Monday, February 26, 2007

Chinese lunch break

The Chinese also have a saying about the importance of lunch as the main source of energy in a day: "早餐吃得好,中餐吃得饱,晚餐吃得少" (at breakfast eat well, at lunch eat until full, [and] at dinner eat just a little).

The strangest thing happened when I first arrived here (and still does, every day): everybody in the office stopped doing everything at around 11.45, and ate (not too strange..), but when I looked around at 1.30pm, everyone was alseep! There's even a sofa-bed next to the desks, for napping on. Often three of the girls cram onto it at once and snooze their way to the afternoon lessons; if they have no lessons, having completed any marking or preparation, my colleagues simply sleep their way through the day at their desks.

It's said that the 2-hour lunch break originates from an Emperor who simply didn't have enough time to eat food and sleep during his day. Thinking that most of the rest of China had a similar problem, a 2-hour lunch break was decreed for the whole of China, and is still well observed to this day! More practical reasons can be found for this long break, though, which is reminiscent of southern Europe's siesta. This article about workers at a metal factory says:
They, themselves, start at 8 a.m. and work until noon, when there is a lunch break - 3 hours during the summer and 2 hours during the winter. They don't always go home for the lunch break. Often they stay at the plant, where they can heat the lunch they have brought with them. Work finishes at 5 p.m. in the winter and at 6 p.m. in the summer. The long lunch break is there for a good reason during the summer, when the moist heat does not further productivity - especially not in the middle of the day.

Of course, this elongated gap changes the amount of time you spend at work. While in Europe it's fairly common to start work around 9am, have what works out as 25-40 minutes of completely free time at lunch, and wind down as the clock approaches 5pm, here people are up very early and at their desks by 8am sharp, then work for four hours until 12pm, when they have a long lunch; relaxed afternoons take up the rest of the day until 5pm, when it's time to start going home. I think I prefer going in and getting the job done all in one go, then getting back to "real life" - being at the office (and its contingent of sleeping people) is not what you'd term quality time!

It's not just lunchtime that's good for a doze, though. Anywhere out of downtown, shopkeepers will open up early and simply nap (possibly in front of the TV, or maybe in the sun, open-mouthed and dangling off a chair) until a customer gets close enough to warrant a grunt or some kind of rousal. They do work very long hours - but they're mainly spent sleeping!


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Leon said...


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Anonymous said...

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Leon said...

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