China and Chinese
originally posted February 17, 2011
We had a very quiet holiday this
year. Besides the Chinese studies in our hotel room, our other
haunt was a nearby coffee shop which happened to have an unsecured
wireless connection, the only way to get online with our iPads.
Only problem with that one was the smokers. If you are a reformed
smoker, as I am, the smell of smoke is objectionable, to put it mildly.
Smokers have no idea how much they stink. By the time the air is turning
blue, I'm on the edge of panic attacks. I don't want to breathe
that stuff. At our university we are mostly insulated from
smokers. But our holiday was a taste of the Chinese reality.
They smoke like we did in Canada back in the fifties. They smoke
favourite restaurant near our hotel, we always tried to grab the table
beside the window. After dinner, whole tables of diners would
light up, oblivious to any others customers. They don't even think
coffee shop, we managed to created a no smoking section when lots of
tables were empty and we could grab the two in an alcove beside the
windows. Even then, the windows had to be open and a walk to the
washroom was nasty.
When I first came to China, I was
determined to be polite and accept the culture as I found it.
Mostly I manage to do that, and I genuinely delight in the warmth and
friendliness of the Chinese people, their sense of fun and enjoyment of
life. But now, after six years here, I've started to ask for some
air. I can't avoid breathing.
I wrote an earlier version of this anti-smoking rant
before we left Haikou, but censored myself and didn't post it because I
don't like to say anything that sounds critical of China. The
thing is, Canada was just like this when I was in my teens. I
remember smoking in an elevator, and smoking under the No Smoking sign
in my university lecture hall, proud of my defiance of authority.
I remember sitting at meetings of the Canadian Director's Guild
executive, on which I served as the B.C. District Council President, and
we'd turn the air blue during our debates, without a second thought for
the poor secretary taking notes. My sister tells me I once blew
smoke in her face when she asked me not to smoke in her apartment.
It's hard for me to believe I was ever that much of a pig, but there you
have it. And there's nothing worse than a reformed sinner.
So take my rant with a grain of salt. If you're a smoker yourself,
you'll love China. Here you'll only be hassled by other crazy
We've only seen one occasion where a Chinese person
pointed out a No Smoking sign to a smoker. That was at the airport
in Haikou, and the smoker ignored him. (He did find it impossible
to ignore me when he started to walk into the elevator with his lit
cigarette.) I know China will change, just like Canada changed.
Already there is a
mild campaign to limit smoking,
and talk of banning smoking in restaurants in Beijing. This is one area
where I'd like to help them along. I think if China quit smoking
they'd cut their air pollution by half.
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