Wednesday, December 10, 2008


If there is something that impresses me, it is Chinese people's ability to fall asleep anywhere at any time. I am that type of sleeping person who struggles if I just spend the night away from my safe and comforting bed, and stuff like 'sleeping on airplanes/buses/trains' are completely out of my league. For the last few days I have caught the morning train to Shanghai and it is always a kind of interesting train ride that u can divide in three parts:

1. Get on the train: people are pushing and elbowing their way forward to get to their seat first. All of those allocated in the wrong seats are ushered away. A bit of confusion normally occurs. Someone tries to push a huge suitcase into the luggage space on top of the seats (never works) and tea bottles are filled with hot water. It’s a cheerful and happy atmosphere, with loud-spoken women, laughing men, and screaming babies.

2. (Five minutes later and the train is rolling): Dead quiet. Loud snoring is soon heard.

3. (2 minutes before reaching Shanghai): Just as if someone set off a giant alarm bell, everybody suddenly wakes up and are instantly in a hurry again. They hurry to collect their stuff, put on their jackets and line up for the exit while the train rolls into Shanghai's station.

Nowadays I am so used to this scene that I barely react, although I remember the first time I went to a big event and was surrounded by (what seemed like deep-) sleeping Chinese people who still managed to wake up just like that?! was back in the days when I was living in Finland, working for a company with a Chinese owner. I had only been with the company for less than a week when I was invited to join the big boss on the Association of Overseas Chinese in Europe Convenes Annual Meeting, which that year took place on a giant ferry cruising from Finland to Sweden for 2 days. I was one out of three Europeans on the trip, and I can understand why the number wasn't higher... everything was said, and done, in Chinese. For me, who at that time barely understood 'Ni hao ma?' and had very little understanding of Chinese culture, not much made sense. So, when I went to one of the meetings, which was basically 2 hours of speeches, all in Chinese, and watched the hundreds of important Chinese business people around my fall asleep in their chairs, I was kind of astonished.

The meeting also included some sort of award ceremony. You can just imagine my surprise when I watched the speaker call out a name and saw a Chinese man, who 2 seconds ago looked as if he had been sleeping deeply, instantly get up and happily stroll up to the scene to accept his award, smile, shake hands with the speaker and pose for the camera. He didn't even look sleepy, but rather fresh and alert as a day.

The same thing happened at the end of the meeting. The speaker said thank you and goodbye (or something like that), and everyone sat up at once and started applauding, smiling and cheering.

"How do they do it?!" I thought to myself, thinking of how I normally feel when someone wakes me up from a nap (those rare occasions when I have managed to nap, less than 10 times in my life I believe?). I am normally a mess at those times: feeling completely lost, wondering where I am, what time it is, and who I should hit for waking me up. The Chinese smooth way of waking up impressed me... and it still does.

I know that they are not sleeping very deeply, a number of Chinese people have explained to me that it is called a 午睡 (wu shui = take a nap after lunch) and that it's not the same as sleeping, but more like a quick rest. Still, they manage to snore and look as if they are far off in la-la-land? Any advices of how to do it, please feel free to share!


Rambler said...

It's probably just part of their brains are still active for certain stimuli. While most of their brain sleeps normally, a small part of it is looking for certain things that will signal it to tell the rest to start back up.

I used to do it on the bus to school every day. I'd get on, fall asleep in a matter of minutes, and wake up just before or just as the bus was pulling in to the school. Sometimes if I woke up early, I'd look out the window and think, "Oh. I've still got a whole nother minute to sleep." And then I'd be asleep within seconds. I could tell you where we were on the route just by the feel and direction of the turns.

I see this at work some times too. Each classroom has about three Chinese teachers, and they seem to alternate lessons throughout the day. It's not that rare to see one of them in the back taking a nap before it's their turn to teach again.

Unknown said...


It is scientifically known that the human body becomes sleepy after being awake for six hours. People in China get up early in the morning. So at noon, it is time for some rest. In other cultures people start the day later and they become sleepy in the afternoon around 3:00. This is usually the time for a coffee/tea break.

So if you want to be able to fall asleep at noon, just wake up at 6:00 in the morning.


yuyang said...

haha. that's interesting, i can easily fall asleep on the train but before that i have to ask someone to wake me up at the end.

people on that meeting are not sleeping, or they are faking! :O OMG how can they do that.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Tripfriend -I am deeeeeeply impressed and envious. I wish I could do the same thing. Think how 'well rested' I would always feel?! It doesn't matter how tired I am, I never manage to fall asleep in public still!

Harry -u know what, getting up at 6am is sleeping in to me. I normally get up at 5am. Still doesn't make any difference. I can't nap, it's not in my system.

Yuyang -if they are faking it I find it highly interesting that they r even faking their snores too... ;)

Unknown said...

