2008). Naila believed that it’s perceived as ‘cool’ to smoke and some kids feel left out if they refuse.
This interview shed light on some new facts I didn’t know about and solidified ideas we already had. Naila had some interesting facts about tobacco that she had learnt at university which we hadn’t heard before. As well as some important insight into youth tobacco culture.
Bessant, J. 2008. Hard wired for risk: Neurological science,‘the adolescent brain’and developmental theory. Journal of Youth Studies, 11(3), pp.347-360.
Our group’s project is to study the tobacco problem in UMY. So, we did observations and interviews in the UMY campus. I picked up some details when I was making observations on the campus. For example, there are many non-smoking signs on the campus. I found many no-smoking signs on the walls and pillars. No-smoking signs were also found in the student activity area behind the main building. This is a smoke-free campus. Through research, we learned that national policies of Indonesia include: Prohibit smoking on public transit and in healthcare facilities, educational facilities, and places of worship (The Union, 2019). The Faculty of Sociology and Politics, University of Indonesia (UI) has announced that the UI has become a 100% smoke-free campus (SEATCA, 2019). The policy of banning smoking in universities can effectively educate students about the dangers of smoking and protect the health of non-smokers. It’s a very good rule. But I still have a question, will the students strictly abide by the smoking rules? So, I interviewed three kinds of people: a female student, two male students, and a tutor.
That girl, Ayu, is a non-smoker. She said there is no smoker in her family, so neither she nor her brother is a smoker. This reminds me of the previous research on children’s smoking. Most children and teenagers’ smokers are influenced by their families. At the same time, she says, many of her peers started smoking at age 8. This just shows the serious problem of underage smoking in Indonesia. When I asked Ayu is the smoking signs in her school are working well, she hesitated for a moment before replying: “These smoking signs are not useful.” She was resigned to the situation.
The second interviewer is two boys who often smoking. They were coming merrily down the corridor. I quickly stopped them to ask about the smoking problem on campus. They said they had just finished smoking and were ready to return to class. I was very surprised. They say many classmates will smoke on campus and few will ban smoking. “Because there is no punishment for smoking at all.” said one of the boys. Another boy said his reason for smoking was to fit in with classmates and friends. In Indonesia, smoking is a social tool among boys. If you can’t smoke, you’re not a ‘cool guy’. That reason brings us to a solution. Perhaps, through the design, we can change the way that people think about smoking, and provide these students with an alternative to smoking?
The third interviewer was a tutor. We told him gently that there was smoking on campus. However, he was not surprised at all. He said that he tried to stop it yet, but he can’t change anything. The school doesn’t have any punishment for smoking. The education bureau does not allow them to take any form of punishment. And that gives us a little bit of inspiration. Designers can ‘reward’ students for choosing not to smoke.
I think these three interviews are very important, they help us to know more about the truth of the smoking status on campus and combine these realities to design. In order to change the long-term smoking status in Indonesia and protect the health of non-smokers, society and universities must implement smoke-free policies (Kaufman, Merritt, Rimbatmaja and Cohen, 2014). So, we decided to combine this information to design a truly smoke-free campus.
Kaufman, M., Merritt, A., Rimbatmaja, R. and Cohen, J. 2014, ‘Excuse me, sir. Please don’t smoke here’. A qualitative study of social enforcement of smoke-free policies in Indonesia, Health Policy and Planning, vol 30, no 8, pp.995-1002, viewed <https://doi.org/10.1093/heapol/czu103>.
After months of research, I finally witnessed Indonesia’s tobacco culture first-hand, after recently returning from a two week adventure to Java, Indonesia. From vivid billboards and consistent banner displays of tobacco advertising to the tourist attraction of Malioboro Street, covered with smokers who continue to contribute to the existing second-hand smoke within the area. The problem of tobacco in Indonesia is certainly one that is wicked and complex. I sat down with Dhohri, a Yogyakarta local and staff member at the hotel Jogja Village Inn to gain more insight on the issue and a supposed “way of life.”
