Observations on ‘New China’: Part III – Spitting
I mean this in the nicest possible way, but China is a land of phlegm throwers. If there’s one sound that I heard more than any other during my short trip to Shanghai and Hangzhou, it’s the sound of someone clearing their throats and hocking and spitting phlegm.
The strange thing is that this type of behaviour is completely acceptable. It’s become so common over the years and so engrained into the culture that no one thinks much of it anymore. After all, having a clogged throat is an awfully uncomfortable feeling.
Ordinarily, the act of hocking and spitting phlegm is only seen and heard at homes and in public toilets (at least in my experience), but in China, it’s everywhere you go. Not just on the streets but also at touristy places such as temples and museums, and even in the lobbies of five-star hotels.
Once I was waiting for a lift in a hotel and a man just walked by, generated some phlegm, and spat it right into the corner against the wall. I was the only one that cringed. Everyone else just pretended it was normal behaviour. Another time, when we were at the top area of this Buddhist temple, a guy hocked for a good twenty seconds, then launched a massive ball of phlegm (I’d say almost golf ball sized) over the railings — and into a sea of people below. I could almost visualise someone getting concussed after getting hit by one of those bombs.
(It also reminded me of when I went to Macau a year or so ago and stayed at the Venetian, which was overrun by Chinese tourists. We took a gondola ride in the fake canal and my mother tried to put her hand in the water, only to be stopped by our guide, who reminded us that the Chinese tourists have a tendency to spit in them. Sure enough, a second later, a massive loogey comes floating along.)
I was actually kind of fascinated by it all in a bizarre way — why do people have so much phlegm in China? And why is it, judging from what I can see sprinkled all over the footpaths, is it so thick and creamy? Is it the pollution? The diet? Shouldn’t someone conduct a study into this?