Contrary to popular perception, women in Asia are not universally modest. Any time I visit a nightclub in Kunming, for example, I see girls dressed up in outfits that would make any Westerner blush. Granted, some of these women are hired by the club to attract men, but in general women who patronize night-spots in Chinese cities do not dress any less provocatively than their Western counterparts would. And this is in China, which is far more conservative in this way than places like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.
Yet on the beach, most Chinese women dress as if no one has seen a swimsuit catalogue in 60 years. Most young women-in my years of experience ogling babes on beaches across the world- wear bikinis. Not in China. A bikini, to most women I know here, would attract unwanted attention from men and darken their skin, the scourge of the Asian middle class. Toplessness is out of the question- a topless woman would be about as inconspicuous as Shaquille O’Neal in rural Sichuan.
And so it isn’t terribly surprising that a European woman- the harlot!- caused a minor incident in Qingdao by removing her top on the beach. In homage to Chris*, here is a rough translation** of the whole amusing article:
At 2pm on August 12th, a foreign woman (on the left of the photo) at the Number 1 Seaside Bathing Beach sunbathed half-nude, behavior immediately triggering a commotion at the beach. Some residents dubbed the woman’s behavior ‘out of line’, yet many beach-goers still approached the woman for a photograph.
“There’s a foreign woman sunbathing topless at the beach!”. At 2 pm, a city resident surnamed Chu telegrammed this newspaper at 96663 with the news. Shortly thereafter, this reporter arrived at the Number 1 bathing beach, which due to the sizzling weather, was crammed with both local and visiting beach-goers. Under the guidance of a local, this reporter located the half-naked woman.
This reporter then saw a blonde, topless woman taking photos with other beach-goers, and although she was within view of a number of people, she remained unfazed.
Shortly thereafter, this reporter approached the woman to talk, and after basic conversation the reporter understood that the woman came from Bulgaria, had been in Qingdao four days, and thought Qingdao was a very beautiful city. She seemed indifferent to her toplessness, believing that to be topless was her right.
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“With so many people around, this kind of behavior is quite unbecoming!”, said a septuagenerian man who couldn’t help but shake his head after seeing the woman. “This may be normal overseas, but here it’s indecent.” A number of residents whom this reporter interviewed expressed bewilderment with the forwardness of the woman’s behavior.
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Shortly thereafter, this reporter went to the beach management office, where he was told by a person responsible that although the beach had encountered topless guests in the past, they had never found one daring to go topless in front of so many people. “There’s nothing we can do about it!”. This reporter was told that in the past several days many residents and guests alike have complained about this matter, but because no clear law exists prohibiting this sort of behavior, beach employees simply could not intervene.
I find this story amusing because a) the Bulgarian woman continued sunbathing topless despite what appears to have been an enormous amount of attention on top of the persistent questioning of the reporter, b) that the supposed ‘moral outrage’ involved didn’t prevent beach-goers from crowding around the woman and taking her photo, and c) that rather than compel the woman to put her top back on, the beach officials were preventing from doing so due to the absence of a clear legal statute regarding these matters. See, China is a nation that respects the rule of law!
*Chris, it should be noted, translates items of actual societal value. I’ll stick to the more lurid side with mine.
** Translators, or friends with better Chinese than mine- please feel free to correct this translation of mine. But only if you have way too much free time.…
I’ve been informed that comments on this site are down, and unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to resurrect them yet. I’m flying back to China tonight and will begin work shortly after arriving so it might take me a few days to get everything back in order.
If you want to comment on something I’ve written please e-mail me at matthew.schiavenza (at) gmail.com.
Nothing sums up my experience of being an expat quite like the two weddings I’ve attended this year.
The first wedding, held in early May, took place in a tiny village in rural south Yunnan Province, not far from the Lao border. All of the food from the wedding came from rice and vegetables grown in the village and pigs and poultry that roamed around prior to meeting their unfortunate end. Each day, guests sat on an outdoor wooden platform constructed specifically for the occasion on small straw stools to eat home-cooked food.
The first wedding had no ceremony; after all, the bride and groom had already been married by a government official some weeks before. Wedding guests wore, for the most part, t-shirts, shorts, and flip flops in the tropical heat.
The second wedding, held last week, began in a Catholic church high in the mountains east of Los Angeles. The ceremony was quite formal, involving a full mass conducted by a priest familiar to the bride’s family. The groom and his groomsmen wore traditional black tuxedos, the bride a white gown, and her maids of honor matching pink dresses.
After the wedding, the hundred plus guests decamped to the bride’s uncle’s house, a palatial lakefront villa with its own dock. In addition to the full bar, wedding guests were treated to a live jazz band and a DJ and were encouraged to dance on an outdoor floor. After dinner, a catered meal with beef, ravioli, and vegetables, guests accompanied the bride and groom to the dock, where a speedboast whisked them off to a private hotel on the other side of the lake.
Both weddings were great fun. But they had nothing in common, except that I attended both. Having a foot in both of these worlds is the delicate balancing act of the China expat. Coming home can be more jarring than going away, simply because we idealize home as our place with our people, as opposed to the foreign environment in which we live.
Yet I’ve discovered over the past few years that home can feel just as foreign as anywhere else. I noticed this especially this time; people kept commenting that I had a strange accent, certain conversations flew right over my head, and I found it difficult to convey the experience of living in China to nearly all the people polite enough to ask.
I suppose the best way to look at it is that feeling comfortable with multiple cultures is an incredible privilege, one that the vast majority of people around the world do not have. I know full well that when I fly back to China, I will pick up right where I left off, and that makes my bout with culture shock well worth it.…
The traffic system in most Chinese cities are frighteningly chaotic, and Kunming is no exception. Several major intersections have no control whatsoever. Red-light running is endemic. Drivers will do anything- anything- to avert gridlock, including driving on the sidewalk or down the wrong way of one-way roads. When you add in silent electrical bikes, motorcycles, trucks, mianbao che, and all other contraptions that pass as vehicles, Chinese roads resemble a Hobbesian nightmare where survival is by no means guaranteed.
Yet for all of its flaws, Kunming’s roads seem oddly safe. I cycle on them without reluctance, even at night. Every so often, I have to slam on the breaks. Once or twice, I’ve bumped into pedestrians, vespas, or other small vehicles. In a city with such a large population crammed into a small area, these incidents are by no means unusual.
The very lack of rules on the roads in Kunming, in a way, explain why they’re so safe. Cars violate traffic rules all the time. Pedestrians jaywalk with impunity, bikes go against the grain of traffic, and everybody everywhere do what they’re not supposed to. Yet there’s one rule that everybody follows in China: try not to hit other people.
Keeping that rule in mind makes everyone drive reasonably slowly. The scenes I witness in northern California, cars zipping by at high speeds, don’t happen in China. In California, people follow the rules so assiduously that any deviation seems extraordinary and a cause for panic. In China, nobody drives well, and for that reason there’s a certain sense of security amidst the madness.…
Apologies for the hiatus- for this reason or that I’ve neglected this blog, though not for lack of ideas swirling around in the head.
First, though, on a personal note: I will be flying back to the US tomorrow morning to attend a friend’s wedding at Lake Arrowhead, California, thanks to the generosity of my folks who have paid for the ticket. This visit will be the shortest I’ve ever undertaken at just a week, and it’ll also be the least amount of time I’ve spent in China between visits home at just over six weeks.…