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Before I start, I’d like to make a disclaimer: I’m a spitter - always have been, always will be. I’m a bit phlegmatic, I’ve always had allergies and a post nasal drip. In the mornings, I get a little stuffy, and the alternative to spitting (swallowing) isn’t too pleasant and, I think, a bit unhealthy – so I spit. If I’m at home or work, I go to the bathroom and take care of things privately. If I’m in public, I try to find a gutter, garbage can, or some earth (sorry, plants and trees) and relieve myself somewhere people won’t see/touch/step on. However, if there’s no secret spot for me to spit, I have been known to let loose on the sidewalk or street. I’ll admit it – I’ve hocked up many a loogie in many a public place in many countries.
Disclaimer out of the way, I’ve noticed three things that Beijingers tend to do that I don’t, when it comes to spitting culture. First: the noise. Loud, hocking, hacking noises that seem to approach the noises I would make when vomiting don’t offend me, but I don’t see the point. I can almost always bring up my catarrh quietly. Second: the public ness of it. I usually try to do it when no one is looking, or at least do it away from the people I’m with. Third: doing it when you don’t really need to. If it takes you a long time and a lot of effort to work up just a dab of lungbutter, you probably didn’t need to spit in the first place.
I’m writing this because last night, at my usual 串(chuanr) spot I started to really notice and observe all of the spitting that was going on. A group of guys had just finished eating dinner and were standing around in a circle with nothing to do, acting tough and planning their next move, as guys from any country are wont to do. The stood there, talked, and spat. Holy crap! There was a lot of spitting. Then someone else far away coughed up a lung, I let one loose, and then the waitress from the restaurant came outside and spat on the ground. It was actually quite funny.
I’ve read a lot of foreigners stuff about Beijing and China (including the Lonely Planet book on Beijing) and I’ve seen a few tirades about all of the spitting. I say (and I guess only a few other Jewish readers will understand this, but it seems so punny) ‘Stop Hoking a Chainik!’ Spitting is no big deal. My only advice to Beijingers is to turn down the volume a teeny bit. Other than that, keep on keeping on.