Back in Melbourne I worked in a nightclub, only from time to time now since I started my Hons degree but well into my PhD I would go back on the odd night and help out. The job was simple, serve/mix drinks then help clean up if I stayed to the end of the night. It wasn’t the nicest establishment and the pay was far from fair for the hours worked. But the odd night’s work, in a different environment doing a task trained monkeys do on some tropical islands, was a nice break form my day to day activities. There was always one thing that tipped me over the edge though, if I had to work in the smokers bar. I’m not a smoker and I just happened to start my bar work in the same month that the new smoking laws were passed in Melbourne’s pubs and clubs. It even took a while before the stench of cigarette smoke seeped out of the wood and congealed vomit between the floorboards, for the place to smell less like an ashtray. So they set about skirting the laws by setting up a smokers bar on the top floor. Sure the roof had been taken off so that half of the ceiling was open but that didn’t exactly mean fresh air was washing through the place. This meant that anytime you worked in the bar you spent the whole night sitting in passive smoke and absorbing it through your pores. Hence I would get home smelling of the usual, blood, vomit, sweat and alcohol but with the additional nicotinic par fum. But at least everywhere else, you can go and have dinner or a few beers and not come home smelling like the contents of a large communal ashtray. Its nice, even smokers like it if you ask the right ones, but I guess I never really appreciated how good it was until now.
Picture yourself in a hospital delivery room, the elderly doctor leaning over a frantically huffing lady about to give birth while sparking another cigarette. The husband is holding the hand of his partner trying to give support, but he’s having trouble reaching the ashtray from the bedside. Finally the contractions begin and the mother begins the final stretch. She’s having trouble breathing, enough so she has several lit cigarette’s pushed into her mouth by a nurse standing to the side, this seems to help her breath more easily. Finally the baby emerges and everyone heaves a sigh of relief, which is visually perceivable as great wave of smoke that will probably be misinterpreted by someone communicating via smoke signals and begin a chain of events leading to infighting and several very awkward family moments of the local Inati hills people 5 kilometers away. As the baby takes its first breaths the doctor wraps it up and inserts a pacifier that has cigarettes stuffed into the back of it so the baby doesn’t feel left out.
It may not quite be an accurate depiction of a birth here in china, but I honestly can’t imagine it being far from the truth. Cigarettes are dirt cheap here, in fact a friend of mine who lives in Shanghai, who only used to smoke occasionally back in Aus, claims “it doesn’t make sense not to smoke in china”. There are ‘no smoking’ signs in various places, but like almost all the other laws here they go unheeded. They smoke in lifts, in supermarkets, in bars and restaurants, hospitals (they do, I visited one), in their cars, on bikes and scooters, everywhere where there are people doing “stuff” people are doing that stuff while smoking. I have lost count of the number of times I have been offered smokes and I always get a bit of an odd look when I turn them down. It really is part of the culture here, but its not like it has always been, its just that it’s a great way to make money. You cant buy international brands here, at least I haven’t seen them, only Chinese made and you can only get the ones from your province, inter province cigarettes are few and far between, so you can forget getting hold of Winnies reds, though there may be an upside of all this for China.
Population does seem to be one of their biggest problems in China, China used to be a labor based society and as such, having a large family was in the common interest as it meant more workers. However this also means more mouths to feed and clothe, this wasn’t a problem up until the 1960’s where the average life expectancy was about 46. People could work right up until their death, which meant the government received their labor and didn’t have to look after them later on. This is now a bit of a problem though as the average is 73, hence the government stepped in and instituted the famous one child policy, highly controversial though it was, if you ask the right people it did seem to work, a little. China is now stuck with a very large, rapidly aging population and no simple way to reduce the problem. Country dwellers are flooding into the cities and driving a concrete expansion like nothing I could describe. Hives of cranes buzzing 24 hours a day frantically building concrete edifice’s of questionable engineering, so long at the layer of paint on the outside of the building looks ok, the inner trimmings don’t really matter. I suppose if you are looking to move into one of these places you had better take the opportunity regardless of the internal quality rather than miss out and end up somewhere possibly worse. Perhaps the fact that most people will smoke themselves to death will now help, I guess that is a great way to knock off retirees and ease the stress on the welfare system. Now they just need to get women to get on the band wagon as much as the men and they will have an almost sustainable eternally working, dead before retirement population, just like the good old days.
So next time I’m sitting in a bar or restaurant and someone comes over and starts talking to me, the smoke from their lungs will pepper my face and their ash will crumble into my popcorn chicken, I won’t feel offended. He’s just doing his bit for population control, what a patriot!. If only the rest of the species were so dedicated to helping to solve their countries problems. Afterwards he will turn and disappear back into the smoke filled room like a hockey puck sliding into a bucket of ink. Off to clear his throat which has become clogged from the pollution outside no doubt and I will continue on my way knowing he’s off to contribute to the greater good.