Wild geese and noodle dancing
It was in the ancient fortress city of Xian where we first bore witness to the many hazards of split trousers. For those not in the know, most under-4s in mainland China don’t wear nappies but a split in the crotch of their trousers/babygrow, leaving their tiny bottoms et al open to the elements. A risky business, some might argue, particularly when giving the tired little mite a lift on your shoulders.
On the one hand, it saves families (many living in abject poverty) thousands of yuan a year, supposedly speeds up potty training, is environmentally-friendly and maintains a cultural traditional that dates back to the Qing Dynasty. On the other, it means kids relieve themselves pretty much wherever and whenever they please, which includes restaurant floors, supermarkets, public transport, on stage at cultural folk shows (yup, this happened).
We’d become used to seeing tiny bums on parade in both Beijing and Shanghai but the incident in Xian was something altogether different. This was a boy of five or six. The split was of no use. He just filled his pants. Next to a zebra crossing. While his mother and grandmother looked on, feebly waving a bottle of water in his general direction. Hey, we’ve all been caught short. Totally sympathise with that. No problem. But little ones squatting in public became a common sight during the month we spent travelling through China and something we never got used to.
We made two surprising decisions on our first day in Xian. The first was to spend four hours trying to find the ancient Big Wild Goose Pagoda in heat so intense we were forced to walk most of it within the shopping centres that lined the road. It’s not in bad shape considering it was built in 672 but not quite as ornate as we’d expected – more of a greyish-brown square cone made of bricks. It all got a bit much for El who immediately fell asleep on park bench.
The second surprising decision was to select the hottest place we possibly could for our evening meal, Haidilao Hot Pot City, where we were presented with a huge, bubbling pot of steamy, spicy broth for us to cook our own meat and veg. We were rewarded handsomely for our efforts by a man dancing with a noodle, which was then thrown into our pot with a flourish. Delish.
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