Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Backdiapers and Breast Cancer

Chinese parents are weird.

China is a weird place in general, but there's something that happens when a kid pops out that sends Mom and Dad on a one-way trip to Loonyville.  This is a list of bizarre things that Chinese parents do or think:

--First, backdiapers.  My friends and I invented this term one night over (a lot of) beer.  Backdiapers are a kind of towel that Chinese parents stuff into the nape of their kids' shirts.  The purpose is to soak up the sweat that pours off the kids' backs in a constant, unutterably foul torrent of Old Testament proportions.  Chinese kids sweat a lot, you see.  This is because...

--Being cold will give you breast cancer.  Chinese people have a weird thing about being cold.  They drink their water hot, for example.  Even if the thermometer's at 100 degrees (that's 40 celsius), moms will interrupt class by coming in and turning off my air conditioner, because their kids will "get cold".  I speak from experience, as when I was in Hangzhou there was about a month-long period where it didn't go under 100, day or night.  Meanwhile, the kids were wrapped up in sweaters with sweat pouring down their faces and backdiapers so thoroughly saturated that you could wring them out.   There are a few justifications they use for this, among them that being cold, or even drinking cold (i.e. room temperature) water causes breast cancer.   Given the level of competence among most Chinese medical professionals, I would not be surprised if they're the ones disseminating this information.  For the same reason, many parents don't let their kids shower in winter.  This aversion to cold is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture, as is...

--Letting your kids crap on the street.  Diapers aren't super big here, so most kids who are old enough to walk but not old enough to control their, ahem, functions, wear pants with an open crotch.  When it's time to go, they squat down wherever they happen to be--on a street, in the market, in an underpass--and let it rip.  Of course to a sensitive and effete laowai like myself this is shocking, but it's a centuries-old practice that, if you think about it, is much more environmentally friendly than using diapers.  It also makes the parent's job easier.  For instance, the other day I was on a train.  I was sitting near the corridor reading my book when a Mom hustled by, holding a toddler.  At the end of the car was a communal trash bin.  She took the kid, dangled him over the bin, and started up...

--The piss whistle.  This is a high-pitched whistling noise that parents make.  It triggers a Pavlovian response in their kid that opens the floodgates.  As I sat in the train that day, desperately trying to focus on my book, the mom held the kid out, started whistling, and sure enough he unleashed a stream of pee into the trash can.  By the way, this whole time, they were right across the corridor from the bathroom.  Which tells you something about the quality of Chinese train toilets.

Pretty nasty, if you ask me.  But some other Chinese parenting habits are heartwarmingly affectionate.  Or at least, they toe the line between heartwarmingly affectionate and disturbingly helicopterish:

--Feeding their kids.  The other day I was walking down the hallway at school when I saw one of my kids.  He was reclined on a chair, with his parents standing over him.  Dad was holding chopsticks and a bowl to the kid's mouth, shoveling in food.  Meanwhile, Mom was holding a glass of (presumably boiling-hot) water to his mouth and pouring it in at intervals.  The kid was doing nothing on his own, just laying back with his mouth open like he was at the dentist.  This kid was five years old, and his parents were watering him like a plant.  One Chinese friend of mine does this with his nine-year-old daughter, and the lunch lady at our school cafeteria has actually done this to me.  Incredible.

This one, though, I can understand.  Think about it: the parents (or at least the grandparents) grew up during Chairman Mao's time--that is, the single worst famine in all of human history, coupled with not being able to eat what you did have (thanks, communism!)  This is the first time in living memory where a kid in China can reasonably be expected to have enough to eat--and even then, that's only in the cities.  Parents can't get that food into their kids fast enough.

Shovel away, I say.

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