Thursday, September 17, 2009

The holy hour

Eat up!

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.

-OK great!

-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:

Option one:

-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!


-Eh….. yes….

Option two:

-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.


Option three:

-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!


Pingu said...

All three reasons are valid!

Basically, a siesta for Chinese is traditionally very important. I remember when I was a kid, I'd go home for lunch and then I'm suppose to take a nap, which I never do and always get shouted at by my parents.

In general food / meals are socially important for Chinese. Business is often conducted over a meal as you would know. So when it comes to eating, people shouldn't be restricted to what they can and cannot eat as there isn't enough time. But this is changing with faster pace lifestyle and emphasis on higher productivity as western culture become more dominating.

Oh well...

I want my afternoon naps! >.<

Book Bird Dog said...

If we adopted that long lunch hour here in the U.S., we might all be happier :)

YueMeiqi said...

It's two hours because if it was only one hour, people would make it two hours! You seem to be a bit sceptical about the nap part - it's not just old people who take a nap after lunch, students do it all the time, too. In the lab where I worked, students would either go back to their dorm or simply put their head on the table and doze off. And once I got the hang of it, I found it really refreshing. Indeed, I'm still doing it that way although it's not so common over here in France *g*. So I'd recommend you go to that quiet little self-study room and try yourself during your next lunch break!

Anonymous said...

"You should know that you are already thin enough! If you get thinner you will disappear!"

You had to be loving that. I can remember several instances in your blog where innocent comments from the Chinese implied that you were fat.

From all the pictures I've seen and certainly by western standards you are not even close to being fat. The standards of course are different in China, but it must have been great to hear that from a zhongguo ren.

taurie said...

For Spanish people it's also normal to have two hours for lunch time. Small shops in downtown tend to close at 14/14:30 and open at 17h. I think that's because we consider lunch the most important meal of the day, and then we have the siesta, of course ;)
I understand this may be different in other parts of the world. For example, when I was living in Vienna I totally changed my habits, because shops closed much earlier and at 18h it was already dark, but in Spain we have so much light till late in the evening that I think that's one of the reasons why we don't mind spending two or more hours for lunch time.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Pingu -i can tell someone is passionate about napping... haha! Don't put that on your CV ;)

Book Bird Dog -maybe? Or sleepier? (I am one of those that cannot nap, no matter how tired I am. I guess I am a bit jealous of those who can fall asleep anywhere)

Yuemeiqi -no no, I am not skeptical because I know it is true. I just found it so funny when my professional teachers stood there and told me: "Oh, it is because our older teacher likes to take a nap!!" It's just sooooooo different to where I am from. If someone would say that people would think she was joking.

Hopfrog -well I think this driver just just trying to state that girls must remember to eat. If he only knew what a food-lover I am... haha! U know, I have gotten a bit fed up w this whole "you look so fat/so skinny" thing. Before I got sick last week I went to the gym and one of the trainers immediately pointed out that "Jonna -you are not fatter or skinnier than before. You are the same!" and I was like "yah, I know... I always am, why cant u just get over it!"

Taurie -One of my friends have been living in madrid for the last year and she is in LOOOOVE w the Spanish lifestyle... truth to be told, when she told me about her late habits I was like: "don't u get tired?" and she was just like: "no, I just love this lifestyle!"... And after listening for some more time I kind of could see why she was in love. Spain seems to offer a kind of buzzing lifestyle. Got to love the siesta too of course. If only I knew how to nap!

Brad Farless said...

All three are good reasons to me. When I was in the US military we had a 1.5 hour lunch. That was enough time for me to get food and then take a 45 minute nap before heading back to work. I always found that a nap helps you to be refreshed for the afternoon. Otherwise I often found myself dozing off at my desk around 2:30pm.

Rev Matt said...

I wish we did this in the US. It would be wonderful to have time to go home for lunch or venture more than 10 minutes from the office to eat. We only get a half hour where I am (federal agency) so packing a lunch is the only option and on days when the morning is too hectic then I either have the cafeteria or the vending machines, neither an attractive option.

Chocolatesa said...

I'll gladly trade you for my 1 hour lunch! I really wish I had a 2-hour lunch break to nap because I'm always falling asleep right after lunch break.

Shaista said...

This is such a funny and interesting post - I was right there with you in the taxi, munching on Oreos (but not the rice crackers- too healthy). Two hours for lunch and nap - lovely :)
I agree with an earlier comment - if the UK adopted long mid-day breaks, everyone would be happier I think.. but you need sunlight and heat for that right?!