I remember the incident like it happened yesterday. Although try as I might to forget.
It was the end of my first month of my two month summer trip to China, and I was in Beijing. My cousin and I were walking through the underground tunnel that connected Line 5 to Line 10 of the Beijing Subway at Huxinxijie Nankou station. It was only a matter of time before I was “home”—in Beijing, “home” was the spare bedroom in a family friend’s apartment. I was going over the events of the day in my head: I hung out with my friend Ella (who I knew from school and was coincidentally also in Beijing for the summer) and we had hot-pot for lunch at our favorite spot inside a mall geared towards foreign tourists. The tunnel was a bit dark and dank, and there were a lot of people bustling to and fro; the subways in Beijing were always extremely crowded. Elbowing through masses of Chinese people, who without regard of exiting passengers, shove their way into the subway car was a daily challenge for me.
As these thoughts were shooting through my head, I felt something wet hit my leg. Weird, because I thought the cap of my cousin’s water bottle was closed? Regardless, I decided not to dwell and kept on walking (stopping the natural flow of the to-and-fro of the tunnel would have resulted in mass chaos). But being the germ-a-phobe that I am and the fact that I was extremely curious as to why the wetness on my leg from my cousin’s water bottle was not… trickling down as water does with its liquid properties, I nonchalantly reached behind my leg and grabbed the wet spot without looking. Lo and behold—there was definitely something wet there, but it was not water from my cousin’s water bottle. As the cold and piercing realization hit me, I did not know what to do, vomit or cry. Or both, for that matter… because you see, in the dark and dank tunnel, some very inconsiderate Chinese person had spit a loogey on my leg. Not on purpose, of course. I happened to be the casualty of a phenomenon known as: more legs occupying space than actual space on the ground. The probability of the loogey hitting the floor was less than the probability of it hitting my leg (or anyone else’s leg for that matter).
This brings me to the main point of this whole recollection: Chinese people and spitting. The all too familiar “hhhhhhaaaagggghhhhkkk” sound that plagues people’s ears when someone tries to gather phlegm from the throat can be heard from far and near. I could not fathom or understand how this was socially acceptable, and how people could behave this way without being embarrassed. Naturally, I was the first to denounce this practice. Interestingly enough, my cousin (who is native Chinese) first took my side and cursed at the man who spit on me, but later that day, she and I were at odds because she felt that she had to protect the image of native Chinese people as I kept on complaining about spitting and Chinese people. My father was on the same boat. As I called him via Skype later that night, furious at both my cousin and hating the Chinese people as a whole, he told me “Not everyone does it, you just got unlucky”, matching the sentiments of my cousin.
Now I understand that I should not judge Chinese people as a whole, especially when there are about 1.6billion of them. But walking down the street, I cannot understand the mindset of many native Chinese people. Try as I might, this is the type of thing that confuses me. What is it about hacking a particularly loud and epic loogey seems appropriate? And not caring about where one spits it?
And you know the saddest thing? Despite the great times and beautiful sites I visited in my 2 month trip to China, one of the first things I tell people when I came back to the United States was the fact that I got spit on at the subway.