A Canadian in Beijing: Exposed Bellies For The Fellies

I’m writing this from Canada. I suppose I’m no longer technically a “Canadian in Beijing.” Still, there are a few things I haven’t yet had a chance to tell you about from my trip and so the next couple of posts will be slightly anachronistic. And then, I’ll give you the full low-down on my reverse culture shock that I’m currently experiencing!

Now, something I haven’t yet talked about falls on the heels of my post entitled “Umbrellas Not For Fellas” (hence the wacky title above!) This was a post about how women use umbrellas to block the sun in Beijing, but that men rarely do so. I often wondered what men do to keep cool and then I quickly discovered their technique:

Exposed bellies.

Yes, it seems that men in Beijing feel quite comfortable rolling up their shirts and exposing their bellies to cool off. I have not yet seen a woman doing the same thing. To top that off, there is no requirement for abs of steel to take part in this tradition. Any sized belly can be exposed as long as it’s hot enough outside to warrant the half-roll-up “look.” It’s perfectly acceptable and certainly replaces the North American way, which is for men to remove their shirts altogether.

I have been noticing this phenomenon since late May when the weather got warm enough to warrant the need to cool off. The problem has been in the photography. I haven’t felt comfortable just plainly photographing one of these men in order so that I had blog material. In fact, I felt more like a paparazzi than ever in this pursuit and I tried to stealthily take pictures, which you can tell was not always successful.

This gentleman caught me right in the act of photographing him. In fact, he wanted me to buy a tourism book in exchange for the photo I snapped. I almost did just that. I feel pretty guilty about my interest in his innocent stomach exposed to the misty mountain air, but not guilty enough to fork over the inflated price he wanted for his souvenirs. I left as stealthily as I had approached, apologizing quietly and self-conscious about having been “caught.”

My one consolation is that he probably doesn’t actually realize that my interest was in his belly. He probably thought I was just an obnoxious white tourist wanting a picture of a Chinese man selling souvenirs. Hardly a real consolation, but enough to quell the embarrassment at least!

I suppose I bring with me the North American notion that exposing one’s midriff is a rather vulnerable and private act. Well, alright, maybe that’s just my own notion considering the number of exposed bellies I have seen in videos on MTV or Much Music! But of course those are women I see on television and the men in China are not doing it for style or for sex appeal. It’s a practical act.

It’s ventilation.

Even so, there’s just something more intimate about these exposed bellies of Chinese men, to be honest, and despite how “everyday” it appeared to be to these men, young and old, it was something I dared not be too obvious about wanting to further expose.

But, now that I’m back in Canada, I feel okay about it somehow. Have I escaped my shyness via distance? Perhaps I’m far enough away to no longer feel self-conscious about looking and being interested in this phenomenon.

Well, regardless of the psychological self-assessment that I’m currently applying to this very blog, here you go… the bellies of Beijing-area Chinese men cooling off throughout the month of June. Sent to you directly from Canada and in answer to your burning, post-umbrella-post question as to “what do men do to keep cool in Beijing?”

They show their belly buttons.

Without removing their shirts.

Can you imagine that sunburn?

Would they call that a Beijing belly tan?