I first met Dhohri when going out for lunch to Jogja Village Inn’s ‘Secang Bistro’ with a bunch of other individuals also on the university studio. His welcoming and friendly nature created an inviting presence and was a reflection of the kind-spirited and hospitable Indonesian folk I had already met across my travels. Shocked by the number of young tourists in front of him, he was interested in knowing about our visit to Yogyakarta. When I responded with “a project on tobacco” he looked in confusion and asked “why would you come to Indonesia to study tobacco?” After explaining how tobacco is a huge issue in Indonesia and our motive was to create design ideas that implement anti-smoking, he agreed that the majority of Indonesians are smokers and continued to add that “smoking pollutes the air”, highlighting smoking’s affect on others. To date, there are about 66 million active smokers and approximately 90 million passive smokers. (Afifa, 2019) Vital Strategies powerful campaign #SuaraTanpaRokok (Voices without Cigarettes) included a video of the recently deceased spokesman Pak Topo, who targeted smokers stating “I’m not a smoker. There are no smokers in my family. I also lead a healthy lifestyle… Maybe one of the causes [of my lung cancer] was that I’m a passive smoker…” (Topo, 2018)
In my conversation with Dhohri, I continued to ask him about his personal lifestyle. I learnt that he was a non-smoker and had a wife and two children. His 15 year old son also does not smoke because he attends an “educated and international school,” further implying that ones education and socioeconomic status correlates to the odds of smoking. A 2018 study has shown that adolescents in the poorest quintile had more than twice the odds of smoking compared with adolescents from the richest quintile (Global Health Action, 2018) When questioned as to why he doesn’t smoke he responded that “it is not healthy” and mentioned that Indonesians are ill informed of the health impacts. However, he went on to add that “smoking is a tradition…it is a way of life…many do it socially.” Laughing in response to my question of what could we could do to change the smoking scene, he said “it is too difficult to change…”
Kusumawardani,N., Tarigan, I., Schlotheuber, A., 2018, ‘Socio-economic, demographic and geographic correlates of cigarette smoking among Indonesian adolescents: results from the 2013 Indonesian Basic Health Research (RISKESDAS) survey’, Global Health Action, vol.11, viewed 19th December 2019,<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5990951/>.
A trip to Banjarmasin, Indonesia has shown me many interesting perspectives of the country I thought I knew. Fortunate with the opportunity to grow up in two contrasting countries, Australia and Indonesia, I have witnessed the difference of smoking culture and the attitudes surrounding “Rokok”.From living in Australia, where Rokok would be heavily criticised, coming to Indonesia and experiencing first hand the Rokok culture has been astonishing. Many young Indonesians in Banjarmasin still believe that smoking is a symbol of masculinity and bravery (Ng 2006). This belief is also true for Junaidi, my interviewee, from a young age.
(source: Nicholl 2017)
Junaidi is a 43 year old man who worked in Menara Pandang as a page during our stay in Banjarmasin. His stories revealed an insight different to what I’d have thought toward Rokok based on his own experiences. Junaidi admitted that he was a smoker, labelling himself as a casual smoker based on his financial instabilities and being wary of the long-term negative impacts of smoking which deterred him from falling to severe dependency and complete addiction. Junaidi confessed that one of the reasons why he picked up smoking in his high school years is because the act was perceived as a cool, brave thing to do. This emphasizes the idea of peer pressures alongside the false sense of self-image as a prevalent catalyst of smoking and its addiction in Indonesia. Junaidi, despite being aware of the consequences of smoking, continues to smoke occasionally. Junaidi said “Sudah terlanjur”, saying that the reason he continues is because he has already had a taste of the cigarette; the tobacco along with the bravado he believed came with it. He acknowledged that had it not been for his current financial situation, he would most likely consume more cigarettes and become dependent on them as many of the population has.
The supposed disadvantage of being unable to purchase as many cigarettes as he’d like has actually helped Junaidi in some areas. He mentioned that with his limited funds he could only buy cigarettes individually. The one stick may not satisfy his overall addiction however it allows him to work toward consuming less cigarettes, because he is forced to. This method gave me an insight to the different ways tobacco can be sold to accommodate the different lifestyles of the Indonesian population.
Junaidi, aware of the dangers of smoking, strongly advises his children not to smoke. His father was a smoker and he wished he had been taught the same thing. He believes that his children, as a new generation of young non-smokers, can pass the ideal onto the future generations, smoking addiction decreasing with each generation until it’s completely abolished. In spite of being a casual smoker himself, Junaidi is slowly carving a healthier future for his family and also others around him.
My interview with Junaidi was definitely an interesting and memorable.Through the interview, one can easily recognise the big impact of ‘Rokok’ culture in Indonesia that sellers can even accommodate low income people by selling it individually. Our small exchange convinced me that Indonesia’s Rokok culture can change for the better as it is slowly being recognised as bad.
