Smoke free in China.

I wish I could find the photos of my one and only visit to China. They weren’t digital, digital wasn’t available. They were on 35mm film (shot with a Praktica B200 if anyone cares, and I still have it). They are in several packets somewhere.

That was around 1990 and even then, I found China to be nothing like the evil communist empire it was painted by the press. There weren’t many laws, in fact as far as traffic was concerned there seemed to be none at all. It seems to me that as long as you stay out of politics there, you can have a pretty good life.

Sure, people there don’t earn much compared to the West but then everything was so cheap, you don’t need much money at all. If you sold a house in Birmingham you could buy a town in China. The people weren’t oppressed. They were mostly pretty happy.

I mean, if it’s that bad a regime, how come we keep seeing stories about roads being built around someone’s house because they refused to move out, or the one shabby shack in the middle of a brand new housing estate because the shabby-shack owner refused to sell to the developers? In the UK they would have been subject to compulsory purchase and the residents frogmarched out. In China, redevelopment of entire blocks of flats can be held up by one stubborn sod.

We had ‘minders’ while there because it was work, none of us spoke a word of Mandarin and they were terrified of losing us. We were not prevented from photographing anything we wanted, not even inside the government buildings in Tiananmen Square.

Incidentally, Beijing had a lot of street sweepers keeping it clean but the only time I saw one of our minders tense was when he and I were smoking in Tiananmen square. It wasn’t the smoking. It was the cigarette butts. China is very proud of Tiananmen Square. Anywhere else in China you can dump a rusty truck or a dead elephant and nobody cares. In Tianamen Square, you do not drop any litter at all. Not one butt. If you stab someone you will be arrested for getting blood on the tiles. That’s why the tanks stopped for that student.

In China, if you smoke, nobody cares at all. Not in the slightest. They have not become weak little crybabies who demand their government protect them from a smell they dislike. If we ever go to war with China they will kick our arses and one of the main reasons is the Leftie enfeeblement of a large chunk of our population.

In the West we have law upon law against offending the ever-twitching nostrils of the Righteous or hurting their gossamer feelings by saying something not directed at them, to someone they don’t know. Or even saying something they disagree with.

In China, people can still look after themselves. Insult someone in China and they will choose one of the following options:

a) Insult you back while smiling, often in a way that you won’t understand is an insult until days later.

b) Rage at you in Mandarin so fast that even if you can speak the language you will have no idea what he is saying and will be expecting him to go all Jackie Chan on you at any moment.

c) Smack you in the mouth and move on.

Option c does not bring a charge of assault down upon them. They still live in the real world.

It’s now over thirty years since I was there, drinking some perfumed evil spirit with pig farmers, being carried back to the hotel and having to visit the Great Wall the next day. The photos were essential, I don’t remember much of that day.

One thing I do remember was a rare glimpse of the Chinese police. They were moving on a beggar. Gently, but determinedly. The beggar had transgressed by troubling tourists and that was not allowed.

Overall, China is not that bad a place. If you feel strongly about political change, best do it somewhere else. They really don’t like that. They don’t like murderers or rapists or drug dealers either – those are lucky if the police catch them first. Overall though, it’s a pretty nice place to live, I think.

You need to know ‘Lu Wai’ (old foreigner) because you’ll be called that often. It’s not like France or Germany where you can blend in by keeping silent. In China, if you’re not Chinese, you are very noticeable.

You definitely need to know that they drink spirits from tumblers and they have a tradition that the guest’s glass must never be less than full. Take a sip and they top it up. You have no idea how much you’re drinking. Also, if someone lifts their glass and says ‘Gambey’ to you, you are both expected to down it. The buggers have filled yours!

Another useful phrase is ‘Mae win ti’ which means ‘No problem’. You hear that a lot.

An aside (you knew it was coming, didn’t you?) – in Marseille for a conference, some years before the China visit, I was approached by one of those English types who think that all foreigners understand English but are deaf. You just have to shout it at them to get through. He wanted the post office. Which was behind him.

I tolerated him long enough to recall enough O-level French to say ‘Ah, oui, la gare’, and then gave him broken-English directions to the railway station. To get there he first had to turn to face the post office. Never saw him again. Probably for the best.

