Travel, for me, has been quite a new experience. I never really saw the value of travel much until not too long ago. For me (when I was young), travelling meant no school, no homework, potential new toys and seeing new things. But in recent years, this has changed- there is something about travelling that endears to me a lot, and it is one of my goals in life to be able to travel.
So imagine my excitement (okay, I wasn't jumping around, but I was definitely feeling a little excited) when I embarked on my first solo travelling journey to Shanghai. Granted, I did have to work as well, with no pay, but, when you think about it, travelling is about spending money, investing in gaining new experiences.
And I was looking forward to it. As I walked out of the plane, my excitement was building. How will the next 6 weeks be? What will I see? What will I do? Will I survive being here not comfortable in speaking Mandarin? How cold will it be? Will I see snow? As I was considering all of this while walking on the bridge from the plane to the terminal, a man walking beside me turned to his left (I was on his right), made a noise I know too well, and... spat. Right in the airport, indoors. It's a good thing the side of the bridge wasn't carpeted, so at least it can be cleaned (I hope it's cleaned).
It's a good thing he didn't see my stare. I was a little shell-shocked. I knew that spitting was normal, but I had no idea just how normal it was. For someone who, just a week ago was living in Australia, it was absolutely disgusting. It's a good thing I was alone, or I would've said 'eeeewwww' at the top of my lungs to whoever it is I went there with.
That got me prepared for what was coming- 6 weeks of walking amongst spitters, who gave no regard to where they spat. It also got me prepared for some of the culture shock that I experienced throughout my time there.
But it amazed me that the man spat indoors. That was something very new to me. I couldn't believe my eyes at first. Was this city (that admittedly I didn't read up much about), one of the most modern cities in the world, the largest city globally with 23 million people (that's even bigger than the whole of Australia put together), with rapid economic and social development, still stuck in the mentality that is shared by many other places around China?
The short answer, is yes. While I didn't bother watching my steps to prevent myself from stepping on spit (which I'm sure I did- how can you avoid not stepping on them), I was very careful in making my presence known so that I wouldn't be spat on. This includes walking further away (to get into their line of vision) to making my footsteps louder.
That was just an example of the cultural differences that exist between Malaysia and China. Yes, yes, I know that a lot of Malaysians spit, too, but bear in mind that most Malaysians (read: MOST Malaysians) have the decency to spit into drains, and we do not have 23 million people in ONE city. That's just overcrowded.
I was quite surprised by the differences in culture. I had always been under the perception that the Chinese in Malaysia have many similarities to their Mainland Chinese counterparts (politics at play?), but I was not aware of how different we were. Spitting everywhere was just one of those little things that makes a difference.
Back to the spitting. I think if you look carefully enough at the pavements, you can definitely see the traces of spit. But of course, I wasn't about to ridicule myself by doing that; I acknowledged that this is the environment that I have to live by, and I had to get on with accepting that people in Shanghai spat. A lot.
There was once, a random passerby walking behind me had spat, and I almost gave him the Devil's stare, and fought the temptation to swear at him while saying something along the lines of 'watch it, you're way too close to me to be spitting'. What made me hold back? The notion that I didn't know how to express this in Mandarin (with the emotions as well), and also because... as if I would be able to do anything about it. For all I know, he might just yell rudely at me and call his gang members to beat me up.
Then there are times when I would see a woman spitting, and (yes this is stereotyping) would think in my head- 'how unladylike!' But again, it's one of those things that both genders do. In Malaysia I think it's much harder to find a female spitting, but it's commonplace in Shanghai, apparently.
Coming home to Malaysia after that, I felt a lot cleaner. I didn't see anyone spitting, and most importantly, I came back a little prouder that even though Malaysia does not have the economic growth that China can boast about, at least we don't go around spitting on the roads (you just got bored of the word 'spitting', didn't you). That, and other things that I experienced (which I may or may not write about in the future), made me feel proud to be a Malaysian.
We may still have dirty alleyways and stinky drains where mice and cockroaches wander, but hey, we're not a country of spitters. That, somehow, feels a lot more reassuring. At least it's not the humans making the city dirty.
P.S: Don't know how this turned out to be a post about being proud of my nationality, but as they say, you gotta do what feels right, right?