Please take my picture

I gladly tried to forget that this past weekend was International Children’s Day. On the one hand, it is because I am not a fan of children and kids. On the other hand, even though China is an aging society, somehow all these kids pop up out of nowhere during the weekends.

What amazes me a lot, is how many pictures are taken of kids. I know in the Netherlands, most kids, I think boys and girls almost equally but for different reasons, do not like to have photos taken. Boys often find it takes too long, they might make a weird face just to get it over with and continue playing. Girls can be shy or get uncomfortable and not want to look in the camera or just freeze.

Not in China. Of course, it helps that smartphones are ubiquitous, and the Chinese in general are more visually focused. The “Photo or it did not happen!” slogan really counts for them. Whether it is sports, food, art, travel or any other aspect of life, it is important to have it documented digitally.

Naturally most Asians are well-known for their peace signs in photos, with hearts also becoming more popular in recent years. It seems that the combination of fixed poses and high tolerance for visual recording leads to kids being very aware and willing to be photographed over here. I am always amazed when I see 4 or 5 year old kids (do not pin me on that number though, I cannot guess age of kids at all) striking a perfect pose whenever their parent decides it is a photo moment again.

Even if they need to take more than 5 pictures, the kids may start slumping a bit, but discipline often takes over so that the end result is appropriate. I also almost never see them very actively protesting or at a loss of what to do in front of the camera. Shows that it pays off with some things to start at an early age.

In or out of touch with nature?

Today, the weather is great. Blue skies, sun shining, slight breeze, clouds drifting, clean air. About as perfect a day you can get in China, which means everyone is on the move of course. That is perfectly understandable, possible even desirable. There is limited room for outdoors activities on a daily basis and having other people in the park besides the elderly is a nice change of scenery.

The park is most probably the closest to nature that most Chinese get. Camping is not a very common way of traveling around, forests are mostly limited to national parks and most animals are still perceived as a main source of food.

In the Netherlands, there also has been increasing discussions if people, and children in particular, are not too out of touch with nature? Do we still understand milk does not come from a carton and that we only eat a small part of most vegetables?

On the one hand, what might help in China is that at least dead animals are quite common. With chicken feet, pig’s knuckles and ears, gutted fish, and intestines all being sold en plein public at most local markets, these images will not be very shocking and it helps making clear what you are eating.

At the same time, the Chinese are pretty ignorant to nature in most instances. Littering, pulling on trees to have flower petals or red leaves fall down on them, building bridges or elevators in the mountains without any regard for the surroundings, etc.

But, one thing that I do envy their ignorance for, is for most pests and insects. I do not think the day can ever come that I do not shriek and shirk away whenever seeing a cockroach. Having the kind of immunity that the Chinese and most other Asians inhabit towards cockroaches is something I thoroughly lack. Solid proof that nature provides some things you should nurture.

Quiet, please!

So, I already mentioned China is not the most quiet place ever. Another train trip, which are the best way to submerge yourself in a full Chinese experience for several hours, confirmed this again in another way.

I have talked in lengths already about being single in China and some expectations in general that we as societies seem to have about relationships. Moving past that, you obviously see many differences in child-rearing and education between countries.

Something that amazes me all the time when I see Chinese kids, is in how much they are allowed to do and actually encouraged to do. I have seen kids do things which actively inconvenience their parents, running around the table or stomping on the table for example, and them just somehow being totally cool about it.

Now in the good sense that I am a stranger and generally would have no wish in meddling with other’s affairs, I of course keep my mouth shut. However, in a closed-off space like a train, these kids are bound to also influence your personal experience.

Ignoring children crying, which though very annoying is also somewhat inevitable and impredictable, there is something that is sort of actively encouraged. And that is TALKING VERY LOUD.

Now that I think about it, I also experienced this in a Dutch train once before. In both cases, it was almost the same situation. A grandmother and a kid (boy) of about 5 years old (not accurate). The boy talking very excitedly like “I AM GOING TO SHOOT YOU BECAUSE I AM A COWBOY AND VERY COOL.” And the grandmother replying something like “YES YOU ARE MY YOU ARE SUCH A HANDSOME COWBOY!”

In the Chinese situation, there was also a grandfather who quickly cleared the premises, as did I. It could of course be that the grandmother is hard of hearing and needs to talk very loudly to the kid. And they are both immune to social cues. So now everyone else is also going to talk very loudly and no-one can hear each other anymore.

Well, if you think I am talking too loudly, then you know it is all the kids’ faults.

How to get old really quickly

No, not your Facebook timeline. Nothing happens on there anyway, especially when you are in China.

So, a while ago I had a talk with a friend of mine on relationships, age, marrying children and such a future that many people envision for themselves. We already both agreed it would not happen in our foreseeable future, you can read a previous Dutch post for more on that, but there are of course different views on the course of life. Specifically, in China where many people seem to be 5-10 years younger than they are. So this results in seeing women walking around your age with babies or children of age 4 or even older. And parents who would seem quite old with a little kid, but quite young again when they turn out to be the kid’s grandparents. It was not for nothing that I had the idea you could only become a grandmother or father once you were over 70 years old.

But not only do people tend to get kids a bit earlier here, there is more pressure earlier to get kids too. My friend and I based it off a timeline, in which people’s views change quite quickly and radically within a few years. It basically goes like this:

1.  18-21 years old

You are still young and innocent, studied long and hard to get into your university and need to focus whole-heartedly on your studies. Do not waste your time on such frivolous activities like dating or partying. You are still young. You will find love once you are ripe for it.

2.  22-24 years old

Okay, you are done with university, found a good or otherwise stable job. It is now time to actively think about the next steps. You cannot stay alone for the rest of your life of course. And your parents and family is also not getting younger as years pass by. Find that partner you want to stay with the rest of your life and make your life complete.

3.  25-27 years old

You have worked for a while now and probably saved up quite some money. What are you going to spend it on without spouse and a house? You are missing out and very quickly, your family will be too. Youth is fleeting and your parents’ worries will only increase. Is that what you want them to feel?

4. 28-30 years old

It is too late. You are old and need to settle down as soon as humanly possible. You might have a good job, a fun life and be an interesting person in general, but it just does not cut it. Do you not want your parents to know their grandchildren? Who is going to want you at this age? Who will take care of you once you are old? In short, you are a failure.