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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Inertial Expectoration, or Spitting in China

Paul Theroux's highly informative "Riding the Iron Rooster" is about a trip he took to mainland China in 1986. His title refers to one of the many train rides that he took within the country, and those are the focus of the book. Aside from preoccupations with food, the Red Guards, Chairman Mao, and the shapes of mountains, one can't help but notice Theroux's interest in the Chinese fondness for spitting in public. Quite often he mentioned how freely they spat whenever and wherever they pleased, with great frequency, even onto rugs, and the government was looking for means to try to curb this raging national habit.

I wondered if now, 20 years later, the Chinese authorities, which we think of as being so powerful, had succeeded. A light web search indicated that expectoration in China is as free and frequent as ever, even though various governments there are still trying to set into place anti-spitting programs. Having already done so during the SARS scare of 2002, without permanent success, they are making the same effort part of the process in gearing up for the Olympics in Peking two years from now.

Theroux traveled all over China buttonholing people and asking millions of questions, yet so far, four-fifths of the way through the book, not once did he ask anyone the really salient question, and that is, why do they spit so much?

Maybe Theroux did ask but didn't find the answers enlightening. In a blog I read, a woman tells of how she asked someone that question, and the answer was simply, "Because I am a mainland Chinese."

Apparently the Chinese who fled to Taiwan in 1949 plus those who were already there, have dropped the habit, at least in the same profusion, giving rise to a saying in China that if a war ever broke out and everybody in China spat on Taiwan, it would sink the whole island.

In my current DVD craze, I'm going to start paying more attention to Chinese movies, for many reasons, one being to see if anyone in them is shown doing the thing. I'm confident that I never will, just as I never have, in all the Chinese films that I've already seen.

Maybe, being so much larger, the Chinese can't easily break that or any other habit, purely because of the laws of physics and the inertia that accompanies oversized objects.

The Japanese, also with a large population but nothing like that of China and India, have the apparent advantage of being more flexible than those countries.

When I traveled through Japan during the summer of 1959, 14 years after the War (which for me means WW2), I frequently saw Japanese men urinating on railway station platforms, sidewalks, and other public places, with no one taking any note of it. Just seven years later, in 1966, when I made a similar summer-long swing through the Japanese islands, the practice, to my observation, had vanished entirely.

The Chinese, however, must be a different cup of tea.


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