My American friend (who was living in China at the time) freaked out when she thought for a moment that her baby was missing.  She was only slightly less alarmed when she realized that she was mistaken.  Instead, an elderly Chinese woman had removed her 18 month olds diaper and was squatting her over a garbage bin blowing in her ear.

I don’t know the exact words that my friend said to the woman but I feel I can say with some assurance that it was not:

“Thank you, kind elderly woman for squeezing my naked child over this dreadful bucket of rubbish and rotting fish meat while blowing in her ear.  Your actions are fully comprehended and much appreciated. Here, please accept this cash reward as a token of my heart felt appreciation.”

When you’re a foreigner living in China perspective can be pretty significant.  So when you look at one thing and see something completely different than the 1.5 billion people around you it can throw you off and the results often range from hilarious to horrifying and back again.  

Potty training is all about perspective.

If you’ve been in China at all you’ve seen them.  Adorable babies from infant to toddler with their little tushies sticking out of pants that have been strategically designed for “free flow” and instant access.  The immediate reaction from most Western onlookers is some combination of eye widening shock, slight embarrassment, intrigue and laughter followed by a curious need for a sensible explanation.  That’s when the discovery phase begins and the most dangerous pronouns in cross cultural understanding are introduced . . . 

“THEM” and “THEY”

“Oh yeah . . . that’s how THEY do it.”  

“THEY” don’t use diapers.  “THEY” just let “THEM” go anywhere.  “THEY” put THEM” in split pants so “THEY” can squat THEM” wherever “THEY” are.  

The problem with “THEY” and “THEM” is not that they are inaccurate words.  Our entire assessment (about “THEM”) may be absolutely, 100%, spot on BUT once they become “THEY” then “THEY” are not “US” and our understanding of “THEM” will always come from the perspective of an outsider looking in.  “WE” become spectators, trying to make sense of “THEM” (and the crazy things that “THEY” do) because frankly, “THEY” don’t make sense.  Fortunately, “WE” are smart so “WE” realize that “THEY” are not “US” and it would be unfair of “US” to expect “THEM to act normally (like “US”).  That explains “THEM”.

The traditional Chinese style of toilet training is generally and easily dismissed by Western visitors as a little strange . . . maybe funny . . . sometimes a bit disgusting (especially when you step in it) and to a select few . . . horrifying . . . but just the way “THEY” do it.  And that’s good enough for “US”.  Our curiosity is satisfied more by the simple fact that “THEY” are “THEM” and not “US” than it is by seeking any sort of genuine understanding.  So quite frankly, the way “THEY” let “THEIR” kids go doodie on the sidewalk . . . it ain’t right.

HOWEVER . . . 

It is also being embraced by a growing segment of the Western population who grasp the tremendous benefits open crotch trousers.  It has fancy names like “Elimination Communication” or “Natural Infant Hygeine” and it encompasses all of the fundamental building blocks that make parenting trends go viral:

  • Encourages intimacy between a mother and child
  • Improves early childhood communication skills
  • Reduces health risks 
  • Children are trained earlier
  • Saves money (as a parent of a child who has just finished with diapers I’m shouting “amen!” to this one)
  • Better for the environment (no disposable diapers which take over a million years to decompose)
  • Accompanied by lines of overpriced products and accessories

Ironically.  Diapers are trending in China.

In my opinion, the most intriguing part of this entire phenomenon has nothing to do with how we train our children to direct their waste into the appropriate location.  I think the perspective on our perspective is far more fascinating.  When “THEY” do something, it is strange, funny, weird and gross.  When “WE” adopt the exact same practice, it is rational, brilliant, healthy and green (like environmentally green – not what you were thinking).  

Just for fun, consider it from the perspective of the elderly Chinese woman.  Here is this tiny, unfortunate, pasty white foreign child crawling around in the park with some type of stifling, insulated, blanket velcroed to her bottom, completely prohibiting her from answering natures call.  At best, this poor child is carrying around a load of her own mess and at worst she is horribly constipated because everyone knows that if babies don’t have the split pants they just won’t go.  What’s a concerned grandmother to do?  She had to help.

I know, I know.  That doesn’t explain the incredibly inappropriate invasion of personal space or the uninvited, hostile take over of parental responsibilities but hey, she’s old and Chinese . . . and that’s just how “THEY” do things.

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