China gets its spit in order for upcoming Olympic games

May 01, 2007|by TIM ROWLAND


According to New York Times correspondent Jim Yardley, China is wrestling with a number of questions concerning the upcoming influx of visitors next year, including, "What if foreign visitors are forced to navigate a minefield of saliva left by local pedestrians spitting on sidewalks?"

Does that get you jacked to attend the 2008 summer Olympic games in Beijing or what?

China is treating the games as a chance to showcase its great city to the rest of the world, but apparently fears that a number of local habits might strike visitors as, how do we say, somewhat phlegmboyant.

The daily hockfest has Chinese leaders particularly worried, but there are other concerns, too, such as a propensity to swear, smoke and cut in line.


"They are stubborn diseases that stain the image of the capital city," delegate Zi Huayun is quoted as telling the newspaper China Daily.

So rampant is the spitting problem, that hocking noises are called "the national anthem of China." To discourage the practice, the government plans to fine residents $6.50 per lunger, which could get expensive, particularly in allergy season.

There is also an anti-spit initiative called the "Green Woodpecker Project" (don't ask, I have no idea) that enlists volunteers to walk the streets handing out hankies. Sort of a takeoff on the Nancy Reagan campaign, I guess. Just Say Blow.

Personally, I've always kind of embraced the peculiarities of cultures that are different from ours. Seems China could turn this into a positive, and perhaps even turn it into an Olympic event. If you throw the discus, why not the mucus? Or the shot phooot. If someone could medal in the high spit, the triple spit and the standing broad spit, he might enjoy a celebrity that would rival - and I swear this was not intended - Mark Spitz.

All these rivers of ooze sort of puts the whole Tiananmen Square episode into a new light. I'd always considered the chap who stood tall in front of the tank to be marvelously heroic. But now I think the tank driver needs to be recognized as well, because it's a wonder he didn't slide off the road.

And even if they get the spitting problem licked, other issues present themselves, including the fact that, in China, waiting patiently in line is apparently not a strength.

So on the 11th of every month, they will celebrate "Queuing Day," an event that rewards people who are able to stand patiently in line without giving into the temptation to murder the people ahead of them.

It's hard to believe Yardley isn't pulling our leg on this one, but apparently it's true. He writes: "Volunteers wearing satin Queuing Day sashes shooed rush-hour commuters into lines at busy subway stations, while hospital administrators and a few city officials handed out long-stemmed roses to patients who stood in line to pay their bills or pick up medicines."

Good idea. Washington County Hospital might consider this for its emergency room. The bad news is you won't get your ruptured spleen treated for 12 hours, but on the upside there's a babe in a sash handing you a carnation.

In a way, I feel bad for the Chinese, having to amend their behavior just because it might not sit well with foreigners. It's their country, let them do what they want. It's gotten so extreme - and again I'm not kidding - that taxi drivers are even being ordered to brush their teeth.

And what culture doesn't have its idiosyncrasies? Take Hagerstown. I don't know how you explain the concept of a yard sale to the Chinese. "Yes, here it is custom to go around buying and wearing each other's Hanes-brand undershirts. And for fun, we sit around a bar tearing open scraps of paper, eating purple eggs and ridiculing people who are different from us."

So really now. In that light, what's a little spit among friends?

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324 or via e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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