Here is another contribution from Eurasian Sensation, who wrote Cheesy Ballads a few weeks ago. We hope you enjoy it, as it reveals one of Asia’s dirtiest habits, spitting.
There are many sights and sounds that evoke memories of one’s travels through Asia. Some are pleasant, such as the noisy hustle and bustle of the marketplace. And some not so pleasant, such as the all-too-common rasping sound of an Asian man clearing his throat and spitting its icky contents on the pavement. It is undeniable; Asians love a good spit.
While many Western cultures consider phlegm to be an unpleasant substance, to be hidden shamefully in a handkerchief, Asians regard phlegm’s rightful place as being on the ground, preferrably where someone will step in it.
Asians who have grown up in the West do not always adopt this charming habit, presumably aware that non-Asians consider it quite unsavory. Yet the steady stream of fresh-off-the-boat immigrants and exchange students from the motherland ensure that Western sidewalks, roads and other walking surfaces do not miss out on the Asian loogie treatment. And while among Westerners spitting is mostly committed by young people who have yet to acquire a sense of social grace, among Asians some of the most ardent spitters are the elderly.
Why the fondness for spitting? There are a number of reasons, and it differs from country to country.
Firstly, the choking pollution that infests many Asian big cities, and the high rate of tobacco use, mean that respiratory problems are common. A day walking around a smoggy Asian metropolis will leave the average person’s throat with enough icky black mucus to power a solid spitting session preceded by several minutes of throat-clearing (also for the benefit of passersby.)
The Chinese are perhaps the world leaders in the art of spitting. Some theorize that during the Cultural Revolution, some of the etiquette traditionally favoured by the upper classes was shunned in favour of the mores of the common people. Then when economic factors led to hundreds of millions of people leaving the countryside for the big cities, these village folk also brought with them a number of habits that had long flourished in a peasant environment. (Spitting is foremost among these, but a related treat for the fortunate tourist to observe is the classic Asian peasant method of blowing one’s nose, by tilting the head, pressing on one nostril and blowing the contents of one’s nose onto the sidewalk.)
Of course, spitting is also a national pastime in much of South and Southeast Asia. In particular, Indians and Indonesians are renowned for their skill at hawking loogies anywhere and everywhere, regardless of company or public health concerns. Indonesia’s exceptionally high rate of cigarette smoking (said to be at least 70% among adult males) no doubt contributes to their love of spitting, while the habit of chewing betel nut further adds to the saliva-fest. This mildly narcotic substance (called paan in India and siri pinang in Indonesia) is chewed throughout tropical Asia, and has the additional benefit of turning one’s saliva, and later one’s teeth, a dirty reddish brown colour. Betel chewing recommended if you want to make it seem like you are constantly spitting blood, or if you wish to cultivate that “I’m too cool to ever bother brushing my teeth” look so favoured amongst the older generation of Southern Asian villagers.
But in some places, the tide is turning against the spitters. Spitting in the street can now land you with an on-the-spot fine in places like Beijing and Hong Kong. And the Singapore government’s long campaign against such behaviours has made it a virtually spit-free (and gum-free) zone – quite a remarkable achievement for a city populated mostly by Chinese and Indians. This push to get spitting off the streets has meant that one of the best places to hear the sounds associated with spitting is in the public toilet of a shopping centre or airport, where patrons feel safe to loudly summon and then expel phlegm to their hearts’ content. If you are particularly lucky, you can find yourself in a cubicle next to someone who can hawk it up continuously for over 5 minutes.
So spit while you still can, spitters – soon these heavy-handed governments may take away your right to be disgusting and a walking health-risk. Until then, spitting is a fabulous way to take whatever bacteria and assorted gunk from one’s throat, and share it with the rest of the world in the form of airborne particles and splotchy gobs of saliva. It is a great way to spread diseases such as tuberculosis, and an easy way to come off as uncouth in front of others. Try it today for an authentic Asian experience!
Thanks for your submission, Eurasian Sensation! The SAPL family hopes to hear more from you in the upcoming weeks!
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