Solving the smoking problem, Chinese style

The other day as we were walking into the gym in our building, a man was smoking in the lobby outside. He was sitting at a table, on which was a “no smoking” sign. Walking past him, I turned the sign so that he could see the “no smoking” symbol, and tapped it to call it to his attention. I didn’t want to make a scene, but I certainly didn’t want to smell his stinky cigarette smoke in the building where I live. I hoped that he’d realize that he shouldn’t smoke, and put it out. End of story.

Then I continued walking into the gym. On my way in, I walked past several of the gym employees (the hotel is horribly overstaffed, it seems that “standing around” is a job description here). They could see the smoker, but didn’t do anything about it. I suspect that they didn’t know how to handle the situation (you can put a work uniform on someone, but that doesn’t make them competent). I mentioned as I passed them that someone was smoking, and asked rhetorically if the building was smoke-free (it is, of course).

We finished our workout, and left the gym. We noticed that the smoker was gone. Great! I thought. No drama. Smoking problem=eliminated.

Two days later, when we returned to the gym, no one was smoking there. Great! I thought. The smoking problem has been solved.

Then I noticed that something else was gone, too.

The “no smoking” sign was gone.

I hope that this is a coincidence. I hope that someone was dusting the table, and forgot to replace the sign. I hope that the gym employees didn’t fear another confrontation with a smoker, and in order to avoid having to tell someone not to smoke, they removed evidence of the prohibition against smoking in the building. I hope that someone did not come to the conclusion that they could avoid telling someone that they couldn’t smoke by removing the restriction against smoking. But I’ve been in China long enough to know that that genius solution could very well be what someone came up with.

It’s been four days now, and the “no smoking” sign is still missing. I fear that it’s only a matter of time before some other person lights up again. And when that happens, I don’t know what I’ll be able to say.

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