Travel To Grow

Understanding The World Through Travel

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Aug '10

Streaking In China

This past weekend I went streaking here in China.

My friend Darian and I stripped down and ran across the massive bridge between the two local cities of Aojiang and Longgun. It took a good 5 minutes to make it from one side to the other and although we did it at night we still managed to attract a lot of attention, literally stopping traffic.

Why did we do it? Were we drunk? Well… a little… but that wasn’t the reason. To be honest we’re both not sure how the idea came up… we just remember one of us saying “Hey do you think we should streak across the bridge?” and the other without missing a beat saying “Yes… Yes we should.”

Today however, thinking about why we did it… (besides the reason that it sounded fun) I realized the real reason, and also why I do a lot of the silly things I do in China.

The Small Town Mindset

To understand why I’d go streaking in China it’s helpful to first understand the small-town China mindset and also the events leading up to the streaking.

The mindset is really really conservative… and that is a big understatement. People just simply don’t do risky things, and the truth is they even take extreme precautions when doing things we consider safe. A good example of this is when we go swimming at the nearby lake. Nearly every swimmer brings with them a floatation bag that is strapped to their waist. Even the swimmers who seem to have professional form won’t go past the shallow area without this silly looking safety line. They often have ideas of danger that seem silly to us. Our friend Matt’s boss actually banned him from swimming in this lake, telling him there were many hot and cold spots in it… and if he swims in it he will most likely encounter a cold patch, then get a cramp and drown. People use umbrellas when it’s too sunny out, they run for cover if there is a drop of rain, and they won’t even eat chicken wings with their hands because it’s too ‘dirty’.

These small town people often have a fixed mindset towards things and they don’t really understand things that don’t fit into this mindset. Even the simple act of not bringing an umbrella out into the rain (when it’s barely even spitting on a hot day) makes them really confused… They will immediately assume you don’t have an umbrella because the thought of you choosing not to use one is too weird for them. In another example, today I ordered both fried rice and fried noodles together from a restaurant, and when they found out they were both for me to eat they were shocked… You’re supposed to order one or the other, not both!

These small town people often have their minds blown by our actions. They get completely baffled by some of the things we foreigners do.  A couple weeks ago we had a heavy rain storm but my friends and I still wanted to go to the bar… so instead of bringing an umbrella (we would have still got soaking wet because it was raining extremely hard)… we decided to put on our bathing suites and bring a shirt with us in a plastic bag. It was a hot night so it was actually a lot of fun. We got extremely strange looks when we entered the bar soaking wet… because Chinese people are deathly afraid of the rain… but after changing into our shirts people didn’t really notice… Later though it began pouring extremely hard again so I decided to get back into my bathing suit and go running in the rain for the exhilarating feeling. This caused quite a commotion and nearly everyone from the bar gathered at the door in disbelief to watch me. My friend later translated for me what they were saying while watching me. “What the hell is he doing? Foreigners are insane! Doesn’t he know he’s going to get a cold? He’s going to get sick for sure! I’ve never seen something so crazy!”

Because of the fact that the people of Aojiang get so shocked and appalled by the fun things we do that we consider relatively normal, we can’t help but do more of these things. It’s simply too much fun to do strange things and see the completely baffled and confused look on people’s faces. Confusing Chinese people has kind of become a hobby of mine, like… if I’m riding on the back of a motorcycle with the wind in my hair I’ll use a fan to fan myself… or I’ll dance in public for no reason… or make strange animal noises in awkward situations… just to see the looks I get…

The truth is, the people of Aojiang are quite boring. They have the same conversations every day, they complain about the same things, they do the same things after work, they spend most of their free time on qq (Chinese msn) and the stories I hear when I ask “What did you do on the weekend” to my friends usually depresses me because the answer is usually just “I slept”

Because of this conservative mindset and the boredom I perceive in the locals, I sometimes I feel it’s a bit of my duty to show these people something they haven’t seen before… to wake them up from their extremely boring daily routines… to do something out of the ordinary, even just for the reason that they’ll have a “you’ll never guess what I saw a foreigner doing” story to tell their friends.

