Me and Chairman Mao
  The splits.
Many of you--quite rightly, I must say--seem to be more than a little disturbed about the split-pants phenomena I mentioned in my entry/phog. In response to your well-founded concerns, I feel I should tell you that, contrary to what I may have hinted at, the streets of Beijing are not, in fact, full of squatting toddlers doing their business wherever they happen to be standing when the so-called "urge to purge" hits. (Thank God, by the way.)

In fact, the split pants are, as far as I can tell, sort of rare, although that may just be because I've pretty much only been here in the winter, which is definitely not split-pants weather. We'll see if that changes now that things have started to warm up--the other day it was over sixty!--but from what I've been told by some of the locals, most parents around here don't really like the split pants: the kids are forced to wear them by their grandparents, who grew up with such things in the good old days so they must be better, even if the good old days featured what are now commonly recognized as "bad days," like, say, the Cultural Revolution, in which hundreds of thousands of people--if not millions--either died from starvation or were just killed outright.

Good days, indeed. But moving on …

I have, since being here in China, only seen split pants put into action twice. One time was actually the night before I put the picture online, which is what reminded me of the existence of said picture in the first place. It was on a side street we were walking down on our way home. And, unlike Seattle--or most places in the US--side streets in Beijing are not empty, barren stretches of pavement with nothing beyond locked doors and dumpsters. No, here the side streets are bustling with activity. (In fact, a lot of our favorite places are on side streets, or off side streets, although I'm not sure where that would make them. On side-side streets? Sider streets? Who knows.)

In fact, the side street in question runs down one side of the Yaxiu Market, the big fake handbag market by our place, so it has a bunch of shops selling all manner of things, from shoes to jackets to DVDs. In addition, this particular side street is also home to an evening market, so both sides are crammed full of ramshackle stalls selling fruits and vegetables--as well as the odd food or cigarette vendor--down its entire length. Anyway, my point is that this was a busy actually a pretty busy street, not some dark, dank, out of the way alley.

So what did we notice as we were walking down this street, I ask, as if you don't already know? What did we perceive in the semi-shadows between stalls while innocently strolling on our merry way home? Yes, we were lucky--as usual around here, a word I use ironically--enough to see a little kid squatting in front of his mother making, shall we say, a "deposit" on the sidewalk. Seriously. Luckily--there's that word again--we had already eaten, but still, it was … unpleasant. In the extreme.

And that was just the first split-pants event (well, the second chronologically, which is too confusing to get into), although when it comes to six-year old shitting on the street, once is definitely enough. And thankfully, that's the only time I have seen what we have at some point referred to as "Number 2" in action. In Shanghai--the other time I have seen the split-pants used in the five-odd months I've been in-country--it was for some good, old-fashioned tree-peeing. (As in some little kid peeing against a tree while his parents--and everyone else--looked on.) I know, that doesn't seem as bad as the first incident I mentioned, and it wasn't. However, three things made this instance both stranger and more memorable: location, location, and location.

Why location? Because the tree in question was outside a mall on Shanghai's biggest shopping street. And not just any mall: Plaza 66, which has to be the nicest mall in the city. And when I say nicest, I mean upscale. Really, really upscale--certainly way beyond anything Seattle, or most cities, have. This is a mall where the "cheap" stores are Emporio Armani, Miu Miu, and Moschino (those are big expensive brands, for the fashion-challenged) and the more expensive stores had names like Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Hermes, and Christian Dior on the door. And yes, right outside those same doors--the door to the LV store to be exact--was a little kid, who, to his credit, looked sufficiently mortified, pissing all over a poor little tree. It was, well, odd. Quite odd. But then again, no one--aside from us--seemed to give the kid a second look, so who knows.

And that's it as far as spilt-pants usage goes for my stay here, although as I said above, one time was probably enough. I'm also guessing that the farther away you get from the big Westernized coastal cities--Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong--and the closer you get to the western hinterlands and the Himalayas, the more common split-pants become. At least, that was the case six years ago in the backwater town of Leshan in Sichuan province (that's "Szechwan" province for those of you who still call Beijing "Peking," Qing Dao "Tsing Tao," Chongqing "Chung King," and so on), when I witnessed a little kid wander off to the corner of a newly remodeled restaurant that had been reopened for less than one week and piss all over the place. But that, my friends, is a different story ...
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Beijing: the Phog!
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Tyger, tyger. [Feeding the Tigers (!) Pictures]
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