Kuala Lumpur Day 8: University of Malaya lecture; socially responsible spitting confirmed (?) and spitting and hocking that no-one ‘sees’ or ‘hears’!

Sore feet and lecture

The day started with sore feet but a spring in my step. Liew and I had walked for hours the day before but had found a fair bit of spitting, both paan and ordinary. I grabbed a taxi to the University of Malaya to give a guest lecture to first year undergraduates taking an introductory sociology course. They were also a very international, with many members of the class being exchange students from other countries such as India, China and South Korea. Just before the session I had talked to one of the Professors who helpfully told me that he remembers restaurant tables in the 1960s always having ‘No Spitting’ cards present. The session seemed to go well and Dr Rosila Bee, my academic contact and whose course I was presenting on, at the end of the session gave me a small gift comprising of a University of Malaya pennant (or so I thought – more later!!). After the lecture I asked the students to all fill in the international spitting survey and then took my leave as Liew and I still had a half day’s work to do.

Field work – day two in KL – residential areas and other city areas

On day two Liew and I had decided we would try to check how prevalent paan spitting was in other areas of the city and its surrounds. On route we stopped off at the Batu Caves (picture below) to have some lunch. The Batu Caves are a range of caves – located about 30 minutes north of Kuala Lumpur in the Gombak district – set in a Limestone hill. The caves are an Indian (Hindu) site of religious importance and a number of the caves contain Hindu temples.


Just 1-2 kilometres from the Batu Caves (into the Gombak district proper) was our first research orientated port of call for the day. This was residential area with shops, mostly comprising Indians and Malays. Despite seeing a couple of ordinary spitters (including a very loud ‘hock’ from a Chinese man, we saw only a few, mostly faded, paan stains on the pavement/in the gutter.

We followed up the Gombak district by parking up and getting the monorail back into the city and explored the area around Masjid India Mosque & Bazaar. Here, in front of the shops, in just about every single concrete drain (see images) we found paan spitting stains but almost nowhere else (apart from the odd metal drain and rubbish bin). he drans were about everytwenty feet up and down the street. The spit was as contained as I had yet seen anywhere. Again, similarly around the wet market (fresh fish, poulty/meat) we found a lot of spit stains on the drains. We also saw another Malay women (about 30 years) spitting on street.


The last two places we visited: Lebuh Ampang (formerly ‘Chettier’ a traditional money lending area of Indians) but now taken over by restaurants and shops; and Chow Kit, a poor area with a red-light space with transgender options. In the latter space we found very little evidence of paan/spitting and around the former there was a little bit pain spitting on the drains and we found small packs of Gurkha (chewing) tobacco in a normal grocery store.

Invisible spitting in KL (Malaysia?) – Hocking and spitting in the toilet

Initially I took little notice of what happened at the airport when arriving in Kuala Lumpa. Whilst queuing to go through passport control I was distracted by loud and almost continuous hocking and spitting noises coming from a nearby public toilet. This was so persistent, loud and intrusive it was comical. Indeed, an airport official stationed a few yards away was clearly laughing at an act on which the curtain didn’t fall for a full five minutes!

The next time I used a public toilet, in an upmarket shopping mall in the Golden Triangle area in the centre of KL, something similar happened (but on a much lesser scale of course)but at that point there seemed little connection. When something similar again happened on my third visit, at one of the monorail stations on day two, I asked Liew if this was normal. Liew replied that this was but he said it was normal in the sense that it was so normal it wasn’t something he had been consciously aware of as spitting. But to me, an outsider, this is in fact ‘contained’ public spitting of a loud and purposeful kind that simply goes unheard and is unseen [clearly I need to explore the veracity of this statement further but I feel it has genuine potential to offer insight into the embedded nature of certain types of spitting that for those that do it may well be unseen and unheard to all intense and purpose]

Day two in KL summary and of KL overall: socially responsible spitting confirmed

Spitting in KL/Malaysia is clearly very different from India. As a country I would suggest it sees itself as now clean from spitting which was once very common. The reality is somewhat different. Pockets of paan related spitting take place but much of it, in the areas, we visited is ‘socially responsible’, straight into drains, or in the case of ordinary spitting, in the private-public space of public toilets. The former is an example of contained paan spitting, the second it appears may barely register on the consciousness of spitters and those within earshot – certainly not as a problem. We also saw enough casual spitting of spittle/phlegm by both men and women to be able to say that spitting in Malaysia is far from absent. It is unlikely that the level of public spitting revealed would be of a concern to citizens of KL/Malaysia – most reasonably because they are probably pretty much unaware that it is taking place.


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