Before I forget… It’s that time of the year when The System forces virtually all of us, in however small a way, to partake in an act of collective insanity: the purchasing of things no-one needs for people who don’t want them. Even those of us who are by nature far too cool to be sucked into such a wasteful farce often find ourselves with no choice but to get one or two bits of junk to wrap up and pass on simply because life’s too short, and it’s the course of least resistance when the alternative is being considered a leper or, even worse, causing others who gleefully succumb to the madness to lose face.
The main beneficiaries of this tortuous sacrificial ritual (that’s hard-earned cash you’re handing over) are the manufacturers of Ferrero Rocher, the spherical chocolate sweet that tells the recipient you consider him or her a total bore unworthy of even a shred of respect more than it takes to step into a 7-Eleven for 20 seconds at the last minute. (An interesting PhD thesis would involve sampling a cross-section of the million boxes of these things changing hands at Christmas to see what percentage have gone stale. My own taste-tests suggest large-scale recycling is going on.)
Other big winners from the seasonal lunacy inevitably include our local friendly landlords, renting out precious parcels of the Big Lychee’s scarce space to such contributors to human progress and happiness as Papyrus, a store in IFC Mall selling an ‘exceptional collection of social expression products from the very best resources’ – ugly and overpriced stationery, in plain English. (Presumably, this being 2010-11, people use the embossed, lavender-scented, Regent Blue Ecruwhite (‘a stunning frame for your words’) for shopping lists.
There is, however, an alternative. It is Sleeping Chinese by Bernd Hagemann – a book full of photos of PRC citizens indulging in extreme napping. Sensitive types might feel slightly dubious about this work on the grounds that it could cause offence: it contains, after all, nothing but noble sons of the Yellow Emperor being caught looking ridiculous on camera by a German. The author maintains that he took up his hobby to provide a juxtaposition to the image of the Middle Kingdom as an awakening, and even threatening, mighty superpower.
I tested it over the weekend on a Beijing native who laughed out loud throughout. It also gets a stamp of approval from the primary organ of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, which would not look kindly on anything that might hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. Maybe it is an exceptionally subtle bit of ‘soft-power’ propaganda to counteract Beijing’s recent string of foreign relations lapses from the Diaoyu-Senkakus to the Nobel Peace Prize. Even if they build an aircraft carrier, they’ll all be slumped on the flight deck, snoring.
The book doesn’t answer the question of why (let alone how) so many people in China snooze in the open during daylight hours. Were all of the photos taken during the early afternoon, post-lunch siesta that even some Hong Kong office workers still enjoy – a hangover from schooldays when it was compulsory? Is it extreme overwork? Or a complete lack of employment?
More to chew over than a tinfoil-wrapped chocolate hazelnut, at least.