A couple of weeks back, the Beijing city government announced that, in order to ensure a ‘smoke-free’ Olympics, smoking will be banned in government offices, sports venues, museums, hospitals, schools, and internet cafes, bars, and restaurants. My first reaction was to jump for joy. One of the more difficult things to adjust to here in China is the constant bombardment from cigarette smoke. It’s everywhere, and in a country that has 350 million smokers, that’s not at all surprising. My second reaction to the announcement, though was, simply, NO WAY that they are going to be able to ban smoking in restaurants. Smoking, drinking, and eating are three essential strands of social interaction and networking here. Take one of the away, and the country could be facing some real social instability. Apparently something happened to knock the bureaucrats back to their senses, because this week the city government announced that restaurants would be exempt from the bans after all. Crisis averted. They will, however, be required to offer smoking and non-smoking sections. That may be fine for big restaurants that can seat 500 people (yes, Beijing has a lot of those), but what about the holes-in-the-wall noodle shops that have 2 tables and 8 stools? Sorry folks, it ain’t gonna happen.
For a few weeks I enjoyed imagining going into a restaurant and not having to fight my way through a thick blue haze of cigarette smoke. It was a nice thought while it lasted, but alas, just too good to be true!