Posted in Culture

United in Mutual Revulsion: Spit and Shoes

So true! Isn’t it just amazing how deeply ingrained some of these reactions are? Some things are “disgusting”, whereas others are “completely normal” (how about blowing your nose and then putting the tissue in your pocket?). So good to be confronted by someone else’s “normal” every once in a while!

Expat Lingo

Comic on spitting and shoes

It is amusing how horrified we can be about the behaviors of others, while turning a blind eye to our own horrifying habits.

Spitting is an entrenched habit of many in Mainland China. Entering the elevator in my Chinese high-rise apartment, I was often greeted by a slick of opaque spit in the corner. Fortunately, in my present home of Hong Kong, a SARS-related aversion to germ-spreading has wiped out most public spitting.

A spitter has explained the logic behind the habit to me: essentially, since the air is so polluted and your phlegm captures this pollution, why would you dream of swallowing it? Far more healthy to eject this filth. I can understand the logic. (The logic, however, would still work if a tissue were employed between a person’s mouth and the ground.)

While I have yet to established my own ‘cleansing-through-spitting’ practice, my time in Asia has completely…

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Posted in Weekend Chat

Weekend Chat 28 April 2013

215561_10150156966756445_7044587_nGrab a cup of coffee, find a comfy seat and discover some my favourite blog posts, films, etc from this past week.


Things to watch

I have only just discoveredThe Villageon the BBC, the story of 20th Century England played out through a family in a Derbyshire village.  Definitely not rose-tinted and thus quite tough to watch in places, but so far absolutely worth it!

Things to read

Earthquake Expert – a moving account of the recent earthquake in China from an almost-eye-witness.  Coupled with a very amusing story, illustrating the perils of language.  Expert and expat – so close and yet so far…Read for yourself!

“Lu Lingzi was living the dream of practically every student that every English teacher in China has had in his or her class. We know them well: the young man who wants to earn an MBA and make his millions; the young woman who wants to become a scientist and discover the cure for cancer.” Very interesting reflection on the dream that brought Lu Lingzi, who died in the Boston Marathon bombings, to the US.

Things to listen to

Very interesting programme on “Crossing Continents” on BBC Radio 4, talking to staff and students at a Belarussian university in exile in Lithuania.

Posted in Uncategorized

What’s in a home


(photo: Huang Qingjun)

The content of a home.  What stories does it tell?  About the people.  About their lives.  About the country and society they live in.

Some of it seems so incongruous.  A mud house and a satellite dish.  Only the very basics and yet a television.

Part of me really wants to climb into the picture, to meet the people, to hear the real stories.  Understand the constraints (financial and therwise) on their lives.  Ask them what it is that makes their house a real home for them.

So much I would love to know.  Why are there no books?  Is that telephone maybe the only link to family far away?  What are the precious things, the things that hold special memories, the things that make them smile?  How does the rapid economic development in China affect them – and bypass them?

So many stories I would love to hear!

(I recently re-discovered this article which talks about a project by Chinese artist Huang Qingjun, described in the article like this: “Huang Qingjun has spent nearly a decade travelling to remote parts of China to persuade people who have sometimes never been photographed to carry outside all their household possessions and pose for him.”)

Posted in Uncategorized

Something Old, Something New

A few days ago, I had an interesting conversation with a Taiwanese friend of mine.  Somehow we got talking about history.  I was waxing lyrical about the National Trust and about discovering history by visiting historic places, rather than from textbooks.

She then commented that East Asians are often a bit disappointed when they come to the UK, because all they find here is history (her words, not mine!).  She was saying that people often prefer visiting the continent because there they get some history but also lots of modern technology.

It was one of those classic eye openers, of realising how different cultures see the same thing in totally opposite ways.  The Chinese are obviously very proud of their own history.  However, it seems that at this point, they are very intent on advancing economically, technologically, etc.  So what they are looking for when they go abroad is anything that could inspire and challenge them in that quest.  Looking to the future is what it’s all about.

For me (and this might just be a personal thing?), technology is useful, sometimes fun, but really no more than a tool.  When I visit another country or place, I would not be the slightest bit interested in what technology they might have but rather in where they’ve come from and what I can see of the cultural backdrop in front of which modern life is played out.

Wow, lots of potential for miscommunication – and for helping each other see a different angle!

Posted in Uncategorized

High Mountain and Running River

I discovered something really cool this week: apparently in Chinese, the word for “close friend” literally means “understanding music”, and the phrase “High Mountain and Running River” means close friendship or wonderful music.  Here is the story behind this:

According to legend, in the Spring and Autumn Period there lived a lyrist Yu Boya, who was extremely skilled in music performance. One day his performance in the open air was overheard by a woodchopper Zhong Ziqi, who happened to pass by. Zhong Ziqi immediately understood that Yu Boya was describing lofty mountains and turbulent running water through his performance. Amazed to have found someone with an understanding of his music, Yu Boya developed close friendship with Zhong Ziqi. Later when Zhong Ziqi died, Yu Boya was in deep grief that he broke the strings and the musical instrument. Ever since then he quit performing music.

 What a gift it is to have people in your life who just “get” you – often better than you get yourself!