Sunday, 6 May 2007

Moan, moan, moan ...

This is about personal hygiene, noise, anti-social behaviour and pet hates. It had to come up at some point and since it will probably sound racist, or at least xenophobic, I might as well get it over with in one go.

The first time I went to China in 1991, it took a while to realise that the glazed bowls around the place which seemed to be covered in wax were in fact spittoons. I'd never seen one before and it was a while before I saw anyone actually use them (as in, get the spit in the pot rather than just nearby). So the cultural background here is that Chinese like to expectorate - to get foul liquids out of their bodies. Spit, snot, you name it, it's gone. So how is Singapore doing? Not that badly in public. Few people spit on the street but (Chinese) people still noisily clear their throats and noses in toilets and in their homes. And it's that last point which is the most distressing. It's like a dawn chorus in HDB land with ritual throat clearing echoing from the bathrooms. You think I exaggerate? I do not.

You might think I would be all for personal grooming. Yes, but not on the bus.Today's example was an older Chinese lady, carefully giving all 10 fingers a nail clipping with a practised 3 snip (left side, right side, middle) for each nail. The moon-shaped clippings cascaded down onto her handbag, lap and seat, and were all swept onto the floor before carefully replacing the clippers back inside her bag. Nice.

Men often don't wash their hands after going to the toilet. I end up having to use a tissue on the door handle then holding the door with my foot while I throw away the tissue. It's embarrassing when other people are trying to get into the washroom and I'm doing this Jackie Chan style kung fu move with the door. One more reason never lend your laptop.

There's no way to get through this without talking about eating. It's simple. People lean their forearms on the table edge, hold the spoon pointing towards themselves and move food from the plate to their mouth in a manner reminiscent of a building site tower crane. This style is not well correlated to social class (as in, nicely dressed professional people seem to do it also). There's a small justification in the sense than some food like noodles benefit from a modest lean over to avoid splashing, but the rest is just bad manners and it ain't a pretty sight.

Lastly, there is the shuffle. This is a hot climate; people often wear flip-flops that cannot sustain a normal walking flick of the leg without risking them fly off. People learn early to shuffle, keeping the shoe in contact with the ground, thus keeping it on the foot. At a minimum, this produces a sshh, sshh, sshh sound, but with hard-soled ladies shoes, this turns into a full blown clack, clack, clack of surprising percussive intensity. You're probably thinking I should lighten up, but you would complain too if half the population tied cymbals to their knees when going out.