Saturday, December 3

Isn’t it just gross?


People who bombard public places with mucus should be prosecuted for spoiling our image as a health-conscious society

Illustration: Natelle Quek

Illustration: Natelle Quek

SPITTING in public is a filthy habit. Saliva carries many infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, flu, encephalitis, meningitis and hundreds of cold bacteria.

Harmful viruses can incubate and spread to other individuals who contact the spit in its slimy form. Pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma and some communicable childhood illnesses can all be transferred to others through spores or vaporisation.

So why is there still expectorating in public with nasty phlegm flingers constantly bombarding our clean world?

Maybe some people think they are in ancient Greece and spitting a prayer to their gods? Maybe they should be like the Phoenicians, whose entire army, before a big battle, would save up the spit for one humongous slimy blow at the enemy.

The Egyptian royalty even used spit as a fortune telling and divining object. The Turks used it as a method of choosing their leaders. The one that spat the biggest slimeball and the furthest distance was chosen the top dog.

The French used it to challenge a rival to a duel. The Norse spat a circle around their lodges before they went on long voyages. New Zealand pygmies spat on poison darts. Chinese Shoguns were mummified with their saliva preserved in the tomb. And the Aztecs used it as a truth telling device during civil trials and litigation of disputing neighbours.

The 21st century is upon us and I think we should have evolved a little by now. Even though the dictionary definition of spit is “to eject saliva from the mouth in an expression of contempt, aversion or malicious feelings,” our daily and cultural lives would most likely remain infiltrated by the denizens of social disgust.

Spitters drive most of us to the edge of violence with their frothy secretions. They have a Draconian mentality and not a care for their fellow human beings. A better idea is to let them be forced to live and drown in their own deadly clammy substances.

I’m sure if spitters were to unload in public in the presence of their own mother or grandmother, they would be slapped silly for being insolent brats.

Perhaps, mothers should be recruited as police to elevate the quality of life and stop this rank and rancid behavior? Or maybe ‘guardian angels’ are needed to shake some sense into the public spitters who continue to disrespect others.

Peer pressure or fines might solve the problem. Or putting signs up to constantly remind people. By the way, whatever happened to using a handkerchief?

Ridding mucous waste by rubbing it away with slippers or shoes is slight on civilised behaviour. Yet, most people are guilty of it. Some do it discreetly, others are down right brazen.

Spitters seem able to unload with impunity. Spit on the floor of a kopi tiam and you will raise eyebrows or even hackles but usually, you get off scot free for the germs you spread. For the contempt it provokes, there surely must be laws and wilful enforcement to stop spitting in public.

The Italians and Romanians cursed their enemies by spitting at them … like most of us. As for the American baseball players, they pollute the ground around their dug-outs with spits of chewed tobacco.

It is said the habit of chewing tobacco became a necessity because the pitchers had to lubricate the ball before they could give it a curved pitch. Pity, I wasn’t told this when I was playing softball in school. It might have made a fire-spitting pitcher out of yours truly!

It seems there’s no law against spitting in public other than it’s bad manners and socially abhorrent. Monetarily, the justification for arresting a spitter is nil compared to offences perpetrated with anti-social behaviour.

A spit costs nothing but why so, considering the unhealthy stains it leaves on the pavement or even the wash basin! Shouldn’t the slim-thrower be at least fined for spreading germs around.

As one anti-spit campaigner argues, most countries have grossly erred in the selection of their national symbol. It should have been more appropriately a spittoon!

Why do people spit? Doctors say the salivary secretions help in the digestion of food but the phlegm that comes from lungs is a way to expel the intruding contaminants entering the lungs.

The environment in which we breathe can easily irritate our lungs and create phlegm. In chest infections of all sorts, bacteria are thrown out of body through phlegm. Many people also chew tobacco or beetlenuts. In the process, there is a profuse secretion of saliva that must be expelled.

I vividly remember a tobacco-chewing towkay at the old India Street in Kuching who spat out bits of masticated tobacco strains, then rolled the tobacco into a ball and stuck it behind his ear. If he caught you watching, he’d grin at you through black tocacco-stained teeth!

Not to be outdone were a couple of nonya grannies who lived near our old house at Ellis Road — they spat out red saliva from chewing bettlenuts, leaving scarlet stains on the staircase and occasionally, the floor mat! As kids, we had to keep our eyes peeled to avoid touching or stepping on you know what!

There is another category of spitters who neither suffer from disease nor chew anything, yet spit suddenly and continuously. These incorrigibles are often found waiting for their buses to arrive or they happen to be just bystanders watching a traffic accident, the jamban cleaners at work or just lepak at a shopping complex.

Spitting on the public roads and where people can see should be considered an ultimate act of breaching civility. But most spitters are totally oblivious to the crudeness of their act.

Are there any solutions? Most would agree none. Frankly, the human race is quite shameless and thick skinned. We can use health to explain that spitting can spread diseases. If people can be convinced that spitting is a health-threatening habit, they may stop.

Some people suggest removing all signs warning against spitting. It simply reminds people of their habit. Others advocate learning from the animal kingdom. They say animals do not spit. It seems Nature has inculcated in living beings a sense of civility that protects the species and augments their survival. Why then are we hell bent on destroying ourselves? We don’t have the answer, do we?

Footballers must rank among the most voluminous spitters of all times. Some of the biggest names in the English Premier League spit a lot more than they score during a match! But no yellow or red cards, so long as they do not spit at their opponents, the linesmen or the referee.

Most people strongly believe spitting in public should be made a punishable offence.

We have gone out of our way to make our natural traits like friendliness and hospitality selling points for the tourism industry.

Perhaps, we should do just as much to prosecute those who fling mucus wantonly in public for spoiling our image as a caring and health-conscious society.