Wo Shi Laowai – Wo Pa Shui

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Archive for November, 2012

Pain Threshold

Posted by MyLaowai on Sunday, November 4, 2012

If you’ve ever been to China, you’ll know that Chinese people are unreasonably, unfeasibly, incredibly loud. If you’ve not been to China, go now to the window and stick your head out – you can probably still hear them conducting their private, discreet conversations. Chinese people don’t need mobile phones: they simply speak at a normal level to people in the next village.

To get an idea of how loud they are, and to put that in perspective, it is first useful to understand a bit about sound. Sound is measured in decibels. It’s a bit complicated, but if you’re interested:
Sound is usually measured with microphones and they respond (approximately) proportionally to the sound pressure, p. Now the power in a sound wave, all else equal, goes as the square of the pressure. (Similarly, electrical power in a resistor goes as the square of the voltage.) The log of the square of x is just 2 log x, so this introduces a factor of 2 when we convert to decibels for pressures. The difference in sound pressure level between two sounds with p1 and p2 is therefore:
20 log (p2/p1) dB = 10 log (p22/p12) dB = 10 log (P2/P1) dB where again the log is to base 10
We said above that the decibel is a ratio. So, when it is used to give the sound level for a single sound rather than a ratio, a reference level must be chosen. For sound pressure level, the reference level (for air) is usually chosen as 20 micropascals (20 μPa), or 0.02 mPa. (This is very low: it is 2 ten billionths of an atmosphere. Nevertheless, this is about the limit of sensitivity of the human ear, in its most sensitive range of frequency.

If you’re interested, go here.

The loudest sound possible on Earth, for reasons only slightly less complicated, is 194dB, but given that your hearing tissue actually dies at 180dB, that’s meaningless. Hard-core rock concerts usually blaze away at around 140-150dB, but the speakers are far enough away from the crowd that they are usually only deafened temporarily. A more common reference point would be, say a pnuematic jackhammer at fifteen metres or factory machinery at less than a metre, and that’s around 90-95dB. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reckons that more than half an hour of that a day will be bad for you. Seriously bad, in fact. The European Union says that traffic noise alone “causes sleep disturbance, hearing damage, even cardiovascular disease; and hinders performance at work and children’s learning. Studies have revealed that fifty thousand deaths and approaching a quarter of a million cases of cardiovascular disease every year in Europe are linked to traffic noise. For the first time, noise has also been linked to an increased stroke risk”. And that’s in Europe, where cars are about to be limited to 68dB.

In China, birds simply fall dead out of the sky from the noise of Chinese people talking.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a screen shot from a noise meter, taken at a quiet(!) restaurant, where the peak is from a guy across the room. Note that he was no longer on the phone when I whipped out the meter, thus the level is considerably reduced – this is just him talking discreetly to his friend at the same table.

But don’t take my word for it, you can conduct a simple experiment yourself. I did so myself several times, and always with predictable effect:

1. Find yourself a quiet environment, your living room perhaps. Stock it with two Chinese persons, yourself, a mate who has been briefed, and a noise meter. Sit the Chinese next to one another, whilst you and your friend sit as far away from them as possible (which is good advice in any case).

2. At some point, usually instantly, the Chinese will start jibber-jabbering to one another in ewok-hua (the local language). Give them sufficient time to forget the existance of you and your friend. Three seconds should be ample.

3. You and your friend now begin having a quiet conversation, at a level at least 20dB below that at which the Chinese are discussing money or food. Instantly, they will raise their voices to be 25-30dB above you.

4. Raise the level of your conversation by 10dB. At once, note how the Chinese raise their level by 15dB.

5. Repeat step 4. You can keep this up all evening, but in fairness I must point out that in a short span of time your ears will begin to bleed and any crockery is likely to develop cracks. They will remain oblivious to you, and even if you cease your conversation, they will continue on at the same level indefinitely. The only thing that is likely to disturb them is the tiny rustle of paper money.

Forget about little old wizzened blokes in orange robes sitting on the tops of mountains in silent contemplation; these people would be causing avalanches. The walls of Jericho wouldn’t have lasted ten seconds with a couple of Chinese in the general vicinity. If God himself farted after a particularly decent curry, he wouldn’t even be heard in China.

Fuck they are loud.

Posted in Ask MyLaowai, Environment | 27 Comments »