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#127 Spitting

Posted November 7th, 2009 by Peter · 13 Comments

Here is another contribution from Eurasian Sensation, who wrote Cheesy Ballads a few weeks ago. We hope you enjoy it, as it reveals one of Asia’s dirtiest habits, spitting.


There are many sights and sounds that evoke memories of one’s travels through Asia. Some are pleasant, such as the noisy hustle and bustle of the marketplace. And some not so pleasant, such as the all-too-common rasping sound of an Asian man clearing his throat and spitting its icky contents on the pavement. It is undeniable; Asians love a good spit.

While many Western cultures consider phlegm to be an unpleasant substance, to be hidden shamefully in a handkerchief, Asians regard phlegm’s rightful place as being on the ground, preferrably where someone will step in it.

Asians who have grown up in the West do not always adopt this charming habit, presumably aware that non-Asians consider it quite unsavory. Yet the steady stream of fresh-off-the-boat immigrants and exchange students from the motherland ensure that Western sidewalks, roads and other walking surfaces do not miss out on the Asian loogie treatment. And while among Westerners spitting is mostly committed by young people who have yet to acquire a sense of social grace, among Asians some of the most ardent spitters are the elderly.

Why the fondness for spitting? There are a number of reasons, and it differs from country to country.

Firstly, the choking pollution that infests many Asian big cities, and the high rate of tobacco use, mean that respiratory problems are common. A day walking around a smoggy Asian metropolis will leave the average person’s throat with enough icky black mucus to power a solid spitting session preceded by several minutes of throat-clearing (also for the benefit of passersby.)

The Chinese are perhaps the world leaders in the art of spitting. Some theorize that during the Cultural Revolution, some of the etiquette traditionally favoured by the upper classes was shunned in favour of the mores of the common people. Then when economic factors led to hundreds of millions of people leaving the countryside for the big cities, these village folk also brought with them a number of habits that had long flourished in a peasant environment. (Spitting is foremost among these, but a related treat for the fortunate tourist to observe is the classic Asian peasant method of blowing one’s nose, by tilting the head, pressing on one nostril and blowing the contents of one’s nose onto the sidewalk.)

Of course, spitting is also a national pastime in much of South and Southeast Asia. In particular, Indians and Indonesians are renowned for their skill at hawking loogies anywhere andnospitting everywhere, regardless of company or public health concerns. Indonesia’s exceptionally high rate of cigarette smoking (said to be at least 70% among adult males) no doubt contributes to their love of spitting, while the habit of chewing betel nut further adds to the saliva-fest. This mildly narcotic substance (called paan in India and siri pinang in Indonesia) is chewed throughout tropical Asia, and has the additional benefit of turning one’s saliva, and later one’s teeth, a dirty reddish brown colour. Betel chewing recommended if you want to make it seem like you are constantly spitting blood, or if you wish to cultivate that “I’m too cool to ever bother brushing my teeth” look so favoured amongst the older generation of Southern Asian villagers.

But in some places, the tide is turning against the spitters. Spitting in the street can now land you with an on-the-spot fine in places like Beijing and Hong Kong. And the Singapore government’s long campaign against such behaviours has made it a virtually spit-free (and gum-free) zone – quite a remarkable achievement for a city populated mostly by Chinese and Indians. This push to get spitting off the streets has meant that one of the best places to hear the sounds associated with spitting is in the public toilet of a shopping centre or airport, where patrons feel safe to loudly summon and then expel phlegm to their hearts’ content. If you are particularly lucky, you can find yourself in a cubicle next to someone who can hawk it up continuously for over 5 minutes.

So spit while you still can, spitters – soon these heavy-handed governments may take away your right to be disgusting and a walking health-risk. Until then, spitting is a fabulous way to take whatever bacteria and assorted gunk from one’s throat, and share it with the rest of the world in the form of airborne particles and splotchy gobs of saliva. It is a great way to spread diseases such as tuberculosis, and an easy way to come off as uncouth in front of others. Try it today for an authentic Asian experience!

Thanks for your submission, Eurasian Sensation! The SAPL family hopes to hear more from you in the upcoming weeks!

Last 5 posts by Peter

Tags: Customs · Environment · Habits · History · People · Relationships · Social

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Peter // Nov 9, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Spitting is a mainland China thing. Folks born in Hong Kong, Taiwan or Singapore do not have the same tendencies.

  • 2 cash for house // Nov 13, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Yes I agree with peter, it is definitely a mainland China thing.

  • 3 yehr // Nov 28, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    lmao!! yeah what is up with the spitting!! hahahaa

  • 4 Zee // Dec 9, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    When I went to Beijing in ’04 that was one of the hardest things to get over was the spitting from elderly men! YUCK. In Japan, it was barely a thing I heard or dealt with while working there. But in China, I’d cringe anytime I heard the snorting and release and etc.

    Funnily enough, spitting is a horrible trait in NYC and in that I hand it over to mega-city mentality :/ Still gross anywhere!

  • 5 Ica // Dec 23, 2009 at 12:56 am

    agree that indonesians like to spit all over the sidewalk. not limited to country folks, too.
    a true story, once i went out with a friend, and while we were walking in the parking lot, he gave a good hock!tchoo! and let out a big plop of goo on the lot. i was like, WTF, man!! and he was offended about me being offended. he said with a bland look: am i supposed to keep it all in and swallow it down my throat, and i said hell yeah! you walking piece of typhoid hazard. this friend of course went on years afterwards to get a masters degree in one of the best university in the country and to this day i know that he still hock!tchoo! his way thru life.

  • 6 suddenlyfourty // Jan 7, 2010 at 3:50 am

    It took me a while to get used to how some people here in Sydney go around barefoot.

    Then I realised I no longer lived in the Philippines where people not only spit on sidewalks but urinate on public walls as well (as such, making walking barefoot on public grounds rather unwise).

  • 7 Chinamerican // May 7, 2010 at 9:03 am


    Agreed. My cousin in HK totally railed on a mainlander for spitting in the street during the height of SARS.

    It’s very um, prolific, in NYC. That or people blowing their noses straight onto the ground; I gotta hand it to them though, it takes skill.

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  • 9 Anonymous // Jul 24, 2010 at 2:05 am

    LOL I was in China with my friends(we’re from Ireland) and the thing I found most daunting(apart from being stared at and everybody asking if they could take a picture with us, mostly girls) was the spitting. I always thought it was because of us, now that I’ve read this it’s hilarious. I did love it their though.

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  • 11 ill // Jul 30, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    actually it’s because of chinese medicine says phlegm must be expelled (balance of bile, phlegm, old beliefs that westerners had too). not sure why they can’t spit into a tissue or whatever, but it seems to be that they feel the need to get rid of it immediately or they will DIE

  • 12 Girl Here // Oct 2, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    My grandma is 75 and always does this, it’s so gross.

  • 13 ilovehorseyrides // Sep 26, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    My dad spits all the time

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