As I mentioned yesterday, it is a bit cool again – though not as cold as it was last time around. I feel that, within reason, I am accommodating local practices around dressing for the season. Once the temperature began to drop into the 70s in November, folks started wearing sweaters and jackets, long sleeves, heavy pants and boots. Thus, although most days my children would be quite comfortable in a short-sleeved shirt and some lightweight pants or even shorts, I almost never put them in short-sleeves and they always wear long pants and, usually, a sweatshirt, too. Despite my efforts when it comes to what I consider overdressing the kids, I receive consistent reprimands and disapproving looks from parents, teachers, grandparents, the servers at our favorite restaurant, etc, etc.
“Isn’t she cold?” they ask in Chinese, sometimes testing the shirt between their fingers and shaking their heads in disbelief once they determine that the layers are too thin.
“I’m not cold!” replies Mei-mei, “I’m Mei-mei.”
One of the things I find particularly amusing in that frustrating culturally-misplaced kind of way is that, even if Mei-mei were cold, the way I would choose to dress her would be considered inappropriate.
In the U.S. we learned that we need to keep the heat in the core. So, when it is cold, we pile on multiple layers – many consisting of thin synthetic materials, often without long sleeves. We also put on hats to avoid loss of heat. Here in Guangzhou, the supposed warming power of clothing appears to be directly linked to the thickness. Thus, on the coolest days children are walking around in these padded cotton clothes which look like someone made a jacket and pants out of their favorite comforter – little arms and legs sticking out and partially immobilized by the loft. You see very few hats and, while children are required to wear their coats in the classroom on cold days, hats are actively discouraged. In addition, arm warmers are all the rage here. While a vest might be a first line of defense at home, here the arm warmers come out at the first hint of cooling temperatures. Arm warmers are short single-layer polyester tubes with elastics on both ends. They are pulled over the forearm and end at the elbow.
I don’t think these different styles are just random. I actually think they point to differences in the way people conceive of health and fitness in South China and the States. I have noticed that there is so much emphasis on circulation here – the healthy flow of blood, energy, etc through the body as opposed to an American emphasis on core processes. Yet when I see such stark differences in best-practices, I wonder about the ramifications. Is one system more correct or effective or, perhaps, it doesn’t matter in the least? Either way, it is sometimes difficult to overcome or, at least, disguise my disdain (arm warmers!?) in the face of different practices at the same time that it is tough to sense others’ disapproval of my way of doing things.