The Chinese lunch hour is holy. 12-1pm is for eating in China. I remember once when I was doing a job in Pudong in Shanghai and didn’t have time to eat lunch. Around 3pm I was on my way to the city centre in a taxi: I was going to meet some friends who, like me, also had skipped lunch and were in a kind of “starving” state of mind.
Somewhere between Pudong and Puxi we got stuck in a traffic jam and I was so hungry I simply couldn’t keep it together:
-How long do you think this will take? Is there any other road we can take? Can’t you just overtake that car? I whined to the driver (quite unlike me, I never encourage overtaking in China).
My driver, though, was a friendly man:
-Don’t worry my friend. This is just a small jam. You’ll be in Puxi in 15 minutes or so.
-Are you on your way to some important meeting?
-Meeting? Eh…. No. I’m actually going to a restaurant. I didn’t have time to eat lunch today so I’m starving!
-NO LUNCH?! What? But it’s almost 3.30pm!
-I know, I was just too busy to…
-Too busy to what? To go to a shop and buy some bread?! Oh you women! You cannot skip lunch! You have to eat! Here, have some cookies!
A package of Oreos landed in my lap.
-Oh, thank you, but I….
-And some crackers!
A package of rice cakes joined the Oreos.
-And give some to me too! I’ll eat with you!
So there we were, me and a Shanghai taxi driver in a traffic jam, munching Oreos like long-lost pals.
-You must remember never to skip lunch! Lunch is important! The driver said, spitting Oreos all over himself
-I know, trust me. I normally eat lunch.
But the driver wasn’t really listening.
-You know, I see so many young girls nowadays. Young girls like you. So thin. And still they don’t want to eat anything. They don’t understand….
-But I, like.. today I was just so busy….
-You should know that you are already thin enough! If you get thinner you will disappear! You must eat your lunch….
I decided there was no point arguing, instead I let the driver continue lecture me while feasting on Oreos and rice crackers. I had to promise him before getting out of the car “never to skip lunch again!”
When it comes to lunch at the university, it’s (if possible) even more of a holy hour. Every day, between 12-2 pm (2 hours!) there are no classes because of the “lunch break.” This has bothered me for a while now. One hour, fine. But two? Who needs two hours to fill their stomachs? I normally eat within the first 15 minutes of my lunch break, and the rest of the time is spent lulling around.
When I asked my teachers about the matter I got a bunch of different answers:
-Two hours is because some students want to go home during lunchtime. If they live a bit far away one hour isn’t enough.
-But why do they need to go home?
-To cook their own food!
-Two hours is because the older teachers at this university want to have a nap after lunch. They need that in order to rest up for the afternoon.
-Nap? At work?
-Yeah well. It’s lunchtime.
-Well the lunch break is so long so that people have time to go to new and different restaurants every time!
-But isn’t one hour enough for that?
-Well not if you want to go to the city.
-But who goes to the city? It’s too far away!
-Yes, that’s why lunch is two hours! So that you can make it to the city!
There, I give up. 12-2pm are the holy lunch hours at my university. Siesta!