By Qin Sun Stubis
Clocks are very important in our lives. Digital or analog, tall or small, with or without a chime, we depend on them to be punctual in everything we do. Like a faithful friend, they stand by us, moving patiently and steadily forward, a second at a time, keeping pace with Earth’s 24-hour revolution, tick-tock, tick-tock.
With what we know about our time machines, would it surprise you to learn that in a different part of the world, a clock may tell more than just time, and for some, it can be almost as deadly as the poisonous snake that had killed Cleopatra? I’m not talking about a magical clock, but an ordinary timepiece that sits on your bookshelf.
In China, when you say “Songz-hong”–literally, “giving a clock,” you are uttering exactly the same words that mean seeing someone dead, or attending that person’s funeral. As a result, a clock is deadly when given as a gift, an evil prayer of the worst kind toward a living person, thus creating horrific Karma. If you give your friend a clock, you might as well thrust a knife into his chest.
It’s the linguistic curse of a clock that has prohibited Chinese people from purchasing one for others. When they absolutely have to give the token of a timekeeper to their friends or family, they buy a watch instead.
Like the deadly clocks of China, every culture has strange taboos, which may be incomprehensible to the outside world. Failures to understand such sensitive matters could result in terrible offenses and often irreversible consequences, personal or international.
In this day and age, our world is growing increasingly smaller with more and more people moving from one country to another, seeking opportunities and better lives. Besides their ambitions and suitcases, they also bring along from all corners of the world their cultural rituals, which sometimes can be as quirky and sensitive as a deadly clock.
As a result, our cross-cultural communication strategies can no longer be based upon the maxim, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” but understanding how to live among “Romans” as our neighbors and colleagues in everyday life.
It is diversity that has made America a very special country. Every effort on our part to further the understanding and preservation of world cultures will help to ensure the everlasting greatness of this nation. Our wealth is measured not just in currency, but much more in our peoples and their wealth of timeless traditions, that can turn even an innocent clock into something that measures more than seconds and minutes, but our intentions toward each other.
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Qin Stubis is a regular columnist in The Santa Monica Star.