The other day I was bumming around in our flat when I suddenly felt the smell of smoke. Since our corridor is not supposed to be any kind of nightclub, I got annoyed, and opened the door to see if I could see someone smoking. I didn’t. However, at the end of the corridor I saw an open door and I heard voices, so I guessed it came from there.
“Don’t get too upset now, it’s just smoke!” I tried to calm myself with saying. But after a while the smell was everywhere in our flat and I started to get really pissed off. People over here smoke everywhere: at restaurants, in bars (no smoke ban here, no), in elevators, in taxis… everywhere! If there is somewhere where I am NOT going to be a passive smoker, it has to be in my own apartment!
With that in mind I went over to the apartment with the open door. I kept very calm when I looked in and told a group of Chinese people that I they really should not be smoking inside, and if they insisted on doing so, at least they should close their door.
-Sure, sure, sorry, sorry! They all said, and then they started calling for a man that was walking around in the corridor outside, smoking. Turns out it was HE who had made our flat stink.
Around 10 minutes later I was leaving and went out to the elevator. Straight away I felt the smell of something that’s burning. I looked in the common bin that is located next to the elevators, and very well. In the bin, the smoking man (I assume) had butted out two cigarettes in a package of cookies, however, the cigarettes were not completely out, and therefore burning the paper.
“This is how fires are started,” I thought to myself. “I don’t wanna die in a fire?!”
With that in mind I went back to the flat where I’d just been, banged the door, and decided not to hold back. I am not so good at cursing and stuff in Chinese, I think the most offensive thing I can say is something like: “Are you crazy?!” so I said that over and over again, combined with phrases about the cigarette, about fire, about not being safe, and then I tried to refer to the big fire in Jing’an in Shanghai some months ago, but I am not sure if I made sense or not.
While the smoking man was sorry and hurried out to put the cigarette out, some other men in the flat just laughed at me:
-You know what, you should call the police! Yelled one.
It took me around 15 minutes to calm down after that comment.
I don’t get it. How can people be so ignorant about things like fire over here? Is there some common sort of thinking that goes: “nah, it will never happen to me!” that everyone holds on to? I mean, the lack of seatbelts in cars is one thing: back in the 70ies in Europe there was a similar attitude towards seatbelts. But fire? I’ve been brainwashed with fire-safety drills and fire safety measurements in school for as long as I can remember. Is there no kind of common fire sense over here? How can people laugh at people that are just trying to do the right thing?
I don’t think I will get any answers to those questions anytime soon, and anyway, we have decided to move out. This old complex has its charm but it also has things I cannot put up with (the burning cigarette in the bin is just the tip of an iceberg). We won’t make a move immediately, but when our lease is up this summer we will pack up and try and find something a bit more modern.