She spits .. a national sport?

Our club has seen an increase of Chinese members. Last night I saw a young couple, the girl in bikini, trying to learn to swim from the boy. They speak standard Mandarin.

A couple of months ago, as I was existing the pool, I saw an Asian woman spitted into the pool. I went to the membership and complained, asking if they could put up a sign. A Caucasian woman dismissed it as, “all swimmers do that ..”


Might be it’s my fault that I did not mention her gurgling. I did not want to bring that up because it was disgusting. Yes we swim and we spit. But we don’t gurgle and cough up something from our throat and maybe even from the gut ….

Years ago when I swam at Flushing pool, there was a sign posted on the wall in the locker room, indicating spitting is un-sanitized and unlawful. Having this in mind, I lobbied Alex to post a sign. He laughed:

“We can’t. There would be too many signs on the wall ..” Oh well.

Why do Chinese spit so much? Smoking do make people spit. Just look at the baseball players when they used to chew on tobacco in the dug out. They spitted incessantly that made me worry by the end of the game, the diamond would be flooded by spits.

A few famous spitters and memorable spitting related anecdotes 轶事:

  • Li Hongzhang: In 1895 when Li Hongzhang came to visit USA, the New Yorkers were fascinated not only by his outfit but the silver spittoon he carried with him too.
  • Nikita Krushchev: I don’t know if the Soviet Premier (1894-1971) spitted but his Chinese name translation was Heluxiaofu 赫鲁晓夫. Because he was bald, we shorten his name to Hetu 赫秃, He the Bald that rhymed with spitting. This happened after the honeymoon between China and USSR turned sour. I remembered in th school yard our classmates, especially the boys, played spitting contest … much like what Jack Dawson did in Titanic ..(Krushchev to me was just a politician who existed concurrently during my youth. Decades later, when I read when 23-years old Van Cliburn won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow on Apr. 14, 1958, ‘the competition’s judges reportedly asked Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev if they could really give first place to an American. Khrushchev replied, “Is he the best piano player? Then give it to him.”‘ Then I saw the kitchen debate with Vice President Richard Nixon in 1959. Krushchev turned out, more than a cold politician. He was lively and human. And probably a fun loving person.)
  • Deng Xiaoping: This undated picture (before 1992) of Deng Xiaoping showed two spittoons as he was conferring with Li Xiannian 李先念 and Chen Yu 陈云. In “Assignment: China”, [Release Date: 11/21/2011, @ 3:50], Deng’s spitting habit was mentioned too (even during the meetings with the heads of state), so did Fox Butterfield in his bookpage 289.
  • the baseballers: when I first arrived in New York in 1986, it was the ear when the baseball players all chewed on tobacco while waiting in the dug out. They spitted insancesively that I worried at end of each game, the diamond field would be flooded by their saliva.
  • Jack Dawson in Titanic by Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Back to swimming: the older pools, like the one in my high school Renda Fuzong in Beijing, Morrison Hill in Hong Kong and Queens College in New York, just to name a few, have all an around trough/槽 near the top edge/ground – the newer pools have done away with it. I never knew the reason for it, other than seeing the water sipping away. We used it as the ‘spittoon’ while in the pool. The telling moment came when I first arrived in New York and went to swim. A fellow swimmer, an older Caucasian woman after watching me attentively, then asked me, “don’t you think it’s unsanitary?”   No I did not consider it was unsanitary but after that incident, I did pay attention to people around me. I was never a spitter but in the pool I did have a habit of spitting more than necessary, because the ‘spittoon’ was there and I saw everyone was doing it. No one ever said a word otherwise. It was one of these ah moments that made me aware what is acceptable.
  • Once I was doing a favor, picking up a friend’s husband who were from China. It was a tranquil, tree lined single family house street. From the front door to my car, he began doing the spitting routine: sucking it in and up loudly. My heart gone up with the sound. I debated if I should tell him to stop. Not telling him, I would be embarrassed, feeling every single one in their houses were watching. Telling him, would inevitably embarrassed him. Which adult likened to be lectured? I speeded up the walk to my car. He walked with me, and looked for a appropriated spot; with a practiced power and accuracy, thunderously he spitted it out at the root of a beautiful ginkgo tree. I climbed into the car and started the engine immediately, wished I had one of the James Bond cars where there license plate could disappear at a touch of a button.
  • 2012 in Baihua Hotel in Hefei (安徽百花宾馆). At the buffet breakfast a middle aged man in dark blue suit in white hotel paper slippers sat in the table before me. He had two men who deferred and catered to him. During the short meal, another man came with a painting, unrolled for him to inspect. He took a look and waved the man away. The large restaurant was pretty vacant in the morning. He then took out a cigarette, one of the two man lighted it for him. He took a deep drag, then cleared his throat and spitted it on the carpeted floor.

Is it a mere culture issue? I wondered, were China the stronger culture, would the world adapted its spitting habit instead? Just kidding.

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