Kretek

I had stopped smoking for more than a month because of Singapore. That city-state has a very strict regulation on smoking, because of which it has been dubbed the “fine city”—with the word “fine” functions both as an adjective and a noun. I had three reasons for quitting smoking at that time: (1) cigarettes sold legally in Singapore taste bitter; (2) they are very expensive for Indonesians; and (3) I had to walk long way just to take a single puff. This experience then made me realize that I can have control over my body and win against the addiction when the environment is conducive for me to do so.

After coming back to Indonesia, however, I can’t help anymore. Instead of being conducive to quit smoking, the environment is continuously teasing me to relapse. I had been able to refrain from smoking for the first few weeks. In these times, I took few puffs and did not taste the sticks as delicious as they were before I came to Singapore. Yet that moment happened when I hanged out with some friends in coffee shops, in which it’s normal (even felt encouraged) to smoke; not only men, but also women, even those wearing hijab. In Jogja’s and many other Indonesian cities’ traditional coffee shops (not the internationally franchised ones like Starbucks), smoking doesn’t look filthy; instead it’s quite strange for men not to smoke while enjoying the coffee. It was there that I couldn’t withstand the temptation of “kretek” cigarettes. They align perfectly with Indonesia’s coffees, which make the ‘devil’ inside the cigarettes much stronger seducing me. It was also those coffees that made the delicious taste of kretek come back to my tongue.

For my FB friends unfamiliar with kretek, it’s important to let you know that kretek is not like ordinary cigarettes which contain only tobacco. Kretek is made of tobacco blended with cloves and certain recipes of spices—the latters were among the primary reasons why European traders and colonizers came from far away to then-Indonesia archipelago. It was the clove and spicy flavors that turn cigarattes into kretek. And it’s unique to Indonesia, because of which anti-tobacco movements in Indonesia must deal not only with health problems but also cultural issues. For the rest of things about kretek, I wish you can do small research yourself. One thing is that, in Indonesia smoking kretek is so cultural that even many deeply religious clerics here are heavy kretek smokers.

I am quite aware of several issues on kretek industries in Indonesia, both of international and local companies. And I am critical, concurrently with my increasing politically leftist tendency, that there must be criticisms toward Indonesia’s tobacco companies: given the ubiquity of smoking in Indonesia, tobacco farmers are ironically not prosperous. But still, O God, those kreteks are too delicious to be ignored. I pray that God is all forgiving and compassionate—as He claims to be—for I, as most Indonesian Muslims, have never drunk alcohol or eaten pork; and what we want God to be merciful is just for this one thing. (God, please accept our prayers!)

For non-Indonesians who have never smoked and detest the prevalence of smoking in Indonesia, please first be well-informed of kretek’s history and its big significance for Indonesians. Afterwards, you can exert all your rights to be critical or even hateful toward kretek and unethical smokers if you want. And when the time comes for you to try kretek, I suggest you to be mindful that it might taste dangerously nice.

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