Saturday, 12 September 2009

Split Pant Babies

Align RightOne thing that I did not expect to see in China was baby penis. On the bus, on the street, eating dinner, there it was, courtesy of the split pants that Chinese babies wear until they’re toilet trained.

Aparticularly disconcerting moment was when we were at dinner with our waiban and her family, and her infant daughter decided to demonstrate her gymnastic potential. The four of us, all Anglo-Saxon Westerners, tried (rather unconvincingly, I suspect) to subtly all look on the opposite direction at once, torn between our cultural conditioning and not wanting to make our wonderful hosts feel embarrassed because we were. It was quite shocking to realise how sexualised small children have become in our society.

I never quite figured out the mysterious process by which Chinese babies are toilet trained, although it seems to involve the babies responding to whistle like sound from their parents. I also quickly realised that you should never ever, ever stand in the areas of earth around trees on the pavement, as they seemed to be a nappy substitute for children up to around eight years old.
I am fairly sure that if I ever start going senile I will probably forget the imperial temples and palaces of Beijing and the startling beauty of Yangshuo, but remember watching a boy, perhaps six or seven, do a shit in the earth, then do a perfect downward dog yoga pose whilst his granny wiped his arse, throwing the dirty tissue to linger next to his deposit.

Given how horrendous the toilets were in some of the shabbier areas of our city, I couldn’t really blame children for preferring the street, and indeed had once or twice utilised a discreet alley rather than a noxious unisex squatter at a backstreet bbq or two, but when the rains came in the summer it was hard not to try and think about what exactly you were wading through…

The gratifyingly grossed out reactions I've got back here have more than made up for it though.


  1. I am having a gratifyingly grossed out reaction, you just can't see it.

  2. Ditto. My son and his wife just returned from Niger three weeks ago and they saw that sort of thing (The entire outdoors is my toilet) all the time, except in Niger the really little kids don't wear any clothes at all.

  3. mm - my day was not wasted then! ;)
    pat - in the winter, the little kids would be so bundled up they looked like miniture michellin men - with split pants, which must be rather chilly.

  4. Disclaimer for other readers: I am not disrespecting Nigerien people, just pointing out a custom they have that we don't have.

    J--BRRRRR...but as long as their core, limbs and head are warm, it's probably not too bad.

  5. Yes, grossing out here too just before breakfast. Mind you, I suppose the kilt is just as practical...

  6. Still, those kids are potty trained at a very early age, which is a good thing in a country where most people don't have nappies or access to washing machines...