Can’t do that in China. It’s a very hard language to learn. They have Mandarin and Cantonese, they have many dialects and they have words that can mean very different things depending on the tone of voice it’s pronounced in. You can get a warm handshake or a black eye with the same sentence, depending on your tone.

Incidentally, in the University of Beijing they have a vast library. It contains pretty much everything written in every language plus a lot written only in the Chinese languages. They know a hell of a lot of stuff we don’t, you realise?

Maybe that’s why China isn’t smokefree.

In China, you can smoke free.

In the West… well, we call China ‘oppressive’ because it does not oppress the same way we do.

But we are learning from them. Soon we too will have controlled internet and one-child families.

I wonder how hard it is to move to China. To the Free East.

I think Brian Aldiss was prophetic with his short story ‘All the World’s Tears’. Eric Idle was prophetic also in 1980, with this…

Better get some Mandarin classes. They are going to walk the next world war.



28 thoughts on “Smoke free in China.

  1. I suppose, as in any society, when you stay within the law – even if punching someone who insults you is legal – you won’t have a problem, but I’m sure you didn’t try to open a church while you were there or were a member of Falun Gong and had your organs harvested or you were once a woman and was kidnapped by the police and had your baby aborted or had been forcibly sterilised or had been driven off your land at gun-point and moved into one of their brand new cities or forced to work long hours for peanuts in a factory making consumer goods for the West?

    Or perhaps these reports are grossly exaggerated for Western consumption…?


    • There are a hell of a lot of people in China.

      In the UK, a much smaller place, how many times do we hear of dawn raids for pretty much nothing and people getting arrested for casual remarks on Twitter or even in the real world?

      China does not behead Christians, China does not care about Christians. Falun Gong has a political agenda China’s bosses don’t like. It’s not a bad agenda it’s just in the wrong place.

      And yes, they do have a lot of State nastiness. A very big lot.

      Can we really cast the first stone?


      • There are a lot of people in China. As Tim Vine said,

        “Apparently, one in five people in the world are Chinese. And there are five people in my family, so it must be one of them. It’s either my mum or my dad. Or my older brother, Colin. Or my younger brother, Ho-Chan-Chu. But I think it’s Colin.”

        But we certainly can’t cast the first stone. Not even a particle of grit.


  2. The-Girl-Who-Became-The-Bestes-Frau-In-The-World and I got to know each other whilst on a seminary trip for German Volunteers to Budapest in ’88. I had heard and read a lot about the Evil Empire and Hungary was nothing like I had been led to believe by the ‘western’ MSM.
    On arrival the Tour Guide gave us the following warning which I have always felt illustrated Communist Hungarian society

    ;” Budapest has a really good public transport system. Use it. But DO NOT attempt to fare dodge (very common practice among Young Germans at that time). I can’t tell you what the cost of a standard ticket is in DMarks cos we don’t have coins that small- something like an 1/8 of a pfennig but if you get caught riding without a ticket you will go to jail. In Germany you’d get a 10Dmark fine, here they have been known to shoot fare dodgers.”

    ” If you sold a house in Birmingham you could buy a town in China. The people weren’t oppressed. They were mostly pretty happy.”

    On our final evening in ‘Pest ,The-Girl-Who-Became-The-Bestes-Frau-In-The-World and I went out for a romantic meal. We took a taxi to the centre of town, had a 3 course meal in a top notch restaurant by candlelight with a gypsy violinist (even back then it was a law), we then got a taxi back to the hotel -about 5 kms from the centre of the city. Total cost for the evening? About 7 Dmarks (£2.60ish)! I tried to tip the cabby and he was OFFENDED, mortally wounded even: “I am a worker of the People’s Magyar Republic and I have no need of your charity” or something like that.


    • East Germany (DDR) was similar. O.K, if you want to leave, or change the Government you have problems, but other than that….

      O.K, so, in theory, Russian soldiers could walk into a shop, go straight to the front of the queue and buy the lot, leaving the Germans empty handed.


      Why would they DO that, when everything “on base” was a similar price, and of much better quality? But NATO did not want you to know that. It did not fit the “agenda.”

      I have met many, and my present friends are all MOSTLY Ossis. NONE of them were /are against the DDR. about 50% of them would have it back yesterday.

      How can that be, if what Western “Governments” told us, is true?

