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Moresby Meanders Observations From an Ongoing Journey

Experiencing Public Life in China – A Guide to Finding Yourself as an Uptight Westerner

CHINA | Tuesday, 14 April 2015 | Views [696]

At first I was a little uncomfortable, a little confused. The old man stood in front of me, looked me up and down and drew heavily on his cigarette. Initially I tried to avoid eye contact; ‘perhaps he’ll go away soon’, I thought. Some time passed and he still hadn’t moved. ‘Perhaps he has something to say’, I considered; ‘words of wisdom, perhaps’. Slowly I lifted my head to meet his gaze - softly and quietly he spoke “Pack up your prudishness and leave your western sensibilities at the door” - or at least that was what I read in his eyes... I finished emptying my bowels into the open-stalled squat toilet, hiked up my pants and walked away from one of the most meaningful exchanges of my time in China.

The Middle Kingdom serves up many a challenge to the average westerner, but also offers many valuable lessons. The lesson I am learning at the moment; many of the things I have found to be a little embarrassing and tried to keep private for most of my life are really just a part of everyday life. Take, for example, the fact that people dance everywhere here, not just in nightclubs, and not just when they are drunk, but freely and for the fun of it. The public parks here are filled with people day and night busting a move, old and young, those with rhythm and those without. Traditional dancing, ballroom dancing, square dancing, and break dancing – they’re all doing it, and not to impress someone, but because it feels good.

Another fine example is seen in the willingness to sing openly, not just at KTV, but anywhere, and even if they sound like (as my lovely wife puts it) cats screwing. The songs that wash the streets, as tuneless as many may be, remind me that singing is not just for the Beyonces and Pavarottis of this world, but for everyone.

Further to this wave of newfound freedom, I have found that despite my mother’s insistence, it is A-OK to slurp on my noodles. Sorry, mums across the world, but just come and live in a country where people eat noodles most everyday; slurping is unavoidable, it is human, and nobody gives a damn.

Finally, in my line of small liberations, my need to judge those who go out in their pyjamas to complete everyday chores like walking the dog, doing the shopping, or just popping out for a bite to eat has now melted away. People here don’t even bat an eyelid, and why should they? The line between what is considered right or normal is only set by the society around you. Can’t we all afford to step back for a moment and just think, ‘who cares if I am not the best dancer or singer in the world, there are many just like me. Who cares if I slurp my noodles, I’m just enjoying my food. And who cares if I am wearing my PJ’s in the street, they are after all just another set of clothes. ‘  

I know this is starting to sound like some kind speech about affirming oneself, but the West truly can learn how to be a little more comfortable with themselves just by observing everyday life here in China. So come on and give it a go - dance like no one is watching, sing like no one is listening, slurp on your food if you want to, and wear your pyjamas in the street... but poop like someone is watching, because they might just be.

Tags: china, dancing, finding yourself, pyjamas, singing, westerner

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