Beijing – who decides the normative?


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:


    • Cissie says:


    • nochnoch says:

      Cissie 您好。谢谢您提出了观点,让我更认识中国的文化!

  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.