Chapter 7 The Poor Chinese
2013 Revised version
Just as the Chinese automatically make stereotypical assumptions when they see me; that I'm American, Rich, Christian and my first language is English, they additionally and subconsciously think of foreigners as being white, with blond hair and blue eyes. Likewise, we 'whites' assume that Chinese are all short, with yellow skin, black hair and brown eyes. Like foreigners, Chinese people have various skin, hair and eye colors, as well as different shapes and sizes. I've met Chinese, who apart from the color of their face and arms were far whiter than I. China is a country comprised of 56 nationalities and that is reflected in their looks. I have encountered black, dark, yellow, and white Chinese. While most have black straight hair, it is as common to encounter those with naturally curly hair, as it is to meet people with natural brown or light red hair. Whilst most Chinese have dark brown to black eyes, many have light brown to hazel to green eyes, and I've even known two Chinese people whose relatives (they claim) have blue eyes. My friend Sun Limei's great grandmother was Polish and so it is certainly not impossible that a member of her family could have blue eyes.
When I arrived there in 2007, my first impression of male students in Suzhou was: 'My God they are so tall!' Likewise you can encounter whole families of people who would be lucky to reach 5 feet tall. And so it is that despite the stereotypical image we westerners have, not all Chinese are the same and not all are poor, especially given the economic development that has taken place in China over the last 20 years. (Question: "How do Chinese describe foreigners?" Answer: They can't because all foreigners look alike! - True!)
I wrote a story once about a particular family that I had taken pity on, but as I can't find that story at the moment, I shall, after a providing you a brief story background, relate to you some of the key points of that story. As a westerner who grew up not only in a subtropical environment but with a habit of taking baths, Hong Hu's cold weather, combined with the limitations that came with my bathroom's hot water cistern, drove me crazy. I constantly felt cold. Even when everything ran smoothly (no power or water cuts), about the maximum amount of hot water that could be obtained from the electric hot water cistern was about 3 minutes.
One day I was complaining to my Chinese friend Tobias about it. Tobias and his girlfriend Eunice ran a women's clothing store in Hong Hu, although Eunice was originally from Xi'an. One day Tobias was riding his bicycle in town and spotted me. He jumped off his bike, and speaking the best English he could muster, and with some difficulty, insisted that I accompany him to his shop where I met Eunice who was an English teacher in a private school. We fast became good friends, and Tobias went to work concentrating on improving his English. He graduated from Wuhan University as an English Major around 2007 or so.
One winter's day in 2003 I was telling Tobias that I really missed being able to have a hot bath, and that even the Chinese hotels which sometimes do have them, have such small baths that they are quite unsuitable. Tobias informed me that there was a public bathhouse in Hong Hu but stressed that it was a dirty place and that I probably would not like it. He additionally informed me that for an exorbitant fee I could use the bathhouse facilities in the big hotel in the main street, but that they would try to get me into bed with one of the girls - for extra money of course.
So eager was I for a hot bath that I got him to take me to the 'regular' bath house, where he asked the manager if the foreigner could check it out. He had absolutely no objection to the idea and found it hilarious to observe the reactions of the naked locals. Tobias was right of course; the place left a lot to be desired, but the opportunity to sit and soak in a spa or big communal bathtub was all that mattered to me, and so I became a regular.
Bathhouse fees are paid upon leaving. When you arrive you hand in your shoes and put on provided footwear and take the provided locker key. You go find your locker, strip off, stow away your gear in the locker, and with your key around your wrist, you enter the next section of the place. Correct procedure is to quickly shower and then go soak in the bath. After the bath you might have what is best described as 'exfoliation' and / or return to the showers to thoroughly scrub down and wash your hair. The procedures in this bathhouse were not usually adhered to. Soap is not used in the communal bath, or should I say 'is not supposed to be used'.
