By Valeria Nikulina (Russian)
When I first came to China as a student of Xiamen University, one of the first things that surprised me was afternoon nap habit in China. I'm from Russia, where naps are for small children and old people only, so when I first saw all the people sleeping at their desks, on park benches, subway station floors, on the grass, on chairs, in restaurants, and almost anywhere I was more than shocked. Some of my classmates at the university who were perfectly healthy complained about how tired they were, because they weren't able to take a nap at the lunch break.
However, when summer heat came to Xiamen I finally realized why the Chinese take naps, it's bloody hot! Throughout most of China, the summertime temperatures can reach 30-40℃. Trying to do work or study in the heat could kill you, and the sun is intense which makes heat stroke a common problem. Considering that many Chinese homes don't have A/C, dealing with the heat is pretty difficult.
So most people get into the habit of taking a nap during the hottest part of the day. Strangely this continues even in winter, when there is no reason to take a nap.
After some time in China, I've started to take a nap in the afternoon if only I have chance to do so.However, I can only have a nap when I'm home, while Chinese people will sleep wherever it's convenient, especially during the summer, even if it isn't very comfortable.
The problem came after my graduation when I found a job in a trading company. I had to deal a lot with Chinese office workers and visit some factories for quality control every week. Here I found out that trying to do some work between 12:30 and 2:30 can be a good lesson of patience. You have to wake up the clerk or official, tell them what you want while they're half asleep and get everything settled before they fall back to sleep. If they're a higher up, they might refuse to see you until their nap is done. Which if you're in a hurry is a pain.
Then If you decide to visit production chain at the factory after lunch time you will probably see all workers having a nap right at the work desk. Granting official permission for workers to enjoy an after-lunch nap at their benches is all part of reforms that have been implemented in recent years – and factories are reaping the benefits in increased productivity. It has taken some time for factory bosses in China to wake up to the idea that allowing their workers to sleep on the job is good for productivity.
I learned that afternoon naps in China are common, but that doesn't mean everyone does it. It took me quite a while to get used to afternoon nap habit, and I found it very helpful. I discovered in a study that suggests sleep can actually restore the ability to learn, which may explain why most Chinese schools have a half-hour nap programmed straight after lunch.
So when you come to China, expect people to take naps. In the summer it's for a legitimate reason, but it can become a surreal experience when you walk into an office and everyone is asleep. Just take it easy and instead of wasting time trying to wake people up, consider cultivating an afternoon nap habit for yourself.