Ashtray Gone Astray

“The Gun” was our pride in school, our champion. He represented Penang in a national swimming meet in ’74. I didn’t ask if he won gold but anyone will tell you he’s still a champ with a heart of gold. I think he is known as The Gun because of his affinity to water, we all loved the water gun at school, it was one toy which only the rich kids could afford. He still goes to the pool most days, I assume he means the swimming pool and not the pool lounge. It came as a big shock today to learn that he wants to quit smoking. Our swimmer has been a smoker?! Where is the smoking gun? Can you imagine what his big lungs look like after decades of abuse? For his sake, I do wish he will quit, immediately. But, old cobbers have a stubborn streak, we tend not to care about ourselves. A recent returnee from London echoed exactly that when asked to join the quitters. Nah, Thanks bro ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿผ

I’m sorta waiting to contract some serious degenerative disease or pulmonary condition, before considering.., kinda.

Haven’t really given it much thought… ๐Ÿ˜”

Well, let us focus on one at a time. There is hope for The Gun. He has successfully negotiated the day without weakening his resolve, so far. As long as he reminds himself of his daughter’s wish, whispered to him recently, he has a good chance to quit and remain a quitter. “She wishes that Iโ€™ll still be around to take her down the aisle. Thatโ€™s pretty touching.”

What should we do first, to quit? It’s obvious, I said! Throw away your ashtray. A smoker would never throw away their cigarettes, I reasoned. Strangely, on my way to the office today, a sister asked if our father ever smoked in front of me when I was little. She asked me because I was very much glued to Pa when I was a young lad. Pa was sunshine in my eyes and I was his shadow. Of course he never! My auto-protect-Pa instincts kicked in. He never smoked in front of me. He never. But, I didn’t tell her I loved to follow Pa to his favourite haunt, a club he helped formed. He would take me there for his mahjong sessions, every weekend and even the occasional week night. San Kiang Association was a club for migrants from the three Jiang’s in China, Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Chejiang. The club’s building is in Macalister Lane, diagonally across the quiet dark lane was a dimly lit stall manned by a craggy old woman. To call hers a stall is a courteous exaggeration, all her stock was displayed on a wooden stand 2 ft wide x 3 ft high, on the Ngo ka-ki. The Ngo ka-ki or five foot way is a unique Strait Settlement feature, first introduced by Thomas Stamford Raffles who learned it from the Dutch East Indies. The roofed continuous public walkways connecting long stretches of link commercial houses offer ample relief from severe heat and heavy tropical downpour. I looked forward to being sent to the old vendor on the Ngo ka-ki, if Pa’s drawer was filled with chips, especially big blue ones, then Pa would surely add a roll of Haw flakes for me, to his packet of Camel. The club room was air conditioned, it was the norm that all six mahjong tables were occupied, which equates to 24 smokers and more. The “more” are those who hang around hoping losers would vacate their seats. Yes, I admit I was a passive smoker for much of my boyhood years. Ashtrays were a bane to me even then. Filthy and stinky, enough to deter me from smoking.

When I decided to do a commerce degree in accounting at the UNSW, it never crossed my mind that it meant I would continue to be a passive smoker, in my profession. In the 80’s and early 90’s in Australia, the work place was not a safe haven against passive smoking. As a non smoker, even my office was equipped with a dirty ashtray. It was good manners to provide one for the smokers who may enter my office. It is revolting now to think back of those days. I can still see clearly life after work at home. My little sons would hide under the sheets as soon as they hear my car entering the driveway. Pretending not to know where they are, I would call out their names and search high and low for them, leaving their room till last. As soon as I stepped into their room, they would “attack” me and I would fall like a detonated tower. They would then smother me all over. Only now I realise how badly I would have smelt of cigarettes to them.

When I had my first retail shop, I traded my suit and ties for a broom and mop. My first day as a shopkeeper is unforgettable. Having swept and mopped the floor, I was just about to admire the good work I had done when a customer walked in with a lit cigarette. He left a trail of dirty cigarette ash, flicking his cigarette as he browsed meaninglessly. Hey, why are you following me with that stupid ashtray, he asked.

I am glad the ashtray is gone, for good. Iranian airlines’ orders for 200 commercial jets with Boeing and Airbus have been jeopardised because of Trump’s unilateral decision to tear up their nuclear pact. This means we will continue to see ashtrays on the seats of Iran Air’s planes. The ashtray has gone astray, but that’s not exactly the truth. Although smoking has been banned in airplanes for over thirty years, the ashtray in the plane toilet is still a legal requirement. Only because the FAA does not trust us not to smoke in the toilet. We can’t risk the quitter from secretly smoking inside the plane’s toilet, the ashtray is the only safe way to dispose of a lit cigarette. Urghhlings.

The Smoking Gun