The bath is to soften your skin in preparation for cleaning it, which you either do yourself in the shower, or for which you pay an attendant to rip the dead skin off your body using a cloth. The results are astonishing, and once you get over the pain and the embarrassment of lying naked in front of just everybody there, and having the attendant's hand touching and brushing against every crack and crevice of your body, the experience is refreshing. It is simply amazing how much dead skin they can rip off you. I have at times taken the most thorough shower possible at home, then gone to the bath house and had the attendant clean me with my own cloth, and sat amazed at how black that cloth had become.
One night after I got out of the bath I went to a shower and the only available shower head was beside a boy of about 11 or 12 years of age. He immediately started speaking with me in English. He was quite enthusiastic and extremely thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with a foreigner, even if his English was pretty basic. After about 20 minutes of standing there talking to him whilst onlookers tried to get him to ask me specific questions, we both left to go get dressed. As it turned out, our lockers were side by side and I had opportunity to meet the boy's father.
Both the boy and his father begged me to give him private lessons and I finally agreed, provided that there was no payment involved, for it was stipulated in my contact that I could not earn income from teaching outside of my school. Despite my insistence on receiving no payment, they kept turning up with gifts of fruit and cartons of cigarettes. I was not then and nor am I even now, interested in teaching private students, but when I encounter a student with a love of learning I find it impossible to refuse to teach him/her. It was this boy's enthusiasm which motivated me to teach him, not a chance to earn anything. Furthermore, given that we had met in a public bathhouse, it seemed pretty obvious to me that his family was poor. I did not wish to receive any form of payment at all from them.
A couple of months into our private lessons, it transpired that I had scheduled a lesson for him without realizing that it fell on Christmas day (2004). I had received many invitations to dine with many different people that day and since I couldn't please everyone, I decided that I would hold a dinner and invite everyone to my place. When I realized that I had scheduled a class that night, I got Tobias to call the boy's family and tell them of the change in plan and asked them to join us for dinner. They were quite please to accept the invitation and toward the end of the evening, they extended an invitation to me to join them for dinner in their 'new' home. That home was anything but poor. The house cost one million rmb to build and was shared by the parents, the grandparents and an uncle and aunt. The family owned a factory which made plastic medicine bottles and piping and after dinner they took us on a tour of it, pointing out in the process that 4 machines in particular had cost about 6 million RMB. I had been teaching a 'poor' boy without knowing that his parents were extremely wealthy. I had assumed that they were common folk simply because I met them in the local bathhouse.
In addition to its many design purposes, the local bathhouse also serves as a community center of sorts, where friends meet and talk. Most of the older homes in Xindi central have either no running water, or no running hot water, and certainly no bathroom as we might think of it. A trip to the bathhouse therefore allows one to luxuriate in hot water, warm the bones, chat with old friends and get thoroughly clean. You have to witness it to believe it, but most guys showering in a bathhouse will spend a good 30 minutes washing, rewashing, and scrubbing their bodies which is then followed by numerous thorough hair shampooing and conditioning.
The bathhouse ultimately served two purposes for me. The first was the ability to bathe and have the dead skin removed from my body, and the second was that it became a classroom in which I began to learn Chinese. People would ask me questions which I would try to memorize so that later I could ask someone what the questions meant and how to answer them.
As I listened to conversations going on around me I began to notice frequently used words. From these words I came to discover the Chinese expressions for certain parts of the male anatomy, and learned that the locals spent a lot of time talking about my "build". Whilst the Chinese can be very moralistic and prudish &/or modest, inside the bathhouse, (indeed even at the local swimming hole) one quickly learns that the Chinese male is in fact quite at home 'au naturel'. It is nothing to see men in the bathhouse sitting around either naked or in underwear by their lockers, smoking cigarettes and lost in discussion, although to be fair, it does take some getting used to having a foreigner see you that way. And the converse is equally true!
As a western male, there is only one way to conduct yourself in the bathhouse and that is to pretend that running around naked in front of a bunch of people is the most natural thing for you in the world. And believe you me, it is not easy to do when you know that everyone is trying to get a good look at you, and discussing your most private parts with everyone else in the room. One day as I was heading into the bath room, I stopped to chat with the boss, and whilst doing so, 3 men entered the dressing room. Suddenly there was a scream, followed by the exclamation in Chinese: 'Foreigner!' As I look up, there were these guys grasping their family jewels so as not to be exposed to the foreigner. Not to be outdone, I myself screamed 'Chinese people', and making full use of both my hands, immediately grabbed and so covered up, my man boobs. That brought the house down, and put the men at ease!
