Manners, cleanliness and hygiene. They seem to come naturally to most people but in reality our manners have been shaped by the British class system and Christianity over many centuries and our hygiene by science and outbreaks of disease. How to behave, speak, sit, enter a room, use knives and forks in the correct order, how not to ruffle feathers, how to blend in to a crowd, how to ensure you don't spread disease, appreciation, respect etc. - China has little of this. The class system in China is newly emerging and it is shaped by young über rich people who have had a helping hand from parents and trampled everyone else in their path. The health and hygiene standards are ever so slowly increasing but not fast enough. Sound harsh? It is.
Life is tough here for the majority of the population. China is not an overly clean place. It is a bit better than I had expected. But still not great. Just last week I was walking into my lane way and there was a big crowd of people standing around watching whilst a lady and her family were evicted from a one room 'home' because she was behind in rent. Two days later there was a concrete wall erected right across the front of the squalid shoe box sized home to prevent her from getting in at all. How it was that she made it a home in the terrible condition and location it was, is beyond me but she did. Now? Who knows what happened to her and her family. An even lower standard of living must surely await them.
Each morning we awake to a symphony of spitting neighbours. The sounds of men and women conjuring up a big wad of spit echoes through the compound. No chirping birds, no sounds of the bush, no rolling ocean or babbling brook just people hacking a lurgy and spitting it on the lane way below. Good morning world!
This symphony does not end, it merely decreases in frequency during the day but it is still there. The nutritionist in me asks "What are these people eating that produces so much mucous that they have to spit so often?" Sadly it's not food it's just habit. It is 100% socially acceptable to spit whenever and wherever you please. It used to repulse me enough watching football players spit on the field. Now it is a part of life to dodge the bubbly fluid on the footpath.
There are certain things in life that everyone should experience and riding your bike along the street and copping the spray of a scooter rider as he takes an earth shattering snort and throat crushing spit is not one that I recommend. Like I said, anywhere, any place just hack it up and spit it out.
Nose picking, urinating in the street, disposing of decaying food in the street, all normal. The toddlers here wear what are known as split pants. I really wish that I was kidding but it is true, just google it. I have seen several styles of split pants and my favourite ones were on a boy aged about 18 months old. He was waddling down the street towards me looking like he was dressed in long pyjama pants. He turned and bent over and I saw it all! He was wearing a style of split pants that simply had no back on them. They were like cowboy chaps. Attached at the waist and the ankle. The front of him was covered but the back was bare. There was a little modesty flap to cover his bottom as he walked but if he bent over you saw the works. I saw the works. It was unpleasant. The other kinds of split pants basically have no seam so that the kids can just do their business anywhere they please. It is encouraged from a young age, although I am lead to believe it is getting better as the western influence permeates Chinese culture.
Which begs the question of hygiene in this place. We have a community rubbish bin unit. It holds 4 large green bins and both compounds use it. One minute it is full and over flowing with putrid smells and fluids rolling out and then next minute it is as clean as a whistle. I have never seen a truck come and clean it out. I have never seen a little man or woman clean it out. It is like the garbage fairies come along when it gets to over flowing and fixes the mess. There was even a couch there yesterday and within 45 minutes of me walking out of the compound and then walking back in the whole thing was gone. Not just the couch but the rubbish also. There was a signboard up in the compound filled with Chinese characters, my assumption is that it is used as a notice board twice a week to inform the locals of the goings on in the area. Yesterday it was not only filled with Chinese but there was a small drawing of a cockroach in the corner. Sometimes I love being blissfully ignorant as to what is going on and other times I really wish I knew.
Did you know that last month a small northern provincial town was quarantined because there was an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague? THE. PLAGUE!! The story broke in the morning and by the early afternoon the government had prettied up the story and laughed it off as a miscommunication. I'm sure the journalist is in all sorts of hot water if he can indeed, ever feel hot water again, if you get what I mean. But it happened and The Plague is back. Sanitizing gel anyone?
So, as you wake up to your chirping birds and rolling oceans, clean streets and rubbish bins, please spare a thought for Greg and I as we wake to our own symphony of spitters and fragrances unknown.
P.S. If you know what this says please email me and let me know! Thanks!