Nawi Ng, Weinehall, L., Öhman, A. 2006., ‘If I don’t smoke, I’m not a real man’—Indonesian teenage boys’ views about smoking’ ,Health Education Research, vol. 22, no.6, pp. 795
Nicholl, A. 2017, Untitled, Slack, viewed 25 January 2018
Semba, R., Kalm, L., de Pee, S., Ricks, M. 2016, ‘Paternal smoking is associated with risk of child malnutrition among poor urban families in Indonesia’, Public Health Nutrition, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 10
As one of the top four tobacco consuming countries in the world (Anshari, D. 2017.), Indonesia is lagging behind in terms of control systems. (Schewe, E. 2012.) It wasn’t until I arrived in Banjarmasin that I fully understood the severity of the issue, particularly in the prevalence of youth smokers. As Vital Strategies mentioned in their presentation, the increase in youth smokers in South Kalimantan rose from “25% in 2013 to 48% in 2017”. (Vital Strategies. 2018.)
During my travels, I noticed that there are many factors that have contributed to this. For example, there were social influences like peer pressure and smoking role models such as parents and teachers. There was also heavy exposure to tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorships. Even the opportunities to smoke in Indonesia were easier than Sydney. For example, people could smoke in public places like the hotel lobby. My collaborative experience in Banjarmasin, working closely with Vital Strategies led me to several opportunities to meet and interview the local community and students. This allowed me to gain insight into where exactly the tobacco issue comes from and why the issue is increasing rather than decreasing.
Gading Fajar, aged 19, is a non-smoker who works in Banjarmasin. He volunteers with a few organisations, including Vital Strategies, that aim to promote health and positive change throughout his city. I decided to interview Gading given the trend for increased smoking amongst the youth. “About 30%” (Fajar, G. 2018.) of Gading’s friends smoke, but he goes against the social norm to do this because he believes that “the new generation can make a good movement to make Banjarmasin a beautiful and healthy city” (Fajar, G.) that is “tobacco free.” (Fajar, G.) Gading would also be able to help me better understand why youth smoking has increased over the last four years in South Kalimantan.
Data from the most recent Global Youth Tobacco Survey in 2014 shows that the frequency of youth smokers aged 13 to 17 in Indonesia was 35% among boys and 3% among girls. (World Health Organisation. 2014.)
Smoking rates may be higher for young boys because “it portrays the image of potency, wisdom and bravery”. (Nawi Ng, L. Weinehall, A. & Öhman, P. 2017.) Similarly, Gading believes that smoking is more popular amongst men in Banjarmasin because “they think if you smoke it can make you more of a gentlemen and women will like you more but if a female is smoking they are seen as a bad girl.” (Fajar, G.) Gading further explained that even though his father smokes, he has never felt pressure from him to do so. However, when he hangs out with his friends who do smoke, he says he often feels “alone” (Fajar, G.) because he is “teased and laughed at.” (Fajar, G.) During our interview, he recalled one “painful” (Fajar, G.) memory of being physically hurt by his friends for choosing not to smoke. “In junior high school when I did not smoke, my friends who were smoking put out their used butt on my arm, leaving a scar”. (Fajar, G.) I believe that if organisations like Vital Strategies want to decrease youth smoking prevalence in South Kalimantan, they need to focus on breaking down the stigma that men should smoke.
One aspect of Banjarmasin I noticed that is different to Sydney is the large amounts of signage promoting tobacco products and street stores selling them. We even saw one right outside a primary school. This moment made me wonder whether these tobacco advertisements have contributed to the rise in the number of youth smokers in South Kalimantan. Gading agreed with me during our interview as he thinks that the youth believe it is “cool to smoke because there are so many tobacco advertisements, information and sponsorships in Banjarmasin.” (Fajar, G.)
I also observed that the youth in Indonesia may be encouraged to smoke as the health concerns related to smoking and second-hand smoking are not emphasised. Although the packs have small health warnings on each side, I noticed it does not appear to be enough to put people off smoking. However, Gading thinks that the health warnings on cigarette packets are strong enough because they made him realise that smoking would make him “sick.” (Fajar, G.) He is of the view that maybe some people do not “care” (Fajar, G.) about the pictures because they think “if I’m not smoking I will die, and if I’m smoking I will still die too, so it is better to smoke to death.” (Fajar, G.)
As an advocate for many smoke free initiatives, hearing Gading’s experiences of working in Banjarmasin was fascinating as it has confirmed my perspective on what smoking is like for the youth of Banjarmasin. I have understood the necessity for organisations such as Vital Strategies and volunteers like Gading to emphasise not only the positive change a smoke free environment could bring, but to also promote the detrimental effects tobacco smoke has on their surrounding community members and environment, particularly for the youth.
