China from the corner of my eye – what would that look like? Too often we see from the centre of our eye, blocking all that is peripheral and focusing on that item that has drawn our gaze. But what if we look awry, block that centre and allow the edges and peripheries to have their say? ON a few occasions, those edges and corners drew me in.
100 steps and you will live to be 99. Of an evening, the streets flow and eddy with people. Not the flexible crush of a big city peak hour, metros seemingly jammed and yet still making room for more. Not the seeming chaos of a major intersection, with its trucks, buses, cars, motor scooters, tricycles, bicycles and pedestrians all bent on making the crossing. Not the overflowing trains on the New Year festival or Spring festival, still selling no-seat tickets for a forty-five hour journey to one’s home town and family. No, this is a gentle pulsation, an ambulation, a stretch and relax with a bit of quiet chatter. But why? Is it because the homes are too small and people need some breathing space? Or, conversely, is it because Chinese people like the feel of human breath, uncomfortable without it? Perhaps. But the real reason is an old proverb: 100 steps after a meal and you will live to be 99. Given the much-laboured insights of modern science, this proverb makes a lot of sense. Standing, walking, even gently, ensures that a whole bunch of bodily systems kick in that are otherwise closed down when seated – digestion, circulation, lymph system, nerves and so on. Here there is none of that common practice one finds elsewhere, in which you throw yourself on a lounge after a heavy meal, have a snooze, and wallow in your satiation.
While out on the street, especially on a sweltering summer evening, I am tempted to roll up my shirt and air my belly. Why? All around me men do so as a matter of course. No one seems to notice these bared bellies, but once I register them, they seem to be everywhere. A closer study reveals the following conditions: you must have a significant specimen to show off to the world; it must be glistening with sweat; it should be hairless, for Chinese men have very little body hair; and it must be done in public for all to see. No matter how much I bend my back and slouch, pushing out my own tummy, my sad, hairy effort is no match. ‘Put it away’, say my companions, laughing. ‘That’s a public eyesore’.
After sauntering, milling and chatting, I finally make my way to my modest hotel room and throw myself on the bed … only to find a curious collection on the bedside table. Inside an ashtray is a condom! Not used as one might find in a seedy joint in Australia or elsewhere, but neatly wrapped and ready to use. How thoughtful. In the practical manner of the locals, the ashtray itself stands beneath a sign that says: ‘No smoking: Patriotic National Health Campaign’. In other words, you really shouldn’t smoke, since it is bad for you, but just I case you feel the urge, here’s an ashtray.
Speaking of the urge, in the bathroom I find an even more intriguing collection: alongside the toothbrush and toothpaste provided for patrons, as well as socks and underwear, I find a few more condoms, with the alluring names, ‘Vibrated’, ‘Hot Sense of’ and ‘Ice-Cool’.
But my eye is drawn to another member of this collection. Is that a computer mouse? What’s that doing here? A closer look reveals that it is made by the China Shenyang Yirenbao Biochemical Company and that it will fulfil your ‘Passion for beating up’. Is it an S-M toy perhaps? Ah no, the Chinese means ‘flogging off’, for it is nothing less than a vibrator. Just the thing.
I guess if you have a one-child policy (for the Han majority, not the minorities), then it is worthwhile providing all the encouragement you can.