I have been a smoker now for four years.
Well, let me clarify; I have been a second hand smoker now for four years, ever since moving to China. Most public places we go to here with the exception of the Supermarket have people lighting up. I realized last semester just how much second-hand smoke I have inhaled in this short little span of life. To me, it seems very selfish when people smoke in close quarters in public places like on buses. Today, I mentally pieced together in Chinese a moral argument regarding smoking on buses.
"Do you realize how selfish it is to smoke on a bus? When you, one person, decide to smoke you are deciding for all 20 of us that we also must smoke with you."
On the bus, coming home from the supermarket, I had my big chance. Two dudes got on the bus and immediately exchanged cigarettes and lit up. If the dudes hadn't looked the equivalent of mafia men, wearing leather jackets, holding the cigarette between black teeth, and loudly speaking the local dialect, I maybe, maybe would have said something. But in the moment, my confidence plummeted, and I decided to settle with simply opening the window beside me and covering my nose with the collar of my shirt.
Second-hand smoke is not something that anyone really warns you about before you come to China. If people have a mental picture of China being a green bamboo-filled forest with red pagoda like houses dotting the landscape and water lilies blooming in ponds, I would encourage them to think again or to simply visit the city of Hengyang.
Smoking is just one problem to highlight in this city; there are many. But, perhaps the biggest problem is a problem of the heart. It seems people are very focused on self (including family unit), power, and money here in Hengyang. Sometimes I feel hopeless. Will the little seeds we are planting every grow, bloom, and effect change? And I'm not talking about change for the mere "civility" of living in a cleaner, greener city where people don't smoke. I am talking about change where people's concept of others, their understanding of self, and their reverence for someone bigger than them permeates every choice they make. And, although I don't smoke, how many other little conveniences do I indulge in for selfish reasons. I am simply speaking from within the brokenness of a place and calling for its attention.