Thursday, November 10, 2011

Culture Corner: China - Physical Changes

Having a few days off prior to my departure for America, I have time to write one more culture corner.

Some of you may be curious about any physical changes that may have occurred to me in the past ten months due to the different environment and diet.  (The stereotype being: the Asians are always thin and fit.)  Yes, I have lost weight, or at least so the scales say, and to back this up I’m down to the last notch on my belt.  But for reasons I’ve yet been able to discover, I can grab a good fistful of fat on my belly, one that I don’t remember having prior to coming here. Fat increases, but belt gets tighter. The following is the only explanation I can come up with.

Being of the male gender, I’m uncontrollably inclined to looking at women (I blame Darwin), ok, sometimes ogling.  So it was not long after arriving in China, I noticed that Chinese women have little in the way of mass in the bum department.  I looked and looked, searched and searched, but could only find a scant few who had some semblance of meat on their bones.  There was a lot of spare denim and empty cotton filling the space instead.  Curious if it was a gender disparity, I checked out the men, and lo and behold, they too were lacking said vitals!  This caused the investigation to go a little further, to dig a little deeper into this most mysterious of mysteries.  Where is the Chinese bum? 

Some time, closer observation, and, thankfully, no violence directed my way later, it was revealed that Chinese people have a thin layer of baby fat covering their bodies but very little muscle.  In fact, the reason Chinese people are so skinny is not because they’re fit, but because they don’t little musculature.  Because if they had muscles, they would come in the same variety of sizes, as say, the Canadians.

When seeking the source for this discrepancy, I could only surmise that the lack of muscle comes from the lack of exercise, sort of a one-to-one, you know, combined with an evolutionary lack of meat in their diet.  It’s only recently that dead fleash has appeared in such abundance that any Joe or Wang can afford to put duck neck on the table for his family.  The Chinese are an incredibly relaxed bunch (including me this past ten months) and lack the regular exercise necessary for building muscles, doesn’t help either. I won’t call them lazy, as they do indeed work.  All I will say is that they know how to relax while working.  As such, I’m inclined to believe this lack of exercise is now why I too have more belly and tighter belt.

Another physical change that has happened to me since arriving gin China is the growth of extra heads.  But it’s a temporal thing.  Only when I go out into public does the extra head appear.  The root cause of this, however, is much more obvious.  I’m a ‘laowai’, a foreigner, a pasty white man in the yellow man’s land. Though the Chinese have seen thousands of ‘laowai’ on television and hundreds - if not thousands - walking the streets of this city, one out of four  people still cannot get over the novelty, and stare at me like I have three heads when I walk past.  They often wear a goofy look on their face when performing their visual exam of me, finger sometimes up their nose. (Picking your nose in public here is not considered offensive. I have seen the most beautiful, well dressed women delicately rooting about a nostril with a pinky nail.)

Preferring anonymity, I am a bit unnerved by their staring, and to make it worse, many of them cannot control the urge to nudge their companion, point a finger, and say: “Look, a laowai!” upon sight of me.  (Side note: I’ve been witness to two minor bicycle accidents due to riders staring at me and not watching where they were going.)  I’ve talked to other Chinese people about this staring and pointing and received confirmation that it is also consider rude in China.  But oh, the novelty of the laowai… Sometimes with my Chinese friends I will point and say excitedly: “Look there!”, and when my friend examines the paper white or all shades of brown person I’m indicating, I add “Laowai!”

Able to ignore their stares and shouts most of the time, there are other times when my temper gets the better of me, particularly after hearing “Laowai!” for the hundredth time that minute.  The moment too much, I sometimes stop and stare back at them until they look away, or mumble rude things in English under my breath as I hang my head and continue on.  My patience runneth over.  Yes, I know this is childish, but, but…  no excuse really.

Gradually, I’m becoming accustomed to being a point of attention. I say “becoming” because I’m still not wholly comfortable with it.  Just imagine yourself walking in a crowd where many, many eyes are watching every one of your movements, some pointing and laughing, never sure if your fly is unzipped or they’re ignorant.  Deep down I know that it’s an innocent childish curiosity on their part, something I cannot wholly blame them for.  Because if you make a goofy face back at them or wedge your finger up your nose, they will break into a huge grin and say hello. They’re just curious, that’s all.  It’s the same as when we were children and tugged on our mother’s s sleeve, saying “Mommy, mommy, look at the size of that man’s beard! It’s so big and bushy, and it goes all the way down to his belly! Daddy doesn’t have a beard like that.”  And mom would say: “Oh, just leave him alone. He’s not bothering you.”  But you would continue to stare - just out of curiosity.

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