      This, however, does not go in todays world. What we are told about certain communitys is all around us to see. Rotherham, etc. They act here (Politically/Culturaly) EXACTLY as they did/do at home.

      The East Germans, Mainland (Communist) Chinese, etc that came here, were by definition NOT typical of their countrymen.

      They were NOT here to impose upon us what they had, supossedly in fear of their lives left, (yet as soon as they get a permenant permission to stay, bugger off “back home” for months at a time!) They were NOT here to impose DDR/Maoist Dictatorships upon us.

      “Other communitys” appear to be sent here to do JUST that.


      • For the Brit Speakers among us: ” Ossis”= “citizen of the state formerly known as the GDR or DDR. ‘Ost’ is the German for ‘East’ and so ‘Ossis’ literally means ‘Easterners’.

        There is, in the New Federal States of Germany a whole “Ostalgie” industry (

        I have always regretted not having had chance to visit the DDR -although I did manage to get a foot onto DDR soil….


        • Aye. O.K. I forget that many Brits/Yanks/etc, do not know what “Ossi” is. You are perfectly correct in your explanation. Thanks: 😀

          I DID get to visit the DDR. But you can not really call “the green zone” LIVING there. (Every Embassy had Military Police attached.)

          The fun part was to “loose” you assigned watcher from the Russian, or East German army/KGB/Stassi.

          You could spot them a mile away.

          They did it to us in the West as well.

          What a waste of time, WITH hindsight.


  3. Have had the pleasure of visiting both the DDR (well, East Berlin) and China. Was stationed in West Berlin when it was a divided city and was allowed access to the Eastern sector. We had to wear No 2 dress uniform and had to stay within the city perimeter but apart from that, there were few restrictions. For our own safety, we usually went in groups of at least 3, and were even allowed to take our families and visiting relatives across. We would only deal with Soviet troops at the border crossings and ignored attempts by DDR troops or Volkspolizei to see our travel permits. There were queues for everything – you queued up to order goods, then queued up to pay for them and then again to collect the goods you’d paid for. If they ran out before you collected them but after you had paid for them, you didn’t get your money back, just a coupon for that value to be used at that store in the future. When the Olympics were held in Moscow, it was impossible to buy soap, toothpaste, shower gels, shampoo, bedding, sheets, pillow cases as they were all earmarked for the visitors to the Games. If the owner of a small company died, his family had first refusal to buy it from the government, there being no right to inheritance. You never saw hubcaps on cars (they would be stolen and sold for scrap metal) and when it rained, cars would pull over, and the drivers fit wipers before driving off, and then removing them it stopped raining, as you could not buy rubber goods.
    Many years later, did a trip down the Yangtse, visiting the Three Gorges, while the river was still negotiable due to the building of the dam. Our tour guide explained that when the dam was built, the river level would be raised 35 metres. This would cause many farms and villages to be abandoned as they would then be underwater. However, the Chinese government would rehouse the people and they would be told(!) whether they would be given new farm land or housed in tower blocks in cities such as Chongquinn (allegedly the largest city in China). There would be no right of appeal and would have to accept the lottery style decision.
    Back in Beijing, the Hongs (areas in the old city) were being demolished ‘for the greater good’ to allow development of the capital. Again, despite protests, there was no right of appeal.
    There was no publicity in the press or media about these displaced citizens.
    The UK has it’s faults, but I know which government I would prefer to live under


    • “The UK has it’s faults, but I know which government I would prefer to live under”

      The Baader-Meinhof/RAF terrorists who found sanctuary in the DDR also very quickly noticed that life in the Workers & Farmers State wasn’t as glorious or as socialistic as they had been led to believe. One memorable anecdote recounts how one young Revolutionary and former West German used up his entire coffee allowance for the month the first day of his new life as a citizen of the Glorious People’s Republic. He and his compatriots were also shocked that they weren’t allowed to sleep on mattresses on the floor (in the acclimatization ‘hostel’) but had to learn how to make beds!

      Don’t think Leg or any others here would actually prefer to live in a communist country but it is right and proper to point out the level of misinformation around and that the Evil Empire wasn’t quite so evil as painted , nor THE FREE WEST as free as one might hope.


    • Fucking Hell. I was about to weigh in with my experiences in East Berlin in 1985 and more latterly, Ossieland in 2003, but you’ve all trumped me.