Anshari, D. 2017, ‘Effectiveness of Pictorial Health Warning Labels for Indonesia’s Cigarette Packages’, Doctoral Dissertation, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1, viewed 23 January 2018, <https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/4059>
Fajar, G. 2018, Interview, 19 January 2018
Nawi Ng, L. Weinehall, A. & Öhman, P. 2017, ‘If I Don’t Smoke, I’m Not A Real Man’-Indonesian Teenage Boys’ Views About Smoking’, Health Education Research, vol. 22, no. 6, pp. 794–804, viewed 23 January 2018, <https://doi.org/10.1093/her/cyl104>
Nicholl, A. 2018, Cigarettes Advertised and Sold Outside of School, 08 January 2018
Nicholl, A. 2018, Gading’s Burn on Arm, 19 January 2018
Nicholl, A. 2018, Glamourised Cigarette Packaging, 08 January 2018
Banjarmasin is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with a captivating clash of old and new cultures. From its floating markets to its immense industrial shipping yards, it is very clear upon first observation that the city revolves around its rivers, which seemingly act as the veins of the land. Although Indonesia is home to many cities, with many different cultures within them, a common thread unites the nation – high rates of cigarette usage and addition. Banjarmasin is not exempt from this dark shadow that falls over the country.
Walking through the city of Banjarmasin, there is no escape from this fact: men smoke while they work, and conveniently located cigarette stalls and large billboard advertisements fill the streets. During my time in the city I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to visit Universitas Lambung Mangkurat, the oldest university in Kalimantan. There I met a student named Dina who studies Primary School Teacher Education. She is 20, and she enjoys her education, K-pop, and spending time with friends after university. I took the chance to understand more about the problem of tobacco in the area, and had an engaging conversation with Dina about young people’s involvement with smoking, and her own personal experience of this.
Dina, a 20-year-old student at Universitas Lambung Mangkurat.
Dina currently lives with her grandparents, as her parents live in a small village far from the city. Dina recounted the first time she was affected by smoking – at school. When some of the boys in her class began smoking, aged 15 years old, they would “leave the classroom and go out for a smoke, as they were not allowed to do it inside the class.” Hearing this was shocking, as not only did it reveal that kids as young as 15 were smoking, but that they were also missing out on their education. At that age teenagers are extremely susceptible to peer pressure (Steinberg & Monahan 2007) meaning others in the class would be at high risk for taking up smoking too. As discussed in a previous blog, Smoking Culture in Indonesia, there are a number of reasons why smoking is taken up by the youth in Indonesia, especially in males.
However, Universitas Lambung Mangkurat is a smoke free area and Dina (a non-smoker) is very aware of tobacco’s damaging effects on the body. She spoke about how she was taught in school about the dangers of smoking and described the confronting television advertisements that she has seen in Indonesia. Although it does not prevent all the students from smoking, Dina believes that less people are now smoking in Banjarmasin because the dangers of smoking are taught in school and at university. This presents a contrast to the rest of the country as the rate of smokers under 18 in Indonesia between 2013 and 2016 rose from 7.2% to 8.8% (Senthilingam 2017). This provides an interesting contrast to Dina’s personal perception that fewer people in Banjarmasin are smoking, and taking up smoking. One explanation for this might be that only the children who are receiving an education are aware of the dangers of smoking, so in Dina’s immediate circle of friends (who are all at university) it might seem like fewer people are smoking, when outside of Dina’s social circle, the opposite is true. Another explanation could be that the effects of tobacco are less important to Indonesians of lower income who focus more on working to survive, rather than aiming for a longer and healthier life. Regardless, it is evident that smoking is deeply interwoven in Indonesian culture, affecting countless victims – both first-hand and second-hand smokers. From my experience with Dina, is seems as if education is Indonesia’s path to a clear future.
Steinberg, L. & Monahan, K. C. 2007, Age differences in resistance to peer influence, Developmental Psychology, Vol 43(6), 1531-1543
As soon as we entered Lambung Mangkurat University’s campus in Banjarmasin I instantly began to compare the differences between the serenity of the wetlands that dot the campus with start and serious nature of the UTS tower. It’s always exciting to explore another university campus and to discover the varying ways in which a sense of community is forged alongside studying a degree, except this this experience was different, being in Banjarmasin a city with which I was both unfamiliar and embarrassingly bad at communicating with people.
