There are many traditional sights in China that can sum up the country in a snapshot for me: red lanterns lining streets filled with restaurants; old men playing Chinese chess surrounded by a crowd of on-lookers and large groups practising early morning Tai-Chi in the park, to name just a few.
|This is China.|
1. Fighting over the bill (literally)
Being from England, the first time I heard the tell-tale scrapping back of chairs, I got ready to run. The men behind me were clearly disagreeing about something as voices had been raised for the last few minutes and it appeared that the argument was about to get physical. However one of my dining companions assured me it was all just a good-natured disagreement over who would pay the bill, which would be quickly resolved. I was a bit dubious about the good-natured part of it as the two men began wrestling over the table, their faces contorted with rage. But as everyone else in the crowded restaurant continued to ignore them I came to realise that it really was a normal occurrence.
In China pride is everything and losing face over something is the worst thing that can happen. Therefore, in the same way that it's totally acceptable for men to take their shirts off in restaurants when they get a food sweat, it is also fine to wrestle over who gets to pay the bill.
Indeed, five minutes later - after one man had successfully managed to run after the waitress and rip his friend's money from her hand - the pair were laughing and drinking together again. No doubt running up another bill which could be argued over later.
|One way or another this is going to cost you: either your money or your pride.|
2. Baby poo pants
Now many of you will know my view on poo pants, the adult version of which I had never worn and hated until a couple of months ago when I invested in a pair and discovered they are man's best friend when travelling. However poo pants in China are taken to a whole new level. I still haven't got to the bottom of why small children are dressed in the trousers which have huge splits underneath but I have been led to believe it's something to do with early potty training.
Whatever the reason, everywhere you go in China you are confronted by little bottoms as children run around completely oblivious to the fact that their parents have dressed them in the most inexplicably bad outfits. Obviously the Western world's fear of paedophilia (which is so extreme back at home that parents won't even let us put their child's name in the paper "just in case") has not caught on here.
The main argument in favour of poo pants seems to be that they allow children to squat down anywhere to do their business, without the hassle of having to pull their trousers up and down. This can lead to some pretty inappropriate situations though - the worst we witnessed was when a woman allowed her grandson to poo on the floor outside a toilet cubicle on a train because it was occupied. And, no, she didn't clean it up.
But what I really don't get are the babies who are wearing them. Ok, I understand nappies are expensive, but are mothers really so intuitive here that they know when their babies need to go? How do you never seen any accidents when babies are being passed from person to person?
Anyway, I think it's safe to say that poo pants won't be catching on in England. I can just imagine their faces when I take it to the Dragon's Den. Unless I'm wrong and my friends who are mums are reading this and thinking it's the obvious answer to potty training. In which case, send me your orders.
|Rocking the baby poo pants.|
3. Dressing inappropriately for the occasion
Anyone who knows me knows that I love shoes. Shoes are my thing and at 5ft tall, the higher the better is usually my motto. So spending the last nine months with one pair of walking boots, one pair of flip flops and some ballet shoes which have seen better days for 'nice' occasions has been a struggle. So I've got to hand it to the women in China, who treat every street as a catwalk, stomping along in their stilettos or wedges whatever the time of day.
However even I have to draw the line somewhere and going to The Great Wall in heels is not appropriate. Neither are stilettos really adequate footwear for walking around the Forbidden Palace (lots of steps and cobbles) or visiting the Terracotta Warriors (miles to walk). But unbelievably a ridiculous number of women seem to think that it is totally normal to spend the day tottering around historical sites. How you don't see more women with broken ankles amazes me.
Also there are the hats, fantastic wedding-esque creations, which, like heels, can be worn on any family day out. With my tiny pea head I can only envy the girl who can wear a huge white hat complete with a veil on a day trip to see the pandas.
|Just your average day out at The Great Wall.|
4. Express lane toilets
One of the things you quickly learn in China is that queueing doesn't exist. This is a difficult concept for a Brit to get their head around - why if there is on person standing in front of you would you not automatically stand behind them to form a line? But in China that concept is nonexistent. If someone is being served at the checkout at the supermarket, it is perfectly acceptable to put your own goods under the assistant's nose; if a bank clerk is speaking to a customer no one bats an eyelid when someone leans over to ask their own question and even when there is a queue at the train station (enforced by cattle grill-style fences) people still walk straight to the front and nobody says a word. In England there would be uproar.
So waiting to go to a public toilet is always interesting. Firstly, you have to just chose a couple of doors and guard them until someone comes out - there's no point expecting that because you were there first you'll get the next available one. Secondly, while using the squat loo you've also got to keep one arm outstretched (as most doors don't have locks) to stop the tiny Chinese women who are freakishly strong from whacking the door open for all the world to see.
But my favourite toilets so far have been the express lanes ones which specify they are for "urinating only". They were what I can only describe as a trough which ran under every cubicle, with a constant source of running water going through them (negating the need to flush). Which, while it may indeed save you an extra two seconds, also meant that the waste from the next cubicle is also flowing on by. So probably best not to look too closely.
|Totally not taking the "express" part seriously enough.|
5. The things they do for love
Something I've discovered in China is that the girls are very spoilt by their boyfriends. After watching the way they pout and stamp their feet when they don't get their own way and giggle and hang on to their boyfriends' necks when they're in a good mood, I've realised where I've been going wrong all these years. The boys seem to be quite happy to put up with it and whether it's something to do with the fact that by 2020, thanks to the country's one child policy, there won't be enough girls to go around, I'm not sure.
But the funniest thing is that the poor guys always have to carry their girlfriend's handbag and it's hard to look macho when you're carrying a Louis Vuitton. We've seen guys trying to mix up the look a bit, one carrying it with the strap around his forehead and another with it hanging around his neck. Presumably the poor guy was contemplating ending it all.
The other trend in China right now is to say "I love you" by wearing the same t-shirt as your other half. The 'his and hers' tops are in shops everywhere and couples are embracing the look, the boys apparently perfectly comfortable with wearing a t-shirt with a giant love heart emblazoned across the front. Funnily enough I can't see it catching on at home.
However I've noticed that the craze is starting to spread to families now, with mum, dad and son or daughter all wearing variations of the same t-shirt, and I'm seriously considering investing in some for when the Elliotts do the Olympics. If nothing else it might stop us losing dad so often!