A Canadian in Beijing: Naked Baby Bums Everywhere!

I wonder how babies in China feel in the wintertime. I mean, they must experience some severe crotch frost considering the built-in air-conditioning their clothing has! This no-nonsense approach to raising not-yet-potty-trained children has me both baffled and amused.

Here in China, children under the age of approximately 4 years old wear pants that are crotchless. In other words, their pants do not have any crotch, just an open space where the crotch should be. At a Pride Day parade, this style would be called “chaps”! Here in China, they’re just regular kids’ clothes.

Basically, when the child has to go to the bathroom, they are taught to squat wherever they are. This can sometimes happen on the sidewalk or on the grass, but it also happens on public transport or in shopping centres.

How does a society deal with that?

Mops. Lots of mops.

This phenomenon further stresses the fact that sitting on the grass or the sidewalk here in China is an absolutely disgusting proposition. Any number of children could have urinated or defecated there. Top that off with the spitting, the rubbish and overall dirt that is generated by 14 million people and you have yourself an extremely unsanitary seat.

The more I see this happen here in China, the less often I have found myself sitting on the ground. In fact, I’m not sure I’ll ever sit on the ground again after three months in Beijing. It may have scarred me for life! (C’mon, a little drama never hurt!)

I finally got up the courage to ask about this ‘crotchlessness.’ The moment came when we were in class and discussing what things we found to be “qi guai” or “strange” here in China compared with our home countries. My teacher laughed out loud when we all started to comment on this phenomenon and then she covered her mouth shyly with her hand as she explained and then laughed some more. She said that she once asked a mother whether or not her children were cold in the wintertime and the mother’s response had been that this section of the body is hot enough on its own and so the missing fabric is “mei wenti” (no worries).

Really? I don’t buy it. I know it’s hot down there, but is it hot enough to keep those bits from frostbite? I don’t think so. Of course, I am a Canadian here and I have heard that Beijing winters are not as cold as Canadian winters. Hmmm. Wo bu zhi dao (I don’t know). I’m shrugging my shoulders here.

(I’ve since found that lots has been written about this. Here’s a really cute picture.)

Now, besides the so-called functionality of this clothing design, I have to admit that it’s really cute. When a child is being held either on its mother’s back or in her arms, the child’s legs are bent around her and all you see is his or her little bottom. Everywhere I go, I get glimpses of naked baby bums and I smile every time. How can you not? So perhaps that’s part of the function: kids’ clothing that make the foreigners smile.

When I was on the subway heading downtown one day, a small child of about 2 was sitting on the lap of the woman across from me. He was fussing and irritable and so she took him off her lap and stood him between her legs to steady him as the train rumbled along. He continued to whine and wriggle, wanting to get out from the jail cell that had been created by her knees, but unable to breach her legs for any free space since the train was fairly crowded.

Suddenly, he bent into the squatting position and peed. His mother lifted her feet slightly so that she wouldn’t step in his urine and then threw a tissue at the small puddle and let it soak up the urine before kicking the sopping tissue under the seat with the sole of her shoe.

It was my first experience watching a child pee on public transport and I was amazed. I’m sure my eyes were the size of small dinner plates because she looked right at me with a “haven’t-you-seen-this-before?” expression on her face that was mixed with a sort of diffidence that made me lower my gaze. I don’t want my amazement to translate into judgment and so I spent the rest of the trip looking out the window.

About a week later, I was standing on the street and I saw a small child being led to one of the small saplings that line the road. His mother opened the gap in his pants and positioned his body to urinate and then waited until he had emptied his little bladder under the city tree. I watched this with great amusement.

Later that same day, I was riding my bike back home and it was late in the evening when the twilight can trick your eyes with its dim shadows. I saw a small girl of about 5 years old step into the street a good block ahead of me as I was leisurely pedalling along. She lifted up her skirt and crouched down and I wondered if she was looking for something in the gutter. Seconds later, I watched her hop back up onto the curb and disappear into a building and when I arrived at the spot where she had been, I discovered only a damp patch of asphalt that I had to swerve to avoid.

It seems to me that even as kids grow a bit older, it’s still OK for them to urinate (and what about #2?) on public streets. I wonder how common this is or if I just saw a rare moment here.

Either way, at least it saves on paper and non-biodegradable diapers. That’s a huge something!

Now if we could only tackle the smell …