Smoking is very normal in China. Incredibly normal. For a country that aspires to be among the world leaders in every category, they're killing off their people with cigarettes produced by State-Owned Enterprises. There's no Obamacare, but there is government ownership of tobacco companies... can you see some poorly aligned interests here? Puff away on your government-sponsored cigarettes, but when you're dying of lung cancer, we've got actual bouncers in the hospital to throw your butt out onto the street when you can't pay your bill.
There have been some feeble attempts to cut down on smoking in public places, along the lines of foreign countries. In Beijing, for example, smoking in a restaurant is generally not allowed. Likewise, everywhere you go in China there are "no smoking" signs (in English and in Chinese) in such places as bathrooms, restaurants, and elevators. Outside Beijing, they are flagrantly ignored except when I'm around.
Our apartment building has seen a significant drop-off in smoking in the elevators since I moved in. I suspect it's the "waiguo" effect: people are on their best behavior when they know there's a foreigner in their midst who might — for example — blog about their behavior on Facebook and other foreign media.
Today, though, I saw something I'd never seen before, and wouldn't have believed possible.
You must understand, before reading the rest of this posting, that in China parenthood is a paramount value — perhaps THE paramount value. A woman who is not yet married is regarded as being in stasis. A young couple, as yet childless, is regarded as a target. "When are you having your baby?" Everyone, with or without any actual relationship to the couple, considers it her right to pry on their status. "When's the baby coming?"
A pregnant woman is like a saint. They'll give up their seat on the bus, they'll make room, they'll do whatever is necessary to accommodate Saint Mama. And if a married woman is NOT yet pregnant, she is regarded as a pariah. It is her duty to get pregnant immediately, and to take passionate care of that baby. That is her one and only job, as a woman.
So this morning, we got on the elevator to go walk the dogs, and on the fourteenth floor this young punk, twenty-something, thin, stylishly dressed and with a girly hairdo, got on the elevator puffing aggressively on a fag.
Ma Lei politely asked him "I'm sorry, I'm pregnant. Would you mind putting out your cigarette?" He made no response whatsoever, and in fact puffed once more.
I told her "I don't think he heard you," so she said it again: "I'm pregnant, is it okay for you to put out your cigarette?"
This time he actually responded: "No, it's not."
Now I had to get involved. I pointed at the "No Smoking" sign and asked him: "Can you read Chinese? I'm foreign, and I know what that sign says." He made no response.
I asked him: "Are you a moron?" No response.
I asked him: "Are you Japanese?" Still no response.
So I finally just decided to give a lecture, because that's what I do. I'm a teacher, right? I told him: If you think other countries don't like China, you are the reason for it, you little chicken-egg.
One of Ma Lei's online friends told her not to worry about this kid, because he's clearly beneath a dog. Dogs understand human speech, but this little ben-dan (dumb egg) clearly does not.
I still can't get it out of my head, though. The nerve of this little twenty-something chopstick ignoring the law, ignoring a polite request, and ignoring his entire cultural history, is impossible for me to ignore.