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China through the Kaleidoscope of a Curious Traveler

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You might wonder why I was buying 5 T-shirts in one day. Well, the following days I would buy even more. I had a capitalistic dilemma, which danced around two questions: to buy or to wash? The cost of laundry per t-shirt at our hotel was 20 Yuan ($3) and buying a new one at price of 15 Yuan made more sense. Changsha is known for its heat. We thought that Tucson was very hot. Well, it was before we landed in Changsha. Here, in June, the temperature is around 100 F. No problem, we the desert lizards, could handle that. But, enter the high humidity and we were done. We were melting like the Antarctic ice cap. Everyday, I had to change my entire garment: shirt, pant, underpants, and socks twice! So, I had two choices: either invest daily in the laundry or buy thin and cheap t-shirts and shorts. I solved the stinking socks problem by purchasing sandals. We were told that the real heat is in July and August. We could not wait to return to Tucson to enjoy its dry heat!


Fitness Centers: Free and Fun


There was a public square and a fountain in the middle of the intersection where our hotel was located. (As you may notice, I do not give the street names, since I was totally illiterate there, and I could neither read the names of the streets nor pronounce them properly). In early morning and after the sun set, there were free activities for every age group on the streets. The young and restless Chinese enjoyed shopping, eating at MacDonald’s, KFC, etc., while the adult and aged women following the rhythm of the Chinese music generated by a hand-held CD player, exercised together in public. And middle aged men like me and children watched them. It was like a public aerobic and solo dance class in the middle of the town square. I wanted to join the group, but I did not want to violate the perceived norms. Though anyone could join the dance, the demographic was non-verbally discriminating against men and younger women. Nevertheless, I saw this mass public exercise/dance in the sidewalks of smaller streets and parks, and they were mixed in gender and age.


After a week, I was taken to the lively neighborhood where a colossal closed stadium, a giant Ferris wheel, and a French-owned underground super store were located. The stone tiled vast area was filled with children riding little motorized cars, skating with rollerblades with lighted wheels, and adults dancing, mostly in pairs.


These street classes have no ceilings, no air conditioners, no teachers, no membership cards, and no monthly fees. But, if you ask me, I would prefer these to any luxurious American aerobic class. I found the street version to be more elegant, open, and more natural. You can feel the spirit of a community there, not the spirit of a spoiled individual. There you can enjoy the spirit of an egalitarian society, an extinct one indeed; not the spirit of an exclusive class and the sound of a money-counting machine. (What do you think if we start that tradition in Tucson? In front of the Main Library?)


Streets with No Trash, Yet Still Look Dirty


What about children? Well, they have their territory on the streets too. On the corner of the public squares every evening, children as young as 2 years-old show up with their rollerblades. They do all kinds of practices under the loving and caring eyes of their parents. Somehow someone brings small orange cones and places them on the street in rows and there you have a great show on the street. Open and free of charge, both for the players and spectators. 


When you speak of Chinese children, you cannot ignore the zippers in the backs of their pants. Some do not have zippers at all; just a hole in the back. I detest it, and I am sure so does the multi-billion diaper industry, which has considerable contribution to the amount of trash and pollution. Though I have yet to see, but I am told by others, that when small children want to leak the uric acid in their bladders they just squat on the sidewalks. I was told that they do so also for the “number two” but not exactly in the middle but on the side of the street, perhaps next to a bush. To make it easier for you, compare the Chinese children with no diapers to spoiled American pets, which enjoy the goods of the multi-billion pet industry, health care insurance, and occasional cosmetic surgery.


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EDIP YUKSEL, J.D. is a progressive American-Turkish-Kurdish author/philosopher/lawyer/activist (too many hyphens and slashes, I know). His recent English books "Quran: a Reformist Translation", "Manifesto for Islamic Reform", and "NINETEEN: God's (more...)
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