Friday, August 8, 2008

Let the games begin!

I started writing down my thoughts last week about the lead up to the Olympics, but decided it best remained unpublished for now. It's sad to think that I've censored myself. Unfortunately, you do get the sense that "big brother" might be watching when you're living here.

Anyway, a more amusing aspect of the preparation leading up to the games has been teaching "manners" in Beijing. Throughout China, there isn't a second thought to hocking up a loggie in the middle of crowded street, sometimes even inside, too. The only expection is in Hong Kong where I never heard one person spit in public during an entire visit. (The Taiwanese also don't spit in public either.)

After taking the train from Hong Kong back to mainland China, I had one of those 'welcome back to China' moments at the Shenzhen train station. A lack of order as people chaotic hustled to the customs line followed by the endless sounds of people spitting right outside the terminal. At that point, I wanted to retreat back to Hong Kong for a few more days.

The concept of standing in line doesn't exist here. When I'm waiting for the subway in Shanghai, it's inevitable someone will jump in front of me as it arrives to get on first. I've taken to elbowing these people with a disgusted look on my face. (I guess, that's not good manners either. Oops! Some days you get too frustrated!)

Pushing even occurs when it's not necessary, which confuses me. Last week, I was perusing some sale racks at Uniqlo. Not too crowded. Just me in the aisle. This woman comes through and doesn't even try to go around me. She bullies me to move because I'm somehow in her way now. I finally moved over because she was relentless...and I felt ridiculous trying to hold my ground.

Apparently, efforts to improve manners, especially in Beijing, have gone on for a couple of years now (http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/11626341/site/21683474/). The China Daily reports some improvements (www.chinadaily.com.cn/olympics/2008-02/08/content_6445702.htm). Can you believe this? The 11th of each month is officially considered "Queuing Day" as passengers are told to stand in line while waiting for buses. I can't imagine anyone remembering this day after pushing and shoving for the rest of the month.

At the end of day, an event like the Olympics - which will quickly come and go after all this prep work - is not enough to change the cultural habits of 1 billion people. It's telling that the government set out on a manners campaign though. Perhaps, can we say that foreigners have better manners than the Chinese?

1 comment:

Derek said...

I was always wondering how to spell the words in the phrase "hocking up a loggie" . . . now I know! That is also one of my most vivid memories during our trip to see you in May. The closest equivalent that I observed stateside is a co-worker (national origin withheld) performing a dozen farmer's blows in rapid succession into the bathroom sink at work. He followed this by a vigorous nostril hosedown and a few more farmer's blows before being satisfied. Personally, I prefer tissues.