Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sometimes, It's What You Don't Say...

Sorry. ANOTHER article of clothing that I hate. Then we can move on.

Nude pantyhose.

But ESPECIALLY knee or ankle-high nude panty hose with a short skirt. (In case you're a boy, and you don't know what that means, "nude" just means it's skin coloured. Dufus.) That elastic band at the top that squeezes in the leg-waddle just enough to look like a sausage link that couldn't quite squish closed at the end - yek.

I don't mean to be catty. For someone who has been wearing the same jeans since 2004, patched up with some fabric that I ripped off of a pencil case, I admit that I seem to be doing a lot of judging on other people's fashion choices. And I mean people's fashion choices as in People's Square. People's Revolution. People's Republic of China. (We've also coined the People's Barbecue, the People's Laundromat, and the People's Squat Toilet.)

So People - I'm gonna have to come right out and say it. We've got a fashion problem here. I've tried to buy clothes, but seriously - every store looks like someone's grandma's closet threw up, rolled around in some sequins, got tangled up with some lacy bows and landed right there in the shop. After procreating with Mickey Mouse. I might as well just tar and feather myself.

I couldn't understand how everyone managed to go outside fully dressed unless there was somewhere else to shop that I didn't know about. So I spent the last few days observing the ladies around town, and my conclusion is that they are indeed wearing the grandma closet barf. Shirts with hearts and ruffles and slogans like love is a many splendored thing or some crap like that.

I could always find tons of cheap clothes in Taiwan, but by cheap I mean most of them have fallen apart already (probably made in China, but not sold here, like so many important things such as NETI POTS).


Why am I stuck with pom pom shoes and a bedazzled Donald Duck jean jacket? I'll tell you why.

Mao. I blame Mao.

For 30 years, from the 50s to the 80s, China was completely closed. No one going out, no one going in, no letters, no phone calls. No Elvis, no Beatles, no Rolling Stones, no hippies. No Marilyn Monroe. No disco. No Hollywood: only about four Chinese operas and propaganda films. Then suddenly, it's the 80s and its EVERYTHING at once. Elvis and Cindy Lauper in the same breath. Leg warmers, hairspray, bell bottoms, and poodle skirts all in one burst. People probably just didn't know what to do with all of that information at once; they probably couldn't make sense of it. Stimulus overload. Enter Hello Kitty, at the moment of weakness.

Mao Zedong, I blame you and your revolution for the shoes with the cats on them, and the vest attached to the pants, and the big black bow attached to all of them. It is the anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square, but we're not allowed to talk about that. So for now let's deal with this grievance instead.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Fluffinator

Don't Mess Around

The position of the white expat in China is a paradoxical one. On the one hand, we undeniably benefit from whatever status our race seems to confer on us here. A white alcoholic mailman with a Polish accent will be hired to teach English over a qualified native speaker who is not white, not to mention that Asia is a dating mecca for socially awkward pasty men with acne and a lisp who have a taste for supermodels.  Yet on the other hand, there is also a sense in which we are seen as a bafflingly different category of human being, too incomprehensible to relate to or empathize with. This perception is behind a slew of daily hassles, especially outside of the city centre (where I work), where foreigners are less commonplace. 

I am heckled every morning by a herd of rowdy motorcycle taxi drivers outside the subway. I have people stop in their tracks on the street to gawk. Every time I walk past a group of people the word “lawai” (foreigner) jumps out at me from their murmured conversations. The kitchen staff at my school approach my table to check on my chopsticking skills. Bored supermarket employees have followed me through the aisles en masse, curious about what a creature like me might buy. (Actual quote: "You guys eat carrots and potatoes too? Wow, so do we!") Once on a bus in southern China, a woman picked up her baby so that it could see us over the seat back, and cooed to the child, “Look! They are different than me!” In Taiwan, we didn’t attract quite as much attention, although I still had strangers asking to have their photo taken with me on a regular basis.

For some reason, I seem to attract even more hullaballoo than other foreigners I know. As with many other things, I blame the hair. I feel that my image is that of a fluffy puff-ball bouncing cluelessly around town, oblivious to everything outside of her ploof.

The Hair. It cries out "I'm defenseless and I don't belong here! Steal my wallet! Steal my cell phone! Then try to sell me a phone that you just stole from another puff-ball! And while you’re at it, trample me to make sure that you get on the bus first! Go ahead, I'm a tumbleweed, I won't mind!"

To compensate, I try to walk around with my tough girl face on at all times and act as rough-assed as I can. As I'm sure you can imagine, it's a very convincing performance. Seriously, I'm like the Fluffinator or at least Kindergarten Cop.

Fortunately, I have discovered an advantage to being the Bouncy Other around town. (You know, besides that pesky job and money thing.) Once you have already maxed out the Otherness quotient, you sort of have carte blanche for... well, anything. Any odd, embarrassing, or otherwise unacceptable thing that you might do can just slide through, unnoticed. You are already as strange as you can possibly be, so nothing you do can provoke any further reaction. This really opens up all kinds of doors. 

Go ahead, make a scene. Cry to get your way. Confront policemen who run red lights. Ignore the metro security checks. Give that driver a piece of your mind. Walk by the Sunday morning joggers in your Saturday night outfit without shame. No need to confine those fat pants to Pajama Day - why not wear 'em to work? Take over an empty dance floor. Shout at inanimate objects. Spill that coffee on your shirt. The world is your circus - take that plunge, and embarrass yourself. It won't make any difference anyways.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Can this really be?

Don't get excited there, Mom, this isn't a real post. It's more of an Addendum to the last post. (Yeah, that's right - I said Addendum.)

There is another ridiculously awful fashion trend running rampant here that must be addressed. I am trying to ascertain how far afield this thing goes in order to determine whether this is a genuine trend that I need to deal with, or a localized phenomenon that I can chalk up to an element of Chinese exoticism that I will never fully understand (such as grown women wearing sequined Mickey Mouse t-shirts, or young heterosexual men wearing their rust-coloured hair in a poofed up Bea Arthur bouffant). I can't imagine anyone back home going out in public like this, but in a world where the skort and diaper pant are back in style, I'm a bit out of my element. I just don't know anymore.

So tell me, Western World: Are people in your hemisphere wearing short shorts with sheer black panty hose and pumps?

Is this something I need to worry about now?