This is a habit what we had from primary school , or kindergarten, we have long time rest during the lunch, then it becomes a habit in our mind, whenever you are in the lunch time, your brain automatically respond to give a warning for sleeping. When I was in Germany for training, I found that Asia people are easy to get tied and sleep during the meeting, but European people are not. Most of those who work in Foreign Company reacted less than those who work in Chinese company, because they change their habit as European did.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should participate in a sleep study.:) Do they have them here? I mean, I don't see why they wouldn't, but I don't know. Think what a fascinating glimpse into Chinese medical research it would provide you!

Anonymous said...


I wrote about this a while back on my old blog, the post is here with a great photo of party members sleeping through the national people's congress!

Jonna Wibelius said...

woai -hhahaha.. lovin the photo :)

flyingfish -sleep study in China? I would be interested although I doubt they would let me into one.

Little Tiger said...

What Harry says about feeling sleepy after being awake for 6 hours seems to apply to me.
Today I woke up five hours ago and I have an exam in an hour, so that means I might be feeling sleepy right in the middle of the exam. Time for coffee!!


Haha~~~, this is a very interested topic! Did you take the picture from this website?
Even though I am Chinese, I am still amazed by these sleeping-on-any-possible-places people. They look so cute and peaceful!

I started to have the wu shui habit when I was a little kid, I was used to run around and make loud noise after lunch because I was too energetic and naughty, so my parents forced me to take the wu shui every day. That’s how my napping history started. It somehow got into my biological clock.

About how to make a wu shui, I think it is not easy for anyone who doesn’t have this habit. It’s not a simple goal you can achieve in one day or a week. You should make a plan/schedule first. For example, you are supposed to take a nap during 13:00~13:30 after lunch. You should find a comfortable place for yourself. You turn off the mp3 and close your eyes. Then let your brain recall some happy scenario which can help you to relax. You may think your brain is still working and it’s not a sleep, but at least you get your eyes rest. If you do this day by day, I think you can have a serious wu shui after 2/3 weeks.

But the bus napping is another story. My body is always addicted to it. No matter how energetic I’m before going into the bus, I always fall asleep after 5-10 minutes. I really don’t know the reason. I guess the frequency of the bus’ shaking when it runs on a rough road gets me feel sleepy?

I think sometimes napping in public like bus/train is not a good idea. I have missed my stop several times as I was napping. I ended up with a mess just like you did. I guess not every Chinese is the master of napping. And this was not the worst situation. Some of my friends got their wallets/precious belongings stolen by the thieves when they were napping in the bus. (Sometimes even they were awake! Damn!) Compared to the Chinese thieves’ skill, Brad Pitt’s and Matt Damon’s are just so-so.

I once worked in a Hong Kong company. Hong Kong people work like the westerns. They don’t take any nap. And they just spend their afternoon resting time for a long lunch. I always felt sleepy at work after these lunches. But they seemed like very active in their job. How to be a guy taking no nap in their job time and still being energetic? Any suggestions? (Besides drinking a cup of coffee/tea? I have tried this, it doesn’t work.) About napping, to me, it’s easy to get in and hard to get out.


Anonymous said...

Haha. Hi everyone, my name is Manferd. I am a Singaporean Chinese. I also have this "ability" to sleep at anywhere and at anytime. Time is kind of precious you see. Traveling takes time, so ... I kind of make use of those time... Mostly by sleeping, but sometimes, reading a book or playing PSP. :P

Maybe it is genetic. Chinese genetic. :P Oh well... I do admit, most chinese are lazy. :P


Jonna Wibelius said...

From reading all your comments it sounds like either u 'have it' or u don't.. I obviously don't. And will have to continue to enviously listen to other people's snore while I am on trains and air planes in China...

斌 -你的英文写得很好!不能着急。:)

Anonymous said...

Before I had my present job I had strictly Chinese napping schedule,especially in summer. My body had been so used to it that the first few months here were killing me since we have only one hour to rest. I often wondered how energetic westerners were without taking a nap! Maybe chocolates and coffee are the substitutes?! Now however after two years I am getting used to it....But still in the afternoon I am DEFINITELY NOT as alert as in the morning.

Anonymous said...

Ni hao! I've read your post and think it's very similar to some of the things I've seen - I understand where you're coming from.

I'm living in Xinxiang in the Henan province teaching English at Xinxiang University. I just wrote about this same subject on my blog and I came across your post. I've added a link to your post on mine. Take a look:

If you'd like me to take your link down, please leave me a comment, and I'll take it down immediately. But I'm hoping you're cool with it.


Anonymous said...

your this article has been used by as a exemple of how foreigners see china , i think youu are a very interesting and mild girl and want to know more about you , so i google yr name and find yr blog . it is so nice to read it . tangzhidan

Chocolatesa said...

I often get sleepy right after lunch time too, when I'm tired enough I nod off between calls (I work in a calling center) but in case my boss is listening I have to force myself to sound pleasant and alert on the phone when it rings even though I'm in the middle of a dream lol. I would love to live in a country where the custom is to have a nap in the afternoon!