It was here that I met Haitami, a Business Management student at Lambung Mangkurat University and was initially quiet but opened up about his life and ideas about the cigarette industry during our conversation. Haitami is originally from a small village some five hours away from Banjarmasin named Jamil (meaning ‘beautiful’), but rather than try to make the impossible happen and travel every day, he lives about a 20 minute walk from campus during semester. Haitami’s dedication to his studies is obvious, whilst he already attends classes five days a week he is a part of various university clubs whose meetings he attends on weekends. One of these endeavours includes being a part of AIESEC, with whom he was going to Thailand the following week to undertake a short-term volunteering trip.
During our conversation, Haitami was proud to announce that he himself was not a smoker, nor a fan of the smell it created and the negative impact on one’s health, having recently lost a brother-in-law to the effects of smoking. Still, he admitted that there is pressure to smoke in Indonesia, that it is expected of men to smoke (Hodal, 2012). He enjoyed telling me that the majority of the university campus was smoke-free, creating a more comfortable environment and the ability for non-smokers to be able to breather clean air, something which is often difficult to achieve in Banjarmasin.
Nonetheless, as our conversation continued I was surprised to learn more about Haitami’s perception of the importance of tobacco companies in a variety of aspects of life in Indonesia, including their sponsorship of music festivals, sports games and providing university scholarships to students from low socio-economic areas (Tobacco Free Kids, 2013). I began to realise that Haitami, alongside other Indonesians perceive the tobacco industry as playing an integral role across many aspects life in Indonesia, even expecting it due to the wide influence they wield and their deep pockets. I found this realisation to be particularly surprising, especially in trying to understand the paradox of an anti-smoking stance with a support of the tobacco industry.
Throughout the time I spent talking with Haitami, I became more aware of some of the nuances that make up the wicked problem that smoking is in Indonesia. Whilst much of our time in Banjarmasin we looked at the issue of the cigarette itself, the influence of tobacco companies across other aspects of Indonesian life remains a complex web of issues that will take a long period of time to unravel.
Myself and Haitami at Lambung Mangkurat University.
The impact of cross-cultural experiences carry an array of advantages that may result in a greater global perspective and perceptual understanding or personal development and interpersonal relationships (Wilson 2009). As a country with half its citizens under the age of 30, studies have found that eight in ten Indonesian students are considering to study abroad for a variety of reasons such as cultural exploration, boosting their academic profile or improved career prospects (ICEF 2017). However, the attainability of such opportunities is heavily determined by the ease of access to information and financial support.
Indication of the Indonesian survey respondents’ motivations for study abroad (AFS 2017)
For Kesuma Anugerah Yanti (Yanti), a mathematics major from Lambung Mangkurat University in Banjarmasin, her month-long study abroad in Thailand has opened up new avenues that have shaped her future goals. As a determined young student who contributes to the city of Banjarmasin through her duties as an International Officer at university and a contributor to the city’s local tourism Instagram page, Instanusantarabanjar, Yanti has her sights set on travelling the world.
Yanti on her studies abroad in Thailand, teaching students English in Chiang Rai (Yanti 2018)
However, for students in Indonesia, this is a dream that is often only achieveable with the financial aid of scholarships or exchange programs. Yanti placed a heavy emphasis on the difficulty for youth to access the suitable information which would result in a successful application in Banjarmasin. While Lambung Mangkurat University work with sister universities in Thailand and the Philippines to send students abroad, for more job specific programs, students are forced to seek out external programs which are often financially demanding. Without the support of a scholarship, opportunities often go amiss and students in Banjarmasin succumb to their fate that perhaps studying abroad is impossible and thus, solely focus on earning an income instead.
Despite this, there are youth like Yanti who are continuously striving to attain this goal. When asked what she would like to pursue after university, she confidently responded with ‘I would like to find scholarships to continue studying and go abroad or work to keep studying. The most important goal for me is to go abroad again as my experience in Thailand allowed me to focus on myself, grow as a person and meet new people who helped me improve my English’ (Yanti 2018). Her willingness to self-learn Spanish is an attestation of her determination to travel as she has realised the benefits of going abroad. Additionally, Yanti strongly believes that it is incredibly important to emphasise to youth that money is not a limitation to pursuing opportunities abroad.
While it is evident that money is a concern that dictates the futures of many youth in Indonesia, young individuals like Yanti are examples of the growing desire for students to travel abroad despite the hardships they may face during the application process. It is also suggested that such international experience enhances university engagement, builds relationships between countries and resultantly will broaden the cross-cultural experiences for local students (Novera 2004). Overall, this interview has highlighted the need for a greater support for students in developing countries to embark on cross-cultural exchanges for they provide students with intrinsic that can only be obtained through experience.
