Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Putting out fire

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.


조안나 said...

I've seen quite a few trashcan fires in my life time, but they have always been outside. I would hope people would be more careful when they are indoors!!

Anonymous said...

You're in a land of peasants. In 30 years, China experienced an economic change that took the US over 100 years to achieve, with much less people. We had many fires and riots and changes that wen along with that economic prosperity before things became the way they did. Much of Europe was destroyed in the two World Wars, so you all generally were able to start with a clean slate and educate your people more easily, especially since western Europe is comprised of many small nations (when compared to China).

The smoking ban started in San Fransisco 20 years ago. The rest of the US thought it was crazy and was too much of "big government" to spread to other parts. But it did. The it slowly spread to Europe in the last decade. I remember in 2007 when my Swedish, Danish and UK friends commented how their bars were just beginning to implement a no-smoking ban in clubs/bars, which would then expand to other public areas.

My point is, China needs fires like Jing-an before the public will take notice and reform will take hold. All that has happened thus far is that the peasants now have more money than what they know what to do with. They don't know any other way to behave yet. It's something they have to learn on their own, through their own mistakes, like the US and the rest of the other developed countries made along the way.

I also remember how many car accidents we had before it was mandatory to have seat-belts in cars, or stop lights at intersections.

The other thing you can do is fly every Chinese person to a developed country and let them live there for six months. Their attitudes about China change completely. That might actually be a good use of all that money. :-)

Proper Yankee

Unknown said...

Unfortunately, I am afraid a newer building won't automatically mean better or wiser neighbors. But you have other issues with your present building, so that's OK.

I think this "it won't happen to me" attitude is all too prevalent everywhere. In the USA we are currently trying to educate people not to text while driving.

Speaking of texting while driving, I have seen taxi drivers text while driving in China. What has been your experience? Do you see this 25%, 50%, 75% of the time in China?

Juci said...

These Chinese neighbours of yours are really impossible, I hope that you will find a nice and less smokey place to live in the near future...X

Anonymous said...

I was faced with that "It would never happen to me" way of thinking many times in Japan regarding many topics. Without wanting to overgenerelize, I feel it's a common trend in Asia.

As for China being a country of peasant, I don<t know. Yes, there was a revolution and all that, but fire has always been around and Chinese people also know that stuff can burn...