Theme: Get it off your chest.


by Laura Gene

I am a negative Nancy or a negative Nellie, depending on your alliteration preference. I’ve also been called a whiner and complainer, and been told that I rarely, if ever, see a glass half full. I like to think of myself not as a glass half empty kind of gal, but rather an observer of said translucent container encasing an arbitrary amount of water. Perhaps it’s disillusionment, or just adulthood.

When I’m to my snapping point, I am sometimes able to harness my inner yogi and zen it out. Other times I just have to slap the bitch and tell her to wake up and smell the dog-urine slicked streets. “Let It Go” should be looping on my Spotify playlist, but sadly it just makes me want to twirl around in the streets, or punch a baby. When living in another country, however, I keep my hands to myself – for legal and hygienic reasons.

Until a few years ago, bodily functions and their related ‘noises’ disgusted me. In my life, I’ve had the pleasure of cleaning up the excrement and vomit of sick helpless animals and holding the hair of wretched drunken comrades. I’ve endured the humiliating sounds of sloppy sex and those sneaky flatulents that come untimely and without warning. Living breathing organisms make noise. I get that, but I was brought up in a house where such noises were not tolerated, let alone acknowledged. If you were smelling up the joint and makin’ it rain with butt rumblings, you were told to go to the bathroom to wait it out. There was no childlike giggling to laugh it off or a succinct dismissal explaining it away as a body’s natural digestive by-product. But in Asia, I’ve had to abandon my prudish righteousness. Being stuck in an elevator, on numerous occasions, with an old man squeaking one out in an attempt to hotbox you will do that to a person. It’s unconscionable, and completely commonplace.

Chewing with your mouth open was also a huge no-no and would garner a reprimand and disapproving scowl from my mother. She said it reminded her of her 2nd-gen Greek-American father who never learned how to chew with his mouth closed. Apparently he sounded like a pig to trough that’s been starved for a week. Not unlike eating at any restaurant in Asia where soup and noodles are served, or anything eaten with chopsticks, or any type of food that can be ingested for that matter.

Chewing with one’s mouth closed is an unknown concept in these parts. I will be sitting next to a demure debutante who does not seem to remember how that breathing-through-the-nose thing works while she clacks and smacks her mouth repeatedly around a sesame croissant. It’s hard to enjoy my frothy overpriced cappuccino with your lunchtime play-by-play in my left ear.

Secondly, and more annoyingly, there is the slurp. Seriously people! I can hear you from the other side of the restaurant. I get it. Yes, I know, in Japanese culture the slurp is simply proper eating etiquette: the louder the slurp, the larger your hard-on for the miso soup. Granted, it’s cultural, but I’m not talking about Japan; I’m talking about China and Singapore. The last I checked, China and Japan have rather tenuous relations so I don’t believe we can blame it on a fusion of cultures.

After the slurp, of course, comes the inescapable burp. If I ever dared belch in front of my mother, I would have gotten the dreaded “Excuuuse yoouuu!” reaction of utmost disgust. Needless to say, it was only on rare occasion and without provocation when I would do so, only to then quickly retreat with my own embarrassed, entreating ‘Excuse me’. It was a total travesty to do otherwise. I recognize the particular decorum with which I conceal a burp is not as common in the US, but it is most definitely not a thing in Asia. I don’t support belching loudly and proudly in public, regardless of continent. I’ve been able to belch quietly and to myself unbeknownst to bystanders or lunch dates, without issue. I don’t know why this seems to be such an enormous feat for some.

Then there’s spitting. So, there’s like this disease, called Tuberculosis that can spread through the air via coughing, sneezing or…spitting! One might consider the deathly history of consumption as enough of a deterrent to not expectorate in public, but unsurprisingly the highly contagious disease does not seem to be at the forefront of anyone’s mind in Shanghai. Mucus and saliva intermix, peppering the pavement and complementing the dog feces to create a never-ending game of grown-up hopscotch. Many blame it on the air in Eastern China, which is terrible most of the year. The average Air Quality Index (AQI) levels are usually 2x that of most US metropolitan areas, if not more. That’s over TWO TIMES as bad. It’s obvious why everyone’s bronchial tubes are coated with a thick layer of gunk and why many people feel the need to roto-rooter their chests in one way or another. But why oh why! must it be upon city streets and sidewalks and apartment complex pathways where we all walk. Use a tissue damnit! Spitting is a voluntary habit I simply don’t get, and I will never get it. I suppose if you gotta spit you gotta spit, but like most things in life there’s a time and a place for expressing your insides outwardly.

I am a complainer. I complain because these little cultural nuances drive me crazy. I whine because I just have to sometimes; laughing at it only alleviates the crazy so much. In some way, though over quite some time, I’ve been able to manage my peevish annoyances a little better with a good pair of earbuds but I’ve also recognized, without questioning or postulating, that there’s a different way of living and seeing life. It’s a realisation that would not have come to fruition without expatriating. Momentary exposure by traveling abroad is one option, and it’s a great one I encourage everyone to embark upon as often as possible. Living the daily grind abroad though – with all its cud-chewing, lip-smacking, teeth-sucking, soup-slurping joy – is another eye-opening opportunity entirely.


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