The Night of the Streaking

I think the night of the streaking we were especially upset by the behavior of the locals. We decided to go to a cool new bar we found which had a patio area, so we could enjoy the summer weather and have a few beers as the sun went down. Upon arriving I told the waiter that we wanted to sit outside… and he was a little surprised but said that we could. They had to move a bit of the junk off the patio and it gave me the impression no one had sat out on the patio before. Next he brought out stools and put them up against the bar… meaning that we would have to look inside at the bar the entire time. I told him we wanted a table on the patio so that we could enjoy the weather and watch the sunset… He seemed really confused by this idea and had to go ask the boss if it was okay. Eventually we had a table set up and it was a really nice situation… the weather was perfect we had a good view of the sunset and across the road they even set up a projector and began playing a Jackie Chan movie.

Darian and I were a little surprised that no one else had come to the bar in the hour we had been there, so we decided to invite someone to share our beers and drink with us. We spent the next 4 or so hours, talking to every cool looking person around our age, and inviting them to drink with us. Not a single person would ever entertain the idea. We eventually got desperate and invited anyone at all to sit with us, but no one even showed any remote interest. People would smile at us and wave at us, but even after setting out a bunch of empty chairs to make it look inviting no one was interested. Thousands of people passed… on an absolutely perfect night for drinking… and not a single person entered the bar or sat with us on the patio… During the Jackie Chan movie hundreds of people stood in front of the screen or sat on their motorcycles to watch it. It baffled us why no one would want to sit on the nice chairs of the patio to watch it… we had such a perfect view.

I kept remembering a question a local had asked me once “Don’t you foreigners know beer is bad for you?”

By the end of the night, we couldn’t help but complain about how incredibly lame the locals were. In our respective countries you would have to fight for a spot on the patio during an amazing summer night like this. And this bar had a total of about 5 customers all night. We knew for sure that most of the people that passed us by were simply going home to sit on their computers, play games and talk on qq… it was too frustrating for us. Perhaps streaking was our way of saying ‘Wake up people! It’s okay to drink with strangers, have some fun! There’s more to life than qq!”

The Reactions

I’ve never seen faces as surprised as those who looked at us in their cars as we ran across that long bridge. They looked intrigued, shocked, appalled and baffled… They took pictures and cheered for us or yelled at us.

Our friend Alex who at the time was with his Chinese friends was going to come grab some dinner with us… but once his Chinese friends heard what we did they decided they couldn’t hang out with us because we were ‘too crazy’, and went to dinner by themselves.

Our TA’s (teacher assistants) heard the stories and told us we were absolutely out of our minds… They couldn’t really understand why we did it, and some said they could never do it in a million years. One TA however said next time she wanted to come, we were so impressed! ^.^ your awesome Mable!

We gave our TA’s a multiple choice questionnaire “What did Devin and Darian do on the weekend… Hint –They did the fun thing.” The choices were…

A. swam across the river,

B. stole a car and went for a ride.

C. went streaking across the bridge.

Or D. stayed at home and played computer games.

To further emphasize my point that the locals are kind of boring… even with the hint that said “they did the fun thing” one of our TA’s chose “They stayed at home and played computer games. ”

Only Mable, the girl who wanted to streak with us next time got the answer right.

Shock Therapy

I do seriously feel that’s its good for the locals of Aojiang to see us foreigners doing crazy things. I really think it helps them realize their lives don’t need to be so plain and ordinary and if they wanted to have more fun it’s totally possible. Maybe I sound really judgmental when I talk about them… and that might be true… I think the reason is because I myself used to be a whole lot more conservative and reserved… and I’m so much happier now… so I want others to go through the same change as me, to help wake them up to what their missing.

I think a little shock therapy can be inspirational, and maybe it will make a small change in someone’s life…

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  • BradleyJames

    1. Most of those people you invited probably earn a half or a quarter of what you do. Their money goes to rice or education, not beer.

    2. Most of those people you invited probably work two to four times as many hours as you do. They don’t have time to dissipate at a bar. They still have to sop and cook – they’re not eating out every meal like you do. Not to mention they still have to wash their clothes in a bucket and hang them to dry before they go to bed.

