Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Of Southerners and Chinese

I am a rural Southern American; I spent the first few years of my life in what could well be an archetypical Southern small town. I have since lived in rural areas up and down the South, and all my kith and kin live in rural areas or rural small towns. I think that being a native-born and raised Southerner is a great blessing when it comes to traveling in rural Southern China- and probably any other developing nation. We have a number of affinities: grown men walking about without shirts, spitting in public, an unfortunate tendency to litter, and chickens running about everywhere. If the Chinese could afford them, I am sure there would be many more junked cars up on blocks. And there are many rural Southern areas that not infrequently stink to high heaven, as we say, thanks to pulp wood production, hogs, or chickens (these in big long rural chicken factories). And many people are, shall we say, laid back to the extreme at times. Did I mention junked cars? The Chinese have substitutions.

Spitting in public is often noticed by foreigners- in China, I mean. There is a certain difference to Chinese public spitting and Southerner public spitting. In China, men and women engage in it, though I think men are more disposed to it. In the South men are usually the only ones. In China it is very public and straightforward. Southerners are usually somewhat more reserved when we spit in public. The Chinese tend to gurgle and draw it out; Southerners do it quickly.

We like to take it easy when we can; in Yunnan, and in other parts of China I would think, an important and vital custom is afternoon nap. (I understand it has faded away in some more industrialized parts of the country.) Southerners do not have this custom per se; I suspect we would take to it quite well if we were given the opportunity, particularly in the summer. In Mengzi afternoon siesta was the rule throughout. I recall one afternoon walking back through town during a rainstorm. I do not recall seeing anyone doing anything except for sleeping, playing mahjong, and watching TV- and a couple folks sweeping rainwater out of their shops (they are nearly all open-air or nearly so). On a rain-free day there would be a little activity, but not much. On campus everything shut down from lunch until 2:30 or 3:00. We Americans soon learned that our Chinese friends were simply not interested in doing anything during that time, so we eventually took it up ourselves. I found that your body adopts to such a rhythm quite naturally, and I found myself getting sleepy everyday after lunch.

In the South we generally do not like getting in a hurry. Shoot, two of the biggest means of recreation down here are hunting and fishing, both of which require a lot of doing nothing deliberately. We tend to eat food that, if it doesn't give you cardiac arrest at the moment, it will make you sleepy. Another important means of recreation is the venerable front porch and rocking chair.

Of course, both Southerners and Chinese also know the meaning of hard work. Agriculture is today is practiced by far fewer Southerners than it once was; in China it still claims nearly half of the workforce. Most of the students I got to know where sons and daughters of farmers. Today in the South most of us have an indirect connection to agriculture. My grandparents and great-grandparents farmed, though not my parents. My great-grandmother, who is still living, worked as a sharecropper, a life not terribly unlike many Chinese farmers today. She worked with her hands (heck, she still does even though the doctors forbid her!); the Chinese farmer knows what manual labour is.

Many people regard Mississippi and much of the rest of the South as 'backwards'; likewise much of China. I still love both places, even with- maybe because of- their idiosyncrasies and cultural habits. But y'all, please just be careful where you spit, and, are pig innards really all that good?


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