The Chengdu Optimist

Posted on by Scott Ferguson

chengdu-optimist - life in china

One day in Chengdu, Sichuan, I walked along a large street during afternoon rush hour. The sidewalk was crowded and chaotic, people bounced around everywhere as I approached an intersection teeming with more people as well as buses, cars, and trucks pointed in every direction blaring their horns and barely moving–caught in the grind of a traffic jam. Noisy, noisy, noisy. The ground was filthy and covered with the detritus of the day—cigarette butts, discarded paper, scattered nut shells, plastic bags, fruit peels, black gunk, sand, and debris from a construction project. Exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke rolled over the crowds, colliding to form a never ending cloud above the chaos.

Out of the blue, a man did something I’d never seen in China. I stopped, stared, laughed in amazement, and considered asking to shake his hand, congratulate him, and ask for a picture. He was the most optimistic person I have ever seen.

What was he doing? Putting his cigarette out in an ashtray atop the trash can.

In the middle of the frantic scene and with cigarette butts lying all over the ground, this man made his contribution to the betterment of the habitat. In all of my time in China, he still is the only person I’ve seen using the built-in ashtray atop garbage cans all around China. Regardless of how impossible it appeared to convince his fellow citizens to use the ashtray for their cigarette butts, this man did it anyway. What an optimist!

Standing in the face of the impossible with his feet in the midst of discarded butts everywhere, the man seemed to believe in making a difference to improve the environment. He made his stand. China consumes billions of cigarettes every day, but this man took the first step to keeping the butts off the street. I commend him as the most optimistic man in the world. Wish I had taken his picture after all.


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