      “There were queues for everything – you queued up to order goods, then queued up to pay for them and then again to collect the goods you’d paid for.”

      Still happens in Frankfurt. Bloody lunacy. Also, their “Hi Tech” store, Saturn, doesn’t accept credit cards! And does anyone remember the smaller suburban supermarkets closing from 1200-1400 on weekdays? And closing at 1200 on Saturdays? And that everything is still closed on Sundays? By Fucking Law?

      In Thailand, you accidentally break you car’s key. You give the remainder to a motorcycle taxi driver (who is glad of the work) who goes to a locksmith (who is glad of the work) and returns it to you. Everyone benefits. On a Sunday.

      “The UK has it’s faults, but I know which government I would prefer to live under”

      If Miliband gets in, we are fucked. Under Cameron, he’s just teasing us with the tip brushing the balloon knot. That greasy retard Ed will happily slam Mandingo’s length straight up anyone who works, or has worked, for a living. And he won’t even spit on it first.

      As soon as homo marriage is accepted in Australia, I’ll be offering my services as a husband for the quite reasonable sum of £500,000. If you are a good-looking girl, it’s £50,000. A discount is available for nymphomaniacs on the grounds of your disability, but you need to be assessed first.


      • XX Still happens in Frankfurt…..And does anyone remember the smaller suburban supermarkets closing from 1200-1400 on weekdays? And closing at 1200 on Saturdays? And that everything is still closed on Sundays? By Fucking Law? XX

        WHICH Frankfurt?

        ALL shops closed abetween those hours, and on Saturday. There was also “Half day closing” in the week, as well. Just as in Britain.

        And as to Sundays; half and half.

        IF you can afford it, you can do your months shopping in the local petrol station, which are more like mini supermarkets these days. Main line railway stations mostly have a supermarket that is open on Sunday. From about 08:00 to 08:00, but some, like Berlin zoo, are open 23 hours per day, Sundays included.

        We now have a couple of weekends per year, normally before a bank holiday, where the shops are open on Sunday.


        • Have to admit that when I holidayed in Rastede (northern Germany) last year I was gobsmacked to find that the local REWE (like a Tesco but without the BOGOFS cos they are still illegal under a law passed by Hitler I think) was open on a Saturday until 22:00! I still remember everything shutting Saturday lunchtime -except the motorway services and the shops at the airport/trainstation.


          • We have various REWES and Reichelts within walking distance, which are open either until Midnight, or 24 Hours (Except Sundays.) Even shops in places which are in the middle of no-where are open until 22:00, and open again at 6 or 7 in the morning.


              • Frankfurt a.M. I’ve never been to the other one. And the big Rewe there is open until midnight, shops at the Hbf etc. And Germany is to be commended on its relaxed attitude to the sale of alcohol (although the deposit on cans is a huge PITA).
                Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not having a dig at Germany per se. After all, if your shop is bigger than a certain number of square feet in the UK, the all-knowing government tells you when you may open your own bloody shop. That’s wrong, wherever in the world it happens.


                • Aye. The deposit can be a pain in the arse when paying. But when it comes to Monday morning, and you have enough there to buy another 10, it is not SO bad! 🙂

                  8 Cents on a half liter bottle of beer, ,25 on a can, ,15 for a Cola type bottle, and ,25 Cents for the heavy, and large plastic bottles…. Liter water bottles for example, and liter cans of beer. Kegs, from 5 liter upwards can be anything from €5 to €30, for the REALLY big ones.


                  • I don’t live there any more (obviously), but they became annoyed when I crushed them before returning them. When you get through six or eight per day, it’s logistically awkward to cash them in.

                    I hadn’t realised that the bastards were at kegs as well..


  4. I went to communist Eastern Europe for the first time in 1984. Hungary. then Czechkoslovakia. Both were fine. Had a pretty good time and developed a liking for Bechkerovka. Which I can buy locally.


    • I always wondered why Cutters Crap tasted so awful, now I know. If the fakers have to add all those to get that Cutters taste..

      Hate to think what counterfeiters have to add to Amber Leaf though…cos that tastes like manure.


      • It did sound bloody peculiar.
        Anywho, got plenty of leaf now. Just wondering what to do with it.
        I tried the slow cooker thing but suspect I steemed all the good stuff out of it.


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