I spent an interesting and busy few days in Beijing. When I returned to work on Tuesday, my students asked me what I found most surprising about China and after considering their question for a moment, I came up with this list:
Three Surprising Factoids about China:
1. There’s no Facebook or Twitter
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn this, because I knew China was big on internet censorship, but I guess it never occurred to me that a website as harmless as Facebook would ever make a country’s “naughty list”. After all, even my 14-year-old cousin and my brother’s dog have Facebook accounts. But when you think about the large role social media has played in facilitating revolutions in countries like Tunisia or Egypt, it makes sense that an authoritative government like the People’s Republic of China would want to take every measure to ensure they don’t have another uprising on their hands.
2. The Great Wall really is…great
I’m not the biggest fan of tourist attractions. I lived in New York for seven years and never visited the Empire State Building or climbed up Lady Liberty. I yawned through the Taj Mahal and wasn’t half as impressed as I thought I’d be touring Tikal. I figured that if a 151-foot statue of a green woman couldn’t impress me, than surely an old long wall in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t stand a chance.
But I was wrong. The wall was really cool. Yes, it was old (14 centuries old, to be exact) and it was long (6,000 miles) and in the middle of nowhere (built atop a steep hillside), but I think that’s what made it impressive.
3. The Chinese have an interesting take on toilet training
In China, burping is considered polite, spitting in public is quite common and seeing the occasional person relieving themselves in public isn’t completely unheard of. I would know. In the few short days I was there, I saw three pre-school-aged children pooping in the street (one, in front of a national monument). Not only were these children’s parents completely okay with their children using the sidewalk or grass as a dump (ha!), they encouraged it. For decades, it’s been the trend in China to fashion babies and toddlers in pants with slits in the back, called kaidangku or “open-crotch pants”. The pants are designed with convenience in mind, as I suppose it’s easier for parents to wipe poop from the sidewalk than from children’s bottoms.
According to my Chinese students and to this article in China Daily, this p0tty-training method is going out of style and isn’t practiced much by people in Shanghai or Beijing.
While I believe human bodily functions are natural and not something to be ashamed of (everyone poops!), I wasn’t comortable seeing it so prominantly on display like that. I have to admit, as tolerant as I like to think I am, I was a little weirded out by it all.
For example, a number of the public restrooms I used didn’t have locks on the stall doors and one didn’t have any doors at all. None of the stalls in that public restroom did; just knee-high dividers. People could (and did!) walk by and see people relieving themselves. No one seemed to mind much, but I found the experience awkward.