As mentioned earlier, the Chinese do have their own urban legends about the western male, and given the opportunity, they are extremely keen, and devious I might add, in their endeavors to find out if the legends are true. The first time I decided to pay the extra fee and use an individual bath, I chose the one of the two partitioned baths at the far end of the room, about 5 meters from the open showers. Some herd mentality instinct immediately caused all the men in the showers to immediately quit showering, and walking in the opposite direction to the doorway, found it convenient to stand behind my bath as they dried themselves. Definitely disconcerting!
The other side of the coin of course is that Westerners have their own urban legends about Chinese men, and from my own observations, these are generally but not always false. Unlike the Chinese, I, having been attacked as a child shortly after birth, lack some of the original material that God gave me at birth and so when I wash, my ritual is somewhat different to that of most Chinese men. From my observations I have perceived that the untreated equipment with which men are born must be extremely dirty and hard to clean, for I have noticed that it takes an extremely long time for some Chinese men to clean them.
I have been asked at times if there is any homosexual overtones or activity to be found in the common bathhouse, and apart from one experience, I would have to say there is not, although as mentioned, I have wondered at times about the necessity to spend what seems to me to be an inordinate amount of time cleaning 'that extra bit of flesh'. One night after the 'scrub down' (exfoliation) I went to shower.
Beside the communal bath was a small alcove containing 3 shower heads, and on the other side, a room with about 16 shower heads. The only shower head free was the one by the door to the dressing room. At the end of the alcove containing three showers, was a middle aged man who, in addition to continually cleaning his equipment, was standing at a 45 degree to the wall staring at me. When I finished washing, I went past him back to the edge of the bath, and putting down my plastic bag which contained my soap etc, I began to apply moisturizer to my skin. Whilst I was doing that I noted that the man had done a 90 degree turn and was now watching me apply moisturizer (and continuing to clean his equipment). As I headed past him to go into the dressing room, he muttered something. I looked at him and said 'What?' and in English he said: "I - gay!" "Yes!" I replied: 'I figured that!' and left the room.
If there was anything I feared at all in the Hong Hu bathhouse, it was that I would accidentally step out of my plastic sandals, and step in someone's spit or urine. After having noticed that when the need arose I would sometimes leave the bathroom and go to the toilet, the manager finally pointed out to me that it was unnecessary to leave the room, for I could just urinate against the wall. That was when the penny dropped, and I understood why some men would stop and face the wall. As for spitting, it is done simply everywhere in China. As Tobias had warned me, by western standards the bathhouse was a dirty place. Had that bathhouse not been the first I had experienced in China, I doubt I ever would have become a regular there.
My original draft of this chapter was far more explicit than it now appears and friends suggested I tone it down a bit. They felt that such open descriptions of nudity and behavior were either distasteful or unnecessary. Compared to the first version, this chapter is quite tame, but I find it irritating that in this our liberated 21st century full of political correctness and multiculturalism, that despite our so call 'love of foreign culture' and non discrimination, that frank, honest and open discussion about foreign customs cannot be engaged in because it somehow 'ruins the exotic (and probably false) perceptions' that we have of foreigners. It also makes me laugh that 'Westerners', despite their supposedly open and sexually liberated ideals, are really quite sexually hung-up. It really makes me irate that western society whilst supporting and encouraging homosexuality, lives in constant fear that all men are pedophiles and that any man 'out on his own' anywhere at any time, is a sexual predator. I have over the last ten years come to believe that westerners are 'dirty minded' in a neurotic sort of way.
Whilst the Chinese might be said to be quite moral, within the bathhouse it can be observed that the Chinese are neither prudish nor bashful. China is predominantly rural and most country folk were not raised in circumstances that gave them a lot of privacy. Even today, when you think of the dormitory living conditions in schools where privacy is also lacking, even in the toilet, you must realize that the Chinese are not as concerned as foreigners with privacy.
