You have to love countries where an afternoon nap is part of the national psyche. In Spain, and Latin American countries, this midday snooze is known as a siesta. The word siesta has been taken from Spanish, from the Latin hora sexta – “the sixth hour” (counting from dawn, therefore noon, hence “midday rest”). In China, it is called wujiao, literally “noon sleep.” Now I don’t really care where the word comes from; all I can say is that it is a cool thing to be part of….sometimes.
In China, people of all ages sleep at the drop of a hat anywhere and anytime, although right after lunch is the most common daydreaming time throughout the country. I don’t know how they do it. One minute I will be talking to a Chinese co-worker beside me in the office and the next minute, he is sound asleep, snoring peacefully. It’s enough to send my self-esteem to an all time low. Was I really being that boring? No, that couldn’t be remotely possible. It is not unusual to walk by a Chinese staff room or office in our building and see the three or four occupants out cold with their heads lying in their folded arms on the desks in front of them.
Usually, this whole sleeping thing begins right after lunch. Supposedly, it is a result of living in a hot, tropical climate where it’s just too uncomfortable to do anything else during the hottest part of the day. I’m not buying it! .Okay, fine, temperatures here do climb to over 100 in the summer and 100% humidity is not uncommon. But here’s the thing. It gets damn cold and miserable (it’s all relative!) in the winter for a couple of months. Does anyone take a nap from napping? Of course not!
When new teachers arrive at our school from Western countries, we tell them they will only encounter one problem in the classroom. Is it bullying? Skipping classes? Not doing homework? Rudeness? No to all the above. We really only have one major problem which is….drum roll, please…..you guessed it……sleeping in class. Students will even fall asleep while writing final exams. I used to wake them up; now I don’t bother. You snooze, you lose….lots of marks! In some ways, I can’t blame them; they grew up in a system where at least a half-hour of nap-time after lunch is built into the school timetable…right through to the end of high-school. Old habits die hard!
Outside, it is another eye-opener. People can sleep on anything that is stationary. Comfort has nothing to do with it. In the middle of the day, you will see people lying on sidewalks, stretched prone the length of their scooters, on rocks, sitting on swings; pretty much anywhere is a potential couch. It really is incredible. So much so that one person has even devoted a whole website to Sleeping Chinese. Check it out if you want a few good laughs. Now Bernd Hagemann has published a book,Sleeping Chinese, featuring the humorous photography from his very popular website.
So here are a couple of parting thoughts. First, maybe all this napping has something to do with productivity. Maybe this is why they have the energy to make so much stuff here and work such long days. In high-schools, at least one half-hour nap time is built into the timetable each day. And maybe that’s why students can manage to last so many hours in the classroom in a typical Chinese public school.
Secondly, I was thinking that it would be good idea to ship a team of geneticists over here to find out just what gene is responsible for this anywhere-anytime napping skill. Insomnia is a huge problem in North America. If the Chinese secret could be unveiled, maybe everyone could sleep a little better.