I was sitting near the smoking area when I spotted a man dressed in black, taking out a leather pouch. He took out some tobacco, paper and filter, and rolled a cigarette.
I felt compelled to start a conversation about his cigarettes so I approached him and told him about my project, and this is what transpired:
C: Hi, can you introduce yourself?
P: Hello, my name is Pierre, I come from Italy and it is my second day in Singapore.
C: What do you work as?
P: I used to work as a teacher, a special teacher. I teach art, but to explain it will take hours.
C: So, why do you roll your cigarettes?
P: I started rolling in 2014 because it was cheaper. But now, now I prefer to smoke tobacco than ready made cigarettes. I prefer the taste and flavour.
C: So what kind of flavour is this?
P: This one is golden Virginia, it comes from Italy.
C: You can bring it into Singapore?
P: Ah, okay, turn off the recording [Laughter].
C: Okay okay, so how long does it take for you to roll one?
P: A cigarette? Five seconds.
C: Do you normally pre-roll it?
P: No, I roll it the very moment I want to smoke a cigarette.
C: So do you think the kind of cigarettes you smoke represents who you are?
P: Maybe a little bit. I don’t know, but I think it shows your taste in smoking. Normal people who smoke cigarettes smokes faster than me, I prefer to smoke slow, to taste the flavour of smoking.
C: It does smell different.
P: You want one?
C: Haha, maybe later. When did you start smoking?
P: Twenty years ago. I’m thirty six now.
C: So you started when you were sixteen. Is it common to smoke at sixteen in Italy?
P: Yeah, already thirteen or fourteen, that is more common than sixteen.
P: In my generation especially. I don’t know about the newer generation. Because in Europe, they used to smoke lots of cigarettes, French Germans especially.
C: In Singapore, most people start smoking when they’re eighteen.
P: Now it’s illegal to sell cigarettes to young people, but in my time it was not.
C: Last question. Do you have any specific taste in music?
P: Oh, i’m a musician. I play in a band but also solo. I play different instruments, I started with guitar but i’m more focused on cello.
There were definitely some gaps in our conversation due to the language barrier, but it was nevertheless an interesting conversation. Pierre dropped everything in Italy to come to Singapore for his new job, and is currently looking for a place to stay. If he finishes his three months probation, he’ll be staying for another two years.
After a few more puffs of his rolly, he then asked if I knew of any good independent music gigs happening tonight. Unfortunately it was Tuesday.