The Three S’s: Spitting, Staring, Shoving

It’s the little things. My first day in Beijing, China, I noticed a sign on the wall next to me in a restaurant. In both English and Chinese it read:
Spitting spreads tuberculous.  I thought, ” I know that, but do we need a sign to remind us? Turns out we do.

Chinese men and to a lesser degree, women, spit freely- anywhere and everywhere. The streets are dotted with clumps of hockers in various stages of moisture. I was on the top deck of a Chinese cruise ship heading down the mighty Yangtze River to the Three Gorges Dam when a guy spit on the astro turf floor. Oh my God! I thought everyone would be up in arms, because all around us kids were playing.

But, no one paid any attention to him or cleaned it up. I related the incident to my students who agreed that it is a disgusting habit. ” Be patient, Ruby, change takes time.”  So, at any moment, almost any place, one might hear the sound of a guy clearing his lungs-or where ever that stuff is stored. Arrrrgggghhh. Vanessa, a German girl I met on the cruise said, “I will never get used to that.”  Me either.

Three Gorges

Outside of Beijing and Shanghai I was stared at as if:
1. I was a celebrity.
2. A circus freak
3. Had spinach in my teeth
4  Was a foreigner.

I’m not talking about sly glances. I am talking about full-on staring- straight into your face without blinking kind of staring. It happened on the metro, in stores, on buses-everywhere I went.

On several occasions men came within two feet of me to stare up close. In my culture, that is invading my space; in China apparently any space is community space.

Let me be clear. I am not a beauty, but neither am I ugly. I am a perfectly respectable looking grandmother of a certain age-dressed appropriately for it.

I’m not used to being stared at. I’m uncomfortable with it. I find it rude. Nothing seemed to work to make them quit. I tried staring back, smiling, ignoring them. Occasionally I got a smile back, but not often enough to make it a rewarding experience. Please stop.

To get into Chongqing from the campus required the use of a campus bus and the metro. Teachers are supposed to have priority on the buses; but as the bus pulls up, the students mob the door, pushing and shoving to get through. Ditto for the metro. Stand behind the line and get ready to dash onto the car, pushing anyone: young, old, frail, out of the way so you get a seat.

It took me a few weeks of riding standing up, or waiting for the next bus to use my dangerous elbows as the weapons they’ve always been; I just didn’t appreciate them until they were needed.

Stand and stare at me all you want while I sit here relaxed reading my book.