When you are in Beijing your senses go into overdrive. It’s a bustling, mental place that’s bursting with energy, driving you insanely crazy at the same rate as it fascinates you.
One minute it stinks of back alley grime, the next you are savouring the aroma of delicious street food. Beeping car horns, bicycle bells, hawking and spitting are constant, until you turn down a hutong and revel in the contentment of conversation or a game of Mahjong between two neighbours. You’ll find yourself herded in a crowd, stared at by groups of people and shoved out of the way in the race for a hoard of Chinese people to get to the front of the ‘queue’ (an Englishman has no chance here). And then you’ll have a moment alone in a small corner where’s there is space to breathe, but only for a few short minutes, where you can recoup for the next onslaught.
It’s an amazing assault on the senses that will leave you exhausted, frustrated and (sometimes) in complete awe. But there are two Beijing sights that I’ve seen that left me gobsmacked everytime – topless wobbly bellied men and babies defecating in the street in broad daylight.
Topless Chinese Men
I’m not talking about beautiful fit ones because this isn’t Abercrombie & Fitch Chinese style. I mean the slightly chubby, sweaty, beer-bellied, imposing Chinese man. For one, I commend them for whipping off their shirt or wearing it half way like a tank top in the baking, smog wrapped sun. It’s embraced as a man’s right (it’s illegal for women to similarly strip down apparently) but really, it’s a bit of an ugly sight.
What I don’t understand is why a Chinese man can’t choose an item of clothing that doesn’t feel too sticky, like a light vest maybe? It’s probably also cheaper than the t-shirt they wear or they could just cut off the arms of an existing t-shirt? Since they roll up a t-shirt into a tank top, this may make more sense? After all, a tank-top is essentially a pointless exercise since you sweat under your arms too.
While this practice fascinates me at the same time as making me feel rather ill, I guess you have to say ‘because they can’ in an answer to ‘why?’ And while I say fair play to that, and hurrah to less washing for their poor wives, there’s a time and place for half-nakedness.
For example, I don’t want to look at a blubber belly when I’m eating my dinner especially. Spicy chicken doesn’t go down too well with the barrel of chub in view and makes me wonder if I will end up looking the same by eating it. I also don’t want to brush past a sweaty topless man in a busy street to exchange bodily fluids (by this I mean sweat). Strip at home, with friends, when hanging with neighbours, but in huge public spaces, put it away. Please.
Chinese Baby Bottoms
Firstly, Chinese parents are extremely clever for finding a solution to not buying nappies. Here in the Western world, parents spend a huge amount of these baby essentials and it doesn’t make them very happy at all.
But when you see a baby squatting in the middle of the street for a quick poop, then you have to question ‘why here, in the middle of everyone?’ A baby is not a dog, ready for a poop and scoop session. Surely, where possible, the parents are capable of taking their little one to a quiet corner to do the business. It means the child doesn’t have to excrete in a public place in front of everyone, and that people don’t have to walk around and avoid said defecation on the pavement.
Then again, does it create confidence in the child? If you had to firstly walk around with bum flaps in your trousers and secondly shit your pants in public… would you be a better person for it? That’s surely one of the most embarrassing things you could ever do.
Then you question why you are watching. Is that wrong? Probably not seeing as shock easily stops you in your tracks. Should I be disgusted by this? No. You are just comparing to what you know, a Western world practice. The Chinese would probably find it equally as confusing that we lift up a baby and smell its bottom.
Extreme cultural difference is what makes travel invigorating, to stop and see just how different we are and how we go about things. You just always have to stop and remember that we are just strange and fascinating to others as we are in awe of them and, for me, that’s what makes travel special. Fascination is education.
Have you been to China? What shocked you the most?