I am a man of many vices.
Don't get me wrong - I'm a pretty good guy in a lot of ways, if I do say so myself. I'm kind to my wife, my cat, my friends and family, and generally toward those whom I think kindness should be a first impulse.
I even have a good friend who routinely wears a puka-shell necklace, and I rarely bring it up. (OK, that part is actually a lie.)
Smoking cigarettes, though,dominates the list of vices I picked up while I was in China. Some of the things that negatively impacted my health there were entirely out of my control. This goes in the other column.
Allow me a few quick excuses before you judge.
First, an incredibly high number of people smoke in China. One study - which, honestly, I don't buy, but still - reported that 60 percent of DOCTORS in China are regular smokers. DOCTORS.
As in, six out of 10 doctors (more or less) recommend smoking.
So you can guess what the means for the rest of the population.
Second, a pack costs 10 yuan - that's about $1.30. (No sin taxes, you see.)
Third, pretty much everywhere you go is coated with smoke. Even at indoor professional sporting events, you'll see people lighting up. Chinese Basketball Association games, the China Open - you name it. I went to a party once where packs of cigarettes were placed around the room as party favors.
Fourth, you're already dealing with a constant cloud of poisonous smog, so when you factor that in with the first three things, it's easy to not worry too much about your lungs when you're passing by the cigarette shop on your way out for the night.
To sum up, when you walk out into the night choking on smog on your way to a restaurant where your friends will be joining the rest of the building in a chain-smoking free-for-all, you feel like a cheapskate if you don't pony up a dollar on the way to the subway to avoid the inevitable, annoying bumming-of-the-smoke.
It was everywhere, and I at times lack the self-discipline to avoid doing what everybody else is doing.
My wife and I agreed to give it up immediately upon arrival in the U.S., and so far we've stuck to it. Turns out, it's much easier than either of us imagined. From time to time, if we're sitting outside at a bar and somebody walks by with a cigarette, there'll be the sudden urge to bum one. Otherwise, it's just nice to wake up able to breath.
So, somewhat to my surprise, it shouldn't be a problem now what we're home. I'll even make you a deal. If you see me around town and I'm smoking, call me on it and I'll buy you a beer.
What about you? Any vices - big or small - you need to shake?