A recent study by the National Survey Research Centre (NSRC) at Renmin University has concluded that Beijing has almost entirely eliminated “rude public behaviour such as spitting and ignoring traffic lights”.
The NSRC interviewed 11,000 people, and spent 8,000 hours watching “856,000 pedestrians, 584,000 motor vehicles and 454,000 bikes” around Beijing to create a public behaviour index.
This shows that only 5.5 out of every 1,000 pedestrians would ignore traffic lights when crossing a road and only 7.2 out of every 1,000 would spit in public places.
Those numbers seem quite low, but Beijing is home to 20,000,000 people and the 110,000 with no road safety awareness and 144,000 spitters seem to be following me everywhere.
I live in a reasonably upmarket part of central Beijing, but I’d say a worrying majority of people cross the road in a fashion that belies any sense of self preservation. People nonchalantly stroll into speeding traffic partway across a three lane highway, without looking up from their phones, or walk in the middle of the road, even when there’s a perfectly good pavement a few feet away.
This happens in many areas of life here. People are in a constant struggle to do things in any way but that which they’re told, even if it’s the most efficient or sensible. If there’s a bench they’ll sit on it back to front; if there’s a queue they’ll put so much effort into pushing in they may get halfway then get sent to the back, taking longer overall; if there’s a form they’ll scream, shout and argue -in fact anything other than just filling it in. Maybe years of oppression have brought out a rebellious streak, which is no bad thing, but in seemingly simple day-to-day situations they’re making life so much harder than just going with the flow and moving on to something more interesting.
This may also explain the continued use of chopsticks rather than a fork and spoon when eating soupy noodles.
As for the spitting, again I’d estimate the majority of people spit wherever and whenever they feel the urge, generally without looking where it might land. It’s more prevalent amongst men, as the women are too busy encouraging their kids to pee in the street.
By now I ignore most of this, but I was reminded of the study whilst sitting outside in the park eating some cold egg noodles for lunch. A petite lady on the bench opposite stopped mid conversation and forcibly emptied her nostrils onto the ground in two long yellow ribbons of mucus. She went back to the conversation. I didn’t go back to the noodles.
At the same time, the Chinese are unimpressed if during a particularly spicy meal (throughout which they burp, slurp, slap their mouth and smoke) I feel the need to blow my nose on a handkerchief, which then goes back in my pocket, germs and all, until it’s washed a few days later.
They may have a point about hygiene…or they may secretly revere me as a handkerchief toting maverick, fighting back against the system and their oppressive disposable moistened tissues.
Photo via http://t.sina.com.cn