November 3, 2007

All the Tobacco in China

Here is an interesting take on the smoking going on in China. It was originally published in the Wall Street Journal Online. Hope you enjoy this new perspective.

Taking up the habit of rulers and the common man.
By Hugo Restall
BEIJING--To all the other superlatives used to describe China we may now add the fact that it has the tastiest cigarettes. I don't pretend to be a connoisseur, having only begun smoking a couple weeks ago, but then again I've been inhaling the smoke of Chinese cigarettes for years. The country consumes about one-third of the world's cigarettes. As a student, I often carried a pack just to offer to others. Want to start a conversation on a train in China? Shake the pack. Asking directions? Hold out a stick and say, 'chou yi ger.' If the guy is already smoking, he'll tuck it behind his ear for later. After years of resisting, a friend in Shanghai gave me the perfect excuse to start smoking. China has become so polluted, he told me, that it's better to breathe through a cigarette filter than just take in the air on its own. And if your lungs are going to get shot to hell anyway, you might as well enjoy it. So, well into middle age, I figured that it was probably a good time to take up the smoking habit. The result? I enjoy it so much that I don't know why I didn't take it up earlier.

For the Chinese, smoking carries connotations that might seem outdated, even quaint to Westerners. Real men smoke, period. And when real men hang out together, they smoke a lot. The presence of women is appreciated, of course--if they are quick with a lighter. At a formal meal or banquet, each course may be followed by a cigarette, as if to cleanse the palate, and a few more cigarettes will be smoked at the end, in place of port. As the saying goes, fan hou yi zhi yan, sai guo huo shenxian--a cigarette after a meal and you feel better than a living god. Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping smoked like chimneys, even when they were meeting foreign dignitaries.


Becca said...

That is crazy! I just looked through your pictures and cannot believe how close this baby is! I am so excited for you both and can't wait to see what the new little guy looks like. Good luck!

Unknown said...

It is pretty crazy he's this close now. We'll definitely need to get down to visit you in the spring.

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