I remember at home one day as I opened the bathroom door, that I saw something on the collar of my shirt, and so stopped to brush it off. There I stood for some number of moments in the open doorway trying to remove whatever it was on my shirt, totally oblivious to the fact that QC was in front of me sitting on the toilet reading a book. When I finally looked up and stepped into the room, I got the shock of my life. As I profusely apologized, he just sat there and smiled at me. From his perspective of course, (sitting on a western toilet) the situation was far less disconcerting that the normal process involved in going to the toilet at school.
I knew one person who thought it was disgusting that I go to a bathhouse and otherwise adopt the 'baser' customs of the Chinese. According to her own words, the Chinese 'don't know any better'. While I can understand that from a foreign perspective that one can always just shower at home, I really do love to soak in a nice hot bath. When I would go mid morning or mid afternoon when the place was pretty deserted, the attendants used to fear that I would fall asleep in the communal bath and drown.
Personally I think that unless you have learned to live as the common Chinese live (and that is about three quarters of a population of 1.3 billion people) how is it that you can say that you have 'experienced' the cultures and customs of China? As expressed in a recent press release: "The plane travels to many cultures, yet one does not merge with these cultures". (James Tarantin "The Equation")
Frankly I think that some foreigners, particularly the ones younger than I, just grew up prudish. If you yourself are prudish, or if you found this chapter hard to take, then I suggest you pay heed to the titles of some chapters and perhaps skip them.
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2013 Social Commentary Articles
Giving the Finger to Comrade GOOGLE's brand of Communism
By Comrade R.P. BenDedek
August 26, 2013
I have come to the decision that the only thing I can do is take a page out of Comrade Google's 'Little Red Book' and say: 'Screw You!' Comrade Google didn't like the way the Communist Government of China kept changing the rules. Comrade Google would not submit to a 'totalitarian authority'. Comrade Google decided to pull up stakes and leave. Is there a lesson to be learned in that?
Get rid of your Baggage People
Aug 21, 2013
Einstein is purported to have said: 'Insanity is when you do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result'. The 'pastors' I mentioned above, were real people; people who did their best to get me to believe and do as they did. In each of those cases 'prior to being caught out in their sins', each of those pastors spoke ill of me, slandered me and did their best to control and manipulate people I knew. They did me a lot of injury and caused me a lot of grief.
Terrorism the Media doesn't want to report on
by R.P. BenDedek et al.
August 13, 2006
Every time Israel takes action against Hamas in Gaza and starts blowing up tunnels, the 'western activists' start gushing tears from their eyes and blood from their hearts. The purpose here today is simply to provide information to counter the irrationality of 'agenda driven' activists who seek to control the emotions and minds of the silent and somewhat mindless majority. I am still 8 years old, hospitalized in critical condition. Screaming from pain. Bandaged from head to toe. And my head is not the same. No longer full of golden long hair. The head is burnt. The face, back, the legs and arms, burnt. I am surrounded by family members, but my mother is not with me.
Political Islam is full of hypocrisy and lies
by R.P. BenDedek
August 11, 2013
Politicians care only for themselves and nothing for the truth unless it suits their purposes. What they do call truth is usually nothing but lies! The general population - never seem to notice when radicals of all nationalities, religions and persuasions turn to 'ad hominems' rather than to logical debate when someone disagrees with them. The honest man will argue his point honestly. The perverted man ignores the argument and attacks the man (ad hominem) as though truth is not found in discovering and weighing the evidence and facts but in the character and 'Politically Correct Nature' of the person speaking them.
R.P.BenDedek (pseudonym) is the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' (http://www.kingscalendar.com ), and is a guest columnist and stand-in Editor at Magic City Morning Star News. He is also the Editor of the 'Writers Journal' at Kingscalendar.com. An Australian, he has been teaching Conversational English in China since 2003.
Writers Journal Kingscalendar
"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls