Automatic Systematic Habit

A systematic habit
Sly about it
Oh it comes automatic
Yeah you're so good at it

We made like the birds and flew south during the winter. But the birds are smarter than us. While they stay out of the cold for three months, we spent only two blissful weeks in Thailand. I found myself reinvigorated there. I awoke at 7 am, eager to run along the beach. I had forgotten how much I missed being outdoors in the warmth and the clean air. We mountain biked down Chiang Mai’s slopes, climbed Railay’s rocks, and snorkeled Koh Rok’s reefs. Meanwhile, Beijing was suffering some of the thickest pollution on record.

Via my e-reader and the hotel’s WiFi, I read the headlines: “'Worst Smog Ever Hitting Beijing, Environmentalists Say” and “China's State Media Finally Admits to Air Pollution Crisis”. Oh my, I thought, I am glad I am here and not there. Then I jumped in the ocean, let the sun enhance my tan, and forgot Beijing exists.

Beijing air pollution reportedly causes breathing problems and sluggishness, but from personal observation (not by scientific method), the pollution may also exacerbate a habit that makes any westernized adult’s stomach churn: public nose picking.

You might have heard about the habit of public nose picking in China. I bear testimony, it is true. I have even seen one of my students stick his finger in his mouth after a deep plunge into his nostril. (Bear in mind, I teach university students--not five year-old children. And yes, my stomach churned.) But if you lived here, you might have a little more sympathy. There is always gunk in your nose! Likely the nose gunk results from breathing in the smog, the cigarette smoke, the coal dust, the regular-kind dust, and all the other pollutants pervasive in an overcrowded, industrial city.

I must confess, I have developed a habit of cleaning out my nose—with a tissue—whenever I use the bathroom. Unfailingly, something needs to be cleared out. Afterward, I breath deep with no obstructions for at least an hour. I found that this habit in Thailand was not necessary. My nostrils were clean and dry. I could breathe deeply letting the air and sun energize me.

Returning last night to Beijing’s notorious smog was quite a jolt to the senses. And I am back to cleaning the gunk out of my nose. A systematic, automatic habit. I just hope I don’t forget my manners and do the necessary deed in public.

Chinese word of the blog: 空气污染 kōngqì wūrǎn    
English translation: air pollution

Don't believe me? Read more:
Worst Smog Ever Hitting Beijing Environmentalists Say
Hazardous smog prompts flight cancellations in Beijing

Enjoying the Beijing fresh air!


  1. I gagged about the finger to nose to mouth story, and that was just reading about it!
    What do Americans do that make Chinese people gag?

  2. So glad you were able to spend two weeks in Thailand. My five days in Kauai had the same effect! Super Bowl this weekend....fun times.

  3. I should clarify that there are plenty of Chinese people that think nose picking is disgusting too. Nose picking is just much more visible here.

    As for things that Americans do that make Chinese gag...I read somewhere that they think nail biting is gross. Which it really is, especially in Beijing. So many people touching things- handrails, door knobs, bathroom doors combined with grime and dust. Why in the world would someone bite their nails?

  4. The Beijing air quality is the number one reason that I am reluctant to have my asthmatic kids there. I so appreciate all of you who tough it out. Once my kids are old enough to make decisions about their lungs, I will happily encourage them to head that way!