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China and Chinese Smokers
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 like chimneys.

 Picture:  China is changing very quickly, but in the backwaters the smokers have no idea they are offensive to anybody.  Totally unconscious.  Haikou, Hainan Island, China  Picture: The world is their ashtray.  A smoker flicks his ash onto the restaurant floor.  We've seen them butt cigarettes out on carpets.  Often they just drop them to smolder and stink, not bothering to butt them out at all.  Haikou, Hainan Island, China
At our 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 about it.

Picture:  My iPad on the foreground table, while Ruth works on the distant one in our own self-created no smoking section.  Haikou, Hainan Island, China Picture:  He was about to walk into that elevator with that cigarette and not a moment's thought.  Haikou, Hainan Island, China
In the 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 foreigners. 
     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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