05.01.08

The Chinese Siesta

Posted in Culture Clash, Down in Chinatown at 11:30 am by Benjamin Ross

There’s a little market called The Mayflower in Chicago’s Chinatown where I frequent about once a week to pick up Chinese cooking supplies and snacks which I can’t find at the big Jewel-Osco mega-grocery store near my house. Chinatown has several of these markets and so far I have found that there are few food products (with the exception of seasonal fruits) which I could buy in Fuzhou, but cannot find here in Chinatown.

The Mayflower, like most shops in Chinatown, jams an exorbitant amount of product into a comparatively undersized storefront. This results in crowded aisles, long check-out lines, and a somewhat stressful shopping experience. I frequently find myself inadvertently bumped into by other customers, as I’m sure I do to others as well, and scooting side to side to let other shoppers squeeze by.

Yesterday I went to The Mayflower to pick up some fresh bamboo and a few cooking supplies, and to my surprise, the store was almost entirely empty. I carelessly strolled through the wide-open aisles without dodging other customers, found my items, and made it to the check-out counter in about half the time it would usually require. Something seemed odd…that is until I glanced down at my cell phone to check the time—it was 12:20 PM.

Beijing delivery driver asleep xiuxi
Sites like this, a Beijing delivery driver taking a nap in the bed of his bicycle, are not uncommon around noontime in the Middle Kingdom.

The idea of an afternoon siesta, or 休息 (xiu1 xi1) is deeply entrenched into the Chinese lifestyle. While the exact times vary based on region and season, business in China typically shuts down around 11:00 or 11:30 and picks back up at about 1:30 or 2. The interim is used both as a lunch break and a nap time. During the mid-afternoon in China, it is not uncommon to see taxi drivers asleep in their cabs, shopkeepers dozing behind the counter, and construction workers playing cards or taking naps on bamboo mats. School children often return home to get fed and take a rest before returning to class, and office workers often do the same. As a general rule, it is also somewhat rude to call or visit someone at this time, as it is likely they are sleeping.

During my first year in China when I was living in Fuqing I found myself sinking into these same Chinese sleeping patterns. All of the teachers and students at my university would take a nap from 12:00 to 1:30, and there was nothing for me to do but take a nap as well. However, before long I found an even better use for my xiu xi time—going shopping and running errands!

Because much of China is asleep at this hour, it the ideal time slot to buy groceries, make a transaction at the bank, go shopping, or do anything other activity which would normally subject oneself to the ubiquitous masses of people which crowd the Middle Kingdom. Before long, I found myself consolidating all of my shopping to the time between 12 and 2 and found both the time and aggravation I was saving myself to be well worth it.

Here in Chicago’s Chinatown, Chinese and American cultures mix, and often result in a hybrid form of Sino-Americanization. While many American customs are adopted by the Chinese in the Windy City, there is also much which remains culturally Chinese, and the xiu xi is one of them. For me, at least I now know that early afternoon is the time to do my Chinese grocery shopping in Chicago too.

14 Comments »

  1. Xuefei United States said,

    May 1, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    I love your reading your blog…I lived in China last year, but returned to the U.S. to finish up my studies. I think your comparisons of Chinese and American life are really interesting and accurate, and I can definitely relate. 加油!!

  2. canrun United States said,

    May 1, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    I’m sorry, Ben…when your school literally provides 200 army COTS for your ADULT students to sleep on from 11:30-1:30, something is quite amiss. No wonder they are perplexed when I tell the businessmen/women there that if they think they will have time to “sleep like babies” while doing business with ‘big noses’ then “they think beautiful!”

    Unless it’s Mexico, Spain or Italy… ;)

  3. canrun United States said,

    May 1, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Ps…so nice to see that ‘Merican flag by my name these days…

    All I miss is the prices.

  4. Grace United States said,

    May 2, 2008 at 9:10 am

    Not all Chinese take a nap, especially in big cities. I had been in Shanghai for more than 20 years and we never take a nap in middle school, high school. However, when I was in college, my roommates who came from other citis took a nap almost every day. That really shocked me! Different proviences or cities have different living styles, just like America, New York, LA or other places.

  5. Benjamin Ross United States said,

    May 2, 2008 at 10:52 am

    @ Grace

    Do you think this is more of a rural/urban divide thing? At my university, 99% of the teachers and students came from rural areas. Also, I do remember in my time spent in Shanghai and other big cities noticing the migrant workers napping, but not so much from the locals. Could the xiuxi be more of a rural custom that tends to fade away as people migrate to the cities?

  6. KyleY United States said,

    May 2, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    When I worked at a software company in Hefei, Anhui, everybody went to take a nap after lunch. Also, when I attended national technology meetings in China, delegates, most of them from national universities and state companies, didn’t take a nap during the lunch break but they drank a lot of tea and seemed to be less active after the lunch break. I would think most of these delegates have nap time if not attending the meeting.

  7. KyleY United States said,

    May 2, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Ben, there is an interesting story about Ordos, Inner Mongolia on New York Times. Search for this article: “In Inner Mongolia, Pushing Architecture’s Outer Limits”. I’ve never heard of this city/county in China before but apparently it has the second highest per capital income level in China after Shanghai. (Ordos means “palace” in mongolian.)

  8. canrun United States said,

    May 2, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    “Could the xiuxi be more of a rural custom that tends to fade away as people migrate to the cities?”

    Seeing as how my adult students came from literally all over China to study at my school in Guangdong…the richest of Chinese provinces…then my very unscientific survey says….”NO!”

    No relationship at all…Jack Germond!

  9. Grace United States said,

    May 3, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Could the xiuxi be more of a rural custom that tends to fade away as people migrate to the cities?

    For me, the answer is Yes. Actually, the ‘nap’ thing never exists in the big cities. Anyone need to work/study hard to make a living.

  10. canrun United States said,

    May 4, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    “Actually, the ‘nap’ thing never exists in the big cities.”

    So all those fold-away beds in the corners of (albeit government) offices in Shenzhen- one of the fastest-moving cities in all of China-were all a figment of my imagination?

    Ben, you have some ‘face-saving’ answers being given to you, IMHO.

  11. Nicholas MacDonald China said,

    May 4, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    ‘Seeing as how my adult students came from literally all over China to study at my school in Guangdong…the richest of Chinese provinces…then my very unscientific survey says….”NO!” ‘

    Though it seems to be next to nonexistent here in Shanghai.

    Then again, this might not be an “urban/rural” divide- this may be a “Shanghai/everywhere else in China” divide- which I’ve noticed tends to be fairly common. Shanghai doesn’t exactly roll like the rest of this country (nor does it roll much like anywhere, including other major cities in America or East Asia… it’s kind of it’s own place…)

  12. Jude United States said,

    July 21, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Does Mayflower carry fresh bamboo tubes for cooking things inside it? I\’ve been looking for this forever in Chicago.

  13. Benjamin Ross United States said,

    July 21, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    @Jude

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to. Any chance you know the Chinese name? Mayflower does carry fresh bamboo from time to time (Chinatown market seems to have it more regularly), and I find myself occasionally making a special trip to Chinatown just to pick it up…lots of fun to cook with. Although, I’m not sure whether or not this is what you are referring to.

  14. Jude United States said,

    July 24, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    I’m just looking for thick bamboo stalks/tubes, preferably with the top section removed. Thinking of using it as a cooking vessel. Thanks. I’ll check out those places you mentioned.

Leave a Comment

/* line below was changed, used to be wp-comments-post.php */