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Beijing – who decides the normative?

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This post is part of the Travel Series – reflections and muses based on the cities I have lived in or travelled to. If you are looking for recommendations on food, things to do and the wows of a city, please go to other travel blogs.

I have been living in Beijing since June 2009. I worked a few months, then collapsed, then stopped working, then recovered slowly, relapsed, got better… and the cycle continues. I write as therapy, encouraged by my doctors and psychologist. Sometimes I like to go to coffee shops to write, so I do not stay at home all day and shut myself up. This forces me some social contact however much I tend to avoid it, and serves as pitiful exercise when walking to cafes.

Yesterday, as I stopped at the lights outside of Sanlitun Village, a patch of dirt land on the East side of Beijing developed by the Swire Group into a glitzy mall of restaurants and brand shops, I saw a few well-dressed young Chinese women waiting at the lights. Colour coded, stylish, and matching, I admired the way they carried the fitting dresses – until I saw their skin coloured ankle stockings clasped between their stilettos and their dainty feet. Ugh!

I was disgusted, and wondered why they had to ruin their outfit. It was fashion faux pas. Skin coloured ankle stockings, or in fact ankle stockings of any colour, were frowned upon. Yet, Chinese women have a way of wearing them, with sandals, with slippers, with heels, with sneakers…

Amidst my condescending repulsion, mini Noch Noch came knocking on my brain – I questioned myself, why did I accept that way of dressing as ugly?

I had never processed the aesthetical value of ankle stockings myself, but just accepted the verdicts of fashion experts.For one, who decides if someone is a fashion expert? And two, why do their opinions become the truth? Indeed, who decides the normative? Judgmental as I am, I did not come up with my own opinion. I followed the herd.

Our preconceptions are so grounded that we do not think to question conventions and the normative, nor wonder who set out those standards in the first place.

Some expatriate friends I knew here would also mock the Chinese girls for not shaving and having a moustache above their lips, a thin lining of black hair that was prominent in contrast with the girls’ fair skin. Foreigner girlfriends smirk in abhorrence when Chinese girls do not wax their bikini line, legs and arms. Yet, why is is no hair more beautiful? Evolution must have a purpose for hair in their rightful places, and some would agree with me that women should stop shaving.

Of course, I do not advocate questioning all society norms for some are there are a reason. Laws are put in place to safeguard the sanctity of personal property and life. Cultural etiquette was formed over time and we respect differences and diversity, which also makes this world interesting.

That said, why could we not eat escargot with chopsticks and ramen noodles with knives and forks? And who decided that we have to work 5 days a week?

In the same way, why do so many people consider depression “weak” or those who attempt suicide “stupid”? Those who so consider might not really think that themselves, but rather, have been following the majority’s sentiment without processing the thought independently.

We are all entitled to our opinion, and honest opinions are subjective. You might not agree with me and I respect that – but put in our rationale to derive our opinions and not simply accept norms set by we-don’t-even-know-who.

After I left those girls at the traffic lights, I detoured to a nearby market and bought a set of skin coloured ankle stockings before heading to the café. I am still trying to decide whether I to try them on or not…

What preconceptions would you need to rethink?

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4 Responses

  1. Cissie says:

    Noch你好,我是Cissie。刚刚看到你这篇文章,非常有趣:)作为一个中国女孩,我想也许可以给你一点答案。我从小就被妈妈要求无论穿sandals还是slippers时都要穿上袜子。我问过她为什么非要穿?她说会不舒服或怕脚脏什么的。也许她也不清楚倒底为什么吧。我觉得,
    第一,我妈妈的妈妈还是小脚。我的妈妈虽然不用裹小脚了,但是让她直接露出脚也是根本无法接受的事情。所以,现在中国女孩虽然会穿很西化的衣服,但是传统的观念还会有一点点残留。直接把脚露出来,多少会有一点羞涩的感觉。也许是几百年来中国女性缠足的观念太根深蒂固了吧。
    第二,在中国穷苦的人或是要饭的,都是不穿袜子的。所以,穿不穿袜子似乎也是一种修养,在中国。
    以上是我自己内心对于穿袜子的一种体会。对于我个人而言,夏天我很少穿凉鞋,因为我真的会纠结穿不穿袜子的问题。

    • Cissie says:

      对了,还有关于这种肉色短袜的问题。我想,中国女孩应该是非常感谢这种袜子的发明呢:)因为有了它们,就不用纠结是不是穿袜子的问题了。这种袜子让我们看起来好象没穿袜子,但我们心里知道自己是穿了的。然后,就觉得非常安全,非常放心地出门了。哈哈。让外国女孩子们见笑啦!希望这些会对你有一点点帮助。

    • nochnoch says:

      Cissie 您好。谢谢您提出了观点,让我更认识中国的文化!
      诺诺

  2. […] of a random thing as a donut, and I received comments from all different dimensions. Everyone has an opinion, a gut reaction, an […]

about Noch Noch

Enoch Li, (pen name: Noch Noch) is born and raised in Hong Kong and Australia. She has also studied / worked / lived in the US, France, UK, Japan, The Netherlands, China, and has travelled to more than 40 countries. She loves travelling and her curiosity in foreign cultures and languages has led her to enjoy her life as an international executive in the banking & finance industry. However, she was forced to take time off work in 2010 due to her illnesses and after spending time in recovery, cooking, practising Chinese calligraphy, reading and writing – in short, learning to take care of herself and letting out the residual work stress, she has transitioned into a Play Consultant for corporates interested in creative change management and employee well-being using the psychology of playfulness.