    3. The same goes for those people you disparage and disrespect for being “boring”. See all of the above and have some compassion about why they might want to get some sleep on their day off! Chances are they also have huge family responsibilities as well. Most of my students couldn’t wait to graduate from university so they could earn some money to look after their parents and siblings.

    4. Their society can only work with that huge population because they think about the good of the “we” not the “me”. North Americans are so selfish and inconsiderate that our countries couldn’t survive that kind of population pressure. You can see what a mess our societies are in – you yourself chose to live in China!

    5. After reading so many great articles on your site, I was really disappointed by the lack of insight in this one. You sounded like an “ugly American” thinking you are somehow superior to a people who have warmly welcomed you into their society which is thousands of years old- not less than two hundred like ours. What you did was very disrespectful and not just in China but back home in Canada as well. You still have so much to learn. Humbleness would be a good start. You could learn so much there if you didn’t think you were right all the time.

    6. Did it ever occur to you that maybe they are right about a lot of things? Maybe beer is bad for you. We have a lot of social problems in north amerce that stem from alcohol and too much leisure time and not much work ethic.

  • Devin Licastro

    Thanks for the well thought out comment.
    I’m afraid I think your projecting a bit of your own ideas onto me, but your comment still made me think which is great. I’ll try to answer your individual points, to show that I am not nearly as ignorant as you made me seem…   but I do appreciate your ideas, and I feel you are right about a few things.

    1. I absolutely agree on this, we can’t expect the average Chinese person to want to spend money on beer the way we do… however we were offering them to drink our beer, completely for free! We just wanted anyone to join us!

    2. These people were out looking for something to do in this area, it was kind of the harbour front zone where people come to hang out, lost of people stood around and watched a movie that was playing, but refused to sit with us. So they definitely had lots of time… 

    3. This is very true, some have serious responsibilities that us in the west can not relate to. But the fact is they were in the hanging out ‘harbour front’ area, we were offering free beer, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people, I’m not sure if your idea can apply to all or ever most of them. 

    4. I’m not really sure what this point has to do with anything. My choice to live in China has nothing to do with not liking Canada… and what does Chinese people looking out for one another have to do with my complaints about them not wanting to have some fun and being adventurous once in a while?

    5. I try not to think I am right all the time, but I suppose it comes off this way because I am writing articles rather than asking questions or discussing things… I honestly feel there is nothing disrespectful about streaking, I don’t see any shame in the naked human body and it was far too late for any kids or anything to be out… If I saw others streaking across the bridge I would personally think it was awesome… if others choose to view it in a negative way it is their choice.

    6. Your right, beer is bad for you… however this article was a way for me to describe to people my frustrations about the inhibitions of the Chinese people. When you live in a town for 6 months and no one ever comes out to the bar, no one ever does anything unusual ever, no one ever stays out past their curfew… no one ever goes dancing, no one ever questions their culture or their pre conditioned ideas… and everyone seems to be bored and depressed… It messed with your head… I listened to the conversations of my TA’s for 6 months and they never had a conversation that was more interesting than the weather… even when I describe this town to other Chinese people from around China they are shocked by the attitudes of the people… and this strangeness is what I really wanted to convey… 

    I really do understand what your saying… sometimes, for some people in China their lives are much more difficult and busy and sometimes they just have different priorities it would be silly to expect them to have the same mindsets towards these things… but this town was really different man… I just felt such a lack of life in the people… such a cultural dullness that it was too much to bare… no where else I travelled in China was the same…

    I’m sorry if this article offended you, but it really contains the emotions and the ideas I wanted to get across about this time in my travel. My to be honest I have been learning since then that I shouldn’t feel frustrated when others don’t think the way I do… that I shouldn’t try to influence or struggle against the ideas of others who aren’t looking for change… and this has been a valuable lesson for me.

    Thanks again,

  • Bradleyjames

    You’re awesome. Your answer is beautifully put. No your article didn’t offend me at all. It just seemed kind of out of character compared to the others. It looked like maybe your growth had stopped, but it obviously has not. Your site has lots of food for thought and discussion and I wouldn’t have commented if it appeared that the author wasn’t a thinking person.

    Your thoughtful insights make me consider that maybe I should be going back to China to learn all the lessons that are there that I didn’t quite get due to the frustrations you express so well. You really capture the flavour of the experience in words.