I am in China for my second tour of International Schools with the new company, Pana Wakke. The director, Sonia Zivkovic, does a grand job of organizing and integrating my work with the schools and the experience is very rewarding. Because the International Schools serve a population of foreign nationals living and working in China, my tour is limited to the denser urban areas: Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, Shouzou, and so on.
The world of the schools is set apart from the life of the city. By and large, the cities are sleepless and busy: pile drivers and construction cranes assault the rising sky line; dense, erratic traffic scurries in, out, and across all lanes; horns bleat, phones blare, and people shout. Yet amidst all the cacophony of the urgency in urban China, one sound grates across them all: the sound of throats clearing. It is a harsh, raspy sound followed by a brief pause and then the splat of spit upon grass, trash, or pavement. The open-air effusion of phlegm erupts suddenly from the crowd and never fails to startle and sicken me. A less loud, but equally common companion to these throaty expectorations is the hiss and spray of open-air nose blowing. Clearly this is one practice where the lines of culture are sharply drawn. I feel a drip, take a tissue, blow, and throw away the refuse. But the man across from me shows that you can skip the tissue (and save trees?) by merely clearing your nostrils onto the nearest bin, bush, or byway.
The rising pollution index in China is famous, and it may be this that engenders the people's nose and throat distress. Whatever the cause, there is something here that can neither be swallowed nor coughed up. The People, it seems, are choking. Or, perhaps, they getting ready to speak.