Not in any nuclear arms build-up/world domination kind of way, or in some sort of human rights type of thing. I mean socially. What’s happening in society here this minute?
1. TAKE YEARS OFF YOUR LIFE
Literally, officially, ostensibly, evidentially. Of all the astonishing things I hear and see in China, this one went straight in at No.1.
All Chinese citizens must have an identity card. They have a big long number on them and their date-of-birth. They’re very important things, almost sacred. But as with most things in China, everything’s open to negotiation. They can be changed. Not happy with how old you’re getting? Then let’s look at that. My impeccable sources tell me a trend has emerged in recent years whereby people are simply having their date of birth changed. With the right guanxi (remember that all important word for connections), and an amount of goodwill, citizens can, and are, going to the right officials and having one, two or a few years lopped off their life. If you just feel like a change it does far more than a new hair colour. And last longer.
An amount of goodwill, yesterday. In fact, this is one
example where guanxi matters a lot more than cold,
We’re not saying some jaded 31-year-old can run around feeling like a teenager again. But with the stroke of a pen, 25/1/1970 can easily become 25/1/1973, and that annoying “41” next to “age” on all your forms can suddenly be a nicer “38”.
I know what you’re thinking. But this trend – let’s call it fakeage - is not just about vain women freaking out about the passing of time. After all, no amount of waving around an ID card can erase those wrinkles around your eyes. You’ll need a quick trip to Seoul and it’s famous cosmetic surgery district for that. Women are said by my sources to account for most of this age manipulation, but men are dabbling too. Say you’re a 33-year-old guy, with a dead-end job and no wife. If you’re suddenly 29 and have so few things going for you, you don’t sound like such a loser – particularly to someone who might become that wife.
"I'm really only 28! Honest!"
Another, more serious, category, which is possibly also the largest one, concerns people wanting to delay their retirement to keep their income-generating years going a little longer. Men working for the government must retire at 60, and women at 55.
There is also talk, on a lower level, of parents wanting to change the date of birth of their offspring to give them a luckier-sounding birthdate. (See previous post on lucky numbers). The 4th of the 4th, ’04 would doubtless curse a child for life, leaving them less able to find a good job with which to support their parents. The 8th of the 8th, or even the 8th of the 5th if the parents aren’t feeling too bold, would be considered far more lucky.
This may all sound fairly incredible, but age has always been a little rubbery in China. Under traditional Chinese ways, a baby, when it comes out of its mother’s womb, is called a one-year-old. Then, the age goes up by one every Chinese new year. So, and I am not making this up, let’s say a baby boy is born the day before Chinese new year. Straight away he is one. The next day the Chinese would call him a two-year-old. Is it any wonder a lot of westerners look at Chinese kids and think they’re small for their age. They’re probably whoppers! Big lumps of things.
A young Chinese person, yesterday. He looks great for five.
It can all get a bit confusing. People can quote their Chinese age and their western age, and in fact probably prefer the latter if they’re a bit age-conscious. Since it’s all a bit too much ma fan, Chinese people usually ask what Chinese zodiac sign people are – horse, rabbit, tiger, etc. There are 12 of these, each lasting a year. So from this, people can calculate to within a year how old someone is, unless they’re really bad at estimating age and make a guess which is 12 years out. This animal reckoning is also a good way to find out someone’s age while upholding that other key tenet of Chinese society – politeness.
2. FAKE BIG BELLIES
First it was fake bums, to slip inside the underwear to give a woman that Jennifer Lopez look. I saw some recently at Beijing Ya Show market, where the assistant explained she did not have the space to stock the latest must-have derriere – the Kardashian.
Now it’s phony bellies. Pregnant ones. Now, and I think I’m getting this right, women want to look pregnant. Various websites here this week have reported online sales of “realistic-looking” pregnancy bellies have been on the rise recently. The silica gel pre-partum prostheses are said to feature everything a woman could want in a fake pregnant belly – flesh colour, human skin texture and a high degree of comfort. You can get them to replicate three stages of pregnancy. And it’s not because of Santa costumes, because people here don’t do Christmas.
You can, erm, enhance your figure with this style of butt,
or another kind which slips inside your intimate apparel.
"Honey - I'm just going to pop out for a minute."
Now I definitely fit that type sociologists call “a male confused about his role in the 21st century”.
Now what should I say? “Honey, you’re butt is looking super-big these days!” Or “That’s one huge gut you’ve got there darling!”
What’s going on?
The news of the belly boom has spawned various possible explanations on China blogs. There are the mild – such as women might be trying to look pregnant to get a seat on the bus for a nice long sleep on the way home. Others have suggested women might be using them to help them panhandle for money, which sounds unlikely as beggars surely have better things to spend money on. The bellies are said to cost between $US80 and $250, presumably depending on your desired trimester.
Others have suggested more sinister motives. In China there exists a black market for the purchase of babies, again to grow up to help couples in their old age. It would look fairly suspicious if a woman with no big bump suddenly produced a baby for all her neighbours to see.
As usual in media-speak, only one thing is certain. There is always someone gaining from something. In this case it’s those people with the rare foresight to think there would be a market for making something which made women look like they were pregnant.