Jakarta is a “busy, heavily dense city that continually makes you worry” as my friend Lydia Lim describes her city. Having grown up in Jakarta and currently live there, her view of her city has change after living in Sydney and having a family. She moved to Sydney to continue her university studies in Interior Design as well as working after graduating. After 6 years in Sydney she followed her husband back to Jakarta to take over his father’s business.
Lydia is the only person I know who has continually spoken her dislike about living in Jakarta, she states “When you have a kid here you’re constantly worrying about everything that you shouldn’t, like going to the doctors, day care, mall, and banks, you don’t know what their agenda is and that’s scary”. While people may see living in Indonesia can be like royalty with your maids, drivers, and nannies, it is easy to settle in, though it can also show a distinct separation between relationships within the family. The importance of earning money and creating a safety net is what drives the people today, “it is difficult to separate work and family when needed, whereas in Sydney you the weekend is the rest days and you know that work will be put aside on those days” as Lydia explains how her husband’s work constantly interferes with rest days. The culture within Indonesia seem to be changing with current generations, the need to focus on work and business outweigh family and personal relationships. Although the need to provide for families play an important role in many of these situations, with opportunities that allow the wife to be a stay at home also in consideration.
Lydia gave insight to the changing notions within Indonesia’s culture, the aspects of distant relationship in family and safety in the city are what drives her dislike of Jakarta, constantly comparing to Sydney. Whilst there are positives in having her family like her parents and mother in law see her child grow up, there is a continual unsettling feeling living in Jakarta. The endless worry of her child growing up in Indonesia and the somewhat limited possibilities that she is open to, like great education, good doctors, government benefits, the list is never-ending. She said “living with peace of mind is what I want, and I don’t have that here in Jakarta like I did in Sydney”. She hopes to return to Sydney soon.
Lydia L. interviewed by Rachel Hansen on 12th February 2017 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
I’ve always found the East, Asian cultures, and the way in which their societies operate fascinating because culturally, they appear to be on the other end of the spectrum from the West. Even more so, I am intrigued by expats from the West who choose to live and work in Asia and their experiences in doing so. After my own travels to Indonesia, I decided to interview my good friend James Kent, an Australian who has studied in Indonesia, is now living in Sumatra and is fluent in Bahasa. Like most Australians who choose to learn Bahasa, he had the opportunity to study the language in high school, and believed that learning the language of Australia’s closest neighbour was the most pragmatic option for his future career endeavours. He studied International relations and politics at university, in the past worked for the Australian Federal Government and is currently working as translator for a rainforest conservation group in Sumatra. He is very engaged with political scenes in both Indonesia and Australia. I started by asking him what he thinks the biggest issues Indonesia faces, which he states are corruption, poverty, minority rights and the environment. Furthermore he noted certain events such as the Sidoarjo mud flow problem, poaching, fires and deforestation, and pollution.
A picture of a group working to preserve forested land, sourced from Sumatra Rainforest Institute’s website
I proceeded to ask him about his work in politics and how people in Australia and Indonesia regard important issues like the environment and the government. According to him, Indonesians are politically engaged but do not like to admit it. Recently, James was tasked with interviewing villagers in Sumatra about their opinions and attitudes towards certain issues, but found it difficult to know what they really thought due to cultural notions around politeness. The preference for Indonesians not to rock the boat in conversation, is something that goes beyond interactions with friends. Both James and I discussed potential political ramifications as a result; governing bodies lack substance and integrity when it comes to addressing issues and that corruption goes largely unnoticed.
Above image is originally sourced while on a street art tour. Below is an image screen from Busrianto’s Instagram
Keeping in mind designerly solutions to issues such as these, I asked him whether he saw art or design having a role to play in social change. However, contrary to what I thought, using art and design as an outlet for cultural and political discourse is still very much taboo in Indonesia. Art is tangible, more flagrant and lingers around much longer than spoken word, proving to be more effective in triggering social changes. I imagined valiant street artists like Andres Busrianto. With complicit politicians and social restrictions in Indonesia, it is easy to see why many Indonesians just appear to accept their fate despite what they may think. Though it is this very fact when looking at the protests that occurred in the 1980’s in Jogyakarta that art is a powerful means of protest because in its very essence, it is freedom of expression (Inside Indonesia 2016). Both the medium and the content of what is on display is enough of a reason for a government to fear the messages of what it brings.